What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“His Want of a full Assortment arises … from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.”
As spring turned to summer in 1769, explicit references to the nonimportation agreements adopted by merchants and shopkeepers as a means of economic resistance to the duties on imported paper, glass, and other goods leveled by Parliament in the Townshend Acts appeared with greater frequency in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods. By then the boycott had been in effect for more then four months and had begun to take its toll on the inventories in many shops.
Consider John Appleton’s advertisement in the May 16, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Dated a day earlier, it began with the familiar “imported from LONDON in the last Ships,” but readers discovered on closer examination that the shopkeeper stocked very few items recently transported across the Atlantic, seemingly only those excluded from the boycott. Appleton also addressed the array of goods he usually carried and how his current selection compared. First stating that he “has also a good Assortment of English Piece Goods, suitable for the Season,” he then clarified that “he has not so full an Assortment as is usual for him at this Season of the Year.” He hoped that this would not deter prospective customers from visiting his shop. His diminished inventory resulted “not from any Neglect in him, but from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.” In other words, Appleton faithfully abided by the terms of the boycott. He asked for the understanding of prospective customers and, more generally, demanded the respect of all readers who supported the boycott.
To offset any inconvenience, Appleton also acquired alternate merchandise: “a Quantity of Germantown Stockings.” The shopkeeper explained that he now retailed those items “to encourage the Home Manufacture.” In so doing, he demonstrated that he supported another prong of the plan for overcoming the abuses of Parliament. Colonists realized that boycotts by themselves likely would not be enough; they also needed to become more self-sufficient, especially if they wished to correct a trade imbalance with Great Britain. Producing and consuming “domestic manufactures” had been part of the larger plan as soon as colonists began discussing nonimportation agreements. Once again, Appleton made certain that members of his community, especially prospective customers, knew that he had done his part to faithfully execute the plan.
Ordinarily, having a vast assortment of merchandise would have been a selling point for Appleton or any other shopkeeper. Running low on goods would not have been a point of pride. Yet in these circumstances Appleton turned a shortcoming into a virtue, arguing that customers should indeed patronize his shop precisely because he had less to offer than usual. By implication, doing so demonstrated their own patriotism.