What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Violaters of the Non-importation Agreement.”
An advertisement concerning violations of the nonimportation agreement in New York, one “Of greater Importance to the Public, than any which has yet appeared on the like Occasions,” ran in the July 20, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. It detailed the indiscretions of Simeon Cooley, “Haberdasher, Jeweller and Silversmith,” who had moved to New York from London a few years earlier. Cooley had done well for himself, benefitting “so much by the Favour of his Customers” that he had managed to purchases a house in the city, near the Merchants Coffee House. When it came to the politics of nonimportation, Cooley initially displayed “a Disposition to co-operate with his Fellow Citizens, in the Measures thought necessary to be pursued for the Recovery and Preservation of their common inestimable Rights and Liberties.”
Yet Cooley did not abide by the nonimportation agreement that he had willingly signed. He was one of the first residents of New York suspected of having broken the pact, yet he explained that his goods did not fall under the agreement because they had been ordered before it went into effect. They arrived later than expected, but he had not submitted new orders since signing the agreement. Seemingly to his credit, he agreed to place those goods in storage while the agreement was still in effect, but that was just a ruse that took advantage of the leniency of the committee responsible for enforcement. Cooley attempted to salvage his reputation; the committee did not realize his “knavish Jesuitical Intentions.” He insisted that his goods would be ruined “unless they were opened and well cleaned.” Under that subterfuge, the “vile Ingrate” did not return all of the offending goods to the storehouse.
Even more boldly, he more recently imported other goods in the Edward, the “last Ship from London.” A record of the Edward arriving in New York appeared in the shipping news on the same page as the advertisement detailing Cooley’s transgressions. Cooley had finished pretending to submit to the nonimportation agreement: “he hesitates not to declare, that he has not at any time with-held his Orders for Goods, that he has already sold Part of those so treacherously and fraudulently obtained out of the Public Store, as before mentioned, that he will continue to sell the Remainder, together with those which arrived since, and all such as may arrive hereafter.” Cooley had no regard for anything stated in the nonimportation agreement, even though he had willingly signed it.
In response, the advertisement called on “the virtuous Inhabitants of this Colony” to exercise the appropriate “spirited and patriotic Conduct” when it came to Cooley and his “contemptuous Machinations.” This was not merely a matter of refusing to buy and sell from “so contemptible a Reptile and Miscreant” but also refusing to “have the least Intercourse with him on any Pretence whatsoever.” In other words, those who supported “so righteous a Cause” as the nonimportation agreement were instructed to shun Cooley. Furthermore, it was necessary to make an example of Cooley to keep his contagion from spreading. The advertisement demanded that he should “be treated on all Occasions, and by all legal Means as an Enemy to his Country, a Pest to Society, and a vile Disturber of the Peace, Police, and good Order of this City.”
Through his own actions, Cooley had damaged his reputation. He neglected to learn from his mistakes and refused to back down when discovered. This lengthy advertisement documented his violations of the nonimportation agreement and recommended punishments appropriate to the egregious manner he conducted himself. The repercussions were not confined to the realm of commerce but instead extended to his everyday interactions with the “virtuous Inhabitants of this Colony” as they shunned him for his violations. Cooley had earned the “Hatred of the Public.”