What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“At present it seems peculiarly the interest of America to encourage her own manufactories.”
In August 1769, Richard Wistar took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to advertise the products he manufactured at his “GLASS-WORKS” in Philadelphia. His inventory included “BOXES of WINDOW GLASS, consisting of the common sizes” as well as “most sorts of bottles,” containers for mustard and snuff, and other specialty glassware. Wistar also offered to cut glass windows of “uncommon sizes.”
To encourage prospective customers to purchase his wares, Wistar emphasized that “the abovementioned glass is of American manufactory” and then launched into a political lesson that matched the discourse circulating throughout the colonies in newspapers and in conversations in taverns, coffeehouses, and town squares. Glass produced in the colonies was “consequently clear of the duties the Americans so justly complain of,” duties imposed on certain imported goods by Parliament in the Townshend Acts. Wistar continued his lecture: “at present, it seems peculiarly the interest of America to encourage her own manufactories, more especially those upon which duties have been imposed, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue.” Those goods included paper, tea, lead, paints, and, most significantly for Wistar, glass.
In response, colonists revived a strategy they had previously pursued to resist the Stamp Act: merchants and shopkeepers vowed not to import goods from Britain. In order for their economic resistance to have greater political impact, they did not limit their boycott to only those goods indirectly taxed by the Townshend Acts. Instead, they enumerated a broad array of goods that they would not import or sell until the duties had been repealed. Simultaneously, they issued calls for the encouragement of “domestic manufactures” and argued that consumers could demonstrate their own politics in the marketplace by making a point of purchasing goods produced in the colonies. Neither producers nor consumers alone would have as much of an impact as both exercising their civic virtue through “encourage[ing] her own manufactories,” as Wistar reminded readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.
Colonists certainly imbibed political arguments in news articles and editorials in newspapers, but they also encountered them in advertisements. In the service of selling goods and services, savvy entrepreneurs mobilized politics during the period of the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution. They directed consumers away from some products in favor of purchasing others, challenging them to consider the ramifications of their activities in the marketplace.