What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Goods were shipp’d in London for Boston, last September & October.”
In the late 1760s several vendue masters (or auctioneers) operated in Boston and regularly advertised in the city’s many newspapers. John Gerrish ran the “Public Vendue-Office” in the North End, where he held auctions on Tuesdays. In addition to putting items up for bid, Gerrish also sold some items by wholesale and retail, including an array of goods that he advertised in the September 21, 1769, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. These included textiles, stockings, pins, “and a great Variety of other Articles, too many to be here enumerated.”
Gerrish made a point of informing “his Friends, Country Gentlemen, Shopkeepers, Traders,” and anyone else reading his advertisement that the goods he offered for sale had been imported via London “last September & October.” They arrived a year earlier! Under most circumstances merchants, shopkeepers, and other traders avoided attaching any sort of age to inventory they had not just received on the latest ships from London and other English ports. Indeed, many advertisements for consumer goods incorporated standard language in the first lines, like “just imported,” before even listing the merchandise. This signaled to prospective customers that they could choose from among the most current fashions rather than sorting through leftovers which other shoppers passed over and left on the shelves for considerable amounts of time.
The age of Gerrish’s “very large Assortment of Goods, and Merchandize,” however, became a virtue as fall arrived in 1769. Items “shipp’d in London for Boston, last September & October” had been ordered before the nonimportation agreement adopted by merchants, shopkeepers, and other residents of Boston went into effect. As a means of economic resistance to the taxes levied in the Townshend Acts, colonists in Massachusetts and elsewhere vowed not to import goods from England. They hoped to disrupt trade so significantly that Parliament could not help but take notice, especially if English merchants pressured for repeal of the odious measures. That Gerrish’s goods arrived in Boston “last September & October” was not trivial. It was an important detail that kept the auctioneer in the good graces of his fellow colonist while giving them permission to purchase his wares without violating the terms of the nonimportation agreement.