What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The approbation of all Free born Souls and true Sons of Liberty.”
Thomas Mewse, “Lately from England,” chose a good time to migrate to Boston and set up shop as a weaver. In the fall of 1769, he ran an advertisement to inform the residents of the city that he intended to produce a variety of textiles, everything from “CAMBLETS of all qualities” to “striped and featherd Broglios” to “plain Baragons.” Mewse made this announcement while the nonimportation agreement to protest the duties levied on certain goods by the Townshend Acts was still in effect. Merchants and shopkeepers vowed not to import textiles and most other consumer goods from London and other English ports, though they continued to sell those items imported before the nonimportation agreement went into effect. Still, neither wholesalers and retailers nor their customers had access to new merchandise, only inventory that had been stockpiled a year or more earlier in anticipation of the nonimportation agreement going into effect at the beginning of 1769.
Not only had those goods lingered on shelves or in storehouses for an extended period, they lacked the cachet of having been made in the American colonies. To address both the Townshend Acts and an imbalance of trade with Britain, colonists vowed to support “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in America, as an alternative to imported goods. Consuming American goods became a badge of honor; advertisers encouraged such thinking (and their own sales) by launching “Buy American” campaigns with greater frequency in the late 1760s. Mewse joined the chorus, proclaiming that his textiles would surely merit “the approbation of all Free born Souls and true Sons of Liberty.” He made a savvy pitch, both informing prospective customers that he made textiles and challenging them to display their commitment to the American cause by purchasing from him.
Lest consumers worry that Mewse’s domestic manufacturers were of inferior quality to imported textiles that had been sitting on shelves for many months, he trumpeted his credentials. The weaver had been “regularly brought up to all these and various other Manufactures in a Capital house.” That made him so confident in his training that he asserted that no other weavers in Boston possessed better qualifications; he “presume[d] that no one is better acquainted with the Arts and Misteries” of weaving grograms, calimancoes, lutestrings, and the many other fabrics listed in his advertisement. Mewse was “determin’d to turn goods out compleatly made and high finished.” Prospective customers, he seemed to promise, would be well satisfied – both as consumers and as patriots – when they chose to acquire textiles from him. He did not need to explicitly invoke the Townshend Acts, the nonimportation agreement, or the movement to encourage domestic manufactures. Such topics were so commonly discussed, in the press and in the town square, that prospective customers understood the full scope of the appeals Mewse advanced to market his wares.