What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“No Subscriber can purchase any NEGROES, or OTHER GOODS, or MERCHANDIZE WHATEVER.”
On July 22, 1769, colonists who attended “a GENERAL MEETING of the Inhabitants of Charles-Town, and of the Places adjacent … unanimously agreed” to an “ASSOCIATION” for the purpose of “encourage[ing] and promot[ing] the Use of NORTH-AMERICAN MANUFACTURES” as an alternative to imported goods. They did so in protest of “the abject and wretched condition to which the BRITISH COLONIES are reduced by several Acts of Parliament lately passed.” In particular, residents of Charleston had the Townshend Acts in mind, objecting to attempts to regulate trade and impose duties on imported paper, tea, glass, and other products. Like their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, they adopted several resolutions that disrupted trade, seeking to use commerce as a toll to achieve political ends. In one resolution, they proclaimed that they would not “import into this Province any of the Manufacturers of GREAT-BRITAIN.” The Association and its resolutions received front page coverage in the August 3, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.
Several months later, the “General Committee” charged with oversight of the resolutions published reminders in the South-Carolina Gazette, inserting their own notices alongside the multitude of advertisements that regularly appeared in that newspaper. Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, showed his support from the start by making subscription papers available “to be signed” at his printing office. As various deadlines specified in the resolutions passed, he further aided the cause by giving one of the notices from the General Committee a privileged place in the November 16, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. Under the headline “New Advertisements,” it was the first to appear in that issue, serving as a reminder and setting the tone for the other advertisements on the following three pages. The General Committee proclaimed that it gave “Notice that agreeable to the Resolutions entered into by the Inhabitants of this Province on the 22d of July last, no Subscriber can purchase any NEGROES, or OTHER GOODS, or MERCHANDIZE WHATEVER, of or belonging to any resident that has REFUSED or NEGLECTED to sign the said Resolutions within ONE MONTH after the Date thereof: Of which it is expected all Persons concerned, will take due Notice.” This particular measure put pressure on colonists who did not join the movement.
The General Committee posted another notice on the following page. This time, Timothy positioned it in the middle of the page, surrounded by other advertisements. In it, the General Committee asserted “that the time is expired, during which the Subscribers, to the Resolutions of this Province, could purchase any Kind of European or East-India Goods, excepting COALS and SALT, from any Master of Vessel, transient Person, or Non-Subscriber: And that the time is also expired, for purchasing or selling NEGROES from any Place except such as may arrive directly from the Coast of Africa: And it is hoped, that every Person concerned, will strictly adhere to the Resolutions.” The final line was both reminder and threat. Merchants and shopkeepers as well as consumers needed to exercise care in their commercial transactions. Advertisers who promoted merchandise “just imported … from BRITAIN” (as William Simpson stated in his advertisement on the same page) faced a new commercial landscape in which they needed to demonstrate when they had ordered and acquired their goods or else face consequences for not abiding by the resolutions adopted by the Association. The inventory in shops and the goods colonists wore and used came under new scrutiny, but so did advertisements for those items since anything inserted in the public prints allowed for easy surveillance by concerned colonists interested in whether merchants and shopkeepers violated the nonimportation resolutions.