What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Nail Manufactory at the Furnace Hope.”
The proprietors of the “Nail Manufactory at the Furnace Hope” placed an employment advertisement in the December 9, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. They sought “experienced Nail-Makers” who wished to be “usefully and advantageously employed” at the furnace in Scituate, “about 12 Miles from Providence.” The proprietors operated the furnace and aimed to establish a nail manufactory at a time that many colonists advocated for “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to goods imported from Britain. The nail manufactory had the potential to produce an important commodity for domestic consumption while simultaneously employing “A NUMBER” of colonists. The plan resonated with popular discourse of the period.
This “WANTED” advertisement appeared immediately below “A CARD” in which an unnamed “Daughter of Liberty” expressed an even more radical vision for the colonial economy. She addressed a “laudable Plan for building a Market-House,” expressing doubts about the eventual success of the venture. She suggested a different venture, making a “Proposal for … a Manufactory, for the Encouragement of Industry, and Employment of the Indigent and Indolent of both Sexes.” Rather than hiring experienced artisans, this manufactory would create jobs for vulnerable and marginalized colonists who did not necessarily possess specialized skills. The unnamed Daughter of Liberty envisioned a manufactory that would employ “both Sexes,” thus providing opportunities and income for women as well as men.
The author of this “CARD” described such a manufactory as “an Edifice which may be thought more immediately adapted to the Times,” predicting that it “would in a great Measure tend to avert the impending Ruin that threatens us.” Colonists could have thought of the “impending Ruin” in at least two ways. Given that the author identified herself (or perhaps himself) as a Daughter of Liberty, perhaps the “impending Ruin” referred to what would happen if the colonies did not develop their own industry and produce more of the goods they needed rather than rely on imports from Britain. The colonies experienced a trade deficit, a situation further exacerbated when Parliament imposed taxes on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts. That could have gone from bad to worse if Parliament decided on further taxation and regulation of commerce in the colonies. Yet the unnamed author may have had social rather than political concerns in mind, fearing the proliferation of “Indigent and Indolent” people who consumed too many resources on their way to becoming burdens that the community could no longer support. The author may have intended for readers to reach both conclusions, giving the “CARD” a political valence as a means of dressing up the less-than-charitable aspects of the commentary about the “Indigent and Indolent” in Rhode Island.