What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Nothing has been contrary to the true Spirit and Intention of the Articles of Association.”
Legh Master’s advertisement for “A CARGO of European and East India GOODS” dated December 6, 1769, continued to run in the February 1, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette, nearly two months after it first appeared. In it, Master indicated that he had “JUST IMPORTED” the merchandise. He appended a lengthy note to explain some of the circumstances surrounding the arrival of his wares in Annapolis. The digital remediation of the original eighteenth-century newspaper is difficult to decipher, compelling a transcription of that note in its entirety.
“The Committee of Merchants of this City, having fully considered all the Papers, and Evidence relative to this Affair, and being quite satisfied, that in the Purchase and Importation of those Goods, nothing has been done contrary to the true Spirit and Intention of the Articles of Association of this Province, unanimously consented to their being landed, and disposed of in such Manner as I should think proper. L.M.”
Master imported and sold goods during the era of the imperial crisis that ultimately resulted in the American Revolution. He did so at a time that tensions between colonists and Parliament had intensified due to the duties levied on certain imported goods – paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea – in the Townshend Acts. Colonists engaged in various methods of resistance, including leveraging commerce and consumer culture as political tools when they refused to import a much broader array of goods than just those taxed by Parliament. Merchants, shopkeepers, and others collectively committed to such plans, joining local associations and signing nonimportation agreements. Committees oversaw compliance, alerting the public when fellow colonists refused to join the boycott or violated its terms after signing. Reputations hung in the balance as colonists policed the decisions their friends and neighbors made about imported goods.
Master had concerns about running afoul of the local “Committee of Merchants” in Annapolis. He also sought to reassure prospective customers that they could purchase his merchandise without endangering their own standing in the community. He intended for the lengthy note appended to his advertisement to provide those assurances, especially since his fellow colonists could easily verify whether the committee had indeed examined the evidence and “unanimously consented” to Master accepting the shipment and selling the goods as he saw fit. Like other retailers in the late 1760s and early 1770s, Master made a case that consumers could purchase his wares and be patriotically correct in doing so.