What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All the above Articles, were imported before the Agreement, entered into by the Merchants for Non-importation, took Place.”
Thomas Lewis’s advertisement for an assortment of goods available at his shop in Marblehead cataloged dozens of items and extended nearly an entire column. In that regard, it matched advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers in other newspapers, especially those published in the largest port cities, but greatly exceeded the length of most that ran in the Essex Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s. Lewis listed everything from “ivory horn combs” to “large white stone dishes” to “men’s white and brown thread gloves.”
He apparently determined that if he was going to assume the expense of such a lengthy advertisement that he should extend it a little bit more to address concerns that members of his community might have about his inventory. After concluding his list, he informed readers that “All the above Articles, were imported before the Agreement, entered into by the Merchants for Non-importation, took Place.” Lewis had not violated the boycott in place as a means of protesting the duties Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts. Prospective customers could confidently purchase his wares without worrying that they became accomplices in undermining the nonimportation agreement. Reputation mattered, to both purveyors of goods and consumers. Lewis aimed to avoid drawing controversy to himself and his customers.
He did, however, provide one clarification concerning “a few Cheshire and Glocester cheeses,” stating that they were “sold by Consent of the Committee.” He did not offer additional details about how and when he came into possession of the cheese or why he had been granted an exception, but in mentioning that he acquired the “Consent of the Committee” that ferreted out violators of the nonimportation agreement Lewis indicated that he operated his shop under the supervision of members of the community entrusted to oversee the public welfare. He demonstrated that he was sufficiently concerned about abiding by the agreement that he consulted with those responsible for overseeing it.
Lewis was one of a growing number of shopkeepers who appended such notices to their newspaper advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s. The consumption of goods became an increasingly political act. Purveyors of goods played a significant role in that discourse as they made new kinds of appeals in their advertisements, simultaneously shaping discourse about the politics of goods and reacting to it.