What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants).”
The partnership of Smith and Atkinson offered cash for “Merchantable POTT & PEARL ASH” as well as “inferior Qualities of Pott Ash, and Black Salts” in an advertisement in the March 29, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. They also inserted a nota bene to inform prospective customers that they had for sale a “Small Assortment of English Goods,” asserting that merchandise had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.” In other words, Smith and Atkinson acquired their wares before the merchants and traders in Boston vowed not to import goods from Britain as a means of protesting duties levied on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts. Smith and Atkinson sought to assure prospective customers that they abided by the boycott, but they also hoped to testify to all readers of the News-Letter and, by extension, the entire community that they put into practice the prevailing political principles.
By the end of March 1770 this was a common refrain in newspaper advertisements, especially those published in Boston but also others in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia as well as smaller towns. The Adverts 250 Project regularly features such advertisements to demonstrate how widespread they became in the late 1760s and 1770s. While it might be tempting to suspect that a couple advertisements that promoted adhering to the nonimportation agreement were not representative of a marketing strategy widely adopted by merchants and shopkeepers, broader attention to the vast assortment of advertisements that noted compliance should make it more difficult to dismiss any of them as mere outliers. Not all advertisements for consumer goods and services published in the late 1760s and early 1770s made mention of nonimportation agreements. Not even a majority did so, but a significant minority did. Such advertisements appeared so frequently in colonial newspapers that readers must have become familiar with the efforts of merchants and shopkeepers to link their merchandise to protests of Parliamentary overreach.