What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES … VIOLATORS OF THE RESOLUTIONS.”
The “GENERAL COMMITTEE” responsible for overseeing adherence to the nonimportation agreement adopted in Charleston in July 1769 ran an advertisement in the June 5, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform the community of two violations. The story of the first had unfolded over several months. Benjamin Mathewes, a merchant and “Subscriber to the Resolutions,” had imported “sundry Goods from London” in January, but upon being detected had “voluntarily agreed to store” them until nonimportation came to an end and “a general Importation should take Place.” The committee published the new agreement that Mathewes signed to that effect.
For many colonists caught in such circumstances that was the end of the story. Newspaper notices published in several colonies documented violators attempting to rehabilitate their reputations and relationships with the community by making special effort to abide by the terms of the nonimportation agreed after they had been discovered deviating from it. Such was the case for William Glen and Son, “having also been guilty of a Breach of the Resolutions.” Glen and Son acknowledged that they had imported some textiles “contrary to the Resolutions” and then agreed to store them for the duration of the boycott. However, “through Mistake” they “disposed of a few Pieces.” For that error, they “declare our Sorrow” and promised to “adhere strictly to the Resolutions” in the future. Glen and Son also agreed to deposit the remainder of the textiles and other goods “in the public Stores” where they would not have access to them, thus offering reassurance that the mistake would not happen again. The committee stated that Glen and Son depicted the incident as “an Act of Inadvertence, rather than Design” and recommended that their pledge to turn over the remaining textiles “will be received as a sufficient Atonement for their Fault, and restore them to the Public’s Favour and Confidence.”
Mathewes, on the other hand, did not make the same effort to demonstrate his recalcitrance, prompting the committee to take a different approach to his case. Although he affixed his signature to an apology and claimed that he would turn over the goods, the Committee of Inspection discovered that “many of the said Goods … had been opened” and sold. Mathewes claimed that his mother, Ann, also a subscriber to the nonimportation agreement, had been responsible for their sale while he was away from town. Neither mother nor son “ma[d]e proper Satisfaction to the Public for such shameful Breach of their sacred Contracts.” Indeed, the elder Mathewes continued to sell the goods “in manifest Violation of the said Resolutions.”
This resulted in consequences. Although the General Committee had shown “all possible Lenity and Forbearance” in attempting to resolve the situation, they came to the point that they deemed it necessary to advertise “ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES, as VIOLATORS OF THE RESOLUTIONS.” The committee asserted that these violators were guilty of “counteracting the united Sentiments of the whole Body of the People, not only in this, but all the Northern Provinces; and prefering their own little private Advantage to the general Good of AMERICA.” The Mathewes had betrayed both consumers and their country. The Committee even more stridently made that point, proclaiming that “every such Violator should be treated with the utmost Contempt.” Furthermore, the committee instructed those who supported the nonimportation agreement “against having any commercial Dealings whatever with the said ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES.” Until they took the necessary actions to redeem themselves, “their Actions must declare them to be obstinate and inveterate Enemies to their Country, and unworthy of the least Confidence or Esteem.”
The General Committee told two stories of violations of the nonimportation agreement, one about the contrite Glen and Son and the other about two generations of the Mathewes family who refused to abide by the resolutions they had signed. In each instance, the committee made recommendations for how members of the community should interpret these actions and react to the perpetrators. By publishing this advertisement, the committee used the power of the press in their efforts to achieve compliance with the agreement and shape the narrative of resistance to the duties on certain imported goods that Parliament imposed in the Townshend Acts.