What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“English GOODS, imported agreeable to the Non-importation Agreement.”
Joshua Gardner listed a variety of imported “English GOODS” in his advertisement in the June 28, 1770 edition, of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Before even enumerating the “blue capuchin silks” or the “horn & ivory combs” or the “brass candlesticks,” Gardner first informed prospective customers and the entire community of readers that he imported his wares “agreeable to the Non-importation Agreement.” Among the advertisers who promoted consumer goods and services in that issue of the News-Letter, Gardner was not alone in asserting when he had acquired his inventory. Oliver Greenleaf advertised “Umbrilloes,” an exotic and fashionable accessory, as well as “a Variety of other Articles.” Rather than a preamble, he incorporated a postscript pledging that “All … were imported agreeable to the Merchants Agreement.” Similarly, Smith and Atkinson stated in a nota bene that they carried “A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants).” Other advertisers made similar claims in notices inserted in other newspapers published in Boston that week.
With the repeal of all of the Townshend duties on imported goods with the exception of tea, the fate of nonimportation agreements throughout the colonies became uncertain. When word of the repeal arrived in the colonies in May 1770, merchants in New York quickly dissolved their agreement and resumed trade with their counterparts in England. In late June, the agreements in Boston and Philadelphia still remained in effect, though neither would survive to the end of the year. Gardner, Greenleaf, and Smith and Atkinson likely realized that the agreement adopted by Boston’s merchants might not last much longer; for the moment, their merchandise had the cachet of promoting political principles, but once the nonimportation agreement collapsed and competitors began importing new goods from England their wares imported before the agreement went into effect would become leftovers that had lingered on the shelves and in warehouses. In composing their advertisements, Gardner and others may have suspected that they had one last chance to link their merchandise to patriotic principles before new goods flooded the market.