What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer.”
On July 3, 1770, Thomas Robie of Marblehead, Massachusetts, placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette. In it, he promoted “GUN-Powder, Shot, Bar-Lead, and Wool-Cards” as well as nails in a variety of sizes and “a Number of other Articles, in the Hard Ware Way, imported in August last.” Yet Robie did more than merely mention the merchandise he offered for sale. The shopkeeper devoted just as much space in his advertisement to explaining the circumstances for acquiring those goods, asserting that he abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of the duties on certain imported goods. In so doing, he defended his reputation and responded to rumors that apparently circulated about the origins of his inventory.
“He hereby informs the Public,” Robie proclaimed, “that notwithstanding the Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer, he is not now, nor ever has been , possessed of any Goods ordered since April, 1769 (six or eight Months before the nonimportation Agreement was entered into by this Town) excepting the four first mentioned Articles, which are allowed by said Agreement.” He offered an accounting of his activities, noting both when he ordered goods and which items did not fall under the nonimportation agreement and thus did not count as violations. In specifying that he ordered (rather than received) goods prior to the agreement going into effect, he may have revealed the source of some of the confusion if those orders had not arrived before the prohibition on placing new orders went into effect. Some merchants and shopkeepers parsed the provisions of nonimportation agreements, especially when they allowed for gradual implementation that allowed for the receipt of orders already placed but not new orders. Robie noted that his hardware had been imported in August 1769, but he had not placed any new orders since April 1769.
Whether Robie adhered to the letter of the agreement, the spirit of the agreement, or neither, he believed that gossip that “represent[ed] him in the unpopular Light of an Importer” damaged his standing in the community. That prompted him to turn to the public prints to address those stories and offer reassurances to prospective customers that they would not become complicit in undermining the political principles that inspired the nonimportation agreement if they purchased his goods.