What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Person acting in direct Opposition to the general Sense of the Town.”
When Parliament repealed the duties on most imported goods that had been imposed in the Townshend Acts, New York quickly abandoned its nonimportation agreement and resumed trade with British merchants. Boston and Philadelphia, however, maintained their nonimportation pacts for several month because duties on tea yet remained. Merchants and traders had specified that they would not import goods from Britain until Parliament eliminated all of the duties. All the repeal of most of the duties was a victory, it was a partial victory. For months, colonists in Boston and Philadelphia debated whether they should relent.
Yet this discourse was not confined to the largest port cities. Similar discussions took place in other towns as well. In Salem, Massachusetts, for instance, the Committee of Inspection determined in late August 1770 that John Hendy was “a Person acting in direct Opposition to the general Sense of the Town” because he “persist[ed] in his Refusal to sign the Agreement against selling Tea.” Even worse, he also continued to sell tea. In an advertisement that ran in the September 3 edition of the Essex Gazette, the Committee of Inspection instructed the public “to withdraw their Connections from the said Hendy” for refusing to support the patriotic principles put into action in the “Agreement against selling Tea.” The committee further described Hendy as “preferring a little private Interest to the public Good, and thus favouring the Designs of the Enemies to American Liberty.” Other merchants and shopkeepers made sacrifices to support and maintain the nonimportation agreement, understanding that the stakes were much larger than their own businesses. By selling tea, the committee argued, Hendy became a collaborator and thus should suffer the consequences. The advertisement was a public shaming intended meant to have an impact on both Hendy’s business and his reputation. It also served as an additional mechanism for possibly bringing Hendy into line with “the general Sense of the Town” if enough readers did indeed cease doing business of any sort with him or refused to socialize with him. Hendy had not been swayed so far, but the Committee of Inspection hoped that the advertisement might help turn the tide and bring him into compliance. At a time when some entrepreneurs used advertisements to proclaim their patriotic principles as part of their marketing strategies, newspaper notices also informed the public about violators to avoid.