What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Near LIBERTY TREE, BOSTON.”
Purveyors of goods and services in Boston used a variety of means to specify their locations in 1771. William Taylor and Peter Hughes merely listed King Street as their addresses. Similarly, Andrew Brimmer stated that his shop was located in the “South-End, BOSTON,” but did not elaborate beyond that. Joshua Gardner sold “a Fine Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS … at his Shop in Cornhill, just above the Post-Office.” John Hunt carried a variety of merchandise at his shop “next door Northward to the Heart and Crown,” the printing office where Thomas Fleet and John Fleet published the Boston Evening-Post. Bartholomew Kneeland also used that printing office as a landmark, giving his location as “the Fourth to the Northward of School-Street, and nearly opposite to the Heart & Crown in Cornhill.” Samuel Franklin sold razors and a variety of cutlery at the Sign of the Razor and Crown. Ziphion Thayer stocked paper hangings (or wallpaper) at the Sign of the “Golden Lyon.” George Leonard hawked grains and chocolate at “the New Mills, near the Mill-Bridge.” Bethiah Oliver peddled seeds at her shop “opposite the Old South Meeting-House.” John Coleman sold beer and operated a “House of Entertainment” at “the Sign of the General Wolfe, North-side Faneuil-Hall Market.”
All of these descriptions for locations appeared in advertisements on the third page of the March 14, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Some of the shop signs invoked British identity and celebrated being part of the empire, especially those that included crowns. The Sign of the General Wolfe honored one of the heroes of the Seven Years War who gloriously died on the battlefield after breaking the siege of Quebec in 1759. Some advertisers expressed pride in other aspects of British history and culture in the directions they gave to their shops. John Gore, Jr., sold a variety of goods “Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston.” Rosannah Moore stocked a “general Assortment of Wines” at “her Wine-Cellar near LIBERTY TREE, BOSTON.” These retailers invoked traditional English liberties while simultaneously commemorating recent abuses perpetrated against colonists by Parliament and soldiers quartered in Boston. The Liberty Tree stood as a symbol of resistance to the Stamp Act, the duties on imported goods in the Townshend Acts, and the murder of colonists during the Boston Massacre. Gore and Moore both choose to associate their businesses with that recent history of resistance. As the variety of means of giving directions in other advertisements demonstrate, Gore and Moore could have formulated many other means for instructing customers how to find their shops. They purposefully selected the Liberty Tree, their advertisements for consumer goods resonating with political overtones as a result.