What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“America is not necessarily obliged to import these articles.”
Many entrepreneurs launched “Buy American” campaigns before the thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain. Advertisements that encouraged consumers to purchase “domestic manufactures” became a common sight in newspapers during the imperial crisis, increasing in number and frequency when the conflict intensified and receding, but not disappearing, when relations cooled. During the Stamp Acts crisis, for instance, advertisers encouraged consumers to buy goods produced in the colonies. They did so again while the nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Townshend Acts remained in effect. Even when merchants resumed importing merchandise from England following the repeal of all of the duties except the one on tea, some advertisers continued their efforts to convince consumers to buy goods produced in the colonies.
Such was the case for snuff “MADE AND SOLD By GEORGE TRAILE” on Bowery Lane in New York. Traile proclaimed that his snuff was “equal to any imported from Europe” and then outlined “the advantages which would evidently result to the Colonies from this branch of business, was it to meet proper encouragement.” In other words, prospective customers had a duty to make good decisions that took into account the common good for the colonies when they purchased snuff. He estimated that one in ten of the “three millions of people in British America” spent twenty shillings on snuff annually, calculating that amounted to “three hundred thousand pounds.” Traile supposed that one-fifth of that amount represented profits for the importers, with the remainder “remitted yearly form this country never to return.” That imbalance harmed the colonies and, especially, the livelihoods of colonists. Traile concluded with a “Query” for consumers. “Would it not be better,” he asked, “to save such an immense sum to the colonies, than to put sixty thousand pounds in the pockets of a few individuals by making that remittance?” Here he identified another problem, at least from the perspective of an artisan who created goods for the market. A relatively small number of merchants who imported snuff garnered the profits. Consumers who purchased tobacco products funneled their money to merchants and the mother country rather than supporting colonists like Traile trying to make an honest living.
Traile declared that “America is not necessarily obliged to import” snuff “from any other country.” Readers of the New-York Journal had it in their power as consumers to make other choices that would accrue benefits to the colonies and residents who supported local economies by producing domestic manufactures.