What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Stolen … a small pair of mens worsted black stockings.”
Several advertisers placed notices in the November 5, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant to inform readers that they carried a variety of items. Thomas Hopkins, for instance, hawked a “fresh & general assortment of English & India GOODS” at his shop in Hartford. Similarly, P. Verstille promoted a “neat and universal assortment of English and East India GOODS … at his Store in Weathersfield.” Daniel Cotton and Nathaniel Goodwin, both in Hartford, inserted similar advertisements.
Even in small towns in Connecticut, colonists had many opportunities to participate in the consumer revolution by shopping at local stores. Yet visiting those shops and paying in “Cash or Produce in hand,” as each of the advertisers specified, was not the only means for acquiring new goods. In the same issue, Walter Hyde of Lebanon placed an advertisement that a “thief or thieves” stole “a small pair of mens worsted black stockings, & two pieces of claret colour’d homespun serge.” The shopkeeper suspected that “some other articles are taken away that are not missed yet.” Hyde offered a reward in hopes of apprehending the culprits and recovering his merchandise.
The thieves may have stolen the stockings and textiles for their own use, but they might also have sold them to others who were unaware or did not care that they were stolen. An informal economy, a black market of sorts, emerged in eighteenth-century America, running parallel to the legitimate transactions that took place in the shops and stores that appeared in so many newspaper advertisements. For the poor and marginalized who could not afford or could not gain access to those spaces, purchasing secondhand or stolen goods became a viable alternative that allowed them to participate in the consumer revolution. Such was the situation not only in the largest urban ports but also in small towns like Lebanon, Connecticut. The consumer revolution and the informal economy both had long reaches.