What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He has open’d SHOP near LIBERTY BRIDGE.”
William Knight, a “PERUKE MAKER and HAIR DRESSER, from London,” took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette in January and February 1773 to alert readers that “he has open’d SHOP” in Portsmouth. The wigmaker announced that he “will be ready to serve any Persons on reasonable Terms, who incline to employ him, and at shortest Notice.” He gave no other directions to his shop other than stating that it was “near LIBERTY BRIDGE,” a landmark familiar to residents of the town.
The bridge likely gained that name in late 1765 or early 1766 as colonizers protested the Stamp Act that went into effect on November 1, 1765. In November 1765, Barnabas Clarke ran an advertisement that did not include any directions to his shop. A month later, he simply stated that prospective customers could purchase flour, pork, and other commodities “At his STORE in Portsmouth.” At the end of March 1766, however, he published a new advertisement that included a headline that prominently made reference to what became a significant landmark: “TO BE SOLD / By Barnabas Clarke, / Near Liberty-Bridge.” By then, the bridge had been known by that name for at least a couple of months. The January 20, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post carried a story about a protest against that Stamp Act that occurred in Portsmouth on January 9, reporting that “a flag with the words … LIBERTY, PROPERTY, and NO STAMPS … is now fixed near LIBERTY-BRIDGE.”
Although Parliament relented and repealed the Stamp Act in the spring of 1766, colonizers continued to refer to the bridge as Liberty Bridge. That name continued to appear in advertisements that ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette throughout the imperial crisis that culminated in thirteen colonies declaring independence. Even a newcomer, like Knight, a wigmaker “form London,” evoked memories of the Stamp Act and protests when he incorporated the landmark into his newspaper advertisement and the directions he gave when he spoke to colonizers as he went about his business around town.