May 4

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Courant (May 4, 1773).

A new PLAN.”

When William Beadle “open’d a new Store” in Wethersfield, just south of Hartford, he placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant to inform prospective customers that he sold his wares according to “A new PLAN.”  Before explaining that plan, Beadle first attempted to entice consumers to browse the “great Variety for Gentlemen and Ladies wear,” placing particular emphasis on the choices he made available to female customers.  He also carried a “good Supply of necessary Articles for Family Use and Country Business.”  Beadle sold all of that merchandise “as cheap as Goods can be sold in the Country.”

However, he did not extend credit to his customers.  That was the “new PLAN” that he featured in the headline for his advertisement.  Beadle wished “to prevent all Distinctions, and the Difficulties and Inconvenience that attend the common Practice of trusting” or allowing customers to make purchases on credit.  He did not assume the responsibility of making “Distinctions” among his customers, deciding who merited credit and how much, nor did he intend to experience the “Difficulties and Inconveniences” of pleading with customers to settle accounts when their bills came due.  Merchants and shopkeepers frequently ran advertisements encouraging customers to settle accounts, some of them threatening legal action against those who proved recalcitrant.  Beadle’s solution to such problems was “not to trust at all, not even a Shilling to any Person whatsoever.”

He asked prospective customers to consider that “he is a Stranger in this Place, and consequently free from all Connections.”  In other words, he recently moved to the area and did not possess sufficient knowledge of the residents to make judicious decisions about granting credit to prospective customers.  That being the case, Beadle “hopes this Resolution will give no Offence.”  Furthermore, he invited “all Persons who are convinced of the Utility of Business being done in this Method, (considered either as a public or private Advantage) [to] favour him with their Countenance and Custom.”  As much as they enjoyed participating in a transatlantic consumer revolution, some colonizers began to consider purchasing on credit a vice and a character flaw.  As Kate Haulman notes, fine garments, like those sold by Beadle, often “expressed neither merit nor wealth, since [they were] purchased on credit.”[1]  Beadle framed his refusal to give credit as a virtue that consumers should reward with their patronage, a virtue that transferred to them when they did so.

As a newcomer to Wethersfield, Beadle presented his “new PLAN” for selling all sorts of goods, including garments for men and women, as a sound business practice that not only benefited his business but also his prospective customers by reeling in some of the excesses of the consumer revolution.  He wanted prospective customers to spend money and gave them a means of feeling as though they did so responsibly.


[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 634.

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