What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“I also expect by the first vessels from London and Bristol, a number of other articles suitable for the season.”
In the fall of 1768 Eleazer Miller, Jr., placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to promote the “neat assortment of Goods fit for the Season” that he had “just imported.” Miller’s inventory included a variety of textiles, garments, and adornments, including an “assortment of silk handkerchiefs, mens black cravats, [and] womens Barcelona handkerchiefs.” Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he indicated the English ports where shipments of those goods had originated. Some had arrived “from London, per Capts. Gilchrist, Farquhar, Mund, & Miller” and others via the “last vessels from Bristol.” Doing so helped to confirm that Miller carried new merchandise. He assumed that readers would be familiar with the vessels that had recently arrived in port. Those who were not could compare Miller’s list to the shipping news, a list of ships, captains, and ports of origin provided by the customs house.
Yet Miller did not solely market goods “just imported” from English cities. He also encouraged prospective customers to anticipate other merchandise that would arrive soon. After listing dozens of items already in stock, Miller noted, “I also expect by the first vessels from London and Bristol, a number of other articles suitable for the season, which will also be sold cheap.” Perhaps Miller hoped that prospective customers would make their way to his store in Hanover Square regularly to see what kinds of new items had arrived since their last visit. Announcing that he expected additional shipments let consumers know that he did not allow the inventory on his shelves to stagnate, nor did he expect shoppers to accept whatever goods happened to remain. Instead, he refreshed his wares to better serve his customers … at least for the moment.
In addition to such concerns, Miller also faced a deadline of sorts. On August 27, “nearly all the Merchants and Traders in Town” had subscribed to a nonimportation agreement in response to the taxes levied by the Townshend Act. Their resolution appeared in the September 8, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. The first resolution stated that they “will not send for from Great-Britain, either upon our own Account or on Commission, any other Goods than what we have already ordered.” By underscoring that he expected the imminent arrival of new merchandise via vessels from London and Bristol, Miller could claim that these were goods that he had “already ordered” and that they did not violate the nonimportation agreement. Furthermore, the second resolution stated that the city’s merchants and traders “will not import any kind of Merchandise from Great-Britain, either on our own Account or on Commission … that shall be shipped from Great-Britain after the First Day of November.” Again, by emphasizing that any new merchandise in his shop would arrive on “the first vessels from London and Bristol” Miller suggested that he abided by the parameters of the nonimportation agreement.
Merchants and shopkeepers in New York subscribed to their nonimportation agreement only after stockpiling goods to sell to local consumers. By skating right up to the deadlines for ceasing orders and deliveries, Miller did not explicitly mention the nonimportation agreements but he did send a message to prospective customers with a wink and a nod. Even as colonists extolled the virtues of resistance through their endorsements of nonimportation they could continue many of their usual habits of consumption. The new merchandise at Miller’s store provided the means for doing so.