March 7

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Essex Gazette (March 7, 1769).

“The best New-England Flour of Mustard.”

In “A Taste for Mustard: An Archaeological Examination of a Condiment and Its Bottles from a Loyalist Homestead in Upper Canada,” Denise C. McGuire provides an overview of mustard production and consumption and examines an excavation of the Butler Homestead site in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. “Flour of Mustard” was very popular in Britain. It played an important role in eighteenth-century cooking, but was also considered to have medicinal value. It also reveals changes in transatlantic trade. Initially imported in the American colonies, it was subsequently grown there. As we can see in this advertisement, flour of mustard was sold in the colonies; it even specifically states that it was “New-England Flour of Mustard,” proudly showing that the mustard was grown and produced in the colonies.

That production continued after the American Revolution, intended for local consumption as well as export. When a cache of glass bottles was discovered, the square shape led McGuire to believe that they were mustard bottles. The discoveries at the Butler Homestead show that Loyalists got their flour of mustard from American producers after the Revolution. “[E]ven two generations after the first wave of Loyalist settlement, the ability to acquire simple commodities was not always easily accessible in more remote locations.”[1] Such evidence shows that the Butler family retained commercial ties to upstate New York even after the Revolutionary War.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When she consulted me about including this advertisement among those she would examine during her week as guest curator, Olivia expressed some concern about Chloe Amour previously examined flour of mustard in another advertisement recently featured on the Adverts 250 Project. She did not wish to duplicate the work of one of her peers. I encouraged her to continue with Thomas Walley’s advertisement, especially after she revealed that she had already consulted McGuire’s article. We certainly had more to learn about this particular commodity. As we move chronologically from the imperial crisis to the early republic, our Revolutionary America class has so far focused on the politics and economics of producing, trading, and consuming goods in the 1760s through the early 1780s. By incorporating mustard bottles uncovered during an archaeological excavation of a Loyalist site in Canada, Olivia has given our class a preview of the period we will be examining later in the semester.

For my part, I’m interested in the many similarities between Walley’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette and William Chace’s advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Both named their products “New-England Flour of Mustard,” emphasizing that it had been produced locally. Walley underscored that his mustard “has been greatly admired, both for its Strength and Flavor, by all that have used it.” Similarly, Chace proclaimed that his mustard “is allowed by the best Judges to be superior both for Strength and Flavour to any imported.” In this instance, Chace more explicitly attached a political meaning to acquiring his mustard, comparing it imports that many colonists had vowed to eschew as acts of economic resistance against the Townshend Acts. Walley made a nod toward such appeals when he offered to make “An Allowance … to those that buy to sell again, in order to encourage this Manufacture.” Such discounts may have helped to move his product out the door and, eventually, into the hands of greater numbers of consumers, but they also invoked images of “domestic manufacture” so often touted in news and editorials, especially in those moments that the imperial crisis intensified. Even Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, stocked a “small Parcel of the above Mustard” to make it available to residents of Salem who might not otherwise have an opportunity to acquire it from Walley at his store in Boston. In advancing similar appeals to prospective customers, Walley and Chace demonstrated that they participated in a larger conversation about the meaning of mustard. In the late 1760s, mustard did more than merely flavor food. It was enmeshed in the politics of the period.

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[1] Denise C. McGuire, “A Taste for Mustard: An Archaeological Examination of a Condiment and Its Bottles from a Loyalist Homestead in Upper Canada,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 20, no. 4 (December 2016): 680.