March 13

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Boston Chronicle (March 13, 1769).

“The Reign of his MAJESTY KING GEORGE III.”

This advertisement features an almanac sold by John Mein, who happened to be one of the printers of the Boston Chronicle. The advertisement talks about the king and refers to him as “his MAJESTY KING GEORGE III,” which was still common in 1769 because most colonists were not yet fully in favor of independence. Loyalists were still present in the colonies despite many of the colonists having turned against Parliament because of the Townshend Acts. Mein might have been trying to use this wording to appeal to the colonists and make them want to sympathize with the King again. He was not afraid to show his support for the crown, even if it made some colonists unhappy.

As I read through this newspaper, I kept on noticing John Mein’s name appearing over and over again. I did some research to see what else I could learn about him. He was indeed a loyalist who got himself into a good amount of trouble. According to Carol Sue Humphrey in The American Revolution and the Press, he was very openly opposed to the colonial violation of the nonimportation agreement and often tried to expose those who cheated while they claimed they boycotted British goods in an attempt to have Parliament repeal the taxes from the Townshend Acts.[1] Many of the colonists saw him as a threat and tried to end his schemes. After a series of arguments and some physical altercations, Mein ends up accidently shooting an innocent bystander during an exchange with some angry colonists. In order to avoid trial, he fled the colonies and headed back to Britain

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In his analysis of John Mein’s advertisement for Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanac, Luke draws on a theme that we have developed in our Revolutionary America class: the transition from resistance to revolution. Rather than assume that as soon as Parliament imposed the Stamp Act in 1765 colonists began clamoring for independence, we have instead traced how they initially sought a redress of grievances and worked for reconciliation with Parliament. Only after “a long train of abuses and usurpations,” as Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence, did colonists determine that they wished to sever political ties with Great Britain rather than remain part of its empire. By March 1769 colonists had experienced only some of those “abuses” and they did not know what kinds of “usurpations” they might encounter in the future. As Luke notes, many colonists were in the process of enacting nonimportation agreements, leveraging commerce as a means of political resistance in hopes that Parliament would repeal the Townshend Acts just as it had repealed the Stamp Act three years earlier.

Yet not everyone took up the patriot cause, not in 1769 nor in 1776. Luke and his classmates have also studied the presence of loyalists in the colonies during the imperial crisis and the war. I appreciate how he drew on our discussions from class to seek evidence of loyalist sentiment in newspapers and advertisements from the period. The advertisement he selected appeared next to another placed by John Mein and his partner John Fleeming, that one for a “REGISTER FOR NEW-ENGLAND and NOVA-SCOTIA … AND An ALMANACK for 1769.” This second advertisement extensively listed the contents of the almanac, which was a common marketing strategy intended to excite interest among prospective customers. Unlike other advertisements, however, it emphasized “BRITISH LISTS” that included “Births, Marriages and Issues of the Royal family,” an “Alphabetical List of the HOUSE of COMMONS,” and lists of “His Majesty’s most Honorable Privy Council,” among many others. Like other almanacs, Mein and Fleeming’s Register also included lists of colonial officeholders, but it placed particular emphasis on the connection to Britain. The printers used both their almanac and the advertisement to assert British identity even at a time that the rocky relationship between colonies and Parliament intensified. Perhaps they even went to such efforts because they witnessed the relationship deteriorating and wished to remind their fellow colonists where their loyalties should lie.

The Adverts 250 Project frequently traces advertisements that voiced patriot sentiments, either explicitly or implicitly, in the late 1760s, yet patriots were not the only ones who promoted their allegiances in newspaper advertisements. Some loyalists, especially bold ones like Mein, utilized advertisements in addition to other portions of the public prints to make political arguments.

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[1] Carol Sue Humphrey, The American Revolution and the Press: The Promise of Independence (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2013), 56-58.

January 15

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

Boston Chronicle (January 12, 1769).

The sittings of the superior and inferior courts … may be depended on as correct.”

In January 1769, printers and booksellers throughout the colonies advertised almanacs for the new year, attempting to sell excess inventory rather than take a loss on surplus copies. In his efforts to incite demand for a second edition of “BICKERSTAFFs BOSTON ALMANACK,” John Mein emphasized the accuracy of its contents, especially the dates of the “sittings of the superior and inferior courts” in Massachusetts. In so doing, Mein implicitly referenced a dispute between other printers in Boston, William McAlpine on one side and T. and J. Fleet, Edes and Gill, and Richard Draper on the other. After McAlpine issued Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1769 in the fall of 1768, a cabal of rival printers published a counterfeit edition of the popular almanac. To add insult to injury, they promoted the pirated copy by running advertisements that claimed “a counterfeit Ames’s Almanack has been printed not agreeable to the original copy” and implied that it contained “above Twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts.”

Mein did not weigh in on that controversy, but as one of the printers of the Boston Chronicle he almost certainly would have been aware of it. With so many competing titles, he took advantage of an opportunity to distinguish the almanac that he printed and sold at his bookstore on King Street. His advertisement in the January 12 edition of the Boston Chronicle did not comment on any of the contents except to declare the accuracy of the court dates. Mein did not highlight any of the entertaining features. He did not promote other useful information included in the almanac. Instead, he assured prospective customers that “The sittings of the superior and inferior courts of this province, inserted in this Almanack, may be depended on as correct; being obtained from a Gentlemen, one of the Clerks of the court.” Mein had done his due diligence in confirming the dates with a reputable source before taking the almanac to press. Furthermore, “The same care has been taken with the courts of the other provinces.” Prospective customers who might have business in Connecticut, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island could depend the accuracy of the dates in Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack.

That Mein issued a second edition testified to the popularity of the almanac, yet he presented readers an additional reason for choosing it over others. Amidst the uncertainty of which edition of Ames’s Almanack contained accurate information, consumers could sidestep the confusion by purchasing Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack instead. Its contents had been carefully compiled after consultation with officials who possessed the most accurate information about when the courts would conduct business in 1769.