May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1769 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 11, 1769)

“Lately imported … before the Resolution of the Merchants for Non-Importation took Place.”

Erasmus Williams’s advertisement for “A large Assortment of all kind of Linnen Drapery” looked much the same as so many other advertisements placed in the Boston Weekly News-Letter and other newspapers by merchants and shopkeepers seeking to sell a variety of imported textiles. Nearly half of the advertisement consisted of a lost of the fabrics included among Williams’s merchandise at the Sign of the Blue Glove, from “Cambricks” to “printed Linens” to “flower’d & plain Lawns.”

Yet Williams included a curious preamble with his advertisement: “Lately imported from London, but last from New-York, and before the Resolution of the Merchants for Non-Importation took Place.” Like others who promoted their wares in the public prints, Williams noted the origins of his textiles. Usually asserting a connection to London worked to the advantage of advertisers, but that was not necessarily the case in 1769. In defiance of the taxes levied on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts, “Merchants & Traders in the town of BOSTON” and other places participated in boycotts of most English goods. A week before Williams’s advertisement ran in the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Richard Draper inserted an overview of such agreements in the Massachusetts Gazette. Draper reprinted the original resolutions adopted by merchants the previous August. In addition, he published a report that assessed to what extent those merchants had abided by the agreement not to import “any Kind of Goods or Merchandize from Great Britain.” This report found that only six out of 211 signers had imported such goods, but acknowledged that they had done so “through Inattention” and did not “countermand their Orders.” All six “readily and of their own Motion” agreed to surrender their goods to the committee of merchants overseeing the boycott. For the most part, even those “Merchants & Traders” who had not signed the agreement had adhered to it anyway. Only six or seven people continued to import goods from Great Britain “as usual.” Of equal concern, “It likewise appeared that a Quantity of Goods had been imported from New-York” since the nonimportation agreement went into effect, a strategy that might have allowed local merchants to sidestep the boycott. That being the case, those merchants who did abide by the terms of boycott determined that “the Articles of their Agreement should be printed in the Public Papers” as a reminder to merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers alike.

Two weeks before that report appeared in Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, Williams commenced publishing his advertisement, complete with the preamble that declared he had imported his merchandise “before the Resolution of the Merchants for Non-Importation took Place.” As a committee of merchants went about assessing compliance to the boycott, he proclaimed that he had not violated the agreement. Furthermore, his preamble advised prospective customers that they could still acquire English goods they wanted at his shop without defying the boycott, on a technicality. Politics need not infringe too much on his business or his customers’ desires.

January 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 6, 1769).

Printed on Paper made in New-England.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, found themselves in a predicament at the beginning of 1769. They could not acquire paper of the same size as they usually printed the newspaper, forcing them to publish it on smaller broadsheets. As a result, the first issue of the new year consisted of two columns per page rather than three, significantly reducing space available for news and advertising.

The Fowles could have avoided this inconvenience if they had been willing to print the New-Hampshire Gazette on paper imported from England. They explained the situation to readers in a notice that appeared as the first item in the January 6 edition. First, they extended an apology for distributing an issue “on so small a Paper.” Then they noted that “For some Time past it has not only been printed on paper made in New-England, but some of it our of the very Rags collected in Portsmouth.” At various times, the Fowles had encouraged colonists to donate, barter, or sell rags for the purpose of making paper. Their efforts paralleled those of others who manufactured paper in the colonies, including an emphasis on the politics of domestic consumption. The Fowles declared that they were “determined to make use of as little as possible on which the Duties must be paid,” referring to indirect taxes imposed by Parliament via the Townshend Act. In their own act of resistance, they “declined sending to London for any, for some Time” and instead “spared no Pains to get such as is manufactured here.” They anticipated that supplies of larger broadsheets produced locally would soon become available once again, but for the moment they once again apologized and extended “the Compliments of the Season” to their subscribers and other readers.

This notice implicitly reminded colonists of an important role they could play in opposing the Townshend Act: turning their linen rags over to printers and paper manufacturers. Those who already did so likely read issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette printed on paper produced from some of their own rags. More explicitly, the Fowles linked the production of their newspaper to the politics of the period, asserting that even their choice of paper had ramifications. They boycotted imported paper in order to avoid paying the duties, choosing instead to join the movement for the production and consumption of domestic goods. Each time colonists read or placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette, they indirectly participated in that movement as well.