May 30

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

South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1771).

“A Complete Assortment of GOODS (TEA excepted).”

John Edwards and Company moved quickly to place an advertisement for new merchandise in the South-Carolina Gazette.  According to the shipping news in the May 30, 1771, edition, the Heart-of-Oak arrived in port on May 27.  That gave Edwards and Company sufficient time to submit a brief advertisement to the printing office.  Their notice specified that they had “just imported” a variety of items “in the ship HEART-OF-OAK, Captain HENRY GUNN, from LONDON.”  The partners did not provide a list of their “Complete Assortment of GOODS” as a means of demonstrating the many choices available to consumers.  Perhaps they did not have enough time to unpack the merchandise before the weekly edition of the South-Carolina Gazette went to press so instead opted to entice prospective customers with promises of new inventory that just arrived in port.  Webb and Doughty took a similar approach in their advertisement on the same page as both the shipping news and Edwards and Company’s notice.

Rather than elaborating on their “Complete Assortment of GOODS,” Edwards and Company instead specified a particular item not part of their new inventory.  “TEA excepted,” they proclaimed.  They did not need to provide more detail for colonial consumers to understand their point.  Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, but the tax on tea remained.  Colonists protested the duties through a variety of means, including nonimportation agreements, but most relented and resumed trade with Britain when they achieved most of their goals.  Some continued to advocate for keeping the boycotts in place until Parliament repealed all of the offensive duties, but most merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers did not share that view.  Edwards and Company sought to have it both ways, importing and selling a variety of merchandise but underscoring that they did not carry the one item still taxed by Parliament.  This allowed them to compete with other merchants and shopkeepers to satisfy most of the needs and desires of prospective customers while still signaling that they refused to go back to business as usual without acknowledging the political significance of tea and the duty that remained in place.  Edwards and Company offered an alternative to consumers who wanted to support the American cause, at least to some extent, but also wanted to participate in the marketplace once so many options were available once again.  This strategy likely enhanced Edwards and Company’s reputation among supporters of the American cause (with the exception of the most adamant) while easing the consciences of their customers, even if it did not achieve complete ideological consistency.

It may not have mattered much to Edwards and Company that they did not publish a lengthy litany of goods that just arrived via the Heart-of-Oak in their advertisement.  Singling out tea as an item they intentionally excluded from their inventory, in an advertisement brief enough to make such a notation very visible, likely garnered far more attention and interest in their business.

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.