May 14

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

THIS is to assure the Publick, that it was inserted by Mistake of the Printers.”

May 14 - 5:11:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (May 11, 1769).
William Bant needed to do some damage control. The May 8, 1769, edition of Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette included an advertisement that proclaimed, “William Bant, Has imported in the last Vessels from LONDON, A General Assortment of English GOODS, suitable for the approaching Season, which he will sell at his Shop in Cornhill, Boston.” Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette was published simultaneously with the Boston Post-Boy, each title consisting of two pages yet printed together on a single broadsheet. The very first item in the May 8 edition of the Boston Post-Boy was the news article about the “Merchants & Traders in the Town of BOSTON” who had entered into a nonimportation agreement as an act of economic resistance against the duties leveled on paper, glass, and other imported goods by the Townshend Acts. The article included a report on how well those who had signed “said Agreement” had abided by its terms, indicating that only six or seven local merchants and shopkeepers continued “Importations … as usual.” Furthermore, the article republished “The ARTICLES of the Agreement entered into by the Merchants in August last” as a reminder and to alleviate any confusion. Even if Bant’s advertisement had not appeared in such close proximity to this article, readers would have been aware of the nonimportation agreement and the report assessing compliance because it was the talk of the town. Any who happened to read other newspapers would have also encountered the news there.

Bant’s advertisement advising that he carried goods “imported in the last Vessels from LONDON” seemed to run afoul of the nonimportation agreement, setting him apart from the vast majority of merchants and shopkeepers in Boston. He immediately set about publishing a clarification. Refusing to wait an entire week until the next issue of the combined Boston Posy-Boy and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette, he turned to the combined Boston Weekly News-Letter and Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, published just three days later (and dated May 9, the day after the advertisement ran). In a new advertisement he quoted the notice that ran earlier in the week and then offered an explanation: “THIS is to assure the Publick, that it was inserted by Mistake of the Printers, being an old Advertisement sent them last Summer, and intended for that Season only.” This raises interesting questions about the practices for preparing advertisements for publication within the printing office, but none of those would have been Bant’s primary concern. He needed to defend his reputation. To that end, he continued, “The said William Bant further assures the Publick that as he chearfully signed the Agreement for Non-Importation, he has not, neither will he on any Consideration whatever, break the Engagement he thereby laid himself under.” Bant assured prospective customers and the community more generally that he was a man of his word, that in operating his business he abided by his agreements and practiced the right sort of politics. He did not want to be confused for those six or seven who continued “Importations … as usual” contrary to the consensus of his peers and competitors.

Bant feared the impact this unfortunate mistake could have on his business. He underscored once again that the advertisement did not represent his current practices. He had not imported goods from England; instead, an old advertisement ran as a result of an “egregious, though inadvertent Error of the Printers only.” Bant entreated “the Publick, especially his Customers” to recognize what had actually happened and not punish him for it. He begged that prospective customers “will not neglect him in Consequence” of an error made in the printing office. Much to Bant’s dismay, he unexpectedly found politics injected into his newspaper advertisements. He realized the gravity of the situation given public discourse that so inextricably linked politics and commerce in the late 1760s. Like other merchants and shopkeepers, he likely hoped to continue quietly selling surplus goods imported prior to the nonimportation agreement going into effect, but he had no choice but to respond as quickly as possible when the republication of an old advertisement produced the wrong sort of attention for his merchandise and his character.