December 7

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

Dec 7 - 12:7:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (December 7, 1767).

LABRADORE TEA.”

An advertisement in the December 7, 1767, issue of the Boston-Gazette announced “LABRADORE TEA, by the Hundred, Dozen, or less Quantity, to be Sold at Edes and Gill’s Printing-Office.” The bulk of the advertisement consisted of a testimonial that first outlined the medical and dietary benefits of drinking Labrador tea and then focused on the taste, acknowledging that the flavor differed from other popular teas but “a little Perseverance will render it very acceptable.”

By the time this advertisement appeared in early December, readers of Boston’s several newspapers had already been exposed to commentary about Labrador tea on multiple occasions, though in news items and editorial pieces rather than commercial notices. In the wake of a Boston town meeting that resolved to encourage consumption of domestic products rather than imported goods, several colonists noted the political benefits of Labrador tea. On November 2, Edes and Gill published a list of local manufactures in the Boston-Gazette. In addition to “Thirty thousand Yards of Cloth … Manufactured in one small Country Town in this Province” and “upwards of Forty Thousand Pair of Womens Shoes” made in Lynn, Massachusetts, in the past year, they described “a certain Herb, lately found in this Province, which begins already to take place in the Room of Green and Bohea Tea, which is said to be of a very salutary Nature, as well as a more agreeable Flavour – It is called Labrador.”

Two weeks later, both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy inserted a letter addressed to “My Dear Countrymen” that outlined a strategy for depending less on imported goods. The prescription included Labrador tea: “we think it our duty to add, the most sincere recommendation of the disuse of the most luxurious and enervating article of BOHEA TEA, in which so large a sum is annually expended by the American colonists, altho’ it may be well supplied by the Teas of our own country, especially by that called Labrador, lately discovered to be a common growth of the more northern colonies, and esteemed very wholesome to the human species, as well as agreeable.”

A poem, “Address to the LADIES,” from the November 16 edition of the Boston Post-Boy and reprinted in other newspapers in the city discouraged purchasing and wearing imported textiles and adornments and also advised women to “Throw aside your Bohea and your Green Hyson Tea, / And all things with a new fashion duty; / Procure a good store of the choice Labradore, / For there’ll soon be enough here to suit ye.”

By the time the advertisement for “LABRADORE TEA” appeared in the Boston-Gazette in early December, colonists had already been encouraged to consume it as part of a political strategy intended to address both an imbalance of trade between the colonies and England and Parliament’s imposition of new duties in the Townshend Act. A series of news items and editorials primed consumer interest in Labrador tea, but some colonists may have been skeptical that they would enjoy the local alternative as much as their favorite imported varieties. This new advertisement assumed readers were already aware of the political ramifications of purchasing Labrador tea, so instead addressed any concerns about health and taste in order to convince consumers who may have been wavering in their commitment to adopt this new product.

November 30

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

Nov 30 - 11:30:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (November 30, 1767).

“The Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton, beg the Favor of the Public, to furnish them with what Linnen Rags they can spare.”

In the wake of the Townshend Act assessing new duties on imported paper, colonists set about manufacturing their own. Just ten days after the act went into effect, this advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette. In it, the “Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton” called on colonists to send their “Linnen Rags” to be made into paper. In return, they would receive payment, “the greatest possible Allowance.”

To that end, the Manufacturers at Milton established a network for collecting the rags. They listed five locations in Boston, including the printing office where Edes and Gill published the Boston-Gazette. Bulkeley Emerson, a stationer, also received castoff rags in Newburyport, while Daniel Fowle, one of the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, accepted them in Portsmouth. In addition, they had local agents in Salem and Marblehead. Yet the Manufacturers at Milton wished to further expand their network, requesting that volunteers “send their Names to Edes and Gill’s Printing-Office.”

New duties on paper threatened the livelihoods of colonial printers and stationers, one of the reasons why so many members of the network came from those trades, but Parliament’s actions also infringed on the liberties of all colonists. The network included a shopkeeper and a tobacconist, both apparently concerned about the Townshend Act. The Manufacturers at Milton presumably welcomed new agents from various occupations, hoping to establish a united front in the domestic production of paper as an alternative to imports.

The Manufacturers at Milton did not yet offer a product to consumers. In the spirit of the non-importation agreements and resolutions to encourage domestic goods recently passed at the Boston town meeting, however, they presented a plan for achieving those goals. They also offered a means for colonists to become more involved in resistance efforts beyond making decisions about which goods to purchase. Colonists could shape the marketplace by supplying the necessary rags to make paper locally, eventually eliminating the need for additional imported paper once the current supplies that arrived in the colonies “before the Duties could be demanded” had been exhausted. Even if readers of the Boston-Gazette had little cause to obtain much paper themselves, they had acquired the newspaper, making them consumers of paper removed from its initial purchase. By surrendering their rags to the Manufacturers at Milton, colonists participated in a movement that deprived Parliament of new duties on paper and assisted colonial printers in disseminating news about the Townshend Act and resistance to it.

November 23

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

Nov 23 - 11:23:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 23, 1767).

“The Sons of Liberty now have an Opportunity of manifesting their Regard for the Encouragement of our Manufactures.”

Just as the Boston town meeting voted to encourage consumption of domestic goods rather than imports on the eve of the Townshend Act going into effect, Peter Etter and Sons placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette to promote their stockings and other garments “Manufactured in Braintree.” Two weeks after that advertisement first appeared, Etter and Sons also inserted it in the Boston Evening-Post.

The version in the Gazette remained unchanged, but the Evening-Post included a short addition at the end of the notice. A manicule drew attention to this note: “The Sons of Liberty now have an Opportunity of manifesting their Regard for the Encouragement of our Manufactures, by calling at the above Store, and buying some of the abovementioned Articles.” Just in case the “Manufactured in Braintree” headline was too subtle, Etter and Sons explicitly challenged colonists who considered themselves “Sons of Liberty” to demonstrate their commitment to the cause by purchasing their wares rather than the imported goods that retailers hawked in approximately a dozen other advertisements in the same issue.

Etter and Sons may have benefited from the fortuitous placement of their advertisement. Not only was it at the top of the first column on the third page, it also appeared immediately to the right of a related news item printed in the final column on the second page. It reported that “THE Inhabitants of this Metropolis still persevere in their resolution to discourage the use of foreign Superfluities as the only means of saving the Country from Impending ruin.” The town meeting had authorized non-importation and non-consumption agreements. To that end, subscription lists circulated; colonists publicly pledged to support the boycotts by “subscribing” or signing their names. According to the Evening-Post, many colonists styled themselves “Sons of Liberty” because “it appeared that great Part of the Freeholders had subscribed.” Other colonists still had a chance to join the movement by visiting the Town Clerk’s Office and signing their own names.

With so many Bostonians signing the subscription rolls, Etter and Sons should have benefited from a vastly expanded market for their clothing “Manufactured in Braintree.” It was one thing to pledge not to purchase imported goods, however, and quite another to follow through on that promise. Etter and Sons challenged those who professed to be “Sons of Liberty” to demonstrate their resolve by actually purchasing garments from local producers.

November 9

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

Nov 9 - 11:9:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (November 9, 1767).

“Manufactured in Braintree.”

Most eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods and services did not include any sort of headline other than the advertiser’s name in a larger font than the rest of the copy. Peter Etter and Sons, however, published an advertisement with the headline “Manufactured in Braintree” in the November 9, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Etter and Sons promoted their locally produced stockings, gloves, caps, and thread to consumers primed to purchase goods made by their fellow colonists. They also depended on the politics of the unfolding imperial crisis to make their wares more attractive to colonial consumers.

In placing their advertisement, the Etters took advantage of current events, especially the Boston town meeting that took place on October 28. According to the coverage in the previous issue of the Boston-Gazette, the “Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town” had determined that they needed to address both the imbalance of trade between Britain and the colonies and the impending duties on certain imported goods once the Townshend Act went into effect on November 20. Bostonians voted to approve non-importation and non-consumption agreements. In order for those measures to succeed, they promised that they would “encourage the Use and Consumption of all Articles manufactured in any of the British American Colonies, and more especially in this Province.” Etter and Sons could hardly have imagined a more effective endorsement for their enterprise!

Notably, their advertisement did not appear in the November 2 issue that carried the news of the town meeting. The Etters inserted it only after the news had spread throughout the colony and beyond via multiple newspapers, realizing that prospective customers would likely be especially amenable to acquiring domestic manufactures. Still, they assured readers of the quality of their stockings and other garments: “the above-mentioned Goods have been sufficiently try’d, and the Goodness and Wear approv’d.” In addition, they revealed their own commitment to purchasing supplies from local producers, as encouraged by the resolutions from the town meeting. “It having been reported that some Families in the Country have rais’d some raw Silk,” Etter and Sons stated, “they will pay Cash for the same, at the Price commonly given in Georgia,” a colony with more experience in its attempts to cultivate silk throughout the colonial period.

Etter and Sons did not explicitly invoke politics in their advertisement, but readers of the Boston-Gazette could hardly have missed the context in which they launched their appeals about garments “Manufactured in Braintree” rather than imported from England. Etter and Sons encouraged readers to consider the political ramifications of the decisions they made when it came to acquiring consumer goods.

October 18

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

Oct 18 - 10:15:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 15, 1767).

“Desirous of encouraging the Manufactures of the Country.”

During the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution colonists resisted Parliamentary overreach with several non-importation and non-consumption agreements, each coinciding with particular legislative acts. The first round occurred in response to the Stamp Act, ceasing with the repeal of that hated measure. Colonists once again resorted to non-importation and non-consumption of British goods in response to the Townshend Acts, scheduled to take effect on November 20, 1767.

Throughout the last third of the eighteenth century, as colonists moved from resistance to revolution to independence, American advertisers developed marketing appeals that encouraged consumers to “Buy American.” Over time advertisers became much more explicit in their efforts linking consumption to political participation. A notice that appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette five weeks before the Townshend Acts took effect shows an early attempt. William White, a “Brush-maker from LONDON,” did not mention Parliament or the impending legislation, but readers would have made the connection on their own thanks to news items and opinion pieces elsewhere in Boston’s newspapers as well as conversations taking place throughout the city and beyond.

White encouraged potential customers to support domestic production rather than purchase imported wares. He noted that he made and sold brushes “Wholesale or Retail cheaper than can be imported,” prompting consumers to think about the origins of all the goods they acquired, not just the brushes they purchased from him. He also implicitly issued a challenge to retailers to acquire and distribute locally produced goods: presumably those who purchased brushes “Wholesale” did so with the intention of selling them in their own shops.

White framed his comments about the cost of his brushes with a statement even more overtly political. He made an appeal to colonists who were “desirous of encouraging the Manufactures of the Country” rather than continued importation of goods from England. Here he addressed colonists who could supply him with the bristles he needed to make “all Sorts of Brushes.” Not just consumers but producers as well had a duty to support local production over importation. In addition, even though White described his potential suppliers as “desirous of encouraging the Manufacturers of the Country” he implied that consumers should adopt the same attitude and opt to purchase their brushes from him.

William White did not invoke Parliament or the Townshend Acts by name in his advertisement, but contemporary politics still influenced how he structured his appeal to potential customers and how colonists interpreted his advertisement. He did not need to make his case any more explicitly because his advertisement was part of an ongoing conversation – in print and in person – among residents of Boston and throughout the colonies.

September 28

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

Sep 28 - 9:28:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (September 28, 1767).

“All kind of Hanging Paper, of the newest Patterns.”

Prior to the Revolution, many Americans decorated their homes with wallpaper (known in the eighteenth century as “Hanging Paper” or paper hangings) imported from Great Britain. That trade temporarily ceased during the war, but Americans resumed acquiring wallpaper (and many other consumer goods) from England almost as soon as the Treaty of Paris brought an end to hostilities in 1783. At that time, the new nation set its own trade policies and, no longer inhibited by restrictions put in place by Parliament, increased the flow of goods from other European nation-states. Some advertisers promoted French paper hangings as alternatives to any from Britain in the 1780s and 1790s.

Yet importers did not provide Americans sole access to wallpaper, either before or after the Revolution. Domestic manufacturers incorporated “Buy American” appeals into their marketing efforts in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Some even lobbied for tariffs on imported paper hangings in order to bend competition in the marketplace to their own advantage.[1]

Advertisements from the late colonial period reveal that production of wallpaper commenced in America prior to the Revolution. John Scully, for instance, made, sold, and installed “Hanging Paper” and “Borderings suitable to the Paper” in New York in the 1760s. Realizing that many prospective clients might consider imported wallpaper superior for a variety of reasons, he advanced multiple appeals to convince readers of the New-York Gazette to give him a chance. He stressed that he “MANUFACTURES all kind” of wallpaper, implying he offered the same range of choice as his competitors who imported from England. He underscored that his wares followed “the newest Patterns,” reassuring potential customers that they did not have to purchase wallpaper produced on the other side of the Atlantic in order to keep up with fashions set in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Lest potential clients assume that American manufacturers could not produce wallpaper of the same quality as the English imports, Scully proudly stated that he had “served a regular Apprenticeship” in that business. Customers could depend on his skill.

John Scully realized that his livelihood depended on successfully competing with shopkeepers and paperhangers who sold and installed wallpaper imported from England. To do so, he made appeals to choice, fashion, and his own training to convince consumers to purchase from him.

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[1] For more on the marketing of paper hangings after the Revolution, see Carl Robert Keyes, “A Revolution in Advertising: ‘Buy American’ Campaigns in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in Creating Advertising Culture: Beginnings to the 1930s, vol. 1, We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life … And Always Has, ed. Danielle Sarver Coombs and Bob Batchelor (Praeger, 2014), 1-25.

July 28

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

Jul 28 - 7:28:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 28, 1767).

“GERMAN-TOWN manufactured fine THREAD STOCKINGS.”

American colonists participated in networks of trade that crisscrossed the Atlantic. Many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers promoted goods imported from England and other faraway places, but others resulted from a vibrant coastal trade that connected Britain’s North American colonies. As part of that coastal trade, merchants shipped agricultural surpluses, especially wheat, from the Middle Atlantic to the Southern colonies. Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers published in Charleston regularly encountered advertisements for flour and other goods transported from Philadelphia. For instance, in the July 28 edition Godfrey and Gadsden advertised ‘PHILADELPHIA FLOUR, and BAR IRON.” Similarly, Greenland and Jordan announced that hey had “just imported … from PHILADELPHIA” several commodities, including flour, milk, beer, and bar iron.

William Williamson’s advertisement differed from others that marketed goods that originated in Philadelphia and its hinterland. Rather than selling agricultural goods and raw materials produced in the region, Williamson “IMPORTED … fine THREAD STOCKINGS” made in Germantown. Although several competitors advertised clothing, textiles, and adornments imported from London, colonists were in the process of developing their own industries as alternatives, especially in the wake of the Stamp Act and other attempts at taxation and regulation emanating from Parliament. Still, consumers were accustomed to goods imported from Europe; domestically produced stockings and other items were less familiar. Merchants and shopkeepers worked to convince skeptical customers that such products would not disappoint. Williamson testified to the quality of his stockings, underscoring their “durableness” for potential customers who might have been inclined to place more trust in imported wares.

Williamson did not make an explicit “Buy American” appeal in this advertisement, though that sort of marketing strategy had emerged during the Stamp Act crisis two years earlier and became more common as the relationship between Britain and the colonies deteriorated. Instead, he offered consumers an alternative to imported goods without engaging in overt political rhetoric. In that regard, his advertisement educated colonists about the possibilities of American manufactures, paving the way for a turn to homespun during subsequent nonimportation agreements. The availability of durable “GERMAN-TOWN manufactured fine THREAD STOCKINGS” helped colonists imagine the possible alternatives to relying on imports from Britain. They could depend on each other not only for agricultural surpluses and raw materials but also for finished products.