May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 23, 1769).

“3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.”

Eighteenth-century newspaper printers often treated the colophon as advertising space, promoting the goods and services they provided at the printing office. They encouraged readers to purchase subscriptions and place advertisements, though most remained silent about the costs for doing so. In May 1769, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, updated his colophon to indicate the price for subscriptions: “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum.” Previously the colophon simply stated that the Essex Gazette was “Printed by S. HALL, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House” in Salem.

When he updated his colophon, Hall actually reverted to the style that more closely resembled what had been in place at the beginning of the year. This time, however, instead of simply listing the yearly subscription fee he also specified “3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.” In other words, subscribers had to pay half of the subscription fee up front; Hall extended credit for a portion of the subscription, but he did not assume the risk for it entirely. Given how frequently printers throughout the colonies published notices calling on debtors to settle accounts, Hall may have wished to avoid some of that difficulty as well as the somewhat unseemly practice of threatening legal action against customers.

Consider also that he commenced publication of the Essex Gazette less than a year earlier. He managed to attract advertisers, but not nearly as many as placed notices in the several newspapers published in Boston. The number of advertisements in some even overflowed into half sheet supplements. Like other printers who understood the market for newspapers, Hall realized that he would likely attract more advertisers and revenue to sustain his enterprise if he expanded his roster of subscribers. After all, greater circulation meant a better return on investment for advertisers who placed their notices in front of more prospective customers. Hall likely sought to balance several concerns when he required only partial payment from subscribers: he enticed subscribers with credit, simultaneously took in some revenue and reduced his own risk, and made his newspaper more attractive to advertisers who would supply even more revenue.

May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 16, 1769).

“His Want of a full Assortment arises … from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.”

As spring turned to summer in 1769, explicit references to the nonimportation agreements adopted by merchants and shopkeepers as a means of economic resistance to the duties on imported paper, glass, and other goods leveled by Parliament in the Townshend Acts appeared with greater frequency in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods. By then the boycott had been in effect for more then four months and had begun to take its toll on the inventories in many shops.

Consider John Appleton’s advertisement in the May 16, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Dated a day earlier, it began with the familiar “imported from LONDON in the last Ships,” but readers discovered on closer examination that the shopkeeper stocked very few items recently transported across the Atlantic, seemingly only those excluded from the boycott. Appleton also addressed the array of goods he usually carried and how his current selection compared. First stating that he “has also a good Assortment of English Piece Goods, suitable for the Season,” he then clarified that “he has not so full an Assortment as is usual for him at this Season of the Year.” He hoped that this would not deter prospective customers from visiting his shop. His diminished inventory resulted “not from any Neglect in him, but from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.” In other words, Appleton faithfully abided by the terms of the boycott. He asked for the understanding of prospective customers and, more generally, demanded the respect of all readers who supported the boycott.

To offset any inconvenience, Appleton also acquired alternate merchandise: “a Quantity of Germantown Stockings.” The shopkeeper explained that he now retailed those items “to encourage the Home Manufacture.” In so doing, he demonstrated that he supported another prong of the plan for overcoming the abuses of Parliament. Colonists realized that boycotts by themselves likely would not be enough; they also needed to become more self-sufficient, especially if they wished to correct a trade imbalance with Great Britain. Producing and consuming “domestic manufactures” had been part of the larger plan as soon as colonists began discussing nonimportation agreements. Once again, Appleton made certain that members of his community, especially prospective customers, knew that he had done his part to faithfully execute the plan.

Ordinarily, having a vast assortment of merchandise would have been a selling point for Appleton or any other shopkeeper. Running low on goods would not have been a point of pride. Yet in these circumstances Appleton turned a shortcoming into a virtue, arguing that customers should indeed patronize his shop precisely because he had less to offer than usual. By implication, doing so demonstrated their own patriotism.

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 9, 1769).

Just Imported in the Schooner Liberty.”

John Prince placed a short advertisement for “A Quantity of the best JAMAICA SUGARS, by the Hogshead, Barrel, or less Quantity” in the May 9, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. He announced that had “just Imported” his wares “in the Schooner Liberty.” The shipping news, printed in the same column, verified that aspect of Prince’s notice. The “Schooner Liberty, J. Lambert,” captain, arriving from Jamaica was the first entry among the vessels on the list of “INWARD ENTRIES” from the “CUSTOM-HOUSE, Port of SALEM & MARBLEHEAD, May 8.” Nine other ships had also entered the port in the past week. For its first appearance in the Essex Gazette, Prince’s advertisement benefited from its proximity to the shipping news.

“Just imported” was a stock phrase deployed frequently in eighteenth-century advertisements. In many instances, readers may have overlooked claims by merchants, shopkeepers, and others claiming to have “just imported” their merchandise, realizing that they used the phrase rather flexibly to suit their own purposes. In addition, some advertisements ran for weeks or even months without any revisions to the copy; the phrase “just imported” took on a different inflection each time it was repeated in a subsequent insertion of an advertisement originally submitted to the printing office some time earlier.

In the case of Prince’s advertisement, “just Imported” aligned quite literally with the shipping news from May 8 published in the May 9 edition of the Essex Gazette. In the next two issues, May 16 and 23, the phrase operated independently of any other content in the newspaper. Some readers may have been aware that the Liberty was still in port, drawing on their own knowledge to assess what counted as “just Imported.” When Prince’s advertisement ran once again in the May 30 edition, the shipping news listed only one vessel “OUTWARD BOUND,” the “Schooner Liberty” making ready to depart for the West Indies. Prince’s advertisement did not appear in the Essex Gazette again after that. He discontinued it while the phrase “just Imported” applied to a vessel still in port, but that certainly was not the case for every advertiser who adopted such language. Given the elasticity of the meaning of “just imported,” shrewd readers likely discounted the phrase unless they had other means of assessing its accuracy, such as the shipping news.

May 2

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 2 - 5:2:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 2, 1769).

“CASH is given for clean Linen Rags, coarse and fine.”

This was a common advertisement seen in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century. This advertisement published in the Essex Gazette on May 2, 1769, attempted to get people to save their rags. It was a common practice to simply throw away old linen rags; however, they were extremely important in the creation of paper. As the American colonies began boycotting goods from Great Britain, they needed to create their own paper instead of importing it. This put a great stress on newspaper printers who needed sources for paper.

It is easy to take for granted how accessible perfectly white paper is today, but 250 years ago it was not easy to create. In order to produce a piece of paper that was free from spots and speckles, according to “Paper Through Time,” papermakers needed crystal clear water that was free from metals like iron and other debris. In order to filter the water, papermakers needed an abundance of clean linen rags to act as filters. This was the first reason that they needed so many rags; the second is that the rags were also used as part of the paper. Paper products 250 years ago were not wood products as much as they were linen. This makes the advertisement so interesting in American history because it not only shows the types of products they were producing, but also the extent that people were going to in order to keep their money out of English hands.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Advertisements calling on readers to collect clean linen rags did indeed appear in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century, but these familiar notices, as Patrick notes, took on new significance during the imperial crisis. The Revenue Acts of 1767, one of the Townshend Acts, taxed paper, along with glass, paint, and lead. In the late 1760s, collecting rags to produce paper became a political act.

The day before this advertisement ran in the Essex Gazette, a similar notice appeared on the first page of the Newport Mercury. “CASH is given,” it stated, “for clean Linen RAGS, at the Printing-Office, For the PAPER-MANUFACTURE in this Colony.” This advertisement more explicitly invoked local production, perhaps hoping that an additional nudge would prompt greater diligence on the part of concerned readers looking for ways to resist ongoing abuses by Parliament.

A couple of days later, an overview of a nonimportation agreement then in effect ran on the front page of the May 4 edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. It reminded readers that the “Merchants & Traders in the Town of BOSTON” had met the previous August and “entered into an Agreement not to send for or import any Good from Great-Britain … from January 1769 to January 1770.” Furthermore, the “Merchants and Traders in other Towns in this Province, and at New-York” had devised similar agreements. Draper reprinted the original “ARTICLES of the Agreement entered into by the Merchants in August last,” concluding with the fifth article. It stated, “That we will not from and after the First of January 1769, import into this Province any Tea, Paper, Glass, or Painters Colours, until the Act imposing Duties on those Articles shall be repealed.”

In this context, linen rags were not merely trash to be discarded. They became political symbols. Collecting them allowed colonists from various backgrounds to express political views as they engaged in an act of resistance. Although the gentry dominated colonial assemblies, the laboring poor found their political voices through other means, including collecting rags to encourage the production and consumption of paper produced in the colonies. Women also embraced this means of supporting American interests, transforming mundane housework into acts that reverberated with political meaning. A two-line notice about rags might appear insignificant at first glance, but it was enmeshed in expansive debates about the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.

April 4

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

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

Essex Gazette (April 4, 1769).

“His usual Assortment of West-India and English GOODS.”

British goods were popular in the colonies because Britain was the mother country. Colonists often preferred British products over American ones as they were better quality. British products became so popular that the colonists became British in a process that T.H. Breen calls the Anglicization of consumer culture. However, something happened that made British goods fall out of favor. “Parliament managed to politicize these consumer goods,” Breen states, “and when it did so, manufactured items suddenly took on a radical, new symbolic function.”[1] When this happened, no patriotic American would admit to buying any British goods because buying British goods was seen as unpatriotic at best and traitorous at worst. By watching who bought which goods, the colonists could find other patriots and determine who were loyalists. Colonists who were neutral could not remain neutral, as they were almost always forced to pick a side when making decisions about what to buy. The consumer revolution came before the American Revolution and became part of that movement. Breen argues that it was important for the Revolution to succeed since it gave the colonists common concerns about the politics of buying consumer goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to promoting the “usual Assortment of West-India and English GOODS” in this advertisement, Francis Symonds also invited “both Gentlemen and Ladies” to enjoy the entertainment at “the BELL, near SALEM.” The Bell, named for the wooden sign in the shape of a bell that Symonds used to identify his establishment, was one of the most popular taverns in the vicinity, according to D. Hamilton Hurd’s History of Essex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men.

Published in 1888, Hurd’s History of Essex County identifies several events from the era of the American Revolution associated with the Bell. “Here was the appointed rallying place of the minute-men of the Revolution,” Hurd proclaims, “and from this corner they started out across the fields on their hurried march to Lexington.” Not long after, “the regiment commanded by Col. Timothy Pickering halted for refreshment” at the Bell “on the way to Bunker Hill.”

As notable as Hurd considered these events, one other captured my interest: “It was at the Bell tavern that the heroine of the novel, ‘Eliza Wharton, or the Coquette,’ … spent her last days and gathered about the tragic ending of her unfortunate life a veil of mystery and romance which long gave her a place among the memories of the simple and kindly villagers.” Hurd referred to Hannah Foster’s The Coquette (1797), one of the most popular American novels of the eighteenth century. In the late nineteenth century, Hurd claimed Foster’s novel was “a work almost forgotten, but of great interest to a former generation.”[2] The Coquette is anything but “almost forgotten” today. This morality tale is standard reading for anyone interested in early American literature or the history of the early republic, especially the histories of women, gender, and sexuality during the era. Scholars in these fields have recovered Foster’s work in the time since Hurd compiled his History of Essex County in 1888.

This provides an excellent example for students in my Revolutionary America class, the same students currently serving as guest curators, of the sort of primary source that may have been overlooked at one time but now, as the result of asking new kinds of questions and expanding the scope of our study of the past, provides valuable insights into life in early America. This is especially important to me as I strive to achieve one of my goals for my Revolutionary America course. I crosslist the course with the Women’s Studies Program and make a commitment to incorporating the experiences and perspectives of women from diverse backgrounds. It just so happens that Aidan selected an advertisement featuring the Bell Tavern on the same day we are discussing Linda Kerber’s classic “Republic Mother”[3] and Mary Beth Sievens’s “Female Consumerism and Household Authority in Early National New England,”[4] drawing lines both historical and historiographical from one to the other. In preparation for the class, I prepared primary sources and an overview of The Coquette to enrich our conversations. It was serendipity indeed that Aidan selected an advertisement related to The Coquette to examine today.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 76.

[2] D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Essex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis and Company, 1888), 1021.

[3] Linda Kerber, “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment – An American Perspective,” American Quarterly 28, no. 2 (Summer 1976): 187-205.

[4] Mary Beth Sievens, “Female Consumerism and Household Authority in Early National New England,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 4, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 353-371.

March 28

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Essex Gazette (March 28, 1769).

“A fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds.”

In this advertisement for seeds Benjamin Coats mentioned beans, peas, carrots, and many other vegetables. Gardening was a common practice in the colonies, and it was often women who kept the gardens for their families. In As Various as Their Land: The Everyday Lives of Eighteenth-Century Americans, Stephanie Grauman Wolf also uses advertisements about seeds to examine life in eighteenth-century America, including an advertisement from a Boston newspapers in 1748. She states, “The purchase of seeds involved women in a wider world of commerce than we might have supposed, and this involvement included selling extra produce.”[1] Gardening was one of the outlets that women used to interact with the wider world of trade in the eighteenth century. Wolf also notes that certain plants were more popular regionally: “Pease for ‘English pease porridge’ were supplanted by beans for “baked beans” in New England.”[2] She also notes that potatoes and tomatoes were popular in the northern colonies, while sweet potatoes were popular in the southern colonies.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When readers of the Essex Gazette finished perusing Benjamin Coats’s advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds” they almost immediately encountered the same inventory listed in Susanna Renken’s advertisement, published in the same column just two advertisements below. Coats and Renken did not merely offer similar wares. The copy of their advertisements was identical, with the exception of their names, the locations of their shops, and a short addendum to Renken’s advertisement that announced she “Also [had] a Box of China Ware to sell.” Coats sold his seeds locally, “Near the School-House in SALEM,” but Renken attempted to enlarge her share of the market for seeds she sold “In Fore-street, near the Draw-Bridge, BOSTON.” The lists of seeds Coats and Renken offered for sale were identical, both in content and order. Purveyors of goods often began their advertisements by acknowledging the origins, often deploying formulaic language that included the names of the vessel and captain that had transported the goods to the local port. In this case, Coats and Renken used exactly the same language: “Imported in Capt. Hulme from LONDON, and to be sold by …”

Essex Gazette (March 28, 1769).

How did two advertisers end up publishing virtually identical copy? Examining the publication history of the advertisements provides some clues. Both advertisements first appeared in the Essex Gazette on March 14, 1769, and ran again on March 21 and 28. Prior to that, Renken’s advertisement ran in three Boston newspapers. It first appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on February 27, without the note about “China Ware,” and then continued weekly in each of those newspapers (March 6, 13, 20, and 27). It did not run in the Boston Post-Boy (published concurrently with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) until March 6, a week after it first appeared in the other newspapers, but after that it also ran every week for the rest of the month. That one included the note about “China Ware,” suggesting that Renken may have clipped it from that newspaper and submitted it to the Essex Gazette with instructions to publish it without alteration.

Renken’s advertisement ran in newspapers printed in Boston and distributed far beyond that city eight times before she and Coats published nearly identical advertisements in the Essex Gazette. Coats certainly had plenty of opportunities to see the advertisement and either clip it or copy it to transform into an advertisement intended for his local newspaper. This would have been a particularly efficient means of generating copy if Renken had been his supplier, especially if he did not realize that she planned to expand her marketing campaign beyond Boston’s newspapers. Alternately, if both Coats and Renken dealt with the same commercial seed suppliers from England, they could have both copied from letters or printed lists provided by correspondents on the other side of the Atlantic. That does not explain, however, the time that elapsed between Renken’s first advertisement in Boston and Coats’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette two weeks later.

For the past several years Renken had aggressively advertised garden seeds in Boston’s newspapers in the spring. The Essex Gazette commenced publication in August 1768, making the spring of 1769 the first time that Renken could also advertise in that newspaper. Perhaps she initially overlooked it as a new option. If she did sell seeds wholesale to Coats for resale in Salem, that might have prompted her to think about better addressing the market for her merchandise in the nearby town. In that case, Coats probably would not have been pleased to see her advertisement appear simultaneously with his in his local newspaper, but he did have the advantage of proximity to prospective customers in Salem. Neither of them apparently felt so concerned about the similarities between their advertisements that they found it necessary to submit revisions for further insertions. Cooperation and competition between Coats and Renken seemed to exist side by side as their advertisements appeared one above the other.

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[1] Stephanie Grauman Wolf, As Various as Their Land: The Everyday Lives of Eighteenth-Century Americans (New York: harper Perennial, 1994), 90.

[2] Wolf, As Various as Their Land, 89.

March 21

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Essex Gazette (March 21, 1769).

“CHOICE green Coffee.”

In this advertisement William Vans attempted to sell some items, including “CHOICE green Coffee.’ Green coffee had to do with the beans. Heather Baldus, the collections manager at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore, says, “In the 1700s, when you purchased coffee from your local merchant it most likely was in the form of bags of green beans.  The burden of turning those beans into the perfect cup of coffee was on the consumer.” When roasting the person doing it had to make sure that the beans were constantly turning so they would not burn. Then the person could use a coffee grinder, which was common and inexpensive in Europe, although most people in the colonies used a mortar and pestle to turn the beans into a powder. Finally, the person would put the amount they wanted with water, either boiling or infusing it. In addition to drinking coffee at home, some colonists went to coffeehouses. Coffeehouses began to pop up in colonial America in the eighteenth century. They were a mixture of a café, tavern, and inn. During the consumer revolution, coffee became a staple drink for early Americans.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

At a glance, William Vans’s advertisement for “CHOICE green Coffee” and other goods appears to be the same advertisement from the Essex Gazette that guest curator Luke DiCicco examined last week, a second insertion that ran in a subsequent issue. For the most part, that was indeed the case, but the notice that ran in the March 21, 1769, edition did feature one notable difference compared to the first iteration. It did not include the place and date on the final line: “Salem, March 13, 1769.” What explains the alteration?

Most likely the compositor exercised discretion in dropping the final line of the advertisement, choosing to do so in order to make it fit in the final column on the last page of the March 21 issue. Six notices comprised that column. In addition to Vans’s advertisement, Benjamin Coats and Susanna Renken each ran advertisements for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds,” Samuel Hall promoted a pamphlet for sale at the printing office, Benjamin Marston of Marblehead offered the Misery Islands for sale, and Peter Frye and Nathan Goodale published an estate notice following the death of Ebenezer Bowditch. All six advertisements ran in the March 14 issue. With the exception of Vans’s advertisement, all of them appeared in the March 21 edition exactly as they had the previous week.

Had the compositor not removed the final line from Vans’s notice, all six would not have fit in a single column. Most likely the compositor had looked for a convenient means of reducing the length of one of the advertisements. Two of them, Vans’s advertisement and the estate notice, included final lines listing place and date, lines easily removed without making it necessary to otherwise reset any type. The estate notice, however, needed the date because it specified that Frye and Goodale would continue to settle accounts at a local tavern “on the last Friday of this and of the five Months next ensuing.” Since such advertisements sometimes ran for weeks or months, the date at the end was imperative. Vans’s notice, on the other hand, did not require the date, facilitating the removal of that line. The compositor most likely made that decision without consulting the advertiser.

While these particulars may seem insignificant, they help to demonstrate the division of authority exercised by colonists involved in the production of newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century. Advertisers usually generated copy, but compositors determined graphic design elements. In this case, the compositor made a slight alteration to the copy in the service of the format of the entire page on which the advertisement appeared.

March 14

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Essex Gazette (March 14, 1769).

“CHOICE green Coffee … also blue and white China Cups and Saucers.”

This advertisement features a series of goods sold by William Vans. His merchandise included green coffee, ground ginger, rum, indigo, and china cups and saucers, all imported from faraway places around the globe. I focused on two of these goods that were extremely popular among the colonists and played an important role in colonial life.

Coffee and tea were both introduced in Europe in the early seventeenth century and became increasingly popular in the colonies in the eighteenth century. When coffee and tea became common drinks, colonists desired something other than normal cups to drink them. According to Beth Carver Wees at the Metropolitan Museum, the colonists decided to buy ceramic and silver vessels. Vans sold imported “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” along with his coffee and tea. In addition, this created business for silversmiths and was viewed as a sign as someone’s wealth if they owned a lot of accessories for drinking coffee and tea. Some of these included covered sugar bowls, cream pots, teakettles, and hot-water urns. People often bought them for the intricate design or for the shiny complexion. The establishment of coffee shops helped colonists pass along information and news, making it a lot easier to gather support when the colonies rebelled against Britain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

William Vans was not the only purveyor of “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” to advertise in the March 14, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Among the vast inventory of goods in stock at his shop, Francis Grant listed “an Assortment of China, Glass, Stone and Delph Ware.” Susanna Renken concluded her advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds” that named dozens of varieties with a brief note about “a Box of China Ware to sell” at her shop in Boston. Of the nine paid notices that appeared in that issue, one concerned real estate, one outlined legal proceedings to settle an estate, and the remaining seven promoted goods to consumers or commodities to traders. A substantial proportion of advertisers named china among their wares. Colonial retailers both served a market that demanded “China Ware” and sought to incite greater demand for such products.

As Luke suggests in his analysis of Vans’s advertisement, this was possible because both retailers and consumers recognized how certain goods complemented others. Rather than specializing solely in spices and beverages, Vans also sold china cups and saucers for drinking his “CHOICE green Coffee” and “Most excellent Bohea Tea.” Grant hawked “Loaf and Brown Sugar” along with his “Assortment of China.” Consumers did not purchase just tea or just china or just sugar. Instead, they acquired these items simultaneously. Many likely also purchased other accessories to incorporate into their coffee and tea drinking rituals from among the “all Sorts of European Goods” peddled by Vans and the “general Assortment of English and West-India GOODS” advertised by Grant. In other advertisements, Renken offered all sorts of textiles, some of which could have been used to make cloths to adorn the tables where customers drank tea or coffee sweetened with sugar and served in china. The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century occurred not only because of a proliferation in the availability of goods but also because the acquisition of one item often required obtaining other items in order to enhance the experience of consuming any of them. Advertisements in early American newspapers provide a map of the consumption habits of many colonial readers.

March 7

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Essex Gazette (March 7, 1769).

“The best New-England Flour of Mustard.”

In “A Taste for Mustard: An Archaeological Examination of a Condiment and Its Bottles from a Loyalist Homestead in Upper Canada,” Denise C. McGuire provides an overview of mustard production and consumption and examines an excavation of the Butler Homestead site in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. “Flour of Mustard” was very popular in Britain. It played an important role in eighteenth-century cooking, but was also considered to have medicinal value. It also reveals changes in transatlantic trade. Initially imported in the American colonies, it was subsequently grown there. As we can see in this advertisement, flour of mustard was sold in the colonies; it even specifically states that it was “New-England Flour of Mustard,” proudly showing that the mustard was grown and produced in the colonies.

That production continued after the American Revolution, intended for local consumption as well as export. When a cache of glass bottles was discovered, the square shape led McGuire to believe that they were mustard bottles. The discoveries at the Butler Homestead show that Loyalists got their flour of mustard from American producers after the Revolution. “[E]ven two generations after the first wave of Loyalist settlement, the ability to acquire simple commodities was not always easily accessible in more remote locations.”[1] Such evidence shows that the Butler family retained commercial ties to upstate New York even after the Revolutionary War.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When she consulted me about including this advertisement among those she would examine during her week as guest curator, Olivia expressed some concern about Chloe Amour previously examined flour of mustard in another advertisement recently featured on the Adverts 250 Project. She did not wish to duplicate the work of one of her peers. I encouraged her to continue with Thomas Walley’s advertisement, especially after she revealed that she had already consulted McGuire’s article. We certainly had more to learn about this particular commodity. As we move chronologically from the imperial crisis to the early republic, our Revolutionary America class has so far focused on the politics and economics of producing, trading, and consuming goods in the 1760s through the early 1780s. By incorporating mustard bottles uncovered during an archaeological excavation of a Loyalist site in Canada, Olivia has given our class a preview of the period we will be examining later in the semester.

For my part, I’m interested in the many similarities between Walley’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette and William Chace’s advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Both named their products “New-England Flour of Mustard,” emphasizing that it had been produced locally. Walley underscored that his mustard “has been greatly admired, both for its Strength and Flavor, by all that have used it.” Similarly, Chace proclaimed that his mustard “is allowed by the best Judges to be superior both for Strength and Flavour to any imported.” In this instance, Chace more explicitly attached a political meaning to acquiring his mustard, comparing it imports that many colonists had vowed to eschew as acts of economic resistance against the Townshend Acts. Walley made a nod toward such appeals when he offered to make “An Allowance … to those that buy to sell again, in order to encourage this Manufacture.” Such discounts may have helped to move his product out the door and, eventually, into the hands of greater numbers of consumers, but they also invoked images of “domestic manufacture” so often touted in news and editorials, especially in those moments that the imperial crisis intensified. Even Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, stocked a “small Parcel of the above Mustard” to make it available to residents of Salem who might not otherwise have an opportunity to acquire it from Walley at his store in Boston. In advancing similar appeals to prospective customers, Walley and Chace demonstrated that they participated in a larger conversation about the meaning of mustard. In the late 1760s, mustard did more than merely flavor food. It was enmeshed in the politics of the period.

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[1] Denise C. McGuire, “A Taste for Mustard: An Archaeological Examination of a Condiment and Its Bottles from a Loyalist Homestead in Upper Canada,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 20, no. 4 (December 2016): 680.

February 28

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

Essex Gazette (February 28, 1769).

“LADIES Hair is dressed in different Manners.”

On February 28, 1769, Samuel Archer advertised his services as a hairdresser for both men and women in the Essex Gazette.

For the men, Archer offered wigs according to the “newest Fashions from London,” especially attractive for “Gentlemen” heavily influenced by their British counterparts. For the “Ladies,” he provided “French Curls,” “Towers and false Curls,” and “Rolls.” For both men and women, fashion played a role in helping to determine status and identity to distinguish among social groups. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman explains that fashion was “dictated for some colonists by Europe” and “indicated commercial and cultural inclusion in a far wide, cosmopolitan Atlantic world. It suggested connection and distinction, proving essential to expressions of rank and power dependent on performing one’s place in the British Empire.”[1] The British identity important to American colonists was reflected in the sorts of fashion, goods, and styles that were part of their lifestyles, including the hairstyles created at Samuel Archer’s shop.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Samuel Archer proclaimed that the ladies of Salem could visit his shop to have their hair “dressed in different Manners.” He listed a few of the most popular styles, but, like many shopkeepers who listed their wares in their advertisements, he insisted that he had not exhausted the possibilities. There were so many “other Forms” that it was “too tedious to mention” them all. Prospective clients could depend on Archer dressing their hair in practically any manner they desired.

Among the styles that he did include, the hairdresser decided to conclude with “Rolls for Ladies,” perhaps hoping to create a lasting impression by ending with one of the most popular styles adopted by women who wished to assert their status. Kate Haulman relates a description of a high roll taken from the diary of Anna Green Winslow of Boston: “red Cow Tail … horsehair … & a little human hair … all carded together and twisted up.” The roll was often decorated with pearls and flowers. A side curl brought down over one shoulder completed the look, which could take hours to create. As Haulman explains, “The amount of time involved in achieving the elaborate look meant that wearing a high roll signified high social status in two ways: by replicating a style worn at court and the beau monde in England and by requiring plenty of spare time to have it constructed.”[2]

The amount of time that hairdressers spent with their clients, particularly clients of the opposite sex, caused some concern, not unlike the uneasiness sometimes directed at dancing masters. “Anxieties over relationships between men and women of different ranks, the potentially illicit exchanges that were occurring, and the social dependency of women with means on men without informed attacks on hairdressers and their clients,” according to Haulman.[3] Although not genteel themselves, hairdressers assisted their clients in crafting appearances that testified to their gentility, thus inverting the usual positions of authority by conferring power on those who earned their livelihood by providing a service rather than those who purchased the service. As Chloe indicates in her analysis of Archer’s advertisement, hairdressers marketed status. Their efforts to do so, however, were fraught with other challenges.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 627.
[2] Haulman, 639.
[3] Haulman, 639.