January 31

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

Essex Gazette (January 31, 1769).

“Esteemed by Judges equal in Quality to the best imported from England.”

When Henry Lloyd of Boston placed his advertisement for “CHOICE American manufactured COD and MACKAREL LINES” in the January 31, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette he participated in the development of the first generation of “Buy American” advertisements. Although brief, his notice favorably compared his product to imported counterparts, asserting that they had been “esteemed by Judges equal in Quality to the best imported from England.” In addition, he sold them “At a reasonable Price.” After taking quality and price into consideration, there was no reason for colonists in the market for these items not to purchase the “American manufactured” version. Implicitly, Lloyd invoked the ongoing dispute between the colonies and Parliament over the Townshend Act and other attempts to regulate colonial commerce and raises revenues through taxes on imported goods. In response to such abuses, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others in Boston and beyond had pledged to encourage “domestic manufactures” over imported goods. In turn, they both the press and purveyors of goods stressed the virtues of supporting the local economy. Doing so, they argued, was an inherently political act.

Lloyd did not need to rehearse this recent history in his advertisement. He could depend on readers and prospective customers already being aware of the political meaning associated with acts of purchasing “American manufactured” goods of any sort. The placement of his advertisement on the page only enhanced the connections between politics and commerce. Lloyd’s notice appeared in a column to the right of one that featured news content. That column had a header that proclaimed it contained “Extraordinary Intelligence,” including an “Extract of a letter from London, November 19th, 1768.” The portion of that letter immediately to the left of Lloyd’s advertisement read, in part, “We do not imagine that the parliament will enter into a refutation of all your letters and petitions … but will give the several agents and some of the principal men of your province, and opportunity of explaining and defending their rights.” From there, it continued with rumors “that your town meetings will be abolished,” depriving colonists in Massachusetts of their traditional means of participating in their own governance. Oversight from England looked like it might veer beyond just commerce. It was amid such conversations that Lloyd placed his advertisement. Deceptively simple, it invoked a much more extensive conversation about imperial politics in service of selling “American manufactured COD and MACKAREL LINES.”