October 10

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

New-York Journal (October 10, 1771).

“America is not necessarily obliged to import these articles.”

Many entrepreneurs launched “Buy American” campaigns before the thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain.  Advertisements that encouraged consumers to purchase “domestic manufactures” became a common sight in newspapers during the imperial crisis, increasing in number and frequency when the conflict intensified and receding, but not disappearing, when relations cooled.  During the Stamp Acts crisis, for instance, advertisers encouraged consumers to buy goods produced in the colonies.  They did so again while the nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Townshend Acts remained in effect.  Even when merchants resumed importing merchandise from England following the repeal of all of the duties except the one on tea, some advertisers continued their efforts to convince consumers to buy goods produced in the colonies.

Such was the case for snuff “MADE AND SOLD By GEORGE TRAILE” on Bowery Lane in New York.  Traile proclaimed that his snuff was “equal to any imported from Europe” and then outlined “the advantages which would evidently result to the Colonies from this branch of business, was it to meet proper encouragement.”  In other words, prospective customers had a duty to make good decisions that took into account the common good for the colonies when they purchased snuff.  He estimated that one in ten of the “three millions of people in British America” spent twenty shillings on snuff annually, calculating that amounted to “three hundred thousand pounds.”  Traile supposed that one-fifth of that amount represented profits for the importers, with the remainder “remitted yearly form this country never to return.”  That imbalance harmed the colonies and, especially, the livelihoods of colonists.  Traile concluded with a “Query” for consumers.  “Would it not be better,” he asked, “to save such an immense sum to the colonies, than to put sixty thousand pounds in the pockets of a few individuals by making that remittance?”  Here he identified another problem, at least from the perspective of an artisan who created goods for the market.  A relatively small number of merchants who imported snuff garnered the profits.  Consumers who purchased tobacco products funneled their money to merchants and the mother country rather than supporting colonists like Traile trying to make an honest living.

Traile declared that “America is not necessarily obliged to import” snuff “from any other country.”  Readers of the New-York Journal had it in their power as consumers to make other choices that would accrue benefits to the colonies and residents who supported local economies by producing domestic manufactures.

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 21, 1769).

“These are Manufactures America can have within herself.”

When George Traile advertised his “Manufactory of Snuff and Tobacco” in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in August 1769, he provided a short history of his business. Formerly located in New Rochelle, the manufactory had recently moved “to the Snuff Mills in the Bowery” in New York. Traile promoted the quality of his snuff, but he also had an eye for current tastes that ventured far beyond the American colonies. He proclaimed that he made and sold “all Sorts of Rappee now in Vogue in Great-Britain and Ireland, France and Holland.” Local consumers could acquire the varieties of snuff currently in fashion in some of the most cosmopolitan places in the Atlantic world without having to import it!

That assertion served as the backbone of Traile’s advertisement. After making brief comments about quality and fashion, he devoted most of his advertisement to a lesson in politics. He likely assumed this strategy would resonate with colonists currently participating in nonimportation agreements as economic acts of resistance to the taxes on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea levied by the Townshend Acts. As far as his Traile’s tobacco was concerned, “These are Manufactures America can have within herself, as good and as cheap as they can be imported.” Customers did not need to sacrifice quality or pay higher prices when they allowed politics to guide their purchases.

Traile charged true patriots with a duty to buy his snuff: “the Encouragement of this Branch of Business in the Colonies, will be found an Object highly worth the Attention of every real Patriot.” Furthermore, “as the popular Prejudices to the Snuff of this Country, are pretty much subsided all over the Colonies, he flatters himself he will meet with that Encouragement the Quality of his Commodities shall deserve, from every well Wisher to America.” In other words, colonists near and far preferred snuff produced in the colonies, provided it was quality merchandise, so anybody who had the best interests of the colonies at heart should eagerly purchase Traile’s snuff since he endeavored to provide the best product available. This was not an insignificant matter. Traile asked prospective customers who counted themselves among “the thinking Part of Mankind” to consider the annual expenses for snuff incurred by “Three Millions of People now computed to be upon this Continent.” Traile presented a vision of each consumer acting separately yet contributing to a collective action in defense of the rights and liberties of the colonies. He encouraged concerned colonists to practice politics through their participating in the marketplace, purchasing the right tobacco from his manufactory in New York City.