What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, operated a partisan press that supported the American cause during the imperial crisis. The news and editorials they presented to readers encouraged resistance to abuses perpetrated by Parliament and played a significant role in shaping public opinion in favor of declaring independence. Yet expressions of political sentiments were not confined to the pages of the Boston-Gazette devoted to news and editorials. Some colonists voiced political views, sometimes explicitly but often implicitly, in advertisements for goods and services they offered for sale.
The first two advertisements in the July 3, 1769, edition relied on popular discourse about boycotting goods imported from Britain and encouraging “domestic manufactures” as an alternative. Henry Bass advertised “AMERICAN GRINDSTONES” for sale “at his Store adjoining the Golden-Ball Tavern” and Peter Etter hawked stockings and other garments that he “manufactured … At his Room over the Dancing-School, near the Custom-House.” Later in the issue, Isaac Greenwood continued promoting umbrellas he “Made and Sold” at his shop in the North End.
Bass’s advertisement demonstrated that colonists thought broadly about what qualified as domestic manufactures. His “AMERICAN GRINDSTONES” were “MAnufactured in Nova-Scotia,” a colony that experienced its own demonstrations against the Stamp Act a few years earlier. Many colonists in Massachusetts and Nova Scotia believed they shared a common cause during the years of the imperial crisis, though the northern province did not ultimately join the thirteen colonies that declared independence. In 1769, however, the ties between the two were strong enough for grindstones produced in Nova Scotia to count as “AMERICAN” in Boston. Bass acknowledged that they were slightly more expensive (or “near as cheap”) as grindstones imported from Britain; whenever possible, advertisers who promoted domestic manufactures assured prospective customers that their wares were less expensive than imported goods. Unable to adopt that strategy, Bass instead chose another means of persuading readers to pay a little bit more for grindstones from Nova Scotia. He emphasized quality, proclaiming that the “best Judges” considered his grindstones “vastly superior” to those imported from Britain. The price may have been nominally higher, but the quality justified the investment in encouraging domestic manufactures. Bass’s advertisement, along with those placed by Etter and Greenwood, prompted readers to consider the relationship between politics and their own participation in commerce and consumption.