June 27

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

Jun 27 - 6:27:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 27, 1767).

“GOODS, consisting of every article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy advertisements, and many others, not usually imported.”

James Green sold a variety of imported goods at his shop in Providence. For several weeks in the late spring and early summer of 1767 he placed a notice that “he hath just received a large, compleat and fashionable assortment of English and India piece GOODS, consisting of every article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy advertisements, and many others, not usually imported.” This claim caught my attention because it so closely replicated an advertisement placed by Gilbert Deblois in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette at about the same time. Deblois carried “A complete fashionable Assortment of English & India Piece GOODS, consisting of every Article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy Advertisements, and many others not usually imported.” Green eliminated the italics that consistently appeared in Deblois’s advertisements in all three Boston newspapers, but he otherwise adopted the same language to make a fairly unique appeal.

Many eighteenth-century advertisements included formulaic phrases, such as “compleat and fashionable assortment,” but appropriation of entire sentences that expressed distinctive marketing efforts was not common. Shopkeepers occasionally stated that they carried too much merchandise to list all of it in an advertisement, but rarely did they claim to carry goods “not usually imported.” Green, whose advertisement first appeared in the Providence Gazette on May 23, apparently lifted copy from Deblois’s notice, probably hoping that it would have the same effect of intriguing potential customers and inciting curiosity about what might be on the shelves in his shop. He may have believed that he could get away with treating this marketing strategy as his own if he was the first and only shopkeeper in Providence to adopt it.

Other scholars have demonstrated that news flowed through networks of printers who liberally borrowed news items from other newspapers, reprinting them word for word, sometimes with attribution and other times without. This advertisement suggests that sometimes advertisers engaged in the same practices, keeping their eyes open for innovative marketing appeals formulated by their counterparts in other cities and adopting them as their own.

January 3

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

jan-3-131767-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (January 3, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD BY JAMES GREEN, At his Shop at the Sign of the Elephant.”

In the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in 1767, James Green became the third retailer over the course of two months, joining Joseph and William Russell and Thompson and Arnold. Such advertisements required collaboration between printers and advertisers. They also likely derived from competition and imitation among shopkeepers. In recent weeks I have questioned who was responsible for these advertisements and what motivated them to experiment with such an innovative (and presumably expensive) format. After all, at least one other advertiser complained about the high cost of the lengthy list advertisements that were standard parts of eighteenth-century newspaper advertising.

The January 3, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette provides another clue about what might have contributed to the appearance of some, but perhaps not all, of the recently published full-page advertisements. The fourth page of the issue was given over to Green’s (nearly) full-page advertisement and the colophon immediately beneath it. The third page concluded with this announcement:

“Our Readers are desired to excuse the late Publication of our Paper, for this Fortnight past, which has been entirely owing to the Western Post not being arrived; for whom we have waited, expecting that we should be able to oblige them with something more Material, than we are at Present able to furnish them with.”

The past fortnight encompassed the issues that included full-page advertisements by Thompson and Arnold and, now, James Green. If necessity was the mother of invention, then perhaps Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers of the Providence Gazette, played the lead role in devising full-page advertisements for Thompson and Arnold and James Green as a means of producing sufficient content to fill recent issues. Both advertisements adapted previous advertisements. The printers already had relationships with these retailers. Eager to fill the pages of their publication, they may even have offered reduced rates for these advertisements. Goddard and Company may have regretted the dearth of new news items to insert in recent issues, but they offset that shortcoming with the visual sensation of full-page advertising that likely attracted readers and additional advertisers.

Even if this accounts for the full-page advertisements published by Thompson and Arnold and James Green, it does not explain the initial and three subsequent appearances of full-page advertisements by Joseph and William Russell. The string of full-page advertisements that appeared in the Providence Gazette in the 1760s did not arise from a single cause.

November 30

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

nov-30-11291766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 29, 1766).

“JUST IMPORTED … silk and worsted mitts … silk knee straps … sewing silk of all coulours.”

James Green’s advertisement was full of different types of clothes, clothing accessories, and types of fabric to make clothes, including cotton, velvet, linen, and silk. What caught my attention was the amount of silk clothing and accessories that came over from England. It caused me to ask, “Why were there so many items made of silk coming from England?” I was curious whether the English imported clothing made with silk themselves and then shipped it to the colonies or if they made it themselves.

I read Gerald B. Hertz’s article discussing “The English Silk Industryin the Eighteenth Century.”[1] According to Hertz, England had its own silk weavers, comprised mainly of Flemish refugees in the early seventeenth century. It was not until 1685 when Huguenots, a Protestant group from France, started to emigrate to England that the amount of silk produced rose. Even with the silk industry rising, there was still a large amount of silk being imported from other countries. To combat this, England continued to pass laws that prohibited the importing of manufactured silk items from 1765 to 1826. In 1780 the annual import of raw silk rose to 200,000 pounds and later to 500,000 pounds after 1800.[2] England also tried to produce raw silk in their American colonies, specifically Georgia, but abandoned that plan after 1742.

The amount of silk items shipped to the English colonies rose during the consumer revolution, which in turn helped the economy of England.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

According to his advertisement, James Green’s shop was located “at the Sign of the Elephant, opposite JOHN ANGEL’s, Esq.” Eighteenth-century shop signs often incorporated animals and birds of various sorts. In choosing the elephant as the device to identify his business, Green prompted potential customers to associate the goods he stocked with exotic and faraway places. The elephant conjured images of some of the lands where raw silk was produced and acquired by European merchants in the eighteenth century.

Nick notes two overlapping streams of silk production that eventually entered colonial markets. The first, raw silk, was a necessary resource for producing the second, manufactured silk goods. Nick focuses primarily on the English silk industry as it pertained to the production of manufactured goods that were then exported for colonists to purchase, often listed alongside the myriad of other goods increasingly on offer by merchants and shopkeepers as part of the consumer revolution.

To produce manufactured silk goods for export, the English silk industry needed raw silk. What were their sources in the eighteenth century? Hertz provides answers to that question as well. In the early eighteenth century, “Turkey and the Levant were most important,” Hertz explains.[3] The English silk industry used Turkish silk to produce silk stockings, damasks (figured woven fabrics with a pattern visible on both sides, typically used for table linen and upholstery), and galloons (narrow ornamental strips of fabric, typically a silk braid or piece of lace, used to trim clothing or finish upholstery). According to Hertz, “The Turkey Company’s most valued import was sherbaffee, fine raw silk from Persia.”[4] The English silk industry also obtained unwrought silk from Italy and India and elsewhere in the east. Over time, raw silk from India and China became one of the East India Company’s most important imports. As Nick notes, the English silk industry stood to benefit when colonists experimented with silk cultivation in Georgia when the colony was founded, but their efforts were largely unsuccessful and the endeavor concluded fairly quickly.

As a result, the raw silk transformed into manufactured goods continued to come primarily from places on the other side of the globe, like Turkey and India. In choosing the elephant to identify his shop, James Green evoked images of trade and exchange that were not merely transatlantic but global. Many of the items listed in his advertisement, including tea and spices as well as silk, came from places far beyond England and continental Europe. The “Sign of the Elephant” did more than identify Green’s shop. It also encouraged consumers to attribute meaning and value to the goods they purchased. Visiting a local shop could be as fun or adventurous as browsing through the markets in faraway places most colonists only encountered in stories and their imaginations.

**********

[1] Gerald B. Hertz, “The English Silk Industry in the Eighteenth Century,” English Historical Review 24, no. 96 (October 1909): 710-626.

[2] Hertz, “English Silk Industry,” 712.

[3] Hertz, “English Silk Industry,” 711.

[4] Hertz, “English Silk Industry,” 711.

November 1

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

nov-1-1111766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 1, 1766).

“A GENERAL Assortment of English and India Goods.”

In this advertisement in the Providence Gazette, James Green sought to sell an “assortment of English and India Goods.” The “India Goods” had been sent to London by the British East India Company.

Originally, the British East India Company’s primarily goal was trade, but it eventually became a ruling power in India. How? What kept the British East India Company in India was something more useful than any goods that could be exported: armies. They realized that Indians with modern weaponry could be just as good as European soldiers, but for half the price. The Company also used its armies to gain favor with rulers in India. Those armies aided Indian princes, thus creating opportunities for the Company to have sway in governing India.

The Company was able to avoid certain taxes that would normally be put on them for trading. Some Indian leaders tried to oppose the Company, such as the nawāb (or governor) Sirajud-Dawla and the Mughal emperor. They failed when the Company’s army defeated their armies in 1764. After that, the British East India Company gained more control over trade, including the revenue systems of Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar.

Learn more about the British East India Company Raj.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

James Green sold “A GENERAL Assortment of … Goods” and commodities that had been transported great distances. The “Bohea and Green Tea” came from China, the indigo came from France, the spices came from the East Indies, and the “India Goods” came from the Indian subcontinent.

Ceara traces some of the history of the British East India Company in the years immediately before this advertisement appeared in a newspaper on the other side of the world. In providing glimpses of the British East India Company’s interventions in India, she demonstrates that colonists in New England were connected to faraway places that, until recently, have not been associated with the colonial American experience. For a generation and more, however, scholars have been reconceiving of colonial America as only a portion of a larger Atlantic world, but even those expansive boundaries cannot contain the webs of commerce and conquest that spread around the globe. Historians continue to discover that early America was much more vast than we previously realized!

For instance, in a book published earlier this year, Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830, Jonathan Eacott “recasts the British empire’s chronology and geography by situating the development of consumer culture, the American Revolution, and British industrialization in the commercial intersections linking the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.” Eacott examines “evolving networks, ideas, and fashions that bound India, Britain, and America” in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.

In doing her research to write about today’s advertisement, Ceara discovered a portion of this story on her own. It is a story that departs from traditional definitions and expectations about what should be included in a history of colonial America, but it is a more complete story that acknowledges that shopkeepers like James Green and his potential customers who read the Providence Gazette represented only two links in a much longer chain of supply and exchange that extended far beyond London to British merchants and officials operating in a very different colonial context in India.