October 16

GUEST CURATOR: Lindsay Hajjar

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

Boston News-Letter (October 16, 1766).

In Union-Street, opposite to Mr. James Jackson’s; BOHEA Tea by the Chest.”

This advertisement was directed at consumers in the Boston area who not only knew their way around (including how to get to Union Street), but also who James Jackson was. Joseph Dennie pinpointed a very specific location and called upon readers to purchase distinct goods. The fact that the seller uses “Mr. James Jackson’s” as a landmark could mean that the seller did not have a shop sign of his own. The seller knew that the people of Boston were interested in the goods he had and that if he used a commonly known place such as “opposite to Mr. James Jackson’s” he would be able to turn over the most profit.

T.H Breen says how important it was for the colonist to stay connected to England for trade purposes because they wanted to feel as if they had never left England while at the same time having left. Being Anglicized, or making themselves feel English, was important for a lot of colonists because even though they were living in the New World the Old World connections gave them a sense of identity. Joseph Dennie knew that the good he was selling would be in high demand because they were valued throughout the British Empire.



Lindsay chose an advertisement that appears relatively plain at first glance, but it reveals quite a bit about how colonists navigated Boston and how they conjured imaginative maps of themselves as consumers.

In an era before American cities adopted standardized street numbers (an innovation ushered in shortly after the Revolution), urban residents and visitors used landmarks to give directions and find their way around. Some advertisers indicated that their shops were located on a certain street and specified the number of “doors” from the nearest intersection. Others, as Lindsay indicates, had their own shop signs. Dozens of shop signs crowded the streets of Boston in the eighteenth century. We know of most of them not because they survived but rather because they were included in advertisements from the period. Not every shopkeeper had his or her own sign, but some advertisers indicated their proximity to shop signs that would have been familiar to potential customers. Joseph Dennie used a similar method, but chose an individual, James Jackson, rather than a shop sign to orient his prospective clients.

Dennie’s short advertisement also mapped global networks of global commerce and identity. Lindsay notes that customers would have enjoyed the grocery items Dennie sold because they were also popular in England, but that tells only part of the story. The “BOHEA Tea by the Chest” came from China. Nutmegs, mace, and cloves came from the Spice Islands in the East Indies (modern Indonesia). Cinnamon came from Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka).

Many colonists were anxious about their status as Britons. They did, after all, live in faraway outposts of the empire. Importing, purchasing, and consuming exotic grocery items from distant lands helped to confirm their identity as they participated in the same rituals of consumption as their counterparts in London and throughout England.

January 12

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

Jan 12 - 1:9:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 9, 1766)

“Superfine Hyson Tea” and “Choice Bohea TEA.”

Given that Richard Clarke directed customers to his “Warehouse the lower End of King-Street” and James Jackson invited them to his “Shop in Union-Street,” it appears that the former was a wholesaler and the latter a retailer.  But they both peddled that increasingly popular eighteenth-century beverage:  tea.  Once reserved for elite consumers, tea became a staple and a necessity in eighteenth-century America.

(Update:  J.L. Bell notes, via Twitter,  that “Captain Bruce” worked for Hancock. Richard Clarke was later the lead importer during the 1773 tea crisis.)

Hyson Tea
Hyson Tea

These short advertisements, positioned next to each other on the page, offer two kinds of tea.  Hyson is a green tea that comes from the Anhui and Zhejiang provinces in China.  “Superfine Hyson” likely refers to what is today known as Young Hyson or Lucky Dragon, a finer variety with lighter flavor.  Bohea, now known as Wuyi, is a variety of black and oolong tea grown in the mountains in northwestern China.  Originally Bohea, with its smoky flavor, was considered a luxury item, but it eventually became one of the most popular varieties in colonial America.  In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin recorded provisioning General Edward Braddock’s forces with both “good green tea” and “good bohea tea” during the French and Indian War.

Bohea Tea
Bohea Tea


In researching this entry, I discovered quite a few twenty-first suppliers and public history institutions and organizations who use colonial imagery to market tea to modern consumers.  The cachet is in the connection to the American past, sometimes even using the Boston Tea Party to sell products by counterintuitively suggesting that Americans should now purchase and drink the very tea that their ancestors tossed into the harbor in protest.

I admire the decorative labels on Oliver Pluff & Co‘s canisters (which they call “Signature Tea Tins”).  The company, located in Charleston, South Carolina, bills itself as “A Leaf from America’s Tea Heritage” (and seems to be the supplier of tea merchandise for many public history sites).  I have not tried their tea, so I cannot testify to its quality, but I plan to make a purchase in order to obtain the canisters.  Score one for marketing!

Pluff Tea Collection
Teas offered for sale by Oliver Pluff & Co, Charleston, SC.