What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“ASSORTMENT of GOODS, Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.”
The partnership of Smith and Atkinson informed consumers in and around Boston that they stocked “A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants)” in an advertisement in the March 29, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. On the same day, James McCall took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette to announce that he carried an “ASSORTMENT of GOODS” imported in the Sea Venturefrom Bristol “Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.” This marketing strategy was less common in the newspapers published in Charleston than in Boston, but not unknown.
In both cities, purveyors of goods believed that asserting that they acquired their goods according to the terms of nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of import duties Parliament imposed on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea would incite demand. They offered colonists the opportunity to continue participating in the consumer revolution without violating the political principles that inspired the “RESOLUTIONS” or the “late Agreements.” Yet their newspaper notices did more than reassure prospective customers. McCall intended to safeguard his own reputation, as did Smith and Atkinson. They wanted all readers and, by extension, the entire community to know that they abided by the nonimportation agreements. Making such declarations not only amounted to good business sense but also aided in maintaining their status and relationships.
In Charleston and Boston, both advertisers and prospective customers spoke a common language of consumption that was inflected with politics. T.H. Breen makes in this argument in The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. At the nexus of consumer culture and print culture, newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services played an important role in developing and propagating the language of consumption. This yielded what Benedict Anderson termed imagined communities – communities of readers and communities of consumers – that made colonists in faraway places like Boston and Charleston feel as though they shared a common identity.