What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“… from a Principle of Love to their Country.”
John Keating became a familiar figure in advertisements that appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and other newspapers in the late 1760s and early 1770s. He operated a paper manufactory and presented his enterprise as providing a patriotic alternative to paper imported from Britain. He objected to the duties that Parliament levied on imported paper in the Townshend Acts while simultaneously noting that consumers could foil such attempts to tax them by purchasing paper made locally. He also frequently took the pages of the New York’s newspapers to encourage colonists to participate in the production of paper by collecting rags and turning them over to him to be transformed into paper, as he did in the March 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.
His entreaty commenced with a prologue that could have been part of a political tract rather than a newspaper advertisement: “THE Imposition of a Tax upon Goods imported from Great-Britain to her Colonies, altho’ a palpable Violation of their most sacred Rights, was not more injurious to them, than in itself impolitic, absurd and detrimental to Great-Britain, herself: Yet, notwithstanding the Absurdity of the Measure, the Contrivers of it had Cunning enough to lay the Tax upon Articles of necessary to us, that it was with Reason supposed we could not do without them, and therefore should be compelled by our Wants, to submit to the Imposition.” From there, Keating outlined the nonimportation agreements that went into effect in several colonies, noting that “Friends to their Country” could play an important role in continuing to make paper available if only they would collect their rags and turn them over to the paper manufactory. Keating estimated that there “are Rags abundantly sufficient for the Purpose” that colonists should save “from a Principle of Love to their Country.”
Keating frequently made such appeals, but on this occasion his exhortation may have gained additional urgency. It ran next to a news item dated “BOSTON, March 1” that reported “the melancholy Affair at the North End.” The Massachusetts Historical Society provides this summary of events that took place on February 22: “Ebenezer Richardson, a customs informer, fired a musket through a broken window in his house at a crowd of young men and boys who had been taunting customers of a store selling British imports.” In addition to wounding others, Richardson killed Christopher Seider, age eleven. His funeral on February 26 was a significant event. According to the report in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, “a great Multitude of People assembled in the Houses and Streets to see the Funeral Procession, which departed “from Liberty-Tree.” Killed less than two weeks before the Boston Massacre, Seider could be considered the first casualty of the American Revolution. News of that “Bloody Massacre,” as Paul Revere labeled it, did not yet appear in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but the death of Seider may have been sufficient to put Keating’s calls for colonists to collect rags into new perspective. He offered a practical means for “Service they would do their Country, in whose Welfare their own is involved.”
For a more complete accounting of the death and burial of Christopher Seider, see the series of articles by J.L. Bell on Boston 1775.