What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“He is determined … not to import any more Goods.”
In August 1769, Joshua Lockwood promoted “A VERY neat Assortment of CLOCKS and WATCHES” that he had “just imported … from LONDON.” He also carried “a large and neat Assortment of Silver and Metal-Mounted Holster, Saddle, and Pocket-Pistols.” He was careful, however, not to run afoul of the resolutions recently adopted by merchants and traders in Charleston, a nonimportation agreement similar to those already in effect in Boston and New York. In several of the largest urban ports, colonists leveraged economic resistance to the Townshend Acts, vowing not to import a vast array of goods from Britain while Parliament levied taxes on imported paper, tea, glass, lead, and paint. For his part, Lockwood alerted the public that he “is determined, and bound by Honour, and for the Good of the Country, until the late villainous Impositions laid upon us are taken off.” The watchmaker established for prospective customers and the community that he supported the nonimportation agreement, wedding commerce and politics in his advertisement.
Lockwood joined other merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who attempted to leverage the nonimportation agreement to sway consumers with their political sentiments. Unlike others, however, he used the boycott for another purpose: calling in debts. Lockwood anticipated that the tradesmen on the other side of the Atlantic who supplied his clocks and watches would demand “a Settlement” once he suspended placing new orders. They would not extend credit indefinitely to a customer who no longer actively purchased their wares. To pay his own bills, Lockwood called on “his Friends and Customers” to settle their accounts with him. He offered several months to do so, but warned that he would sue those who were “not so kind as to comply with his Request” by the first of the year. Newspapers from New England to Georgia carried advertisements that called on colonists to pay debts or end up in court. In that regard, Lockwood’s notice was not extraordinary. Using the nonimportation agreement as a means of encouraging those who owed him money to settle accounts, on the other hand, was innovative. He sought to harness (or exploit) a political movement for the benefit of his business in a new way. Plenty of advertisers asked consumers to patronize their shops because they supported nonimportation, but they did not use the boycott as a justification for calling in debts. What were the ramifications for Lockwood? Did readers find themselves in sympathy and more inclined to pay their debts to alleviate any hardships Lockwood might face as a result of suspending his orders from Britain? Or did they question Lockwood’s commitment to making a sacrifice on behalf of the cause and resent his effort to use the nonimportation agreement as rationale for taking colonists to court?