What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“LABRADORE TEA … to be sold at EDES and GILL’s Printing-Office, in Boston.”
This notice concerning “LABRADORE TEA” appeared among the news items in the December 12, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. The printers, Sarah Goddard and John Carter, republished it word-for-word from the most recent issue of the Boston-Gazette. Its placement blurred the distinction between news and advertising.
The politics of drinking tea at a time when colonists protested the imbalance of trade between the colonies and England explains this testimonial advertisement’s inclusion among news from other colonies in the Providence Gazette. At a town meeting held at the end of October, residents of Boston had resolved to encourage production and consumption of local goods rather than rely on imports from England. Subsequent nonimportation agreements and their coverage in Boston’s newspapers singled out imported tea for particular notice, casting it as an unnecessary luxury that endangered the political and economic welfare of the colonies.
The Providence Gazette had already reported on November 28 that local residents followed the lead of Bostonians when they held a town meeting “to deliberate and agree upon some effectual Measures for promoting Industry, Oeconomy and Manufactures, for the Prevention of Misery and Ruin, as a Consequence of the unnecessary Imports of European Goods.” This gathering produced similar results: “The general Voice was for entering upon some Measures to extend our own Manufactures, and to lessen the Imports from Europe, especially of superfluous Articles; And it was unanimously voted by the Town, that they would take all prudent and lawful Measures to encourage the Produce and Manufactures of this Colony, and of all other the British Colonies in America.” The residents of Newport approved similar measures at their own town meeting the same week.
It seems unlikely that Goddard and Carter received any remuneration for advertising “LABRADORE TEA … to be sold at EDES and GILL’s Printing-Office, in Boston.” Instead, they likely inserted this notice to supplement their coverage of a movement quickly expanding beyond Boston, including into their own colony. In choosing the content for their newspaper, they became active participants and further encouraged these efforts. They devoted almost the entire first page of the December 12 issue to the “Remainder of the PROCESS for making POT-ASH in NORTH-AMERICA,” a feature that continued through multiple issues. In the same column with the commentary on Labrador tea, Goddard and Carter reprinted news from the most recent issues of both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy: “We hear that the Towns of Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester, Hardwick, and several other Towns to the Westward, have unanimously come into the Measures proposed by this Town, to promote Frugality and Manufactures.” Immediately below that news item, they reported that the town of Middleborough “voted to come into the same measures that the town of Boston had, respecting frugality and manufacture.”
Aware that residents of Providence and other readers of their newspaper had overwhelmingly expressed support for “encourage[ing] the Produce and Manufactures of this Colony, and of all other the British Colonies in America,” Goddard and Carter knew that subscribers would find the description of Labrador tea both relevant and interesting. This merited reprinting the item as news rather than consigning it to the pages reserved for advertising. The printers gave a tacit endorsement of the product when they chose to include the portion of the testimonial advertisement that indicated where consumers could purchase Labrador tea rather than reprinting just the portion that described the taste and medical and dietary benefits of the local alternative to imported tea. Politics and consumer culture overlapped during the era of the imperial crisis, sometimes causing news and advertising to follow suit.