June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 17, 1768).

“A new Shop … near Swing or Liberty Bridge.”

When Zechariah Beal, a cobbler, set up shop in a new location he placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform “his Customers and others, that he has Removed from Queen Street, to a new Shop, almost adjoining to that of Mr. John Noble’s Barber, near Swing or Liberty Bridge, not far from the Long-Wharfe in Portsmouth.” Beal advertised in an era before American cities and towns adopted standardized street numbers, though some of the largest American cities would do so in the final decade of the eighteenth century.

In the absence of street numbers, Beal and other colonists relied on a variety of landmarks to establish locations and give directions. Sometimes these instructions were short, simply referencing the name of the street. In other cases, they were quite lengthy (and even rather convoluted from the perspective of modern readers accustomed to precise street numbers designating the locations of homes and businesses), as was the case when Beal listed his new location in his advertisement.

Among the landmarks he invoked, Beal noted that his new shop was “near Swing or Liberty Bridge.” This description reveals that colonists in Portsmouth were in the midst of reconceptualizing the meaning they attributed to a local landmark. On January 6, 1766, the Sons of Liberty had paraded an effigy of George Grenville around Portsmouth in protest of the Stamp Act. They burned the effigy of the prime minister and, like several other cities and towns in the colonies, erected a liberty pole that flew a flag that read “LIBERTY, PROPERTY, and NO STAMPS,” according to an account that appeared in the January 20, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. That same account reported that the pole and flag were “now fixed near LIBERTY-BRIDGE.”

Some advertisers in Portsmouth quickly adopted the name, indicating that they and other colonists continued to commemorate the protest by associating new significance with the Swing Bridge that predated the protest. Yet this process was not universal among those who resided in the area. The bridge now had two names, “Swing or Liberty Bridge,” among the inhabitants of Portsmouth. An older way of describing the urban landscape did not disappear just because some colonists now preferred a new designation for one landmark. Even those who supported protests against the Stamp Act and, more recently in the summer of 1768, the Townshend Act likely discovered that they sometimes had to consciously correct themselves when it came to associating names with political significance with landmarks previously known as something else. In Portsmouth, that meant that one landmark simultaneously had two names, “Swing or Liberty Bridge,” as colonists collectively reconceptualized their descriptions of their environs.

April 25

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

Apr 25 - 4:25:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (April 25, 1768).

“John Stevens, near Liberty-Tree.”

In the spring of 1768 Charles Dunbar, a gardener, placed an advertisement in the Newport Mercuryto announce that he sold “a Quantity of choice good Garden Seeds.”  Customers could purchase “Early Charlton Peas,” “fine Madeira Onion,” “double curled Parsley,” and a variety of other seeds directly from Dunbar or from “Gilbert Stewart, the North Corner of Banister’s Row” or “John Stevens, near Liberty-Tree,” and “Caleb Earle at the upper end of the Town.”

Dunbar’s advertisement testifies to colonial understandings of urban geography and how to navigate cities, especially smaller ones.  Residences and businesses did not have standardized street numbers in the 1760s. Some of the largest American cities would institute such a system in the final decade of the century, but on the eve of the Revolution colonists relied on a variety of other means for identifying locations.  Sometimes indicating just the street or an intersection gave sufficient direction, such as “North Corner of Banister’s Row.”  Sometimes the descriptions were even more vague, such as “upper end of the Town.” Especially in towns and smaller cities, neither residents nor visitors needed much more information to locate residences and businesses.  Colonists also noted the proximity of shop signs.  In another advertisement in the same issue of the Newport Mercury, Thomas Green listed his location as “the Sign of the Roe Buck in Banister’s Row.” Advertisements from other newspapers printed throughout the colonies in the 1760s suggest that residents of Newport likely used Green’s sign as a marker to identify other locations next door to his shop or across the street or three doors down.  Although associated with particular businesses, shop signs served a purpose other than merely branding the enterprises of their proprietors.

In that regard, shop signs operated as landmarks, another common method for indicating location … and some landmarks communicated more than just location.  Dunbar indicated that prospective customers could find his associate John Stevens “near Liberty-Tree,” a landmark that could not be separated from its political symbolism even as the advertiser used it to facilitate commerce.  As a result, politics infused Dunbar’s advertisement, prompting readers to consider more than just their gardens as they contemplated which seeds to purchase and plant.  Dunbar’s notice was not an isolated incident.  In the wake of both the Stamp Act and, later, the Townshend Act, colonists designated Liberty Trees and quickly incorporated the symbolism into their understanding of urban landscapes.  Advertisers in Boston most frequently invoked the city’s Liberty Tree as a landmark to aid prospective customers in finding their businesses, but Dunbar’s notice demonstrates that advertisers in other cities adopted the same strategy.  Some advertisers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, took similar steps when they stated their location in relation to “Liberty-Bridge.” Even if advertisers did not actively endorse particular political positions, their use of these landmarks demonstrates how quickly residents of their cities integrated symbols of resistance into their points of reference for navigating urban centers.

November 27

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

Nov 27 - 11:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 27, 1767).

At his Shop … in the Street leading from Liberty Bridge to the Mill Dam.”

Like their counterparts in other colonial cities and towns, advertisers in Portsmouth used a variety of landmarks to identify the locations of their shops in the November 27, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. James McDonogh peddled his wares “At his Store on Spring Hill.” Jonathan and Samuel Sparhawk stocked a variety of goods “At the Sign of the State House, near the Parade.” Edmund Davis ran a shop “next Door to the Sign of the Goldsmiths Arms in Queen Street.”

Pierse Long included the most elaborate directions in his advertisement: “At his Shop near the Reverend Mr. Haven’s Meeting House, in the Street leading from Liberty Bridge to the Mill Dam.” These directions referenced an important landmark with renewed significance: the Liberty Bridge. The Townshend Act went into effect a week earlier, spurring heightened anxieties and contemplation about the meaning of political and economic liberty among American colonists. Elsewhere in the November 27 issue, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette inserted updates about the actions taken by the Boston town meeting “to discourage the use of foreign Superfluities as the only means of saving the Country from impending ruin.” The first page featured an extensive item reprinted from the Boston Post-Boy. In it, an anonymous author addressed “My Dear Countrymen” and recommended “the disuse of the most luxurious and enervating article of BOHEA TEA” in favor of Labrador tea cultivated in North America. In summation, that author argued, “Thus my countrymen, by consuming less of what we are not really in want of, and by industriously cultivating and improving the natural advantages of our own country, we might save our substance, even our lands, from becoming the property of others, and we might effectually preserve our virtue and our liberty, to the latest posterity.” The Fowles also reprinted a poem “ADRESSED TO THE LADIES” from the Massachusetts Gazette that encouraged wearing homespun instead of imported textiles and instructed female consumers to “Throw aside your Bohea, and your Green Hyson Tea.” Both news and entertainment items addressed the imbalance of trade between Britain and the colonies, a situation that became even more troubling with the imposition of new duties on certain imported goods.

Long found himself in a difficult position. He sold a variety of imported goods, including “BOHEA TEA.” He almost certainly wished to move his merchandise as quickly as possible before local consumers signed on to non-importation agreements. He may have believed that making a nod toward the concerns expressed by so many concerned colonists could help in that endeavor, so even though he continued to sell “BOHEA TEA” and other imported goods he also connected his business to the nearby Liberty Bridge. On occasion, advertisers previously invoked the Liberty Bridge when explaining to potential customers how to find their shops, but doing so had mostly disappeared from advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette since the repeal of the Stamp Act. It had been the period that the Stamp Act was still in effect that advertisers in Portsmouth most actively incorporated the Liberty Bridge into their commercial notices. It hardly seems a coincidence that Long revived that method at a time of renewed unrest at the end of November 1767. Doing so may have better positioned his business in the minds of potential customers, perhaps even helping them to justify one last purchase of problematic commodities as long as they did so from a shopkeeper who shared their worries about attempts to curtail their liberty.

February 6

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

feb-6-261767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 6, 1767).

“ALEXANDER KIRKWOOD, Watch and Clock Maker from London, HAS taken shop.”

A print of An Exact Prospect of CHARLESTOWN, the Metropolis of the Province of SOUTH CAROLINA, “Engrav’d for the London Magazine” in the early 1760s, depicted a bustling colonial port city. It provided a view of the waterfront, including the wharves where vessels took on cargoes of rice, indigo, and other local products after unloading commodities imported from Europe and the West Indies, slaves arriving directly from Africa or transshipped through other ports in the New World, and migrants from Europe looking for new opportunities.

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An Exact Prospect of Charlestown, the Metropolis of the Province of South Carolina (ca. 1762).  Courtesy Library of Congress.

Alexander Kirkwood, a “Watch and Clock Maker from London,” made the journey across the Atlantic at some point, though his advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette did not indicate how recently he had arrived in the colony. Whenever he made the voyage, he likely chose to settle in Charleston because it was indeed “the Metropolis” of South Carolina (though readers of the London Magazine may have chuckled a bit over that characterization when they viewed the print), the largest settlement in Britain’s North American colonies south of Philadelphia. The “Watch and Clock Maker from London” needed a sufficient customer base to succeed, making a prosperous settlement the size of Charleston an attractive place to set up shop.

Most likely Kirkwood was a relatively new arrival when he placed this advertisement, given that he stated that he “has taken shop” rather than “removed” from one shop to another. Like shopkeeper David Conkie in Boston, who placed his own advertisement earlier the same week, Kirkwood needed to make prospective customers aware of his business. To that end, he placed notices in both the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the South Carolina Gazette, published by his neighbor, “Mr. Timothy’s printing-office, in Broad-street.” Residents may not have been familiar with Kirkwood’s shop just yet, but they certainly knew where to find the businesses on either side of him, Timothy’s printing office and the “general post-office.” Not only did his advertisements serve to garner attention, Kirkwood’s location certainly yielded a fair amount of visibility for his shop.