What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.”
Isaac Beers and Elias Beers sold a variety of goods at their shop in New Haven. In the spring of 1768 they enumerated many of their wares in an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal, listing textiles and adornments that ranged from “blue, bluegrey, and blossom colour’d German Serges” to “A very large Assortment of Buttons, Bindings, and all kind of Trimmings for Mens Cloathes” to “A genteel Assortment of the newest fashion’d Ribbons.” They stocked grocery items, including tea, cofeem and sugar, as well as “Pigtail Tobacco” and snuff.
Although they were not booksellers or stationers, the Beers included writing supplies and books among their inventory. Like other shopkeepers, they carried “Writing Paper” and wax wafers for making seals. They also sold bibles and spelling books as well as “A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.” (Although that portion of the advertisement has been damaged in the copy of the May 27, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal seen above, the same advertisement appeared the next week in an issue that has not been damaged.)
The Beers did not need to provide any further explanation for prospective customers to identify the pamphlet that contained all twelve of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” previously printed and reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies, starting in December 1767 and continuing into the spring of 1768. In these “Letters,” Dickinson, under the pseudonym of “A Farmer,” presented a dozen essays that explained how Parliament overstepped its authority in passing the Townshend Act and other measures that usurped the authority of colonial legislatures. He encouraged colonists to resist Parliament’s designs or risk even greater abuses.
Upon completion of the series, industrious printers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia collected all twelve “Letters” in pamphlets. Printers and booksellers in several colonies advertised that they sold the “Letters,” but supplying the public with that pamphlet was not the province of the book trade alone. Shopkeepers like the Beers purchased “A few” copies to retail alongside general merchandise in their own shops, considering the “Letters” significant enough to merit particular mention in their advertisements. In so doing, they assisted in disseminating some of the arguments that eventually transformed resistance into a revolution. The choices they made as retailers and advertisers helped to shape the rhetoric of the Revolution.