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.

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.

March 28

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 28 - 3:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette.gif
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 28, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD By Barnabas Clarke, Near Liberty-Bridge.”

This advertisement caught my eye because it mentioned Liberty Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Almost yearly, I have visited Portsmouth, but have never heard of a Liberty Bridge. It turns out that the Liberty Bridge got its name in the year 1766 in connection with the Liberty Pole. On March 22, 1765, King George III signed the Stamp Act, which did not go into effect until November of that same year. It was later repealed on March 18, 1766, because of the strong opposition it met.

On January 6, 1766, a group of men who called themselves the Sons of Liberty made an effigy of George Grenville, the author of the Stamp Act, paraded it around, and burned it. To commemorate this event they erected a Liberty Pole bearing a flag with “LIBERTY, PROPERTY, and NO STAMPS.” On January 20, the Boston Evening-Post wrote up a story a few weeks after the event.

Mar 28 - 1:20:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (January 20, 1766).

The Liberty Bridge was the bridge that crossed what used to be Puddle Dock, which has since been filled in. The Liberty Pole did not get its official marker or a permanent pole until 1824. But the Liberty Bridge was notable enough and recent enough to be prominently displayed in this advertisement. People of the region would also have known exactly where this landmark was and would have been able to find the shop.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Even as Barnabas Clarke sold goods imported from England, the location he listed in his advertisement testified to the place he believed he and his fellow colonists inhabited in the British Empire. This place was not exclusively a geographic location but rather a sense of identity. “Near Liberty-Bridge” told potential customers where to find Clarke’s shop, but it also indicated the customary rights and privileges that Clarke and other colonists asserted they possessed. Mary selected an advertisement that, once again, demonstrates that advertising and consumption took on a political valence and encouraged colonists to think about the meanings of goods – social, cultural, and political – in the era of the American Revolution.

The Stamp Act had been repealed on March 18, 1766, ten days before this advertisement appeared, although it would take several weeks for word to arrive in the colonies. When that happened, colonists would also learn that the repeal of the Stamp Act had been accompanied by passage of the Declaratory Act, which asserted that Parliament had the authority to oversee and regulate the colonies. Liberty Poles and Liberty Bridges would continue to serve as potent symbols to colonists.

Nov 24 - 11:22:1765 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 22, 1765).

This advertisement also suggests how quickly colonists reconceived their surroundings. I have previously featured two advertisements Barnabas Clark(e) published in the New-Hampshire Gazette, one on November 1765 and the other in December 1765.* Both predated the activities of the Sons of Liberty on January 6, 1766, that Mary described. Protests by the Sons of Liberty were significant in their own right, but perhaps became increasingly effective as colonists remembered, commemorated, and incorporated them into their daily lives, including listing the location of their shops as “Near Liberty-Bridge.”

Dec 28 - 12:27:1765 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 27, 1765).

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*These two advertisements appeared via #Adverts250 on Twitter, prior to this blog launching on January 1, 2016.