December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:4:1767 Massachusetts Gazette.jpg
Massachusetts Gazette (December 4, 1767).

“At his Shop between LIBERTY TREE and the Sign of the White Horse.”

During the era of the American Revolution, advertisers had a variety of means for identifying locations in cities and towns. The largest ports began imposing order on urban environments by assigning standardized street numbers at the very end of the eighteenth century. Until then, colonists relied on a variety of landmarks, shop signs, and other devices for giving directions. In the December 4, 1767, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and its supplement, for instance, Thomas Hickling invited potential customers to visit “his Shop at the Corner of Black Horse Lane, leading to Charlestown Ferry.” Samuel Hughes sold maritime supplies “At his Store next to Capt. Chever’s in King-Street, BOSTON.” Jonathan Davis indicated that he sold his wares “Near BULL’s Wharf.” Despite the varying levels of specificity, each advertiser assumed he provided enough information for potential customers to find his place of business.

In giving directions to his shop, John Greenlaw not only named local landmarks but also invoked political attitudes expressed widely throughout the colony in recent months. He informed customers that he ran a shop “between LIBERTY TREE and the Sign of the White Horse, South-End, BOSTON.” The Townshend Act went into effect less than a week before Greenlaw first inserted his advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette in the November 26 issue. In the preceding weeks, all of the Boston newspapers devoted significant coverage to the new duties on imported goods and the local response, including resolutions calling for new non-importation agreements passed at the town meeting at the end of October. Even as he sold “A General Assortment of English and Scotch Goods” imported before the Townshend Act went into effect, Greenlaw associated his business with the Liberty Tree, a symbol of colonial resistance to Parliament.

Colonists like Greenlaw used advertisements to express their political views in the public prints. In the time between the repeal of the Stamp Act and the imposition of the Townshend Act, only John Gore, Jr., consistently incorporated the Liberty Tree into his advertisements. Now that colonists once again experienced Parliamentary overreach, other advertisers in Boston expressed political sentiments by adopting the Liberty Tree as a significant landmark for giving directions to readers. In addition to Greenlaw, another advertiser listed a “handsome Dwelling House” to rent “at the South-End of Boston, near LIBERTY TREE” in the December 4 issue. In an era when advertisers creatively devised a variety of methods for giving directions in print, Greenlaw, Gore, and others could have chosen other landmarks or devices to describe their locations. In selecting the Liberty Tree to include in their advertisements, they communicated more than just where potential customers could find them.

November 8

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

Nov 8 - 11:5:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 5, 1767).

“At his Shop opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BOSTON.”

John Gore, Jr., sold a “fresh assortment of English and India GOODS … at his Shop opposite LIBERTY-TREE” in Boston in the late 1760s. By November 1767, Gore had been referencing the Liberty Tree in his advertisements for more than two years, a practice that he began during the Stamp Act crisis. Other advertisers had used the Liberty Tree as a landmark to direct consumers to their businesses while the Stamp Act was in effect, but Gore was the only shopkeeper in Boston who consistently invoked the Liberty Tree in his commercial notices after Parliament relented and repealed the Stamp Act. Doing so suggested his politics to potential customers. He asserted the appropriate relationship between England and the colonies even as he continued to import and sell English goods.

Making that pitch became more complicated in the fall of 1767. Colonists in Boston accused English merchants of draining the province of hard currency through an imbalance of trade. For several years colonists had imported more from Britain than they exported. Add to that the imposition of new legislation, the Townshend Acts, that assessed new taxes on certain imported goods, set to take effect on November 20, 1767. Residents of Boston determined that they needed to take action. At a town meeting on October 28, 1767, Bostonians pledged “to promote Industry, Oeconomy, and Manufactures, and by this Means prevent the unnecessary Importation of European Commodities, the excessive Use of which threatens the Country with Poverty and Ruin” (according to the report on the first page of the Massachusetts Gazette that carried Gore’s advertisement invoking the Liberty Tree). To that end, Bostonians “VOTED, That this Town will take all prudent and legal Measures to encourage the Produce and Manufactures of this Province.” Furthermore, they promised “that we will encourage the Use and Consumption of all Articles manufactured in any of the British Colonies.” To underscore their resolve, Bostonians voted to institute a new non-importation and non-consumption agreement effective on December 31. The Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy all carried this news on November 2. Similarly, the Massachusetts Gazette inserted it on November 5. The Boston Post-Boy called special attention to these measures with a rare headline: “Save your MONEY, and you Save your COUNTRY!

Gore found himself in a difficult position. For the past two years he had used his shop’s proximity to the Liberty Tree to identify his business, encouraging patrons to associate his enterprise with resistance to Parliament’s attempts to unjustly tax the colonies. Now, however, his friends and neighbors called for an outright boycott of his imported merchandise. One of his primary appeals to prospective customers, familiar due to its steady repetition in the public prints, suddenly became much less powerful. Would it matter that Gore’s shop was located “opposite LIBERTY-TREE” if he stocked an array of goods imported from London?

April 23

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

Apr 23 - 4:23:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 23, 1767).

“At his Shop opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston.”

Other than his name, “LIBERTY-TREE, Boston” appeared in the largest font in the advertisement John Gore, Jr. placed in the April 23, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. For months, in advertisements brief and lengthy, Gore consistently included that landmark in his commercial notices, directing potential customers to “his Shop opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston.” That became a distinctive part of his advertisements, making them easy to recognize at a glance. In addition to serving as rudimentary branding, this consistency also informed consumers of his politics. The Stamp Act had been repealed more than a year earlier, but the Quartering Act of 1765 was still in effect. (A letter from London elsewhere in the same issue stated, “EVERY one of the American Provinces have complied, without demur, with the orders of the government, for quartering troops, and all other requisitions, except Boston and New York.”) The Townshend Acts were on the horizon, but neither Gore nor his fellow colonists knew quite yet that they would be enacted.

Still, Gore remained suspicious, rightfully it turned out, about what Parliament might do next. After all, the repeal of the Stamp Act had been accompanied by the passage of the Declaratory Act, asserting that Parliament possessed broad authority to oversee colonies that owed their allegiance to king and Parliament: “the king’s Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled, had, hath, and of right out to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.” Given that he adopted the Liberty Tree as the sigil for his shop, Gore rejected this argument and remained vigilant about protecting the rights of the colonies. Even as he marketed “A large and general Assortment of English and India GOODS” recently “Imported from LONDON,” Gore reminded readers and potential customers that their participation in the extensive consumer culture of the era could be threatened at any time if Parliament again invoked an authority that many colonists did not believe that distant legislative body possessed.

March 30

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Mar 30 - 3:27:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 27, 1766).

TO BE SOLD, By Adam Collson, Under the TREE of LIBERTY.”

The “TREE of LIBERTY” is a symbol famous to this day for the events that took place under it less than a year before this advertisement. It became a landmark in colonial Boston in the decade before the Revolution. On August 14, 1765, the elm tree near the commons became famous. A gathering of colonists dissatisfied with the Stamp Act hung an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the newly appointed stamp commissioner of Boston. The rebellious political leaders of the day named it the Liberty Tree and during the era of the American Revolution, many protests and demonstrations began or were conducted under it.

By setting up shop under the “TREE of LIBERTY,” Collson let potential customers know that he supported the actions that had taken place there. If others wanted to support those actions as well, they could buy “Fleece Wool” from him under the “TREE of LIBERTY.” Just buying and selling fleece made a political statement in this situation because of the political symbolism attached to this particular tree.

Visit Mapping Revolutionary Boston to learn more about the “TREE of LIBERTY” and other eighteenth-century landmarks.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Once again, Mary has chosen an advertisement that mobilized politics in the service of marketing consumer goods. Like Monday’s advertisement that indicated Barnabas Clarke’s shop was located “Near Liberty-Bridge,” Adam Collson incorporated recent protests against the Stamp Act into the directions he gave potential customers.

Under the TREE of LIBERTY” offers an explicit political message, but Collson’s wares may have also resonated with colonists angered by the Stamp Act. What would colonists have done with “Fleece Wool” once they purchased it? In order to eventually transform this raw material into textiles (perhaps to substitute for those many colonists refused to import from England), the fleece would have been spun into yarn or thread on a spinning wheel, itself a symbol of industry. The colonists valued their spirit of industriousness as they opposed the oppressive acts of Parliament.

Furthermore, as the imperial crisis developed over the next decade, colonists of various backgrounds found themselves involved in a variety of acts of resistance. Some demonstrated in the streets. Some expressed their political opinions via the choices they made as consumers. Women, barred from formal political participation, took up the American cause by sitting at their spinning wheels and transforming “Fleece Wool” and other raw materials into the thread that was then woven into homespun.

Both yesterday and today Mary selected advertisements that contain layers of meaning not always readily apparent to modern readers but which likely resonated with colonists who were very familiar with the relationship between politics and consumption in the age of the Stamp Act.