April 10

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 10 - 4:10: 1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 10, 1767).

“Wm Jackson at the Brazen Head.”

Bang Bang: Bad Business in Boston! In reading this advertisement and delving deeper into who exactly “Wm Jackson” was, I discovered that he was a very controversial merchant in Boston. He owned a store and sold a variety of imported British products ranging from gun powder (as seen in this advertisement) to linens and silk to brass and iron hardware. The store “at the Brazen Head” was conveniently located next to the Old State House in Boston, making it a prime location for consumers, but also a place of heightened revolutionary fervor. After a successful career prior to the Revolutionary era, Jackson, a Loyalist, was in for a contentious atmosphere with patriotic local merchants and consumers.

At the time this advertisement was posted, Jackson was on the verge of causing controversy with his business. The Townsend Acts were passed in 1767, resulting in boycotts made by other businessmen in Boston. This reflected poorly on Jackson, who decided not to take part in these political statements and continued his store’s importation of British goods. This strategy did not benefit Jackson in the end. After attempting to flee Boston at the beginning of the American Revolution and getting captured by an American privateer, he was brought back to city and jailed. Later, he was banished for the rest of his life.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

William Jackson regularly advertised in Boston’s newspapers in the 1760s and 1770s, but, like many other colonial merchants and shopkeepers, he did not confine his marketing efforts to newspaper advertising alone. Industrious entrepreneurs distributed various advertising ephemera in eighteenth-century America, including trade cards, billheads, broadsides, catalogs, and circular letters. In striking contrast to the newspaper advertisement Shannon chose to feature today, Jackson commissioned an elaborate trade card that listed the “General Assortment” of merchandise that he imported from London and Bristol.

Apr 10 - William Jackson Trade Card
William Jackson distributed this trade card engraved by Paul Revere.  Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Jackson’s trade card resembled many others popular in London, other English cities, and urban ports in the colonies in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. A vignette of a bust and pedestal made of brass – a brazen head – appeared in a decorative cartouche at the top of the card. An ornate Chippendale border enclosed the list of goods Jackson sold. Although some American advertisers ordered engraved images of this sort from artists in London, a local artisan engraved Jackson’s trade card. That artisan was none other than the famous patriot, Paul Revere. Jackson and Revere may not have agreed on much when it came to politics, but the two men managed to put aside their differences at least long enough to produce one of the most stunning examples of pre-Revolutionary advertising ephemera that has survived into the twenty-first century.

 

According to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog record for Jackson’s trade card, it dates to 1769. By then Jackson’s political leanings were certainly known, especially since he refused to sign a nonimportation agreement in protest of the Townshend Acts that most of his competitors in Boston had signed in August 1768. Like others who distributed trade cards, Jackson doled his out to customers over several years. The trade card in the Paul Revere Collection at the American Antiquarian Society has a receipted bill signed by Jackson and dated August 20, 1773, on the reverse. By that time, given the events that had unfolded in Boston during the past four years, Jackson and Revere may have refused to undertake any more business with each other. That did not stop the loyalist Jackson, however, from promoting his own business by continuing to distribute the beautiful trade card engraved by the patriot Revere.

March 19

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 19, 1767).

“To be sold by WILLIAM JACKSON, at his Shop at the Brazen Head.”

This advertisement made me curious about William Jackson and the Brazen Head since I am from a town close to Boston. These curiosities led me to the Massachusetts Historical Society’s article on William Jackson.

Jackson was born in 1731. Mary Jackson, his widowed mother kept the Brazen Head Tavern next to the Town House (which is now known as the Old State House) in Boston. In 1758, William went into business with his mother, starting a “variety store” selling an assortment of goods in the same location,.

William Jackson was a Loyalist who adamantly supported the king throughout the imperial crisis and the Revolution. The Massachusetts Historical Society notes that in a Boston newspaper Jackson was named along with others for being “those who audaciously continue to counteract the united Sentiments of the Body of Merchants throughout NORTH AMERICA, by importing British goods contrary to the agreement.” He was such a loyalist to the king, that when the British abandoned Boston in March of 1776, he tried to leave as well, only to be caught and imprisoned for a year. In the end, William Jackson returned to England, where he resided until his death in 1810.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

At a glance, William Jackson’s advertisement does not appear to explicitly reveal much about women’s roles in the eighteenth-century marketplace, either as consumers or producers/sellers. However, Ceara and I did not need to do much research to discover that William Jackson’s story cannot be told without acknowledging women’s participation in commerce and consumer culture. As Ceara has already outlined, one of Jackson’s first forays into the world of business involved a partnership with his mother, already an experienced businesswoman who operated a tavern. Although widows may have been more likely to operate businesses than their married sisters, in the century before the Revolution wives stepped forward to act as what Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has described as “deputy husbands” who attended to matters of business in the temporary absence of their husbands. Many eighteenth-century advertisements make reference to wives or other female relations who worked in shops owned by their husbands, but historians have demonstrated that even if women’s contributions were not acknowledged in the marketing materials that they were indeed present and assisting in the operation of the family business.

Mar 19 - Jackson Broadside
Anonymous broadside accusing William Jackson of not abiding by nonimportation agreements (Boston:  ca. 1769-1770).  Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society.

To learn more about William Jackson, Ceara consulted the online collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. In addition to a short biography of the prominent Loyalist shopkeeper, the MHS has made available an image of an anonymous broadside (ca. 1769-1770) warning “SONS and DAUGHTERS of LIBERTY” against purchasing goods from Jackson, “an IMPORTER,” who operated in violation of a non-importation agreement that most merchants and shopkeepers had signed in 1768 in response to the Townshend Acts. Note that the broadside addressed both “SONS” and “DAUGHTERS,” imbuing decisions that both men and women made about consumption with political meaning. Barred from formal mechanisms of political participation – voting and holding office – women engaged in political debates and civic discourse through other means, including the politicization of consumer culture. Nonimportation and nonconsumption agreements, what we would call boycotts today, were effective only if they had widespread approval and adherence. Women’s role in managing their household economy took on political significance as each personal choice whether to buy certain goods made a statement about their views. As acts of consumption increasingly had political valence, neutrality became impossible. During the imperial crisis, women were political actors in the overlapping marketplace of goods and marketplace of ideas.

William Jackson’s advertisement is an especially fine choice to examine during Women’s History Month. It reminds us that much of women’s history has been obscured but not hidden beyond recovery. A willingness to conduct a little more research, to ask new questions, and to approach sources from new perspectives allows us to tell a much more complete story of the American past.

 

September 29

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

sep-29-9291766-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (September 29, 1766).

“Warranted of the best Kind; and if they prove otherwise, will be taken back, and the Money returned.”

Jolley Allen’s lengthy advertisement from the Boston Evening-Post features countless common products seen in numerous other advertisements, including tea, silks, textiles, and jewelry. In addition to a long list of merchandise, this one had something else included at the end. Many of the advertisements I have looked at claimed to be selling their assortment of goods the cheapest, and they promised the highest quality products around. However, Allen is the first one I have seen who actually backed it up. This advertisement concluded with a guarantee that if the “Teas and Indigo” were not of the “best Kind,” they “will be taken back, and the Money returned by the said Jolley Allen.

Allen put his name and reputation on the line. He displayed his character in a way favorable to consumers. With the expansion of consumer culture in the colonies, it would have been easy for shopkeepers to make all sales final, yet with more shops opening, consumers could take their business elsewhere. Allen was committed to his name, his shop, and his goods, and made it a point for his shop to stand out from the rest. After further research, however, I also learned that Allen was a Loyalist entrepreneur; it’s interesting that he became a successful businessman regardless of his controversial political views.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Jolley Allen operated his business in an increasingly politicized colonial marketplace. His own politics, however, were not apparent in this particular advertisement. That he was a Loyalist, we learn from other sources from the period.

That’s not to say, however, that all newspaper advertisement published during the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s lacked a political valence. As soon as the colonists learned of the Stamp Act, many advertisers made explicitly partisan appeals as part of their marketing messages, often promoting domestic manufactures or condemning the effects that Parliament’s actions would have on commerce. After the Stamp Act was repealed, some entrepreneurs inserted their own brief celebratory proclamations into their advertisements; even when they did not directly connect the Stamp Act to the merchandise they advertised, they assumed that their political views would influence potential customers to visit their shops.

As a Loyalist, Jolley Allen certainly did not condemn Parliament nor celebrate the demise of the Stamp Act in his advertisements. The advertisements he published in 1766 were devoid of politics, yet Boston was not so large that his political views would have been unfamiliar to friends, neighbors, and potential customers. Perhaps that played a role in inspiring some of the innovative aspects of his advertisements: he needed to overcome suspicions of his allegiances and used distinctive marketing to do so. Nick identified Allen’s reputation and stature as an honest trader as one means of promoting his shop “Opposite the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, BOSTON.” Although not the first colonial advertiser to offer some form of money-back guarantee, he did make an offer that was not a standard part of eighteenth-century advertising. In addition, his advertisements consistently featured distinctive graphic design elements, namely a decorative border, intended to draw more eyes than competitors’ advertisements that appeared elsewhere on the page. Allen also advertised extensively, placing the same advertisement in all four newspapers published in Boston in 1766, thus reaching the largest possible audience of potential customers despite the political leanings of any particular newspaper or its printer.