December 25

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

Dec 25 - 12:25:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 25, 1769).

“Many Years experience in the most eminent Shops in London.”

As 1769 drew to a close, the residents of Boston and many other cities and towns throughout the colonies were still embroiled in a dispute with Parliament over the duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts. Merchants and shopkeepers continued to participate in nonimportation agreements, refusing to order merchandise of all sorts as a means of using economic pressure to achieve political goals. Especially in Boston, newspapers provided updates about traders who either declined to sign or subsequently violated the boycotts. Discourse about the virtues and vices inherent in making or abstaining from certain purchases became a regular feature in the public prints, in advertisements as well as in editorials.

Yet colonists in Boston and other places did not abstain from all things associated with Britain even as they rejected imported goods. They still looked across the Atlantic, especially to London, for cues about fashion. Colonists continued to imbibe British culture and tastes even as they eschewed British goods. Timothy Kelly, “Hair Cutter and Peruke-Maker from LONDON,” depended on that continued allegiance to British styles in his advertisement that ran in the December 25, 1769, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. This wigmaker leveraged his previous experience serving clients in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire, underscoring to the “GENTLEMEN and LADIES” that he “had the advantage of many Years experience in the most eminent Shops in London.” That alone gave his perukes and other hairpieces cachet not associated with wigs made or styled by competitors whose training and entire careers had been confined to the colonies. Kelly claimed he possessed knowledge of the current styles in London, vowing that he made “any kind Perukes now in fashion” and did so “as genteel as can be had from thence.” Why should colonists import wigs from afar when they could consult with an “eminent” stylist in Boston? After all, this stylist was so eminent that he deployed solely his last name as the headline of his advertisement, expecting that to sufficiently identify him when prospective clients perused the newspaper. Kelly did far more than merely promise that he “dresses Hair in any form in the neatest manner” in his advertisement. He accentuated his connections to London and the fashions there, anticipating that doing so would resonate with residents of Boston even as they continued to boycott goods imported from England. British fashions could still be replicated in the colonies, and Kelly offered his services.

October 2

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

Oct 2 - 10:2:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 2, 1769).

“The approbation of all Free born Souls and true Sons of Liberty.”

Thomas Mewse, “Lately from England,” chose a good time to migrate to Boston and set up shop as a weaver. In the fall of 1769, he ran an advertisement to inform the residents of the city that he intended to produce a variety of textiles, everything from “CAMBLETS of all qualities” to “striped and featherd Broglios” to “plain Baragons.” Mewse made this announcement while the nonimportation agreement to protest the duties levied on certain goods by the Townshend Acts was still in effect. Merchants and shopkeepers vowed not to import textiles and most other consumer goods from London and other English ports, though they continued to sell those items imported before the nonimportation agreement went into effect. Still, neither wholesalers and retailers nor their customers had access to new merchandise, only inventory that had been stockpiled a year or more earlier in anticipation of the nonimportation agreement going into effect at the beginning of 1769.

Not only had those goods lingered on shelves or in storehouses for an extended period, they lacked the cachet of having been made in the American colonies. To address both the Townshend Acts and an imbalance of trade with Britain, colonists vowed to support “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in America, as an alternative to imported goods. Consuming American goods became a badge of honor; advertisers encouraged such thinking (and their own sales) by launching “Buy American” campaigns with greater frequency in the late 1760s. Mewse joined the chorus, proclaiming that his textiles would surely merit “the approbation of all Free born Souls and true Sons of Liberty.” He made a savvy pitch, both informing prospective customers that he made textiles and challenging them to display their commitment to the American cause by purchasing from him.

Lest consumers worry that Mewse’s domestic manufacturers were of inferior quality to imported textiles that had been sitting on shelves for many months, he trumpeted his credentials. The weaver had been “regularly brought up to all these and various other Manufactures in a Capital house.” That made him so confident in his training that he asserted that no other weavers in Boston possessed better qualifications; he “presume[d] that no one is better acquainted with the Arts and Misteries” of weaving grograms, calimancoes, lutestrings, and the many other fabrics listed in his advertisement. Mewse was “determin’d to turn goods out compleatly made and high finished.” Prospective customers, he seemed to promise, would be well satisfied – both as consumers and as patriots – when they chose to acquire textiles from him. He did not need to explicitly invoke the Townshend Acts, the nonimportation agreement, or the movement to encourage domestic manufactures. Such topics were so commonly discussed, in the press and in the town square, that prospective customers understood the full scope of the appeals Mewse advanced to market his wares.