April 3

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

Apr 3 - 4:1:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (April 1, 1768).

“Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland.”

First in response to the Stamp Act and later in the wake of the Townshend Act, some American merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans cast their advertising appeals in terms of the politics of production and consumption. They sought to convince prospective customers that their decisions about which goods to purchase and which establishments to patronize had a political valence. In so doing, they echoed the calls to boycott imported goods and instead to encourage domestic manufactures published in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers.

John Morris’s advertisement in the April 1, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal suggests that some artisans who resided on the other side of the Atlantic became aware of this discourse and opted to mobilize it for their own benefit. Morris, a “Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland,” announced that he was “willing to come and establish that Branch in any of his Majesty’s Colonies or Plantations in America, if properly encouraged.” In an attempt to frame his advertisement to achieve an enthusiastic response, he addressed it to “the Society of Gentlemen, for the Encouragement of Arts in the different Provinces of America.” Many colonists might have been hesitant to import a variety of goods as a means of resistance when Parliament overstepped its authority, but Morris reasoned that they would welcome an artisan whose labor would make valuable contributions in the domestic marketplace. To underscore this benefit, Morris signed himself as “A Friend to Liberty and Freedom,” indicating his sympathy for the colonists’ cause.

He did not, however, make his case in stronger terms than popular opinion permitted. Morris carefully positioned his work, stating that “the Safety and Protection of his Majesty’s Royal Person, His Dominions and Subjects in general” depended on the efforts of gunflint cutters. He provided a service to king and country. While migrating to the colonies might yield some particular advantages for certain of the monarch’s subjects who wished “for the Encouragement of the Arts in the different Provinces of America,” Morris was not advocating anything more radical than strengthening the economic position of the colonies within the empire. Colonists had called for resistance to abuses by Parliament, but they did not yet seriously entertain notions of revolution or independence. The “Honourable House of Representatives” of Massachusetts, one the colonies that led resistance efforts, underscored that point in a letter to “the Right Honourable the Earl of SHELBURNE, one of his Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State,” a letter that circulated in colonial newspapers (including the April 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette). Legislators from Massachusetts argued in favor of strengthening local government, but also that they were “not insensible of their security and happiness in their connexion with, and dependence on, the mother state.” Furthermore, “they have reason to believe [these] are the sentiments of all the colonies.”

Morris marketed his occupation and willingness to migrate to the American colonies in terms that matched the current political situation. He was an astute enough observer of the rhetoric currently in use in the colonies that even from across the Atlantic he was able to replicate both the sentiments and the appeals advanced by artisans and other advertisers who already resided “in the different Provinces of America.”

August 16

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

Aug 16 - 8:15:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 16, 1766).

“His Stay is intended to be very short.”

George Strange offered “A fresh Assortment of English GOODs” for sale “At a Store on Mr. Allcock’s Wharfe near Spring Hill in Portsmouth.” At first glance, Strange used formulaic language common in many advertisements placed by shopkeepers in the eighteenth-century. However, describing the location as “a Store” rather than “his Store” departed from the usual convention. From the perspective of regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, nothing else would have looked out of the ordinary throughout the remainder of the advertisement (a fairly standard list of wares “Just imported from England) until the final sentence. “His stay is intended to be very short,” Strange warned.

It appears that George Strange did not reside in Portsmouth, unlike other shopkeepers who advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette. He would not have had his own shop already familiar to locals but instead probably rented a store on the wharf for a brief time. What was Strange’s story? Why did he set up shop in Portsmouth only temporarily? Had he traveled directly from England? Or had he been to other port cities before Portsmouth? Where was he headed next? He offered to “barter Goods for white Pine BOARDS that are fit for the English Markets.” Was a port in Great Britain his next destination? Or would he visit other American ports and attempt to sell any goods not purchased in Portsmouth? This advertisement raises as many questions about commercial culture in a colonial port as it answers.

If George Strange was indeed a stranger in Portsmouth, placing an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette may have been even more imperative for conducting his business than advertising was for local shopkeepers already known to the city’s residents. He needed to attract new customers to his location as quickly and efficiently as possible. His advertisement, more extensive than any other for consumer goods in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, certainly would have made his presence known to readers and potential customers.

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 9, 1766).

“A penny in the pound cheaper than done in Savannah.”

In an advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette, John Hyatt, a blacksmith from Pennsylvania, announced that he had set up shop on the plantation belonging to George Cuthbert. (Presumably this address was sufficient for potential customers to know where to find Hyatt.) Colonists were accustomed to high rates of mobility in the 1760s. New settlers were arriving from England and other parts of Europe at increasing rates after the Seven Years War ended. People who already lived in the colonies moved around, from town to town or from colony to colony, in search of new opportunities. Georgia was a long way from Pennsylvania. Hyatt was just one of many colonists who participated in internal migration within Britain’s colonies in mainland North America.

Relatively new to Georgia, Hyatt used his advertisement to promote his occupation and convince potential customers to patronize him rather than his competitors. He made many of the usual claims, promising to fulfill orders “in the neatest and best manner, with the greatest dispatch.” He also listed a variety of different kinds of work he could do – “mill work, ship work, edge tools of any kind, northward plough irons of different sorts” – and made a blanket statement about being able to complete “any other branch of country work whatsoever.” No matter the job, Hyatt wanted potential customers to know that he could handle it.

His most original appeal, however, appeared in the final line of his advertisement. He pledged that the tools, ploughs, and other goods made in his shop were “as penny in the pound cheaper than done in Savannah.” Appeals to price were common, but offering to beat competitors’ prices (and by how much) was not a standard part of advertisements in the 1760s. Potential customers might have dismissed the first series of appeals as formulaic, but Hyatt’s final appeal to specific lower prices may have convinced them to give the newcomer a chance.