December 9

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

Dec 9 - 11:9:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 9, 1769).

“A Nail Manufactory at the Furnace Hope.”

The proprietors of the “Nail Manufactory at the Furnace Hope” placed an employment advertisement in the December 9, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. They sought “experienced Nail-Makers” who wished to be “usefully and advantageously employed” at the furnace in Scituate, “about 12 Miles from Providence.” The proprietors operated the furnace and aimed to establish a nail manufactory at a time that many colonists advocated for “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to goods imported from Britain. The nail manufactory had the potential to produce an important commodity for domestic consumption while simultaneously employing “A NUMBER” of colonists. The plan resonated with popular discourse of the period.

This “WANTED” advertisement appeared immediately below “A CARD” in which an unnamed “Daughter of Liberty” expressed an even more radical vision for the colonial economy. She addressed a “laudable Plan for building a Market-House,” expressing doubts about the eventual success of the venture. She suggested a different venture, making a “Proposal for … a Manufactory, for the Encouragement of Industry, and Employment of the Indigent and Indolent of both Sexes.” Rather than hiring experienced artisans, this manufactory would create jobs for vulnerable and marginalized colonists who did not necessarily possess specialized skills. The unnamed Daughter of Liberty envisioned a manufactory that would employ “both Sexes,” thus providing opportunities and income for women as well as men.

The author of this “CARD” described such a manufactory as “an Edifice which may be thought more immediately adapted to the Times,” predicting that it “would in a great Measure tend to avert the impending Ruin that threatens us.” Colonists could have thought of the “impending Ruin” in at least two ways. Given that the author identified herself (or perhaps himself) as a Daughter of Liberty, perhaps the “impending Ruin” referred to what would happen if the colonies did not develop their own industry and produce more of the goods they needed rather than rely on imports from Britain. The colonies experienced a trade deficit, a situation further exacerbated when Parliament imposed taxes on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts. That could have gone from bad to worse if Parliament decided on further taxation and regulation of commerce in the colonies. Yet the unnamed author may have had social rather than political concerns in mind, fearing the proliferation of “Indigent and Indolent” people who consumed too many resources on their way to becoming burdens that the community could no longer support. The author may have intended for readers to reach both conclusions, giving the “CARD” a political valence as a means of dressing up the less-than-charitable aspects of the commentary about the “Indigent and Indolent” in Rhode Island.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:20:1769 Boston-Gazette
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (November 20, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD BY Harbottle Dorr …”

Harbottle Dorr is not a household name today, but Dorr remains well known among historians of early America, especially those who study either the role of the press in the American Revolution or the participation of ordinary people in efforts to resist the various abuses perpetrated by Parliament.

Dorr placed an advertisement for nails and “a good Assortment of Braziery, Ironmongery and Pewter Ware” in the supplement that accompanied the November 20, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. At the time, Dorr, a merchant and a member of the Sons of Liberty was doing far more than just advertising in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers. He was also collecting, annotating, and indexing them as a means of constructing his own narrative of the imperial crisis. As the Massachusetts Historical Society notes in its online collection of those newspapers, Dorr sought “to form a political history.” (Visit The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. to explore the newspapers and indexes that Dorr arranged into four volumes.) “Dorr was well-versed in the heated politics of the day,” the Massachusetts Historical Society continues, “and he annotated many newspaper pages with his opinions, cross-references to articles elsewhere in his collection, and sometimes noted the identity of anonymous contributors to the newspapers.” His index filled 133 pages and included 4,969 terms.

Dorr’s index included advertisements, including this entry: “Advertisement of H.D., about discouraging the Importers &c.” That entry referenced an advertisement that Dorr placed in the Boston Evening-Post on September 3, 1770. Much more extensive than the brief notice that ran nearly nine months earlier in the Boston-Gazette, it offered political commentary that encouraged consumers to encourage production of goods in the colonies by choosing them over imported alternatives. “It is presumed,” Dorr declared, “preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here, (not only on patriotic Principles, and to discourage the PRESENT Importers,— but) as they really are better in Quality than most English Nails, being far tougher.”

In chronicling the advertising landscape in colonial America in 1769, I have frequently chosen advertisements that implicitly or explicitly commented on the Townshend Acts and the nonimportation agreements adopted in Boston and other cities and towns. I have argued that both advertisers and readers looked beyond news items and editorials when considering the politics of the period. In his annotations and index, Dorr confirms that he did indeed view advertisements for consumer goods as a political tool, not just a means of marketing his wares. His “political history” of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution included advertisers and the messages they communicated to colonial consumers.

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 21, 1769).

“BOard and Deck NAILS, here manufactur’d.”

Noah Parker depended on the public’s familiarity with current events when he placed his advertisement for “NAILS” in the July 21, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. For more than a year, colonists in New England and beyond had been addressing two significant issues at the intersection of commerce and politics: a trade imbalance with Great Britain and new laws enacted by Parliament that levied duties on certain goods imported into the colonies. Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others devised remedies for the situation. First, they called for the encouragement of “domestic manufactures” or local production of goods usually imported. To be effective, local production required local consumption, making all colonists responsible for successful outcomes as producers, consumers, or both. Purchasing domestic manufactures kept money within the colonies and prevented funds from flowing to the other side of the Atlantic. These efforts became enmeshed with nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of the Townshend Acts. By refusing to import goods until Parliament repealed the offensive acts, colonists aimed to exert economic pressure to achieve political purposes. Domestic manufactures were an important alternative to imported goods, especially once committees formed to enforce nonimportation agreements.

In the 1760s, nails almost invariably appeared among the imported hardware listed in newspaper advertisements from New England to Georgia. Even merchants and shopkeepers who did not stock much other hardware frequently noted that they stocked nails at their shops and stores. Parker presented an alternative for both retailers and consumers, proclaiming that his “BOard and Deck NAILS” were “here manufactur’d.” Realizing that prospective customers were often skeptical of the quality of locally produced goods, he offered assurances that these nails “have been proved far to exceed any imported.” Not only were these nails as good as any imported from England, they were better! How could customers go wrong by acquiring domestic manufactures that exceeded their imported counterparts in quality? Parker did not belabor the point, likely considering it unnecessary. After all, tensions between Parliament and the colonies were the talk of the town and the subject of article after article in the public prints. Though succinct, Parker’s advertisement resonated with public discussions about the significance of domestic manufacturers and nonimportation agreements.