What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“(None of which have been imported since the Year 1768.)”
When it came to infusing his advertisements for consumer goods with politics, Nathan Frazier was consistent while the nonimportation agreements were in effect in the late 1760s and early 1770s. On September 26, 1769, he placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform prospective customers that he sold “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS, (a single article of which has not been imported since last year).” He did not explicitly invoke the nonimportation agreement, but the significance would have been clear to readers.
Six months later, Frazier once again advertised in the Essex Gazette, proclaiming that he “HAS still lying on Hand, a great Variety of saleable Articles, suitable for all Seasons, more especially for that now approaching.” He listed dozens of items available for purchase at his shop, demonstrating the range of consumer choice. For that array of goods, he assured both prospective customers and the entire community that “none … have been imported since the Year 1768.” Again, he did not make direct reference to the nonimportation agreements adopted by merchants in Boston and other towns throughout Massachusetts, but that was hardly necessary for readers to understand his point.
After all, news items that appeared elsewhere in the same issue underscored that colonists continued their boycott of goods imported from Britain to protest the duties levied on certain goods by the Townshend Acts. On the page facing Frazier’s advertisement, for instance, an “Extract of a Letter from Bristol, Dec. 30,” reported, “The Ministry have assured some Persons in the American Trade, that so far as the King’s servants can promote the Repeal of the Duties on Tea, Paper, Glass and Paints, they will, so that the Spring Trade to the Colonies shall not be lost.” The nonimportation agreements had not yet achieved their desired effect, but this extract inspired hope that if the colonists remained firm that they would eventually prevail. Moreover, their success might come quickly in order to avoid disrupting the “Spring Trade.”
A news item that began on the facing page and concluded on the same page as Frazier’s advertisement also commented on the nonimportation agreements: “It will perhaps be surprizing to the People of the neighbouring Provinces to be told, that there is not above one Seller of Tea in the Town of Boston who has not signed an Agreement not to dispose of any more of that Article, until the late Revenue Acts are repealed.” Other news items also commented on tensions with Britain, though not the nonimportation agreements specifically. A “LIST of Toasts drank at Newport … on the Commemoration of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act” asserted “the Principles of Civil and Religious Liberty” and remembered the “massacred martyrs to British and American Liberty” at the recent Boston Massacre.
That was the context in which Frazier inserted his advertisement for consumer goods in the Essex Gazette in the spring of 1770. He did not need to comment at length on the politics of the day. Instead, a brief note that he had not imported goods “since the Year 1768” told readers what they needed to know about the political significance of purchasing merchandise from his shop.