May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 16, 1769).

“His Want of a full Assortment arises … from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.”

As spring turned to summer in 1769, explicit references to the nonimportation agreements adopted by merchants and shopkeepers as a means of economic resistance to the duties on imported paper, glass, and other goods leveled by Parliament in the Townshend Acts appeared with greater frequency in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods. By then the boycott had been in effect for more then four months and had begun to take its toll on the inventories in many shops.

Consider John Appleton’s advertisement in the May 16, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Dated a day earlier, it began with the familiar “imported from LONDON in the last Ships,” but readers discovered on closer examination that the shopkeeper stocked very few items recently transported across the Atlantic, seemingly only those excluded from the boycott. Appleton also addressed the array of goods he usually carried and how his current selection compared. First stating that he “has also a good Assortment of English Piece Goods, suitable for the Season,” he then clarified that “he has not so full an Assortment as is usual for him at this Season of the Year.” He hoped that this would not deter prospective customers from visiting his shop. His diminished inventory resulted “not from any Neglect in him, but from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.” In other words, Appleton faithfully abided by the terms of the boycott. He asked for the understanding of prospective customers and, more generally, demanded the respect of all readers who supported the boycott.

To offset any inconvenience, Appleton also acquired alternate merchandise: “a Quantity of Germantown Stockings.” The shopkeeper explained that he now retailed those items “to encourage the Home Manufacture.” In so doing, he demonstrated that he supported another prong of the plan for overcoming the abuses of Parliament. Colonists realized that boycotts by themselves likely would not be enough; they also needed to become more self-sufficient, especially if they wished to correct a trade imbalance with Great Britain. Producing and consuming “domestic manufactures” had been part of the larger plan as soon as colonists began discussing nonimportation agreements. Once again, Appleton made certain that members of his community, especially prospective customers, knew that he had done his part to faithfully execute the plan.

Ordinarily, having a vast assortment of merchandise would have been a selling point for Appleton or any other shopkeeper. Running low on goods would not have been a point of pride. Yet in these circumstances Appleton turned a shortcoming into a virtue, arguing that customers should indeed patronize his shop precisely because he had less to offer than usual. By implication, doing so demonstrated their own patriotism.

May 15

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

May 15 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 15, 1769).

“In August last an Agreement was made not to import any Goods from Great-Britain.”

This notice appeared in the May 15, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly MercuryBy Order of the Committee of Merchants in New-York.” The same notice appeared four days earlier in the New-York Journal. Just as “Merchants & Traders” in Boston had been reminding the public about nonimportation agreements and assessing compliance with their resolutions, so did their counterparts in New York. The committee provided a brief overview: “in August last an Agreement was made not to import any Good from Great-Britain (a few Articles excepted) that should be shipt after the first of November, until an Act of Parliament laying Duties on Paper, Glass, &c. for raising a Revenue here should be repealed.” Furthermore, any goods that arrived “contrary to the Agreement” were to be placed in a “public store” and not be offered for sale until such time that the nonimportation agreement came to an end. Those who did not comply “should be deemed Enemies to this Country.” Notably, this notice did not excoriate women as dangerous consumers of imported goods, as so many editorials tended to do, but instead imbued them with considerable political power in making choices about which goods to purchase and which purveyors to patronize.

The placement of this notice in both the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury makes it impossible to determine whether the printers included it as an editorial or as a paid advertisement. In the New-York Journal, it ran almost immediately after a short section devoted to news about the colony. A brief auction notice appeared between the two. Otherwise, the notice from the Committee of Merchants inaugurated the portion of that edition devoted to advertising. In the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the notice from the Committee of Merchants also appeared almost immediately after news from the colony, again with one advertisement about an auction preceding it. In this case, however, this meant that the notice from the Committee of Merchants appeared at the top of the column that launched the advertisements for the issue, making it much more visible than if it ran right after news from the colony at the bottom of the previous column. In both cases, the notice from the Committee of Merchants provided context and set the tone for reading the other advertisements, especially those that marketed consumer goods. The notice served as a bridge between the news delivered in the first pages and the advertising in the final pages. In that regard, whether it was a paid notice mattered not nearly as much as how the printers deployed it in their respective newspapers.

May 14

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

THIS is to assure the Publick, that it was inserted by Mistake of the Printers.”

May 14 - 5:11:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (May 11, 1769).
William Bant needed to do some damage control. The May 8, 1769, edition of Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette included an advertisement that proclaimed, “William Bant, Has imported in the last Vessels from LONDON, A General Assortment of English GOODS, suitable for the approaching Season, which he will sell at his Shop in Cornhill, Boston.” Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette was published simultaneously with the Boston Post-Boy, each title consisting of two pages yet printed together on a single broadsheet. The very first item in the May 8 edition of the Boston Post-Boy was the news article about the “Merchants & Traders in the Town of BOSTON” who had entered into a nonimportation agreement as an act of economic resistance against the duties leveled on paper, glass, and other imported goods by the Townshend Acts. The article included a report on how well those who had signed “said Agreement” had abided by its terms, indicating that only six or seven local merchants and shopkeepers continued “Importations … as usual.” Furthermore, the article republished “The ARTICLES of the Agreement entered into by the Merchants in August last” as a reminder and to alleviate any confusion. Even if Bant’s advertisement had not appeared in such close proximity to this article, readers would have been aware of the nonimportation agreement and the report assessing compliance because it was the talk of the town. Any who happened to read other newspapers would have also encountered the news there.

Bant’s advertisement advising that he carried goods “imported in the last Vessels from LONDON” seemed to run afoul of the nonimportation agreement, setting him apart from the vast majority of merchants and shopkeepers in Boston. He immediately set about publishing a clarification. Refusing to wait an entire week until the next issue of the combined Boston Posy-Boy and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette, he turned to the combined Boston Weekly News-Letter and Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, published just three days later (and dated May 9, the day after the advertisement ran). In a new advertisement he quoted the notice that ran earlier in the week and then offered an explanation: “THIS is to assure the Publick, that it was inserted by Mistake of the Printers, being an old Advertisement sent them last Summer, and intended for that Season only.” This raises interesting questions about the practices for preparing advertisements for publication within the printing office, but none of those would have been Bant’s primary concern. He needed to defend his reputation. To that end, he continued, “The said William Bant further assures the Publick that as he chearfully signed the Agreement for Non-Importation, he has not, neither will he on any Consideration whatever, break the Engagement he thereby laid himself under.” Bant assured prospective customers and the community more generally that he was a man of his word, that in operating his business he abided by his agreements and practiced the right sort of politics. He did not want to be confused for those six or seven who continued “Importations … as usual” contrary to the consensus of his peers and competitors.

Bant feared the impact this unfortunate mistake could have on his business. He underscored once again that the advertisement did not represent his current practices. He had not imported goods from England; instead, an old advertisement ran as a result of an “egregious, though inadvertent Error of the Printers only.” Bant entreated “the Publick, especially his Customers” to recognize what had actually happened and not punish him for it. He begged that prospective customers “will not neglect him in Consequence” of an error made in the printing office. Much to Bant’s dismay, he unexpectedly found politics injected into his newspaper advertisements. He realized the gravity of the situation given public discourse that so inextricably linked politics and commerce in the late 1760s. Like other merchants and shopkeepers, he likely hoped to continue quietly selling surplus goods imported prior to the nonimportation agreement going into effect, but he had no choice but to respond as quickly as possible when the republication of an old advertisement produced the wrong sort of attention for his merchandise and his character.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1769 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 11, 1769)

“Lately imported … before the Resolution of the Merchants for Non-Importation took Place.”

Erasmus Williams’s advertisement for “A large Assortment of all kind of Linnen Drapery” looked much the same as so many other advertisements placed in the Boston Weekly News-Letter and other newspapers by merchants and shopkeepers seeking to sell a variety of imported textiles. Nearly half of the advertisement consisted of a lost of the fabrics included among Williams’s merchandise at the Sign of the Blue Glove, from “Cambricks” to “printed Linens” to “flower’d & plain Lawns.”

Yet Williams included a curious preamble with his advertisement: “Lately imported from London, but last from New-York, and before the Resolution of the Merchants for Non-Importation took Place.” Like others who promoted their wares in the public prints, Williams noted the origins of his textiles. Usually asserting a connection to London worked to the advantage of advertisers, but that was not necessarily the case in 1769. In defiance of the taxes levied on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts, “Merchants & Traders in the town of BOSTON” and other places participated in boycotts of most English goods. A week before Williams’s advertisement ran in the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Richard Draper inserted an overview of such agreements in the Massachusetts Gazette. Draper reprinted the original resolutions adopted by merchants the previous August. In addition, he published a report that assessed to what extent those merchants had abided by the agreement not to import “any Kind of Goods or Merchandize from Great Britain.” This report found that only six out of 211 signers had imported such goods, but acknowledged that they had done so “through Inattention” and did not “countermand their Orders.” All six “readily and of their own Motion” agreed to surrender their goods to the committee of merchants overseeing the boycott. For the most part, even those “Merchants & Traders” who had not signed the agreement had adhered to it anyway. Only six or seven people continued to import goods from Great Britain “as usual.” Of equal concern, “It likewise appeared that a Quantity of Goods had been imported from New-York” since the nonimportation agreement went into effect, a strategy that might have allowed local merchants to sidestep the boycott. That being the case, those merchants who did abide by the terms of boycott determined that “the Articles of their Agreement should be printed in the Public Papers” as a reminder to merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers alike.

Two weeks before that report appeared in Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, Williams commenced publishing his advertisement, complete with the preamble that declared he had imported his merchandise “before the Resolution of the Merchants for Non-Importation took Place.” As a committee of merchants went about assessing compliance to the boycott, he proclaimed that he had not violated the agreement. Furthermore, his preamble advised prospective customers that they could still acquire English goods they wanted at his shop without defying the boycott, on a technicality. Politics need not infringe too much on his business or his customers’ desires.

May 2

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 2 - 5:2:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 2, 1769).

“CASH is given for clean Linen Rags, coarse and fine.”

This was a common advertisement seen in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century. This advertisement published in the Essex Gazette on May 2, 1769, attempted to get people to save their rags. It was a common practice to simply throw away old linen rags; however, they were extremely important in the creation of paper. As the American colonies began boycotting goods from Great Britain, they needed to create their own paper instead of importing it. This put a great stress on newspaper printers who needed sources for paper.

It is easy to take for granted how accessible perfectly white paper is today, but 250 years ago it was not easy to create. In order to produce a piece of paper that was free from spots and speckles, according to “Paper Through Time,” papermakers needed crystal clear water that was free from metals like iron and other debris. In order to filter the water, papermakers needed an abundance of clean linen rags to act as filters. This was the first reason that they needed so many rags; the second is that the rags were also used as part of the paper. Paper products 250 years ago were not wood products as much as they were linen. This makes the advertisement so interesting in American history because it not only shows the types of products they were producing, but also the extent that people were going to in order to keep their money out of English hands.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Advertisements calling on readers to collect clean linen rags did indeed appear in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century, but these familiar notices, as Patrick notes, took on new significance during the imperial crisis. The Revenue Acts of 1767, one of the Townshend Acts, taxed paper, along with glass, paint, and lead. In the late 1760s, collecting rags to produce paper became a political act.

The day before this advertisement ran in the Essex Gazette, a similar notice appeared on the first page of the Newport Mercury. “CASH is given,” it stated, “for clean Linen RAGS, at the Printing-Office, For the PAPER-MANUFACTURE in this Colony.” This advertisement more explicitly invoked local production, perhaps hoping that an additional nudge would prompt greater diligence on the part of concerned readers looking for ways to resist ongoing abuses by Parliament.

A couple of days later, an overview of a nonimportation agreement then in effect ran on the front page of the May 4 edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. It reminded readers that the “Merchants & Traders in the Town of BOSTON” had met the previous August and “entered into an Agreement not to send for or import any Good from Great-Britain … from January 1769 to January 1770.” Furthermore, the “Merchants and Traders in other Towns in this Province, and at New-York” had devised similar agreements. Draper reprinted the original “ARTICLES of the Agreement entered into by the Merchants in August last,” concluding with the fifth article. It stated, “That we will not from and after the First of January 1769, import into this Province any Tea, Paper, Glass, or Painters Colours, until the Act imposing Duties on those Articles shall be repealed.”

In this context, linen rags were not merely trash to be discarded. They became political symbols. Collecting them allowed colonists from various backgrounds to express political views as they engaged in an act of resistance. Although the gentry dominated colonial assemblies, the laboring poor found their political voices through other means, including collecting rags to encourage the production and consumption of paper produced in the colonies. Women also embraced this means of supporting American interests, transforming mundane housework into acts that reverberated with political meaning. A two-line notice about rags might appear insignificant at first glance, but it was enmeshed in expansive debates about the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.

October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:20:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 20, 1768).

Imported by him in the last Vessels from Europe.”

Peter T. Curtenius sold a variety of goods “At the Sign of the Golden Anvil” in New York in the fall of 1768. He advertised “a fresh Assortment” of textiles and hardware in the New-York Journal, advising that they had been “imported by him in the last Vessels from Europe.” The timing was important. The September 8 edition reported that the city’s merchants had met on August 27 to adopt a series of resolutions concerning imported goods. Until Parliament repealed duties on paper and glassware, the merchants vowed to cease trading with Great Britain … yet this nonimportation agreement had certain parameters. The merchants stated that they “will not send for … any other Goods than what we have already ordered.” This allowed for the arrival of merchandise that had been ordered prior to August 27 and the stockpiling of those goods. Merchants made a political statement while simultaneously stockpiling goods and minimizing the effects on their own finances.

Almost two months had passed when Curtenius’s advertisement appeared in the October 20 edition of the New-York Journal, but it had first been published three weeks earlier in the September 29 issue. Given the amount of time required for ships to transmit orders across the Atlantic and return with their cargoes, any items imported “in the last Vessels from Europe” at the end of September must have been ordered before merchants in New York adopted their nonimportation agreement.

Demonstrating that he had abided by those resolutions may have been particularly important for Curtenius. After listing his imported wares, he devoted a paragraph to goods “made at the New-York Air Furnace,” including “Pots, kettles, pie pans and baking ovens.” Even as he sold imported goods, Curtenius joined a movement that promoted production and consumption of “domestic manufactures” as a means of asserting greater economic independence from Great Britain. He would have undermined the political meaning of ironmongery produced in New York if he had marketed goods that departed from the provisions of the nonimportation agreement. To make those items even more attractive to prospective customers, Curtenius also underscored the quality of some of them. When it came to hammers made at the New-York Air Furnace, for instance, he asserted that they “have been found upon proof to be superior to the English hammers.” Customers did not have to sacrifice quality when choosing to buy products that made a political statement.

Elsewhere in the October 20 edition of the New-York Journal, “A CITIZEN’ lamented the landing of troops in Boston and other measures intended “to humble and molify our refactor, (or as they will be stiled) rebellious Spirits.” Colonists could hardly read advertisements for consumer goods and services without thinking of the political ramifications associated with their own habits and decisions concerning consumption. Even as Curtenius deployed formulaic language about the vessels that transported his goods, that language took on new meaning for readers in the wake of new developments in the realm of politics.

October 17

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

Oct 17 - 10:17:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 17, 1768)

“I also expect by the first vessels from London and Bristol, a number of other articles suitable for the season.”

In the fall of 1768 Eleazer Miller, Jr., placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to promote the “neat assortment of Goods fit for the Season” that he had “just imported.” Miller’s inventory included a variety of textiles, garments, and adornments, including an “assortment of silk handkerchiefs, mens black cravats, [and] womens Barcelona handkerchiefs.” Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he indicated the English ports where shipments of those goods had originated. Some had arrived “from London, per Capts. Gilchrist, Farquhar, Mund, & Miller” and others via the “last vessels from Bristol.” Doing so helped to confirm that Miller carried new merchandise. He assumed that readers would be familiar with the vessels that had recently arrived in port. Those who were not could compare Miller’s list to the shipping news, a list of ships, captains, and ports of origin provided by the customs house.

Yet Miller did not solely market goods “just imported” from English cities. He also encouraged prospective customers to anticipate other merchandise that would arrive soon. After listing dozens of items already in stock, Miller noted, “I also expect by the first vessels from London and Bristol, a number of other articles suitable for the season, which will also be sold cheap.” Perhaps Miller hoped that prospective customers would make their way to his store in Hanover Square regularly to see what kinds of new items had arrived since their last visit. Announcing that he expected additional shipments let consumers know that he did not allow the inventory on his shelves to stagnate, nor did he expect shoppers to accept whatever goods happened to remain. Instead, he refreshed his wares to better serve his customers … at least for the moment.

In addition to such concerns, Miller also faced a deadline of sorts. On August 27, “nearly all the Merchants and Traders in Town” had subscribed to a nonimportation agreement in response to the taxes levied by the Townshend Act. Their resolution appeared in the September 8, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. The first resolution stated that they “will not send for from Great-Britain, either upon our own Account or on Commission, any other Goods than what we have already ordered.” By underscoring that he expected the imminent arrival of new merchandise via vessels from London and Bristol, Miller could claim that these were goods that he had “already ordered” and that they did not violate the nonimportation agreement. Furthermore, the second resolution stated that the city’s merchants and traders “will not import any kind of Merchandise from Great-Britain, either on our own Account or on Commission … that shall be shipped from Great-Britain after the First Day of November.” Again, by emphasizing that any new merchandise in his shop would arrive on “the first vessels from London and Bristol” Miller suggested that he abided by the parameters of the nonimportation agreement.

Merchants and shopkeepers in New York subscribed to their nonimportation agreement only after stockpiling goods to sell to local consumers. By skating right up to the deadlines for ceasing orders and deliveries, Miller did not explicitly mention the nonimportation agreements but he did send a message to prospective customers with a wink and a nod. Even as colonists extolled the virtues of resistance through their endorsements of nonimportation they could continue many of their usual habits of consumption. The new merchandise at Miller’s store provided the means for doing so.

April 13

GUEST CURATOR:  Zachary Karpowich

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

Apr 13 - 4:13:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 13, 1768).

“A NEAT ASSORTMENT of IRISH LINEN CLOTH, of a bright colour and good fabric.”

During the colonial era linen was an essential resource to many of the colonists who worked in the mercantile market. These goods were responsible for a lot of commerce along trading networks that involved many farmers and merchants, according to Michelle M. Mormul. Linen was often imported from Europe due to the local production never being able to keep up with the amount demanded in the colonial market. Raw materials could be hard to come by and the colonies were not yet properly equipped to make the linen themselves.

Irish linen saw an increase in popularity due to boycotts against British goods. An entry on “Linen” in The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia indicates that this was due to linen traders taking an active stand against British policies. This advertisement by Joseph Wright may have tried to capitalize on those feelings. Wright could be one of the many people looking at the resistance efforts in the colonies as a chance for profit. The boycott from colonial merchants ended in the early 1770s, not long after this advertisement was published.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Zach presents an interesting interpretation of this advertisement for imported “IRISH LINEN CLOTH.” Joseph Wright did not explicitly make a political argument in his advertisement, but he may not have considered doing so necessary.  He might have assumed that his prospective customers were already aware of the distinctions between Irish linens and English fabrics as well as the political ramifications of consuming textiles imported from Britain.  The Georgia Gazette, which carried his advertisement, certainly made the case. In the same issue, James Johnston reprinted news from England that originally appeared in newspapers from Boston, including commentary on the effects of colonists boycotting English textiles.  “There was no mention made of American affairs in the House of Commons from the 14th to the 27th of January; but the towns of Leeds, Wakefield, and others, where coarse woolens are manufactured, have petitioned the Parliament for relief, on account of the great decline of the demand for their manufactures.”  Such coverage implied that colonial resistance to the Townshend Act via consumer activism was responsible for the “great decline” experienced by manufacturers in England.

Other items in the same issue of the Georgia Gazette contributed to encouraging a spirit of resistance among readers, especially the editorial that comprised half of that edition.  Johnston devoted the first two pages (with the exception of the masthead) to “LETTER X” of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies.” Throughout the colonies printers had been publishing this series of twelve letters warning against abuses by Parliament in their own newspapers, reprinting from one to another just as Johnston reprinted news from England that originally appeared in a newspaper printed in Boston.  Readers who perused the April 13 edition of the Georgia Gazette from start to finish encountered “LETTER X” on the first two pages, a column of advertising and a column of news reprinted from other newspapers on the third page, and two columns of advertising on the final page.  By the time they read Wright’s advertisement many would have been contemplating politics, especially the politics of consumption, perhaps causing them to be more inclined to purchase the “IRISH LINEN CLOTH, of a bright colour and good fabric” that the merchant peddled.

January 25

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

Jan 25 - 1:25:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Evening-Post (January 25, 1768).

“It is his Design to keep a full Assortment of the above Goods for his Customers untill they can be supplied on better Terms from our own manufacturing Towns.”

In January 1768 Gilbert Deblois stocked “A large Assortment of English and India GOODS” that had been “Imported in the last Ships from London & Bristol.” Even though his merchandise included “the most fashionable colour’d Broad Cloths,” “genteel figur’d Sattins,” and “newest fashion Ribbons,” an appeal emphasizing current tastes likely fell short with many local consumers. Even though his inventory included the “best Hair Plushes” and “best Manchester Checks,” an appeal to quality also likely failed to impress many local consumers. Even though he stocked an extensive array of goods, from “a large Collection of new fashion Stuffs” to “Baize of all widths and colors” to “a neat Assortment of plain and figur’d Silks,” an appeal to choice perhaps did not resonate with many local consumers.

Deblois deployed several of the most popular marketing strategies of the eighteenth century, but he was also savvy enough to realize that he needed to address the origins of the goods he attempted to sell to the residents of Boston and its hinterlands. He carried imported goods at the same time that colonists in Massachusetts and elsewhere had instituted non-importation agreements in response to both a continuing trade imbalance that benefited Britain and the imposition of new taxes on certain imported goods when the Townshend Act went into effect in late November 1767. In response, colonists resolved to encourage domestic production at every opportunity and purchase goods produced in North America whenever possible. Even if Deblois acquired his inventory prior to the non-importation pact going into effect at the beginning of the new year, his efforts to sell imported goods still violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the agreement. Deblois, a Loyalist who eventually evacuated Boston with the British in March 1776, attempted to chart a careful course in selling his goods in 1768. He sought to avoid alienating potential customers of any political leanings.

To that end, he offered reassurances to prospective customers, claiming that “it is his Design to keep a full Assortment of the above Goods for his Customers untill they can be supplied on better Terms from our own manufacturing Towns.” Deblois suggested that he wanted to support the boycotts as much as possible, but he also took a pragmatic approach. The colonies, he argued, were not quite ready to supply themselves with the array of goods they had grown accustomed to importing from London, Bristol, and other British cities. Until domestic manufactures could keep up with local demand, he provided an important service, but he also implied that he would stock merchandise “from our own manufacturing Towns” when it became available. In addition to absolving Deblois of deviating from the non-importation agreement, this strategy also gave potential customers permission to rationalize their decisions to continue acquiring imported goods from his shop. After all, they were all in it together, at least as much as they could be.

Did most consumers find this marketing strategy appealing or convincing? Whether they did or not, Deblois considered it necessary given the political implications of participating in commerce and consumer culture in January 1768. Despite his own political views, he catered as much as he could to prevailing sentiments in his efforts to move his merchandise.

December 12

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

Dec 12 - 12:12:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 12, 1767).

“LABRADORE TEA … to be sold at EDES and GILL’s Printing-Office, in Boston.”

This notice concerning “LABRADORE TEA” appeared among the news items in the December 12, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. The printers, Sarah Goddard and John Carter, republished it word-for-word from the most recent issue of the Boston-Gazette. Its placement blurred the distinction between news and advertising.

The politics of drinking tea at a time when colonists protested the imbalance of trade between the colonies and England explains this testimonial advertisement’s inclusion among news from other colonies in the Providence Gazette. At a town meeting held at the end of October, residents of Boston had resolved to encourage production and consumption of local goods rather than rely on imports from England. Subsequent nonimportation agreements and their coverage in Boston’s newspapers singled out imported tea for particular notice, casting it as an unnecessary luxury that endangered the political and economic welfare of the colonies.

The Providence Gazette had already reported on November 28 that local residents followed the lead of Bostonians when they held a town meeting “to deliberate and agree upon some effectual Measures for promoting Industry, Oeconomy and Manufactures, for the Prevention of Misery and Ruin, as a Consequence of the unnecessary Imports of European Goods.” This gathering produced similar results: “The general Voice was for entering upon some Measures to extend our own Manufactures, and to lessen the Imports from Europe, especially of superfluous Articles; And it was unanimously voted by the Town, that they would take all prudent and lawful Measures to encourage the Produce and Manufactures of this Colony, and of all other the British Colonies in America.” The residents of Newport approved similar measures at their own town meeting the same week.

It seems unlikely that Goddard and Carter received any remuneration for advertising “LABRADORE TEA … to be sold at EDES and GILL’s Printing-Office, in Boston.” Instead, they likely inserted this notice to supplement their coverage of a movement quickly expanding beyond Boston, including into their own colony. In choosing the content for their newspaper, they became active participants and further encouraged these efforts. They devoted almost the entire first page of the December 12 issue to the “Remainder of the PROCESS for making POT-ASH in NORTH-AMERICA,” a feature that continued through multiple issues. In the same column with the commentary on Labrador tea, Goddard and Carter reprinted news from the most recent issues of both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy: “We hear that the Towns of Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester, Hardwick, and several other Towns to the Westward, have unanimously come into the Measures proposed by this Town, to promote Frugality and Manufactures.” Immediately below that news item, they reported that the town of Middleborough “voted to come into the same measures that the town of Boston had, respecting frugality and manufacture.”

Aware that residents of Providence and other readers of their newspaper had overwhelmingly expressed support for “encourage[ing] the Produce and Manufactures of this Colony, and of all other the British Colonies in America,” Goddard and Carter knew that subscribers would find the description of Labrador tea both relevant and interesting. This merited reprinting the item as news rather than consigning it to the pages reserved for advertising. The printers gave a tacit endorsement of the product when they chose to include the portion of the testimonial advertisement that indicated where consumers could purchase Labrador tea rather than reprinting just the portion that described the taste and medical and dietary benefits of the local alternative to imported tea. Politics and consumer culture overlapped during the era of the imperial crisis, sometimes causing news and advertising to follow suit.