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.

November 23

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

Nov 23 - 11:23:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 23, 1767).

“The Sons of Liberty now have an Opportunity of manifesting their Regard for the Encouragement of our Manufactures.”

Just as the Boston town meeting voted to encourage consumption of domestic goods rather than imports on the eve of the Townshend Act going into effect, Peter Etter and Sons placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette to promote their stockings and other garments “Manufactured in Braintree.” Two weeks after that advertisement first appeared, Etter and Sons also inserted it in the Boston Evening-Post.

The version in the Gazette remained unchanged, but the Evening-Post included a short addition at the end of the notice. A manicule drew attention to this note: “The Sons of Liberty now have an Opportunity of manifesting their Regard for the Encouragement of our Manufactures, by calling at the above Store, and buying some of the abovementioned Articles.” Just in case the “Manufactured in Braintree” headline was too subtle, Etter and Sons explicitly challenged colonists who considered themselves “Sons of Liberty” to demonstrate their commitment to the cause by purchasing their wares rather than the imported goods that retailers hawked in approximately a dozen other advertisements in the same issue.

Etter and Sons may have benefited from the fortuitous placement of their advertisement. Not only was it at the top of the first column on the third page, it also appeared immediately to the right of a related news item printed in the final column on the second page. It reported that “THE Inhabitants of this Metropolis still persevere in their resolution to discourage the use of foreign Superfluities as the only means of saving the Country from Impending ruin.” The town meeting had authorized non-importation and non-consumption agreements. To that end, subscription lists circulated; colonists publicly pledged to support the boycotts by “subscribing” or signing their names. According to the Evening-Post, many colonists styled themselves “Sons of Liberty” because “it appeared that great Part of the Freeholders had subscribed.” Other colonists still had a chance to join the movement by visiting the Town Clerk’s Office and signing their own names.

With so many Bostonians signing the subscription rolls, Etter and Sons should have benefited from a vastly expanded market for their clothing “Manufactured in Braintree.” It was one thing to pledge not to purchase imported goods, however, and quite another to follow through on that promise. Etter and Sons challenged those who professed to be “Sons of Liberty” to demonstrate their resolve by actually purchasing garments from local producers.

November 8

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

Nov 8 - 11:5:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 5, 1767).

“At his Shop opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BOSTON.”

John Gore, Jr., sold a “fresh assortment of English and India GOODS … at his Shop opposite LIBERTY-TREE” in Boston in the late 1760s. By November 1767, Gore had been referencing the Liberty Tree in his advertisements for more than two years, a practice that he began during the Stamp Act crisis. Other advertisers had used the Liberty Tree as a landmark to direct consumers to their businesses while the Stamp Act was in effect, but Gore was the only shopkeeper in Boston who consistently invoked the Liberty Tree in his commercial notices after Parliament relented and repealed the Stamp Act. Doing so suggested his politics to potential customers. He asserted the appropriate relationship between England and the colonies even as he continued to import and sell English goods.

Making that pitch became more complicated in the fall of 1767. Colonists in Boston accused English merchants of draining the province of hard currency through an imbalance of trade. For several years colonists had imported more from Britain than they exported. Add to that the imposition of new legislation, the Townshend Acts, that assessed new taxes on certain imported goods, set to take effect on November 20, 1767. Residents of Boston determined that they needed to take action. At a town meeting on October 28, 1767, Bostonians pledged “to promote Industry, Oeconomy, and Manufactures, and by this Means prevent the unnecessary Importation of European Commodities, the excessive Use of which threatens the Country with Poverty and Ruin” (according to the report on the first page of the Massachusetts Gazette that carried Gore’s advertisement invoking the Liberty Tree). To that end, Bostonians “VOTED, That this Town will take all prudent and legal Measures to encourage the Produce and Manufactures of this Province.” Furthermore, they promised “that we will encourage the Use and Consumption of all Articles manufactured in any of the British Colonies.” To underscore their resolve, Bostonians voted to institute a new non-importation and non-consumption agreement effective on December 31. The Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy all carried this news on November 2. Similarly, the Massachusetts Gazette inserted it on November 5. The Boston Post-Boy called special attention to these measures with a rare headline: “Save your MONEY, and you Save your COUNTRY!

Gore found himself in a difficult position. For the past two years he had used his shop’s proximity to the Liberty Tree to identify his business, encouraging patrons to associate his enterprise with resistance to Parliament’s attempts to unjustly tax the colonies. Now, however, his friends and neighbors called for an outright boycott of his imported merchandise. One of his primary appeals to prospective customers, familiar due to its steady repetition in the public prints, suddenly became much less powerful. Would it matter that Gore’s shop was located “opposite LIBERTY-TREE” if he stocked an array of goods imported from London?

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:25:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766).

Some of Portsmouth’s retailers regularly advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette throughout the winter of 1765 and 1766 while the Stamp Act was still in effect, but it tended to be the same advertisers week after week. In April, the residents of Portsmouth received word of the repeal of the Stamp Act. The news was first published in the April 18 issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The newspaper published the following week included several new advertisements from retailers who had not marketed their wares during the winter, including Nathaniel Barrell.

This could simply have been a matter of not needing to advertise. Perhaps Barrell and his counterparts had a surplus of goods in stock before the winter or before the Stamp Act went into effect, making it less necessary to advertise. Indeed, throughout the series of non-importation and non-consumption agreements in the decade prior to the Revolution merchants and retailers seized opportunities to clear out surplus wares.

Perhaps Barrell and his counterparts advertised wares recently imported from England after a lull in transatlantic voyages during the winter months. The same vessels that brought news that the Stamp Act had been repealed also brought consumer goods in their cargo holds. This may have simply been a matter of timing.

On the other hand, it is also possible that news about the Stamp Act played a role in Barrell’s decision to advertise in the April 25 issue. With tensions between England the colonies reduced, he may have had more room to maneuver in the public prints and the marketplace, announcing boldly in the first line of his advertisement that he carried goods “Imported from LONDON.” Given his own politics or the views of neighbors and acquaintances who were also his customers, he might have identified the shift in attitudes toward England in the wake of recent news as a signal that he could promote goods imported from London.

It very well could be that all three of these factors, to greater or lesser degrees, played a role in Barrell’s decision to advertise in the April 25 issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette.