April 8

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

Apr 8 - 4:5:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 5, 1770).

“A few Casks of Liverpool Ale, imported before the Non-Importations Agreement.”

For four weeks in March and April 1770, John, Thomas, and Samuel Franklin inserted an advertisement for “BEST Spermaceti Candles,” “a few Boxes of Tin Plate,” and “red, green and scarlet Rattinets,” along with other goods, in the New-York Journal.  Among their wares, they listed “a few Casks of Liverpool Ale, imported before the Non-Importation Agreement.”  In so doing, they acknowledged the political movement to boycott goods imported from Britain for as long as Parliament continued to impose duties on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.  Neither the Franklins nor anyone else in New York knew it for certain at the time, but a partial repeal of the Townshend Acts was in the works on the other side of the Atlantic.

On March 5, Lord North, the new prime minister, presented a motion in the House of Commons.  It called for a repeal of the Revenue Act of 1767, eliminating the duties on paper, glass, paint, and lead.  When this Repeal Act received royal assent on April 12, only the duty on tea remained in place.  It would take weeks for news to arrive in the colonies.  When it did, the merchants and traders who signed the nonimportation agreements, associations, and resolutions in New York and other colonies considered this sufficient victory to justify discontinuing the boycott, just as they previously ended another boycott of British goods when Parliament repealed the Stamp Act.

For a time, marketing strategies shifted as purveyors emphasized that their goods had not recently arrived in the latest ships from London but instead had been on hand for months or even years.  “Just Imported” had been a standard part of many advertisements for consumer goods prior to the boycotts, a signal that customers did not have to settle for leftover merchandise that had lingered on the shelves.  Commentary on nonimportation and domestic manufactures became a familiar aspect of advertising, reflecting the editorials and current events covered elsewhere in newspapers.  As the political situation shifted and merchants and shopkeepers once again acquired goods from Britain, the language of advertising reverted back to the appeals that had been much more common before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.

April 3

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

Apr 3 - 4:3:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (April 3, 1770).

“(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.

April 1

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

Apr 1 - 3:29:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (March 29, 1770).

“ASSORTMENT of GOODS, Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson informed consumers in and around Boston that they stocked “A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants)” in an advertisement in the March 29, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  On the same day, James McCall took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette to announce that he carried an “ASSORTMENT of GOODS” imported in the Sea Venturefrom Bristol “Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.”  This marketing strategy was less common in the newspapers published in Charleston than in Boston, but not unknown.

In both cities, purveyors of goods believed that asserting that they acquired their goods according to the terms of nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of import duties Parliament imposed on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea would incite demand.  They offered colonists the opportunity to continue participating in the consumer revolution without violating the political principles that inspired the “RESOLUTIONS” or the “late Agreements.”  Yet their newspaper notices did more than reassure prospective customers.  McCall intended to safeguard his own reputation, as did Smith and Atkinson.  They wanted all readers and, by extension, the entire community to know that they abided by the nonimportation agreements.  Making such declarations not only amounted to good business sense but also aided in maintaining their status and relationships.

In Charleston and Boston, both advertisers and prospective customers spoke a common language of consumption that was inflected with politics.  T.H. Breen makes in this argument in The Marketplace of Revolution:  How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence.  At the nexus of consumer culture and print culture, newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services played an important role in developing and propagating the language of consumption.  This yielded what Benedict Anderson termed imagined communities – communities of readers and communities of consumers – that made colonists in faraway places like Boston and Charleston feel as though they shared a common identity.

March 29

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

Mar 29 - 3:29:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 29, 1770).

“A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants).”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson offered cash for “Merchantable POTT & PEARL ASH” as well as “inferior Qualities of Pott Ash, and Black Salts” in an advertisement in the March 29, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  They also inserted a nota bene to inform prospective customers that they had for sale a “Small Assortment of English Goods,” asserting that merchandise had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.”  In other words, Smith and Atkinson acquired their wares before the merchants and traders in Boston vowed not to import goods from Britain as a means of protesting duties levied on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts.  Smith and Atkinson sought to assure prospective customers that they abided by the boycott, but they also hoped to testify to all readers of the News-Letter and, by extension, the entire community that they put into practice the prevailing political principles.

By the end of March 1770 this was a common refrain in newspaper advertisements, especially those published in Boston but also others in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia as well as smaller towns.  The Adverts 250 Project regularly features such advertisements to demonstrate how widespread they became in the late 1760s and 1770s.  While it might be tempting to suspect that a couple advertisements that promoted adhering to the nonimportation agreement were not representative of a marketing strategy widely adopted by merchants and shopkeepers, broader attention to the vast assortment of advertisements that noted compliance should make it more difficult to dismiss any of them as mere outliers.  Not all advertisements for consumer goods and services published in the late 1760s and early 1770s made mention of nonimportation agreements.  Not even a majority did so, but a significant minority did.  Such advertisements appeared so frequently in colonial newspapers that readers must have become familiar with the efforts of merchants and shopkeepers to link their merchandise to protests of Parliamentary overreach.

March 20

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

Mar 20 - 3:20:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 20, 1770).

“A faithful Account of the Proceedings of the Subscribers and Non-Subscribers.”

The commodification of the American Revolution began several years before the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord.  As the imperial crisis unfolded, printers marketed a variety of books, pamphlets, and engravings that commemorated current events while simultaneously informing consumers of the rift between the colonies and Britain.

Consider, for instance, an advertisement that appeared in the March 20, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  It announced a “Compilation” of documents related to the colony’s nonimportation agreement was “In the PRESS, and speedily will be published.”  That compilation contained “ALL the LETTERS which have been written FOR and AGAINST the RESOLUTIONS” along with “Copies of the different Resolutions proposed to be signed.”  It also included various lists, including “the Names of the Gentlemen who compose the Committee” that enforced the agreement and “a List of the Non-Subscribers” so readers would know which members of the community worked against the interests of the colony.  To that end, the collection featured “Remarks on the Conduct and Writings” of the “Non-Subscribers.”  The compiler of these documents wished to educate readers about the debates over the boycott, inserting “a Translation of the Latin Verses, Phrases, &c. made Use of in the said Letters.”  Not everyone possessed a classical education, but all colonists could participate in the debates and make decisions about their own conduct.  Nonimportation was not restricted to highbrow households.  In addition to all that, the compilation included “several other interesting Particulars relative to the above Resolutions.”  Through a series of documents and commentaries, it provided a history of recent events, a “faithful Account of the Proceedings of the Subscribers and Non-Subscribers.”

Purchasing this compilation gave colonists another means of participating in protests against the duties on imported goods imposed by Parliament in the Townshend Acts.  Doing so enhanced feelings of connection to others who supported nonimportation agreements in South Carolina and, more generally, throughout the colonies.  Colonists envisioned a time when importation would resume after Parliament relented and repealed the unpopular duties.  When that happened, the compilation would become a memento that reminded those who purchased it of the events they had witnessed, the history they had played a part in shaping.  Owning a copy gave colonists yet another way to express their support for the American cause.

March 15

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

Mar 15 - 3:15:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 15, 1770).

“All sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took place.”

Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, included coverage of the “bloody massacre” and the funerals of the victims in the March 15, 1770, edition of his newspaper.  In so doing, he adopted a method commonly used by printers throughout the colonies:  he reprinted news that already appeared in another newspaper.  In this case, he reprinted an article about the funeral procession that Benjamin Edes and John Gill originally printed in the March 12, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, though Draper included a brief addendum at the conclusion.  “It is supposed,” he added, “that their must have been a greater Number of People from Town and Country at the Funeral of those who were massacred by the Soldiers, than were ever together on this Continent on any Occasion.”  Draper even included an image depicting the coffins of Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks.  Edes and Gill presumably loaned him the woodcut.

The article, along with the dramatic image that drew attention to it, aimed to disseminate information about the Boston Massacre to readers in the city and far beyond.  The advertisements that appeared in close proximity may have received more notice – and more scrutiny – than under other circumstances.  The two notices that ran immediately next to the article about the “bloody massacre,” both placed by female seed seller commencing their annual marketing campaigns as spring approached, addressed the politics of the period, though they did not comment explicitly on recent events in King Street or the funeral procession that followed.  Susanna Renken listed the seeds she offered for sale, but also declared that she stocked “all sorts of English Goods.”  She carefully noted that she imported those wares “before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.”  Similarly, Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Nowell asserted that they imported their seeds from London and sold them “By Consent of the Committee of Merchants” who oversaw adherence to the nonimportation agreement and reported violators.

These advertisements demonstrate that readers did not experience a respite from politics and current events when they perused advertisements for consumer goods and services during the era of the American Revolution.  Instead, advertisers increasingly inflected politics into their notices as they enticed prospective customers not only to make purchases but also to make principled decisions about which merchandise they did buy.  Those advertisers assured the community that they had already made such principled decisions themselves.

March 14

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

Mar 14 - 3:14:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 14, 1770).

“ORDERED, That the above Resolution be published in the next Gazette.”

In March 1770 the Union Society published a notice in the Georgia Gazette that announced its members “UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED, That a handsome PIECE OF PLATE be presented to JONATHAN BRYAN, Esquire, as a Token of the Sense we entertain of his upright Conduct, as a worthy Member of this SOCIETY, a real Friend to his Country in general, and the Province of GEORGIA in particular.”  For eighteenth-century readers in Savannah and throughout Georgia, such accolades likely needed no explanation.  Bryan played an important role in local politics as the imperial crisis intensified.

Harold E. Davis provides an overview of why Bryan received this honor from the Union Society.  First, he explains that Georgians formed a variety of private societies and organizations in the eighteenth century, not unlike their neighbors in Charleston.  (Jessica Choppin Roney examines similar civic organizations in colonial Philadelphia.)  Established in 1750, the Union Society “consisted mostly of craftsmen concerned with their interests as a class,” but over time enlarged its membership to include “men of more genteel professions.”[1]  The society supported a local school that admitted ten children a year.  “As pre-Revolutionary tensions sharpened,” Davis explains, “the Union Society became active in politics and rallied behind Jonathan Bryan, a member, when Bryan angered Governor Wright in 1769 by presiding over a meeting to discuss nonimportation of British goods.”[2]  Wright expelled Bryan from his council.  The Union Society, in turn, recognized Bryan’s advocacy with a “handsome PIECE OF PLATE” and the resolution published in the Georgia Gazette.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, advertisements for consumer goods and services increasingly invoked the politics of the period, especially nonimportation as a commercial means of achieving political ends.  Yet advertisements that hawked merchandise that arrived in the colonies before nonimportation agreements went into effect or goods produced in the colonies rather than imported were not the only sorts of notices that addressed current events and offered commentary, directly or indirectly, on the news covered elsewhere in newspapers.  Given the close reading practices required to navigate eighteenth-century newspapers, the contents of advertisements, news items, and editorials all informed the others, with advertisements sometimes becoming editorials themselves.  That was certainly the case for the Union Society’s advertisement recognizing the civic virtues demonstrated by Jonathan Bryan.

**********

[1] Harold E. Davis, The Fledgling Province:  Social and Cultural Life in Colonial Georgia 1733-1776 (Chapel Hill:  Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and University of North Carolina Press, 1976; 2012), 169-170.

[2] Davis, Fledgling Province, 170.

March 1

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

Mar 1 - 3:1:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (March 1, 1770).

“Sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.”

On the first day of March 1770, an advertisement in the New-York Journal informed prospective customers that a “large Assortment” of goods “Remains for SALE, at WILLIAM NEILSON’s STORE.”  Those goods consisted primarily of textiles, everything from “stript and printed linens” to double milled linseys” to “flower’s and border’d printed handkerchiefs.”  Neilson asserted that consumers could have any of this merchandise “Cheap for READY MONEY.”

That was not the only appeal that Neilson made to price.  He concluded the advertisement with a nota bene that informed both prospective customers and the rest of the community that “The above goods will be sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.”  In other words, Neilson did not take advantage of the current political situation to inflate prices.  To protest duties levied on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts, merchants and shopkeepers in New York signed nonimportation agreements, pledging to abstain from importing a much wider array of goods from England for as long as Parliament left those duties in effect.  Neilson’s use of the phrase “Remains for SALE” could have implied that he received all of his merchandise prior to the nonimportation agreement; the nota bene much more explicitly invoked the intersection of commerce and politics.

Colonists suspected some merchants and shopkeepers stocked up on imported goods in advance of the agreement.  Some purveyors of goods may have seen the boycott as an opportunity to reduce surplus inventories, making a virtue of purchasing goods that had lingered on shelves and in storehouses for quite some time.  If this did contribute to a scarcity of goods over time, it had the potential to result in higher retail prices.  That Neilson found it necessary to include his nota bene suggests that conversations about those very circumstances were taking place in New York at the time he placed his advertisement.  Participating in the nonimportation agreement required sacrifices of both purveyors of goods and consumers.  Neilson proclaimed that paying higher prices need not be one of the sacrifices made by his customers.

February 20

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

Feb 20 - 2:20:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 20, 1770).

“The said Wines are still in the Possession of Captain Livingston.”

The “NEW ANNOUNCEMENTS” in the February 20, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journalcommenced with a notice placed by the “GENERAL COMMITTEE” responsible for overseeing adherence to the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of duties that Parliament levied on certain imported goods via the Townshend Acts.  The committee noted that Patrick Muir had imported some goods from Scotland and “refused to store or re-ship” them.  The bulk of the advertisement, however, concerned a “Parcel of Wines” from Tenerife on the Hope, captained by Alexander Livingston.

That was a much more convoluted story.  The committee became aware of an “industriously spread” rumor that John Tuke ordered the wine at the behest of Wilson, Coram, Wayne, and Company despite the fact that those merchants were “Subscribers to the Resolutions” who had pledged to support the nonimportation agreement.  In response, Tuke made a statement in which he declared “the above Report is absolutely false, having never made use of those Gentlemen’s Names.”  He did acknowledge, however, that “the Wines were bought on my own Account” even though he was also “a Subscriber to the General Resolutions.”  Tuke assumed responsibility and expressed his “utmost Concern” that the wine had been shipped to Charleston.  A nota bene inserted by the committee reported that the wine was “still in the Possession of Captain Livingston.”  Tuke had not taken possession of it or attempted to sell it.

Did Tuke profess “utmost Concern” because a misunderstanding resulted in the wine being delivered by mistake or because he had been caught and now realized the error of his ways?  His statement did not make that clear, but it did attempt to unequivocally clear Wilson, Coram, Wayne, and Company.  As Tuke worked to ameliorate any damage done to his own standing in the community, he also sought to restore the reputations of prominent merchants who had been pulled into the controversy.  It was bad enough to find his dealings under so much scrutiny; he did not need to alienate himself from Wilson, Coram, Wayne, and Company by continuing to call unwarranted attention to them.  Instead, he did what he could to exonerate those merchants and shift the focus solely to himself.

Relatively little local news appeared in colonial newspapers, in part because most were published once a week so anything of consequence spread via word of mouth before it could appear in print.  In some instances, however, advertisements carried news and supplemented coverage that ran elsewhere in the newspaper.

February 18

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

Feb 18 - 2:15:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (February 15, 1770).

“All of which were imported before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers frequently incorporated details about how they came into possession of their imported goods into their efforts to convince consumers to purchase them.  Many newspaper advertisements began with a recitation of which vessels had transported the wares across the Atlantic along with the names of the captains and the ports or origin.  This formulaic introduction to advertisements for consumer goods often began with the phrase “just imported,” meant to signal to prospective customers that purveyors of goods did not expect them to purchase inventory that had been lingering on their shelves or in their storehouses for extended periods.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, however, many advertisers abandoned that marketing strategy in favor of another.  When the duties placed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea via the Townshend Acts motivated colonists to protest by boycotting a broad array of goods imported from Britain, the phrase “just imported” took on a different meaning, one with political overtones.  Once nonimportation agreements were place for months, the newness of goods no longer had the same value.  Items “just imported” from London and other English ports lost their cachet when they became symbols of both British oppression and the complicity of any who dared to violate community standards by continuing to import and sell such goods.

Many advertisers developed a new marketing appeal contingent on the politics of the period.  They underscored that they did indeed sell goods that arrived in the colonies many months earlier, perhaps grateful that conspicuously adhering to nonimportation agreements presented an opportunity to sell surplus inventory that had indeed lingered on their shelves or in their storehouses longer than was healthy for balancing their own accounts.  Whatever their motives, they harnessed politics in their attempts to drum up business, informing prospective customers that they acquired their wares in advance of the boycotts going into effect.  Such was the case for William Bant who had “yet on Hand a few English Goods” in February 1770.  He made sure that consumers knew that all those items “were imported before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”  He did his patriotic duty … and prospective customers did not have to worry about shirking theirs when they visited his shop.