July 3

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

Jul 3 - 7:3:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 3, 1770).

The Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer.”

On July 3, 1770, Thomas Robie of Marblehead, Massachusetts, placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette.  In it, he promoted “GUN-Powder, Shot, Bar-Lead, and Wool-Cards” as well as nails in a variety of sizes and “a Number of other Articles, in the Hard Ware Way, imported in August last.”  Yet Robie did more than merely mention the merchandise he offered for sale.  The shopkeeper devoted just as much space in his advertisement to explaining the circumstances for acquiring those goods, asserting that he abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of the duties on certain imported goods.  In so doing, he defended his reputation and responded to rumors that apparently circulated about the origins of his inventory.

He hereby informs the Public,” Robie proclaimed, “that notwithstanding the Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer, he is not now, nor ever has been , possessed of any Goods ordered since April, 1769 (six or eight Months before the nonimportation Agreement was entered into by this Town) excepting the four first mentioned Articles, which are allowed by said Agreement.”  He offered an accounting of his activities, noting both when he ordered goods and which items did not fall under the nonimportation agreement and thus did not count as violations.  In specifying that he ordered (rather than received) goods prior to the agreement going into effect, he may have revealed the source of some of the confusion if those orders had not arrived before the prohibition on placing new orders went into effect.  Some merchants and shopkeepers parsed the provisions of nonimportation agreements, especially when they allowed for gradual implementation that allowed for the receipt of orders already placed but not new orders.  Robie noted that his hardware had been imported in August 1769, but he had not placed any new orders since April 1769.

Whether Robie adhered to the letter of the agreement, the spirit of the agreement, or neither, he believed that gossip that “represent[ed] him in the unpopular Light of an Importer” damaged his standing in the community.  That prompted him to turn to the public prints to address those stories and offer reassurances to prospective customers that they would not become complicit in undermining the political principles that inspired the nonimportation agreement if they purchased his goods.

June 28

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

Jun 28 - 6:28:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (June 28, 1770).

“English GOODS, imported agreeable to the Non-importation Agreement.”

Joshua Gardner listed a variety of imported “English GOODS” in his advertisement in the June 28, 1770 edition, of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Before even enumerating the “blue capuchin silks” or the “horn & ivory combs” or the “brass candlesticks,” Gardner first informed prospective customers and the entire community of readers that he imported his wares “agreeable to the Non-importation Agreement.”  Among the advertisers who promoted consumer goods and services in that issue of the News-Letter, Gardner was not alone in asserting when he had acquired his inventory.  Oliver Greenleaf advertised “Umbrilloes,” an exotic and fashionable accessory, as well as “a Variety of other Articles.”  Rather than a preamble, he incorporated a postscript pledging that “All … were imported agreeable to the Merchants Agreement.”  Similarly, Smith and Atkinson stated in a nota bene that they carried “A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants).”  Other advertisers made similar claims in notices inserted in other newspapers published in Boston that week.

With the repeal of all of the Townshend duties on imported goods with the exception of tea, the fate of nonimportation agreements throughout the colonies became uncertain.  When word of the repeal arrived in the colonies in May 1770, merchants in New York quickly dissolved their agreement and resumed trade with their counterparts in England.  In late June, the agreements in Boston and Philadelphia still remained in effect, though neither would survive to the end of the year.  Gardner, Greenleaf, and Smith and Atkinson likely realized that the agreement adopted by Boston’s merchants might not last much longer; for the moment, their merchandise had the cachet of promoting political principles, but once the nonimportation agreement collapsed and competitors began importing new goods from England their wares imported before the agreement went into effect would become leftovers that had lingered on the shelves and in warehouses.  In composing their advertisements, Gardner and others may have suspected that they had one last chance to link their merchandise to patriotic principles before new goods flooded the market.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 25, 1770).

“The above Goods were imported before the Merchants Agreement.”

John Nazro sold a variety of goods at his shop in Boston.  In an advertisement in the June 25, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, he listed dozens of items, mostly textiles and accessories to adorn garments.  He concluded the notice with a nota bene directing prospective customers and the entire community to take note that it “may be depended upon” that “the above Goods were imported before the Merchants Agreement.”  In so doing, Nazro acknowledged that the nonimportation agreement was still in effect, at least in Boston.

Word of the repeal of the Townshend duties on imported goods, with the exception of tea, had arrived in the colonies in May.  Almost immediately, merchants in New York abandoned their nonimportation agreement, eager to resume trade.  The agreements in Boston and Philadelphia, however, continued throughout the summer; some merchants in those cities hoped to continue to use economic leverage to exert influence over British imperial policy.  They unsuccessfully attempted to convince their peers to extend the nonimportation agreement.  In September, Philadelphia followed New York.  By the end of October, merchants in Boston also voted to resume trade with Britain, even as some still wished to arrange a meeting with their counterparts in other cities.

As debates about resuming trade took place in Boston, Nazro proclaimed that he abided by the nonimportation agreement.  Some readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy might have interpreted that a form of encouragement for continuing the agreement.  At the very least, Nazro sought to demonstrate to the community that even in those uncertain times he followed the pact that had been adopted and not yet formally dissolved.  He took his cue from the community of merchants in his city, not the actions of Parliament in repealing most of the Townshend duties or the merchants in New York who so quickly returned to business as usual.  Nazro suggested that customers could feel confident making purchases at his shop because neither he nor they deviated from the nonimportation agreement still in place in Boston.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:14:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 14, 1770).

“Proposes to return as soon as the Importation is opened.”

Although many colonists promoted “domestic manufactures” as alternative to imported goods in the late 1760s and early 1770s, many consumers and purveyors of goods embraced those products only temporarily.  Items produced in the colonies gained popularity when nonimportation agreements were in effect as a means of economic resistance to Parliament imposing duties on certain imported goods, but many colonists anticipated repeal of such odious legislation and looked forward to resuming business as usual.  For some, domestic manufactures represented a temporary measure; merchants and shopkeepers intended to import goods from England once again when the political situation calmed, just as consumers intended to purchase those items as soon as they became available once again.

In the summer of 1770, Anne Pearson, a milliner in Philadelphia, was among those purveyors of goods who expressed enthusiasm about acquiring and selling imported merchandise once again.  She placed an advertisement in the June 14, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette to announce that she sought to liquidate her current inventory before traveling to London in the fall.  She offered a “LARGE and general Assortment of Millinery and Linen-drapery Goods” at low prices.  Yet Pearson did not plan to relocate to London; instead, she would stay for only a short time and then “return as soon as the Importation is opened” in the wake of the repeal of the duties on imported paper, glass, paint, and lead that had been established in the Townshend Acts.  Some colonists continued to argue for the importance of domestic manufactures even after Parliament capitulated, but they did not sway purveyors or consumers to continue to abstain completely from imported goods.  Recognizing the demand for such goods, Pearson attempted to put herself in the best position to serve customers in Philadelphia.  Not only would she “return as soon as the Importation is opened,” she would bring with her “a fresh Assortment of the very best and most fashionable Goods.”  In journeying to London to select those goods herself, Pearson seized an advantage over competitors who relied on English merchants and correspondents to supply them with goods.  Pearson would not have to rely on the judgment of others, judgment that might be compromised by their desire to rid themselves of wares unlikely to sell in England.  Instead, she could inspect the merchandise before placing her order and observe the current trends in London in order to make her case to prospective customers that she did indeed stock “the very best and most fashionable Goods” upon her return to Philadelphia.

June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:5:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 5, 1770).

“ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES … VIOLATORS OF THE RESOLUTIONS.”

The “GENERAL COMMITTEE” responsible for overseeing adherence to the nonimportation agreement adopted in Charleston in July 1769 ran an advertisement in the June 5, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform the community of two violations.  The story of the first had unfolded over several months.  Benjamin Mathewes, a merchant and “Subscriber to the Resolutions,” had imported “sundry Goods from London” in January, but upon being detected had “voluntarily agreed to store” them until nonimportation came to an end and “a general Importation should take Place.”  The committee published the new agreement that Mathewes signed to that effect.

For many colonists caught in such circumstances that was the end of the story.  Newspaper notices published in several colonies documented violators attempting to rehabilitate their reputations and relationships with the community by making special effort to abide by the terms of the nonimportation agreed after they had been discovered deviating from it.  Such was the case for William Glen and Son, “having also been guilty of a Breach of the Resolutions.”  Glen and Son acknowledged that they had imported some textiles “contrary to the Resolutions” and then agreed to store them for the duration of the boycott.  However, “through Mistake” they “disposed of a few Pieces.”  For that error, they “declare our Sorrow” and promised to “adhere strictly to the Resolutions” in the future.  Glen and Son also agreed to deposit the remainder of the textiles and other goods “in the public Stores” where they would not have access to them, thus offering reassurance that the mistake would not happen again.  The committee stated that Glen and Son depicted the incident as “an Act of Inadvertence, rather than Design” and recommended that their pledge to turn over the remaining textiles “will be received as a sufficient Atonement for their Fault, and restore them to the Public’s Favour and Confidence.”

Mathewes, on the other hand, did not make the same effort to demonstrate his recalcitrance, prompting the committee to take a different approach to his case.  Although he affixed his signature to an apology and claimed that he would turn over the goods, the Committee of Inspection discovered that “many of the said Goods … had been opened” and sold.  Mathewes claimed that his mother, Ann, also a subscriber to the nonimportation agreement, had been responsible for their sale while he was away from town.  Neither mother nor son “ma[d]e proper Satisfaction to the Public for such shameful Breach of their sacred Contracts.”  Indeed, the elder Mathewes continued to sell the goods “in manifest Violation of the said Resolutions.”

This resulted in consequences.  Although the General Committee had shown “all possible Lenity and Forbearance” in attempting to resolve the situation, they came to the point that they deemed it necessary to advertise “ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES, as VIOLATORS OF THE RESOLUTIONS.”  The committee asserted that these violators were guilty of “counteracting the united Sentiments of the whole Body of the People, not only in this, but all the Northern Provinces; and prefering their own little private Advantage to the general Good of AMERICA.”  The Mathewes had betrayed both consumers and their country.  The Committee even more stridently made that point, proclaiming that “every such Violator should be treated with the utmost Contempt.”  Furthermore, the committee instructed those who supported the nonimportation agreement “against having any commercial Dealings whatever with the said ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES.”  Until they took the necessary actions to redeem themselves, “their Actions must declare them to be obstinate and inveterate Enemies to their Country, and unworthy of the least Confidence or Esteem.”

The General Committee told two stories of violations of the nonimportation agreement, one about the contrite Glen and Son and the other about two generations of the Mathewes family who refused to abide by the resolutions they had signed.  In each instance, the committee made recommendations for how members of the community should interpret these actions and react to the perpetrators.  By publishing this advertisement, the committee used the power of the press in their efforts to achieve compliance with the agreement and shape the narrative of resistance to the duties on certain imported goods that Parliament imposed in the Townshend Acts.

April 15

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

Apr 15 - 4:12:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 15, 1770).

“Chisels … superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain.”

Abeel and Byvanck sold ironmongery and cutlery in New York in the early 1770s.  They listed an array of merchandise in their newspaper notices, but they did not merely inform prospective customers of the goods they offered for sale.  In an advertisement in the April 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, Abeel and Byvanck noted the various ways that their business bolstered the nonimportation agreement adopted to protest duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts.

For instance, their inventory included chisels “superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain, and at a less Price.”  The partners did not explicitly state that the chisels were produced in the colonies, but the implication was clear.  In presenting the chisels for consideration, Abeel and Byvanck made appeals commonly advanced by others who marketed “domestic manufactures” as alternative to imported goods.  They assured consumers that they did not have to sacrifice quality for political principles.  While some artisans and shopkeepers declared their merchandise produced in the colonies equal to any imported, Abeel and Byvanck made an even bolder statement when they asserted their chisels were “superior.”  Yet customers did not have to pay a premium for that quality.  Instead, they could acquire chisels produced in the colonies for lower prices than imported ones.  Everything about these chisels seemed to work to the advantage of both consumers and the American cause.

Those chisels may have come from “the Manufactory in this Province.”  Abeel and Byvanck noted that they would soon stock “a large Parcel of Sithes [Scythes]” currently under production there.  Like the chisels, those scythes were “superior in Quality to those imported.”  The partners did not comment on the price, but they had previously framed their entire advertisement in terms that favorably compared the prices they charged in April 1770 to what they charged prior to the nonimportation agreement going into effect.  They declared that they set prices “Upon as reasonable Terms, as they sold before the Agreement for not importing Goods from Great Britain.”  In other words, Abeel and Byvanck did not engage in price gouging after merchants and shopkeepers ceased replenishing their inventories with imported goods.

Nonimportation agreements ratified in New York and other colonies were the subject of press coverage in the 1760s and 1770s, but that coverage was not confined to news items and editorials.  Instead, advertisements for consumer goods and services also endorsed and promoted nonimportation agreements, encouraging colonists to understand the connections between consumption and politics.

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.