July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:6:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 6, 1769).

“Ready Money, for clean Linen RAGS.”

By the first week of July in 1769, John Keating’s advertisement for the “NEW-YORK Paper MANUFACTORY” became a familiar sight in the New-York Journal. Keating called on colonists, especially “ALL Persons who have the Welfare of their Country at Heart,” to collect clean linen rags and turn them over to the paper manufactory to be made into paper. He offered “Ready Money” for rags, but encouraged readers to deliver rags “not so much for the Money they will immediately fetch” but instead for “the Benefit which will accrue to the Public in general” if the manufactory received enough rags “to make a sufficient Quantity of Paper, for our own Consumption.”

This was particularly important in the late 1760s because the Townshend Acts levied duties on imported paper. As part of their resistance efforts, colonists boycotted a vast array of imported goods, not just those subject to the new taxes, and encouraged “domestic manufactures” or local production as an alternate means of acquiring goods while simultaneously bolstering the colonial economy. Keating argued that consumers who purchased paper from the New-York Paper Manufactory kept “Sums of Money” in the colony that were otherwise “annually remitted” across the Atlantic. Furthermore, the manufactory employed “Numbers of poor People” who kept that money “in a circulating State” in the colony, rather than lost to merchants, manufacturers, and Parliament in Britain. Keating deployed a “Buy American” campaign during the imperial crisis, before thirteen colonies declared independence.

In its most recent iteration, Keating’s advertisement appeared in the New-York Journal at least once a month since its first insertion on February 9, 1769. It also ran on February 16, March 23, April 20, May 18, June 8, and July 6. This copy for this iteration, for the most part, replicated a similar advertisement that ran in the summer of 1768. Over the course of a year, Keating was consistent in the message he communicated to colonists, encouraging them to participate in both the production and consumption of paper from the New-York Paper Manufactory.

The sporadic appearance of his advertisement in the New-York Journal raises questions about the arrangements Keating made with John Holt, the newspaper’s printer. Holt and others who worked at his printing office kept the type set over the course of several months, intending to insert the advertisement repeatedly. It ran once a month, but not on a regular schedule, such as in the first issue of the month. Did it appear when Keating ran low on rags and instructed Holt to run the advertisement once again in hopes of obtaining the materials he needed to operate his business? Did Holt insert Keating’s advertisement when running low on other content and needing to fill space? Did the two offer in-kind services to each other, such a supply of paper in exchange for advertising? Did Holt charge reduced advertising rates for Keating? After all, as a printer, Holt had a particular interest in having access to paper that may have prompted him to cultivate a relationship with the proprietor of the New-York Paper Manufactory.

By itself, any insertion of Keating’s advertisement tells a story of politics and the production and consumption of paper when colonists answered the Townshend Acts with nonimportation agreements. The repeated insertion of the advertisement, however, hints at another story about the business practices at both the New-York Journal and the New-York Paper Manufactory. Ledgers and correspondence, if they still exist, might shed more light on Keating’s advertising campaign. Without additional sources, the sporadic yet frequent insertion of the same advertisement for the New-York Paper Manufactory in the New-York Journal over the course of several months testifies to a message regularly communicated to readers while obscuring some of the decisions made by both the printer and the paper manufacturer in the process of presenting arguments in favor of supporting this local enterprise.

February 23

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

New-York Journal (February 23, 1769).

“The imposition laid upon us in the use of British paper.”

Although colonial printers liberally reprinted news items and editorial pieces from newspaper to newspaper, they only infrequently reprinted advertisements. After all, advertisements usually addressed local and regional audiences. In addition, paid notices were an important revenue stream that made colonial newspapers viable ventures. As a result, printers had few reasons to reprint advertisements from the newspapers they received from their counterparts in other cities and towns. On occasion, some printers did reprint advertisements that they considered either entertaining or instructive. Such was the case for an advertisement from the February 16, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal that John Holt reprinted just a week later in the February 23 edition of the New-York Journal.

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford had inserted an advertisement offering “Ready MONEY for CLEAN LINEN RAGGS” that Pennsylvania’s “Paper Manufactory” could make into paper, thus supporting the local economy, eliminating dependence on paper imported from England, and avoiding the duties imposed by the Townshend Act. The Bradfords conceived of saving rags as a political act rather than a mundane chore, charging “Ladies” to express “their love of liberty” by taking the lead in supporting this particular act of resistance to Parliament’s overreach.

Holt eliminated any mention of the Bradfords and their “Pennsylvania Writing PAPER,” considering them irrelevant to the lesson he wished to impress on readers of the New-York Journal. He reprinted the rest of the advertisement in its entirety, along with a brief introduction: “For the Encouragement of the Paper Manufactory, the following Advertisement is copied from the Pennsylvania Journal, and being equally applicable to this Province, is earnestly recommended to the Consideration of all who desire its Prosperity and wish to preserve its Freedom.” In making this statement, Holt doubled down on the political message advanced by the Bradfords.

But that was not all Holt did. After reprinting the original advertisement, he inserted an editorial of equal length. He lamented the “great sums of money that are continually sent out of America … for the single article of paper.” He expressed dismay that colonists had not done more to encourage paper production in New York; the industry would garner “a considerable and certain profit” as well as avoid “the unconstitutional imposition exacted upon us” by the duties on imported paper. Encouraging domestic manufacture of paper would “promote the good of our country, and preserve its right and liberties.” Finally, Holt made a bid for supporting paper production in New York rather than Philadelphia, another reason to remove any mention of the Bradfords and their goods from the advertisement. He complained that “[b]esides the money sent from this province to Europe for paper, considerable sums are sent for it to Philadelphia.” He believed that approximately twenty paper mills operated in that city and its environs, compared to only a couple in New York. Not only did Holt promote paper made in America, he wanted his own colony to benefit from its production rather than import from a neighboring province.

Although Holt described this piece as an advertisement and placed it among the paid notices, it might better be considered an editorial. The political valence of the original advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal merited reprinting in the New-York Journal, but Holt enhanced it with even more extensive commentary.

February 16

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 16, 1769).

“Their love of liberty … will induce them to give their assistance in supporting the interest of their country.”

On February 16, 1769, readers of both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Journal encountered advertisements that called on them to save “CLEAN LINEN RAGGS” and turn them over to a local “Paper Manufactory.” John Keating’s advertisement largely reiterated a notice that he inserted in the New-York Journal more than six months earlier. In it, he advanced a political argument concerning the production and consumption of paper, made from linen rags, in the colonies, especially while the Townshend Act remained in effect. Colonists could outmaneuver Parliament and avoid paying duties on imported paper by supporting the “NEW-YORK Paper MANUFACTORY.”

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford made similar appeals in their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal. The “British Parliament having made” manufacturing paper “worthy the attention of every one who thinks his own interest, or the liberty and prosperity of this province and country worth his notice,” the Bradfords proclaimed, “it’s therefore hoped, that all those will consider the importance of a Paper Manufactory carried to its full extent.” They then explained that in the past year colonists had collected “a small quantity of fine rags,” but a sufficient supply to make nearly “a hundred reams of good writing paper” that “sold cheaper than English paper of the same quantity.” The Bradfords challenged readers to consider how much production could increase if colonists made concerted efforts to save their rags in support of the local “Paper Manufactory.”

To that end, the Bradfords envisioned a special role for women in this act of resistance to Parliament overstepping its authority. They noted that “the saving of rags will more particularly fall within the sphere of the Ladies.” Those ladies expressed “their love of liberty” in a variety of ways, including altering their consumption practices by participating in nonimportation pacts, producing garments made of homespun cloth, and drinking Labrador tea. Collecting rags, a seemingly mundane task, presented another means for women “to give their assistance in supporting the interest of their country.” The Bradfords outlined a method for efficiently incorporating this practice into the daily household routine. Given how easy that would be to accomplish, the Bradfords issued another challenge, this one directed explicitly to “those ladies who have a regard for their country.” Which women who purported to support the colonies in their clash with Parliament “would decline taking this inconsiderable trouble, to save the sums of money that will annually be torn from us to maintain in voluptuousness our greedy task masters?” The Bradfords concluded by underscoring how much women could achieve by sacrificing only a small amount of time in collecting rags. They would create jobs for “the industrious poor” who labored in the paper manufactory as well as serve “the public” as colonists continued to voice their opposition to the duties levied by the Townshend Act. Everyday tasks like shopping or disposing of rags took on political meaning during the imperial crisis; women vigorously participated in resistance to Parliament through their participating in those activities.

February 18

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

Feb 18 - 2:18:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 18, 1768).

“All those that really have the Welfare of their Country at Heart, are desired to consider seriously, the Importance of a Paper Manufactory to this Government.”

The Townshend Act assessed new taxes on all sorts of imported paper. When it went into effect on November 20, 1767, many colonists vowed to encourage and purchase domestic manufactures, especially paper, as a means of resisting Parliament overreaching its authority. Calls for colonists to collect linen rags and turn them over to local papermakers, not uncommon before the Townshend Act, took on a new tone once the legislation went into effect.

The “Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton” in Massachusetts placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette in late November 1767. In it, they addressed “All Persons dispos’d in this Wat to encourage so useful a Manufacture.” The “Manufacturers” aimed to collect enough rags quickly enough to replenish the “large Quantities of Paper” that “fortunately arriv’d from Europe before the Duties could be demanded.” Ultimately, the “Manufacturers” wished to produce so much paper that colonists would never have to purchase imported paper again (and thus avoid paying the new taxes), but that required the cooperation of consumers participating in the production process by saving their rags for that purpose.

In January 1768, Christopher Leffingwell placed a similar advertisement in the New-London Gazette. He issued a call for “CLEAN LINEN RAGS” to residents of Connecticut, calling collection of the castoffs “an entire Saving to the COUNTRY.” He encouraged “every Friend and Lover” of America to do their part, no matter how small. Leffingwell suggested that producing paper locally benefited the entire colony; the economy benefited by keeping funds within the colony rather than remitting them across the ocean as new taxes. With the assistance of colonists who collected rags, Leffingwell could “supply them with as good Paper as is imported from Abroad, and as cheap.”

John Keating joined this chorus in February 1768. In an advertisement in the New-York Journal he even more explicitly linked the production and consumption of paper to the current political situation than Leffingwell or the “Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton.” He opened his notice by proclaiming, “All those that really have the Welfare of their Country at Heart, are desired to consider seriously, the Importance of a Paper Manufactory to this Government.” Purchasing paper made in America represented a double savings: first on the cost of imported paper and then by avoiding “a most arbitrary and oppressive Duty” that “further drain’d” the colony of funds that would never return.

Keating acknowledged that collecting rags might seem small and inconsequential, yet he assured colonists that collectively their efforts would yield significant results. He recommended that they cultivate a habit of setting aside their rags by hanging a small scrap in a visible place “in every House” as a reminder. Readers who followed that advice transformed domestic spaces into political venues; otherwise mundane actions took on political meaning as both members of the household and visitors noticed clean linen rags hung as reminders to encourage domestic production and consumption. In the end, Keating predicted that this “would have the desired Effect, and supply us with Paper at home sufficient for our own Use … whereas now we are obliged to send Money abroad, not only to pay for Paper at a high Price, but an oppressive Duty upon it into the Bargain.” Keating not only advanced a “Buy American” campaign but also encouraged colonists to participate in the production of domestic manufacturers for the common good.

July 19

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

Jul 19 - 7:17:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 17, 1767).

“CASH is given for clean Linen RAGS.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers were peppered with calls for rags. In any given issue, the printer might insert this sort of notice among the advertisements or use it to complete a page featuring primarily news items. These pleas for rags, however, were not merely filler. They played a vital role in the production of paper in colonial America. At the time, paper was made of linen rather than wood pulp. As a result, the rags that colonists turned over to the “Paper Manufactory” became the paper printers used to publish books, newspapers, almanacs, and anything else that came off their presses.

In 1767, printers throughout New England dressed up their usually plain calls for rags with a short poem that extolled the virtues of rags. In four rhyming couplets, it explained:

  • RAGS are as Beauties, which concealed lie,
  • But when in Paper, how it charms the Eye!
  • Pray save your Rags, new Beauties to discover,
  • For Paper truly, every one’s a Lover.
  • By th’ Pen and Press such Knowledge is display’d,
  • As wou’dn’t exist if Paper was not made.
  • Wisdom of Things, mysterious, divine,
  • Illustriously doth as PAPER shine!

Every rag possessed hidden beauty just waiting to emerge when rags were transformed into paper. In their current form, rags were deceptive, hiding their potential to convey the “Wisdom of Things” far and wide once they became paper. Not to be discarded as trash, rags were actually a treasure beyond value.

Rags currently in the possession of readers of the New-London Gazette could eventually become future issues delivered to them, but only if subscribers turned their rags over to one of the many men listed in the extensive network of local agents who collected rags for the Paper Manufactory. Colonists who wished to continue receiving news and advertisements via the New-London Gazette (or any of the other newspapers that published this poem along with a similar announcement) had to assume responsibility for that portion of the paper production process.

Although printers exercised considerable discretion in the content of newspapers, their readers played a significant part in producing the material that became the text. The dissemination of print in early America depended in part on average colonists surrendering their rags, a rather humble start considering the tapestry of colonial life recorded in the pages of newspapers and other publications that came off American presses in the eighteenth century.