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.

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 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 12

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

Mar 12 - 3:12:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 12, 1770).

“… from a Principle of Love to their Country.”

John Keating became a familiar figure in advertisements that appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and other newspapers in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He operated a paper manufactory and presented his enterprise as providing a patriotic alternative to paper imported from Britain.  He objected to the duties that Parliament levied on imported paper in the Townshend Acts while simultaneously noting that consumers could foil such attempts to tax them by purchasing paper made locally.  He also frequently took the pages of the New York’s newspapers to encourage colonists to participate in the production of paper by collecting rags and turning them over to him to be transformed into paper, as he did in the March 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.

His entreaty commenced with a prologue that could have been part of a political tract rather than a newspaper advertisement: “THE Imposition of a Tax upon Goods imported from Great-Britain to her Colonies, altho’ a palpable Violation of their most sacred Rights, was not more injurious to them, than in itself impolitic, absurd and detrimental to Great-Britain, herself: Yet, notwithstanding the Absurdity of the Measure, the Contrivers of it had Cunning enough to lay the Tax upon Articles of necessary to us, that it was with Reason supposed we could not do without them, and therefore should be compelled by our Wants, to submit to the Imposition.”  From there, Keating outlined the nonimportation agreements that went into effect in several colonies, noting that “Friends to their Country” could play an important role in continuing to make paper available if only they would collect their rags and turn them over to the paper manufactory.  Keating estimated that there “are Rags abundantly sufficient for the Purpose” that colonists should save “from a Principle of Love to their Country.”

Keating frequently made such appeals, but on this occasion his exhortation may have gained additional urgency.  It ran next to a news item dated “BOSTON, March 1” that reported “the melancholy Affair at the North End.”  The Massachusetts Historical Society provides this summary of events that took place on February 22: “Ebenezer Richardson, a customs informer, fired a musket through a broken window in his house at a crowd of young men and boys who had been taunting customers of a store selling British imports.”  In addition to wounding others, Richardson killed Christopher Seider, age eleven.  His funeral on February 26 was a significant event.  According to the report in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, “a great Multitude of People assembled in the Houses and Streets to see the Funeral Procession, which departed “from Liberty-Tree.”  Killed less than two weeks before the Boston Massacre, Seider could be considered the first casualty of the American Revolution.  News of that “Bloody Massacre,” as Paul Revere labeled it, did not yet appear in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but the death of Seider may have been sufficient to put Keating’s calls for colonists to collect rags into new perspective.  He offered a practical means for “Service they would do their Country, in whose Welfare their own is involved.”

**********

For a more complete accounting of the death and burial of Christopher Seider, see the series of articles by J.L. Bell on Boston 1775.

February 19

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

Feb 19 - 2:19:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 19, 1770).

“List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”

In the third week of February 1770, many printers continued to advertise almanacs, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that counted against any profits they might earn on the venture.  In contrast, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, advertised that they had plans within the next few days to publish their “North-AmericanALMANACK, AND Massachusetts REGISTER, For the Year 1770.”  They either identified demand, even that far into February of the new year, or believed that they could incite sufficient demand to merit the expense of pursuing the project.

In presenting this edition of their almanac to the public, Edes and Gill focused on the contents of the “REGISTER.”  They listed the contents, including useful reference material from tables of colonial currencies to descriptions of “Public Raods, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” to dates of “Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England.”  Many of the contents had a decidedly political tone, making it clear that Edes and Gill marketed this almanac and register to supporters of the patriot cause.  The printers led the list of contents with “A Prospective View of the Town of Boston the Capital of New-England; and the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry.”  This woodcut, fashioned by Paul Revere, depicted eight British warships delivering troops to be quartered in Boston.  In addition to that frontispiece, the almanac and register also contained an overview of many of the other sources of tension between the colonies and Britain, including a “List of the Importers and Resolves of the Merchants &c. of Boston” and a “List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”  More than just a handy register of practical information, this was a primer in patriot politics.  Even items intended for amusement had a political flair, such as “Liberty Song” and “A New Song, to the Tune of the British Grenadier, by a SON OF LIBERTY.”

It was rather late in the year for Edes and Gill to publish an almanac, but they apparently considered it a good time to disseminate patriot propaganda.  The “Judgment of the Weather, Suns and Moon’s Rising and Setting,” and other material commonly contained in almanacs did not receive much notice in their advertisement.  Instead, they emphasized contents related to colonial grievances, presenting consumers with new opportunities to participate in acts of resistance by purchasing items that documented the events unfolding around them.  By bringing those narratives into their homes, colonists would become better informed and perhaps even more politicized in favor of the patriot cause.

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.

February 13

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

Feb 13 - 2:13:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (February 13, 1770).

All the above Articles, were imported before the Agreement, entered into by the Merchants for Non-importation, took Place.”

Thomas Lewis’s advertisement for an assortment of goods available at his shop in Marblehead cataloged dozens of items and extended nearly an entire column. In that regard, it matched advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers in other newspapers, especially those published in the largest port cities, but greatly exceeded the length of most that ran in the Essex Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s. Lewis listed everything from “ivory horn combs” to “large white stone dishes” to “men’s white and brown thread gloves.”

He apparently determined that if he was going to assume the expense of such a lengthy advertisement that he should extend it a little bit more to address concerns that members of his community might have about his inventory. After concluding his list, he informed readers that “All the above Articles, were imported before the Agreement, entered into by the Merchants for Non-importation, took Place.” Lewis had not violated the boycott in place as a means of protesting the duties Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts. Prospective customers could confidently purchase his wares without worrying that they became accomplices in undermining the nonimportation agreement. Reputation mattered, to both purveyors of goods and consumers. Lewis aimed to avoid drawing controversy to himself and his customers.

He did, however, provide one clarification concerning “a few Cheshire and Glocester cheeses,” stating that they were “sold by Consent of the Committee.” He did not offer additional details about how and when he came into possession of the cheese or why he had been granted an exception, but in mentioning that he acquired the “Consent of the Committee” that ferreted out violators of the nonimportation agreement Lewis indicated that he operated his shop under the supervision of members of the community entrusted to oversee the public welfare. He demonstrated that he was sufficiently concerned about abiding by the agreement that he consulted with those responsible for overseeing it.

Lewis was one of a growing number of shopkeepers who appended such notices to their newspaper advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s. The consumption of goods became an increasingly political act. Purveyors of goods played a significant role in that discourse as they made new kinds of appeals in their advertisements, simultaneously shaping discourse about the politics of goods and reacting to it.

February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 5, 1770).

“All the Books in this Catalogue are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.”

Robert Bell, one of the most industrious booksellers in eighteenth-century America, owed his success in part to savvy advertising. His advertisement for an “Auction of Books” in the February 5, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, for instance, incorporated two significant marketing strategies intended to incite consumer demand.

Bell began by announcing that he had just published a “CATALOGUE of new and old BOOKS” that prospective customers could acquire “gratis at the Place of Sale.” Bell likely intended that distributing the catalog would get people through the door. When they came to pick up a catalog many might decide to view the merchandise. Then they carried away a catalog as a reminder of the books they had examined. In passing out catalogs, Bell also enhanced the dissemination of information about his merchandise beyond the reach of his newspaper advertisement. Prospective customers who obtained catalogues could share them with members of their household as well as friends and neighbors. Bell did not rely on a single medium to attract attention to his “Auction of Books.” Instead, he had multiple marketing media in circulation.

He also addressed the politics of consumption, concluding his advertisement with a note about the origins of the books he offered for sale. “[A]ll the Books in this Catalogue,” he assured prospective customers, “are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.” Although colonial printers produced some American imprints, the most books in the colonies were imported from England prior to the American Revolution. Bell sought to mediate that reality by focusing on the fact that his books had been imported before merchants, shopkeepers, and others enacted a boycott of imported goods to protest the duties levied on certain imported goods in the Townshend Acts. Rather than focus on where those volumes had been produced he instead emphasized when they had arrived in the colonies. Still, he did make an appeal to the place of production when he could, noting that some of his books were indeed “American Manufacture.” To underscore the importance of these distinctions, he addressed prospective customers as “Lovers and real Practisers of Patriotism,” challenging all readers to consider the political meanings of consumer goods.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements have sometimes been dismissed as mere announcements that made no effort at marketing. Bell’s notice, however, demonstrates that some advertisers engaged in savvy marketing campaigns … and that consumers were exposed to their efforts to shape the colonial marketplace.

February 1

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

Feb 1 - 2:1:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (February 1, 1770).

“Nothing has been contrary to the true Spirit and Intention of the Articles of Association.”

Legh Master’s advertisement for “A CARGO of European and East India GOODS” dated December 6, 1769, continued to run in the February 1, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette, nearly two months after it first appeared. In it, Master indicated that he had “JUST IMPORTED” the merchandise. He appended a lengthy note to explain some of the circumstances surrounding the arrival of his wares in Annapolis. The digital remediation of the original eighteenth-century newspaper is difficult to decipher, compelling a transcription of that note in its entirety.

“The Committee of Merchants of this City, having fully considered all the Papers, and Evidence relative to this Affair, and being quite satisfied, that in the Purchase and Importation of those Goods, nothing has been done contrary to the true Spirit and Intention of the Articles of Association of this Province, unanimously consented to their being landed, and disposed of in such Manner as I should think proper. L.M.

Master imported and sold goods during the era of the imperial crisis that ultimately resulted in the American Revolution. He did so at a time that tensions between colonists and Parliament had intensified due to the duties levied on certain imported goods – paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea – in the Townshend Acts. Colonists engaged in various methods of resistance, including leveraging commerce and consumer culture as political tools when they refused to import a much broader array of goods than just those taxed by Parliament. Merchants, shopkeepers, and others collectively committed to such plans, joining local associations and signing nonimportation agreements. Committees oversaw compliance, alerting the public when fellow colonists refused to join the boycott or violated its terms after signing. Reputations hung in the balance as colonists policed the decisions their friends and neighbors made about imported goods.

Master had concerns about running afoul of the local “Committee of Merchants” in Annapolis. He also sought to reassure prospective customers that they could purchase his merchandise without endangering their own standing in the community. He intended for the lengthy note appended to his advertisement to provide those assurances, especially since his fellow colonists could easily verify whether the committee had indeed examined the evidence and “unanimously consented” to Master accepting the shipment and selling the goods as he saw fit. Like other retailers in the late 1760s and early 1770s, Master made a case that consumers could purchase his wares and be patriotically correct in doing so.

January 21

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

Jan 21 - 1:18:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“Every lover of his country will encourage … American manufactures.”

Benjamin Randolph, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent and successful cabinetmakers, was also a savvy advertiser. He inserted notices in the city’s newspapers, but he also distributed an elegant trade card that clearly demonstrated the influence of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754). Known for his furniture, Randolph also promoted other carved items produced in his shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” including “a quantity of wooden BUTTONS of various sorts.”

Buttons often appeared among the extensive lists of imported merchandise published in advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers. When consumers purchased textiles and trimmings to make garments, they also acquired buttons. At a time when colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, Randolph offered an alternative to buttons from England. He made it clear to prospective customers that purchasing his buttons served a political function; doing so signaled support for the American cause. Rather than depend on consumer’s familiarity with current events and popular discourse about the political meaning of goods, Randolph plainly stated, “[E]very lover of his country will encourage [his buttons by purchasing them], as well as all other American manufactures, especially at this time, when the importation of British superfluities is deemed inconsistent with the true interest of America.” Randolph encouraged colonists to reject the “Baubles of Britain,” as T.H. Breen has so memorably named the consumer goods produced on the other side of the Atlantic and sent to American markets. Randolph made a bid not only for support of the items he produced but also others made in the colonies, showing solidarity with fellow artisans as they did their part in opposition to Parliament.

Such efforts, however, did not depend solely on Randolph and other artisans. Ultimately, consumers determined the extent of the effectiveness of producing “American manufactures” through the decisions they made about which and how many items to purchase and which to boycott. Randolph had “a quantity” of buttons on hand, but producing more depended on the reception he received from the residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands. He would “keep a general assortment of them” but only “if encouraged.” Consumers had to demonstrate that they would partner with him in this act of resistance once Randolph presented them with the opportunity.