April 15

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

Boston-Gazette (April 15, 1771).

“The most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers often included introductory remarks about the origins of their imported goods in their newspaper advertisements.  In the April 15, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, for instance, William Jones advertised goods “JUST IMPORTED In the Ship LYDIA, JAMES SCOTT, Master, from LONDON.”  Similarly, Hugh Tarbett marketed goods “Imported in the Snow Jenny, Hector Orr, Master, from Glasgow.”  Both followed a format familiar to both advertisers and readers.  Samuel Eliot did so as well, announcing that he carried goods that he “has now IMPORTED in the Ships just arrived from LONDON.”  Eliot added an additional note that he sold those goods “after a long Suspension of Business by his strict Adherence to the late Non Importation Agreement.”  John Hancock did the same.  Like Jones and several others who advertised in that issue, Hancock received goods via the Lydia.  He proclaimed that he offered those items to customers “after the most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement during its Continuance.”

Eliot and Hancock both signaled their support of the patriot cause and suggested that consumers should purchase goods from them, now that trade with Britain commenced again, because they had faithfully obeyed the boycotts enacted in protest of duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  Hancock’s version of events, however, did not match coverage in the Boston Chronicle in the summer of 1769.  The committee of merchants who oversaw compliance with the nonimportation agreement singled out John Mein, loyalist printer of the Boston Chronicle, for continuing to import and sell British goods.  In turn, Mein published an exposé of prominent merchants who publicly claimed to support the nonimportation agreement yet continued to receive goods from Britain.  On August 21, 1769, he listed the cargoes of several ships, the owners of those vessels, and the merchants who ordered and received the goods.  That coverage included a “Manifest of the Cargo of the Brigantine Last Attempt, … Owner, JOHN HANCOCK,” a “Manifest of the Cargo of the Brigantine Lydia, … Owner, JOHN HANCOCK,” and a “Manifest of the Cargo of the Brigantine Paoli, … Owner JOHN HANCOCK.”  Mein called on the “PATRIOTIC GENTLEMAN” who owned those vessels to provide the public with more information.  Over the next two months, Mein continued his critique of Hancock and other patriot leaders.  In late October, he published character sketches that included one for “Johnny Dupe,” a jab at Hancock for duping the public by continuing to profit from importing goods despite claiming to support the boycott.  Not long after that, a mob attacked Mein.  He fled Boston, leaving the Boston Chronicle in the hands of his partner, John Fleeming.  The newspaper folded less than a year later.

Hancock’s claim that he sold an “Assortment of Goods” received from London only after “the most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement during its Continuance” was a polite fiction, at best.  He attempted to deploy patriotism as part of his marketing strategy, asking supporters of the American cause to endorse his version of events despite evidence to the contrary published in the Boston Chronicle two years earlier.  After all, that incident resulted in the disgrace and flight of a loyalist printer, not the prominent merchant and vocal supporter of the patriot cause.  When it came to marketing, image mattered, perhaps even more than reality.

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The Massachusetts Historical Society provides access to the August 21, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle via their online collections.

March 24

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

South-Carolina Gazette (March 21, 1771).

“Encouragement from those who are Well-wishers to the MANUFACTURES of THIS Province.”

In an advertisement that appeared in the March 21, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, Thomas You described himself as a “WORKING SILVERSMITH” who ran a workshop “AT THE SIGN OF THE GOLDEN CUP” on Queen Street in Charleston.  That he was a working silversmith, as opposed to a purveyor of imported wares, was important to both You’s identity as an artisan and his marketing efforts.  He declared that he “carried on the GOLD and SILVERSMITH’s Business in their different Branches,” making claims about his expertise in his craft.  He also confided that “his Dependance is entirely in the working Part.”  In other words, he earned his livelihood through making what he sold, a shift in his marketing compared to his earlier advertisements that incorporated goods imported from England.

For readers of the South-Carolina Gazette, that proclamation resonated with the politics of the period.  Gary Albert traces You’s advertising over several years, noting that before the Stamp Act crisis, the silversmith “advertised six times that he sold goods ‘just imported from London,’” but “You did not advertise recently imported British goods from the enactment of the Stamp Act in the fall of 1765 through the repeal of the Townshend Acts in 1770.”  Albert underscores that You embedded politics in his advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s:  “On six occasions during the term of the Townshend Acts You made a point to tell his customers that his shop was manufacturing silversmith products, not retailing imported goods.”

In so doing, You challenged consumers to practice politics when making choices in the marketplace.  He stated that he “hopes he may meet with Encouragement from those who are Well-wishers to the MANUFACTURES of THIS Province.”  He argued that he did his part for the American cause as a “WORKING SILVERSMITH,” but his efforts as a producer required recognition by consumers and commitment on their part in selecting domestic manufactures as alternatives to imported goods.  In making that proposition, he echoed appeals made in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies as artisans, shopkeepers, and others encouraged consumers to “Buy American” several years before the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord.

March 14

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 14, 1771).

“Near LIBERTY TREE, BOSTON.”

Purveyors of goods and services in Boston used a variety of means to specify their locations in 1771.  William Taylor and Peter Hughes merely listed King Street as their addresses.  Similarly, Andrew Brimmer stated that his shop was located in the “South-End, BOSTON,” but did not elaborate beyond that.  Joshua Gardner sold “a Fine Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS … at his Shop in Cornhill, just above the Post-Office.”  John Hunt carried a variety of merchandise at his shop “next door Northward to the Heart and Crown,” the printing office where Thomas Fleet and John Fleet published the Boston Evening-Post.  Bartholomew Kneeland also used that printing office as a landmark, giving his location as “the Fourth to the Northward of School-Street, and nearly opposite to the Heart & Crown in Cornhill.”  Samuel Franklin sold razors and a variety of cutlery at the Sign of the Razor and Crown.  Ziphion Thayer stocked paper hangings (or wallpaper) at the Sign of the “Golden Lyon.”  George Leonard hawked grains and chocolate at “the New Mills, near the Mill-Bridge.”  Bethiah Oliver peddled seeds at her shop “opposite the Old South Meeting-House.”  John Coleman sold beer and operated a “House of Entertainment” at “the Sign of the General Wolfe, North-side Faneuil-Hall Market.”

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 14, 1771).

All of these descriptions for locations appeared in advertisements on the third page of the March 14, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Some of the shop signs invoked British identity and celebrated being part of the empire, especially those that included crowns.  The Sign of the General Wolfe honored one of the heroes of the Seven Years War who gloriously died on the battlefield after breaking the siege of Quebec in 1759.  Some advertisers expressed pride in other aspects of British history and culture in the directions they gave to their shops.  John Gore, Jr., sold a variety of goods “Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston.”  Rosannah Moore stocked a “general Assortment of Wines” at “her Wine-Cellar near LIBERTY TREE, BOSTON.”  These retailers invoked traditional English liberties while simultaneously commemorating recent abuses perpetrated against colonists by Parliament and soldiers quartered in Boston.  The Liberty Tree stood as a symbol of resistance to the Stamp Act, the duties on imported goods in the Townshend Acts, and the murder of colonists during the Boston Massacre.  Gore and Moore both choose to associate their businesses with that recent history of resistance.  As the variety of means of giving directions in other advertisements demonstrate, Gore and Moore could have formulated many other means for instructing customers how to find their shops.  They purposefully selected the Liberty Tree, their advertisements for consumer goods resonating with political overtones as a result.

January 29

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

Essex Gazette (January 29, 1771).

“Choice Labradore Tea.”

Two advertisements in the January 29, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette promoted tea to colonial consumers.  William Vans advertised “CHOICE Bohea Tea by the Hundred, Dozen or single Pound,” acknowledging the demand for imported tea.  Robert Bartlett, on the other hand, sold “Choice Labradore Tea,” an alternative produced in the colonies.  As Lisa L. Petrocich explains, “Colonists brewed Labrador, or Labradore, tea from the Ledum groenlandicum evergreen plant that grows in New England, and the Middle Atlantic, and the Midwest.”[1]

Bartlett emphasized the medicinal qualities of Labradore tea in his advertisement, advising prospective customers that the product was “esteemed as very wholesome, & good for the Rheumatism, Spleen, and many other Disorders and Pains.”  He also hawked a medicine that he described as “an infallible Cure for the Tooth-Ach.”  Bartlett focused on providing remedies for ailments rather than rehearsing the recent history of tea consumption in the colonies, but he almost certainly depended on consumers possessing some familiarity with the politics of Labradore tea.  The import duties on glass, paper, lead, and paint imposed in the Townshend Acts had been repealed the previous year, prompting colonists to call an end to the nonimportation agreements adopted in protest, but the tax on tea remained.  Some stalwarts argued that was reason enough to continue the boycotts until Parliament met all of their demands by repealing the duty on tea as well, but both merchants and consumers eager to resume trade and gain access to imported goods once again overruled them.  Before that debate, however, newspapers, especially newspapers published in New England, ran news items, editorials, puff pieces, and advertisements that educated the public about Labradore tea and promoted it as an alternative to Bohea and other imported teas.

Bartlett eschewed politics in his advertisement, perhaps not wanting to alienate prospective customers who advocated for resuming trade with Britain, but the political meaning of choosing Labradore tea likely still resonated with many readers of the Essex Gazette.  That Bartlett advertised Labradore tea at all indicated that he believed he believed a market for it still existed and that he could incite greater demand by presenting it as a remedy for various ailments.

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[1] Lisa L. Petrovich, “More than the Boston Tea Party: Tea in American Culture, 1760s-1840s” (master’s thesis, University of Colorado, 2013), 24.

December 20

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (December 20 1770).

“He doubts not but every merchant and shop-keeper in this city, and towns adjacent that regard the good of this oppressed country, will encourage such an undertaking.”

Abraham Shelley, a “THREAD-MAKER, in Lombard-street” in Philadelphia, sought to convince colonial consumers that purchasing his wares amounted to a civic duty.  In an advertisement in the December 20, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he informed prospective customers that he continued “to make and sell … all sorts of fine coloured thread” that he asserted was “much better, and cheaper, than what is imported from Europe.”  Quality and price were important, but Shelley gave consumers additional reasons to purchase his thread.  He offered alternatives to imported goods to colonists who had widely pledged to encourage “domestic manufactures” as a means of correcting a trade imbalance with Britain as well as practicing politics through commerce in the wake of duties that Parliament imposed on certain imported goods.  Even after colonists ended their nonimportation pacts following the repeal of those Townshend duties, some advertisers continued to proclaim the virtues of domestic manufactures.  More than ever, they depended on consumers making conscientious decisions in the marketplace.

When customers selected Shelley’s thread over imported alternatives, they did not have to sacrifice quality or price.  They also demonstrated support for American efforts to achieve greater self-sufficiency to protect against subsequent attempts by Parliament to harass the colonies.  He asked consumers to take into account “the good of this oppressed country.”  In addition, he underscored that his enterprise “supplies a great number of poor women with market money, who, otherwise, with their children, would become a public charge.”  Civic responsibility inherent in purchasing thread from Shelley extended beyond politics to poor relief.  That meant that consumers could serve their communities in many ways simultaneously when they decided to buy from Shelley, who proclaimed that he “doubts not but every merchant and shop-keeper in this city, and towns adjacent” should acquire thread from him to sell to others.  The civic responsibility he described belonged not only to consumers but also to those who sold goods to them.  Merchants and shopkeepers also made important decisions in choosing which items to stock in their stores and shops.  Quality and price matter, but Shelley believed that civic responsibility further enhanced his appeals to customers.

November 29

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 29, 1770).

“He may take the LIBERTY of craving the continuance of their favours.”

John Mason, an upholsterer who ran a shop at the Sign of the Crown and Cushion in Philadelphia, had a habit of injecting politics into the newspaper advertisements he placed in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He often emphasized the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY” in notices offering his services to consumers.  For instance, in an advertisement in the August 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he requested “LIBERTY to inform his friends and customers that he has removed his PROPERTY” to a new location.  He then provided a short history of mattresses to argue that those he stuffed with wool were superior to others stuffed with straw or feathers, but after that bit of frivolity he concluded with a jeremiad about Parliament imposing duties on certain imported goods.  He proclaimed that “Liberty is the Common Cry” due to the Townshend Acts that would “Deprive [colonists] of our Liberty and property.”  Nearly a year later, he placed an advertisement for paper hangings “(not lately imported),” mattresses, and trimmings in the July 19, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  He concluded with a poem that decried New York for abandoning liberty by discontinuing the nonimportation agreement before Parliament repealed all of the duties on imported goods.

A few months later, Mason placed a new advertisement in the November 29, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He once again accentuated the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY,” though this time he did not include more extensive commentary about the current political climate in Pennsylvania and the rest of the colonies.  In this instance, he declared that he “presumes he may take the LIBERTY of craving the continuance” of the “favours” of his “friends and customers in general” in his efforts “dispose of his PROPERTY.”  Along with “FURNITURE CHECKS,” the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY” were the only words in all capitals in the body of Mason’s advertisements.  Accordingly, they likely attracted attention, priming readers to think about current events as they perused Mason’s notice, especially those already familiar with the outspoken upholsterer’s politics.

At the conclusion of his notice, Mason testified that “it is the distinguishing character of noble and generous minds to employ the industrious.”  He then pledged “his utmost endeavours to give general satisfaction.”  Although not as explicitly political as the short sermons in some of his earlier advertisements, Mason may have intended for that statement to resonate with conversations about encouraging domestic manufactures as alternatives to imported goods.  He suggested that his prospective customers had both an obligation and an opportunity; they had an obligation to support “industrious” colonists and an opportunity to demonstrate their “distinguishing character” and “noble and generous minds” by doing so.  Given the contents of the rest of the newspaper as well as the pattern the upholsterer established in his marketing, readers likely recognized Mason’s message in this advertisement even without a more elaborate lecture about politics.

October 1

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

Newport Mercury (October 1, 1770).

“It is hoped he will meet with the Encouragement of the Public in General, and particularly of all true Lovers of their Country.”

Like many other newspapers published in eighteenth-century America, the masthead of the Newport Mercury informed readers that it carried “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.”  Starting with the December 18, 1769, edition, Solomon Southwick, the printer, included an additional line in the masthead: “Undaunted by TYRANTS, —– We’ll DIE or be FREE.”  Amid protests over duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts and other abuses perpetrated by both Parliament and British soldier quartered in the colonies, Southwick asserted that defending the liberty of American colonists was one of the main purposes of publishing his newspaper.

Staying informed about current events was not the only way for readers to support the American cause.  Advertisers argued that colonists could practice politics through the decisions they made as consumers.  Consider the notice that Jonathan Stoddard inserted in the October 1, 1770, edition of the Newport Mercury.  In it, he informed the public that “he has set up the NAIL-MAKING Business.”  He made all sorts of nails “of much better Quality than those imported.”  In addition to quality, he made an appeal to price, pledging to “sell as cheap as any imported Nails of the same Size can be had at any Retail Shop in Town.”

Stoddard hoped to “meet with the Encouragement of the Public in General,” but he also extended a challenge to “all true Lovers of their Country” to acquire nails from him rather than resorting to imported alternatives.  He used patriotism and politics to frame his advertisement, reminding consumers that price and quality were important but not the only factors they should take into account when shopping for nails or any other goods.  Stoddard’s advertisement appeared on the first page of the Newport Mercury, the second item in the first column.  In quick succession, readers encountered Southwick’s rallying cry that “Undaunted by TYRANTS, —– We’ll DIE or be FREE” and Stoddard’s appeal to “all true Lovers of their Country” to purchase goods produced in the colonies.  These messages likely reinforced each other as readers perused them and read more about current events throughout the rest of the newspaper.

Newport Mercury (October 1, 1770).

September 26

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (September 24, 1770).

“Sundry other Articles, allowed to be imported by the Resolutions.”

Several merchants and shopkeepers placed lengthy advertisements in the September 24, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Alexander Gillon’s advertisement on the front page listed dozens of items for sale, as did Isaac Motte’s advertisement.  Elsewhere in the newspaper, Benjamin Mathewes, Thomas Walter, and Radcliffe and Shepheard all ran similar notices.  In addition to “mens fine beaver hats,” “bordered handkerchiefs,” “gold and silver basket buttons,” “parrot and bird cages,” and a variety of other items that he did name in his advertisement, Mathewes also indicated that he had in stock “a number of other article[s] needless to enumerate.”  The purpose of enumerating so many of them was to demonstrate to consumers the wide array of choices available to them.  Like their counterparts who advertised in other newspapers in other towns and cities, these merchants and shopkeepers sought to incite demand by inviting prospective customers to imagine the many and varied options available to them.

Not all advertisers took this approach, but that did not mean that their notices lacked appeals meant to engage consumers.  In the same issue, Robert Porteous and Company and William and James Carsans placed advertisements that asserted they offered a similar array of choices without listing their inventory.  Porteous and Company stated that they sold “AN Assortment of such GOODS as are allowed by the Resolutions,” while the Carsanses similarly promoted textiles, nails, and “sundry other Articles, allowed to be imported by the Resolutions.”  Both incorporated consumer choice yet placed as much emphasis on the circumstances of acquiring their merchandise.  The merchants and traders in South Carolina adopted “Resolutions” or nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts.  Some items, however, were excluded from those resolutions.  Porteous and Company and the Carsanses assured prospective customers and the general public that they abided by the agreement, keeping themselves in good standing in the community.  Their marketing efforts addressed politics as well as consumer choice.

September 20

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

South-Carolina Gazette (September 20, 1770).

“Such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”

As summer turned to fall in 1770, Brian Cape advertised “a tolerable Assortment of Goods” for sale in the South-Carolina Gazette.  This unusual description, “a tolerable Assortment,” had at least two meanings.  Like their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the merchants of South Carolina enacted nonimportation agreements to protest duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  Cape assured prospective customers that he carried “such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”  In that sense, his merchandise was “tolerable” according to the standards adopted by the community.  It was also “tolerable” in the sense that it was as extensive as could be expected under the circumstances.  Consumers grew accustomed to vast arrays of choices in the eighteenth century.  Nonimportation agreements constrained those choices, but Cape suggested that the ability and pick and choose had not been eliminated at his shop.

He also vowed that prospective customers would not encounter exorbitant prices for his “tolerable Assortment of Goods” as the result of scarcity caused by the nonimportation agreement.  Indeed, scarcity may have been a relative term since many merchants and shopkeepers seized the opportunity to sell inventory that had lingered on their shelves and in their storerooms.  Cape asserted that he sold his wares “at moderate Prices” that were fair to consumers.  He also included a nota bene that offered a special bargain: “Ten per Cent will be discounted for ready Money.”  In other words, he rewarded customers who paid in cash rather than credit with significant savings.  Credit was one of the primary features that made the consumer revolution possible in the eighteenth century, yet it could be tricky to manage.  Merchants and shopkeepers frequently placed advertisements calling on customers to settle accounts or face legal action.  Cape presented an opportunity to avoid future troubles by paying with “ready Money” from the start.

Compared to modern marketing campaigns, eighteenth-century advertisements have sometimes been dismissed for being so straightforward as to be merely announcements of goods for sale.  That approach underestimates the appeals that advertisers worked into their notices in their attempts to entice customers to visit their shops.  Cape addressed both price and politics in his advertisement in 1770, incorporating issues that resonated with consumers at the time.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (September 3, 1770).

“It is presumed preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here.”

As fall approached in 1770, the nonimportation agreement remained in effect in Boston.  Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods, but taxes on tea remained.  Although New York already resumed trade with Britain, debates continued in Boston and Philadelphia about whether that partial victory was sufficient to return to business as usual.

It was in that context that Harbottle Dorr advertised nails and other items in the Boston Evening-Post, grounding his marketing appeals in politics.  Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he listed the various merchandise available at his shop.  He prefaced his list, however, by noting that the items enumerated first were “manufactured in this Town” rather than imported from Britain.  Those goods included “choice hammered Pewter Dishes & Plates, Cod and Mackrel Lines, best Copper Tea Kettles, all sizes of Porringers, Quart Pots, [and] Basons,” yet he started with “10d.* and 20d. Nails, warranted tough.”  The asterisk directed readers to a short sermon that encouraged them to buy goods produced in the colonies that appeared at the end of the advertisement.  “*It is presumed,” Dorr lectured, “preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here, (not only on patriotic Principles, and to discourage the PRESENT Importers, –but) as they really are better in Quality than most English Nails, being far tougher.”  Dorr linked several appeals that supporters of the nonimportation agreement often combined.  Buying American goods, Dorr and others argued, was not merely a statement of political principles but also a smart choice when it came to quality.  Consumers did not need to worry about purchasing inferior goods, in this case nails, when they bought items made in the colonies.

Yet Dorr also stocked imported goods in addition to domestic manufactures, including “all sorts Pad & Door Locks,” “London Pewter Dishes and Plates,” and “good Combs.”  He emphasized, however, that those items “have been imported above THREE YEARS.”  In other words, Dorr acquired them before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  He had not violated the pact and prospective customers could purchase those items with confidence that they did not act contrary to the nonimportation agreement.

Whether selling domestic manufactures or imported goods, Dorr made politics the focal point of his marketing efforts.  Even as some merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers advocated for following New York’s lead in resuming trade with Britain, he challenged them to consider “patriotic Principles” as they made their decisions about commerce.  Perhaps sensing that it was only a matter of time before the nonimportation agreement came to an end, he also made additional arguments in favor of nails produced in the colonies, noting their superior quality.