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  The import duties on glass, paper, lead, and paint imposed in the Townshend Acts had been repealed the previous year, prompting colonists to call an end to the nonimportation agreements adopted in protest, but the tax on tea remained.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.

**********

[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.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:26:1770 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (July 26, 1770).
“He purposes to return to this LAND of LIBERTY.”

In the summer of 1770, William Wylie, a watchmaker, took to the pages of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette to inform the community that he would soon depart for Britain.  He made “his grateful acknowledgments to those Ladies and Gentlemen, who have hitherto employed him,” but he had other purposes for placing his advertisement.  He requested “that those who have omitted sending the money for the repairing their watches” would settle accounts before his departure.  He did not explain why he was making the voyage, but did state that he needed the money “to accomplish his design, in going to Britain.”  Wylie also pledged to return to Virginia and wanted former and prospective customers to keep him in mind for their watchmaking needs.  He hoped that loyal customers would once again hire him after his temporary absence.

Wylie also injected politics into his advertisement.  He proclaimed that he planned “to return to this LAND of LIBERTY as soon as possible,” using capital letters for added emphasis for his description of Virginia.  Paying to insert his advertisement in the newspaper also allowed the watchmaker an opportunity to express political views in the public prints as he went about his other business.  As printer and editor, Rind selected the content when it came to news, editorials, and entertaining pieces, but he exercised less direct control over the content of advertisements.  Wylie could have submitted a letter to the editor in which he extolled the virtues of “this LAND of LIBERTY,” but with far less certainty that Rind would print it than an advertisement in which the watchmaker commented on his political views in the course of communicating with his customers.  Besides, presenting a homily on politics to readers of Rind’s Virginia Gazette does not appear to have been Wylie’s primary purpose in publishing the advertisement.  All the same, he made a deliberate choice to deviate from the standard format for the type of advertisement he placed.  Nothing about the goals he wished to achieve required that he opine about politics at all, but Wylie purchased the space in the newspaper and had the liberty to embellish his advertisement as he wished.  In turn, readers of Rind’s Virginia Gazette encountered political commentary among the advertisements in addition to the news and editorials elsewhere in the newspaper.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 23, 1770).

American Manufacture.”

Cyrus Baldwin divided his advertisement in the July 23, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette into two parts.  The first part, much longer than the second, looked much like other advertisements placed by shopkeepers during the period.  It listed a variety of items for sale at Baldwin’s shop.  The second part included a separate headline.  That alone made the entire advertisement distinctive compared to others that ran in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers.

The headline announced that the second part listed goods of “American Manufacture.”  Baldwin carried “WORSTED Wilton, Middlesex Serge and plain Cloth, Shoe and Coat Bindings, Knee Garters, [and] Basket Buttons” made in the colonies.  He concluded the list with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to suggest that he stocked even more items produced locally rather than imported.  By inserting this headline and highlighting a second category of merchandise available at his shop, Baldwin both offered consumers an opportunity to practice politics when they shopped and encouraged them to do so.

The nonimportation agreement adopted to protest duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts was still in effect in Boston.  At the time that merchants and traders adopted the measure, residents of the city also advocated that colonists encourage “domestic manufactures” through the production and consumption of goods in the colonies.  Such goods provided an alternative to imported goods that became politically toxic, yet the repeal of the Townshend duties was not the only reason to buy American products.  Colonists also worried about a trade imbalance with Britain.  Encouraging domestic manufactures provided employment for colonists while reducing reliance on imported goods.  Yet such encouragement could not be confined to production alone.  Retailers and consumers had to play their parts as well.  Baldwin did so by stocking goods produced in the colonies and calling particular attention to them in his advertisements.  Consumers then had a duty to heed the call by choosing to purchase “American Manufacture[s].”  Baldwin made it easy for them to identify goods that fit the bill.

July 19

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

Jul 19 - 7:19:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 19, 1770).

“Ah—Liberty!  …. An empty sound alone remains of thee.”

John Mason, an upholsterer, did not merely seek to sell paper hangings (or wallpaper) and bedding materials when he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770.  His entire advertisement was a short sermon about the current political crisis and the fate of the nonimportation agreement adopted by the merchants of Philadelphia in response to the duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  All of those duties had been recently repealed, with the exception of the duty on tea, prompting merchants in New York to bring an end to their nonimportation agreement and begin trading with English merchants once again.  Residents of other cities and towns debated whether they would continue their own boycotts.  The nonimportation agreement in Philadelphia was on the verge of collapse.  It came to an end on September 20.

Mason apparently did not agree with the direction he saw the merchants and traders in his city heading.  He used his advertisement to encourage the continuation of the nonimportation agreement as well as condemn the merchants in New York for so hastily resuming trade as soon as they heard about the repeal of most of the duties.  The nonimportation agreements were intended to stay in effect until Parliament repealed all the duties, yet the duties on tea remained.

Mason began his advertisement with a play on words, stating that he “STILL prays for liberty to inform the public, that he would be glad to dispose of his property.”  He implied that all liberty was at stake, not just his ability to hawk goods in the marketplace.  He deployed the same turn of phrase in another advertisement that doubled as a political lecture a year earlier.  In his new epistle, he informed prospective customers that he sold papers hangings “not lately imported,” making clear that he continued to abide by the nonimportation agreement, as well as variety of bedding materials that he presumably made in his upholstery shop.  “The utility of these beds,” he proclaimed, “is not duly attended to, as they say, by sleeping on them.”  If the purpose of beds was not for sleeping then what was it?  Mason believed his bedding materials served a more important purpose as symbols of American liberty.  Consumers should purchase them to demonstrate their own commitment to the cause, especially during “this crisis, when our Liberty is tottering, like our Neighbour’s Resolutions*.”  Just in case readers missed his meaning, an asterisk confirmed that he critiqued recent actions in “*NEW YORK.:”

To underscore his point, he inserted a short poem for the edification of both merchants and consumers in Philadelphia:

Ah—Liberty!  How loved, how valued once, avail thee not
To whom retail’d, or by whom begot,
An empty sound alone remains of theee,
And its all thy one pretended Votaries‡ shall be—

Mason contended that liberty had been valued for a time, but all that remained of it was an “empty sound” because its “pretended Votaries,” the merchants in New York, prematurely abandoned the cause by withdrawing from the nonimportation agreement before all the duties had been repealed.  He inserted two more lines of commentary about those “pretended Votaries‡.”  Mason accused them of a “sad blunder, never to be mended” and accused them of causing the entire enterprise to fail.  “This one bad step, the contest ended,” he lamented.  Merchants in New York and other cities saw the repeal of most of the duties on imported goods as a victory.  They believed their nonimportation agreement had served its purpose (or at least well enough to return to business and resume trading).  Mason disagreed.  Until Parliament repealed the duties on tea, bringing an end to the boycotts was nothing more than capitulation.  Parliament had not met the terms that stated the nonimportation agreements would remain in effect until all the duties were repealed.  Mason took a harder line than many other colonists, using a newspaper advertisement to express his views to the general public.