July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (July 16, 1770).

“A NARRATIVE of the late horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON.”

The commemoration and commodification of the events of the American Revolution began years before shots were fired at Concord and Lexington.  Beginning in 1767, colonists marked the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act with celebrations and toasts.  Within weeks of the Boston Massacre in 1770, Paul Revere advertised and sold prints depicting the event, followed soon after by Henry Pelham.  A few months later, John Kneeland and Seth Adams announced the imminent publication of “A NARRATIVE of the late horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON, perpetrated in the Evening of the 5th of March 1770, by Soldiers of the 29th Regiment; which with the 14th Regiment were then Quartered there.”  The volume also included “some OBSERVATIONS on the STATE OF THINGS prior to that CATASTROPHE.”

This reprint “from the London Edition” was a departure for Kneeland and Adams.  In his monumental History of Printing in America, Isaiah Thomas remarked that the “principal work of Kneeland & Adams was psalters, spelling books, and psalm books, for booksellers.”[1]  What prompted Kneeland and Adams to reprint this particular book?  Were their motivations primarily pecuniary or political or both?  Thomas, often quick to comment of the politics of his fellow printers, did not note that either printer was known for promoting the patriot cause, but that did not necessarily mean that politics did not play a role in their decision to produce and market this “NARRATIVE of the late horrid MASSACRE.”  Financial interests almost certainly influenced them as well.  If Thomas did not recognize their press as one that advanced the patriot cause, then it seems unlikely that they would have printed the “NARRATIVE” solely as an act of commemoration and instruction for their fellow colonists.  Kneeland and Adams spotted an opportunity to make money in the commercial marketplace.  Regardless of their motivations, publishing this volume contributed to the discourse in the marketplace of ideas.  As printers, they helped shape public sentiment.

Thomas Fleet, Jr., and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, also played a role in making the “NARRATIVE” available to the public.  Their newspaper not only carried Kneeland and Adams’s advertisement but also gave it a prominent place.  The advertisements for the July 16 edition commenced with a notice calling on “All Persons indebted for this Paper” to settle accounts followed immediately by the advertisement for the “NARRATIVE.”  Such placement increased the likelihood that readers would take note of the advertisement if they read through the news and then opted to skip the paid notices.  A note that “Advertisements omitted shall be on our next” indicates that the Fleets made choices about which advertisements to include.  Maybe they selected this advertisement because it was timely, with publication scheduled for “Next WEDNESDAY,” or as a courtesy to fellow printers, but their own feelings about the Boston Massacre may have part of their decision.  Thomas described the Fleets as “good citizens” and lauded the “impartiality with which the paper was conducted, in those most critical times, the authenticity of its news, and the judicious selections of its publishers.”[2]  Even if they were not explicitly promoting the patriot cause, the Fleets likely saw the dissemination of additional information about the Boston Massacre as an important service.

Historians debate whether eighteenth-century printers intentionally sought to shape public opinion in the era of the American Revolution or whether they aimed to earn their living by printing political tracts, prints, and other items.  One does not necessarily exclude the other.  Regardless of the motivations of the printers, the publication of these materials and the advertisements that promoted them contributed to the debates of the period.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America:  With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 148.

[2] Thomas, History of Printing, 143.

June 28

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

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

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

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

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

June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:7:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (June 7, 1770).

“American manufactured, BROWN and mixed coloured THREAD STOCKINGS.”

Advertisers considered “Buy American” a powerful appeal that would resonate with consumers even before the American Revolution.  The number and frequency of newspaper advertisements encouraging readers to “Buy American” increased during the decade of the imperial crisis, especially at times when colonists subscribed to nonimportation agreements as a means of exerting economic leverage to achieve political goals.  Goods produced in the colonies offered an attractive alternative to those made elsewhere and imported.

William Hales apparently considered “Buy American” such a compelling appeal that he made it the centerpiece of the brief advertisement he inserted in the June 7, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  In its entirety, his advertisement announced, “American manufactured, BROWN and mixed coloured THREAD STOCKINGS, very good.  A few Dozen Pair, to be SOLD, by WILLIAM HALES.”  The phrase “American manufactured” served as both headline and the most important descriptor of the stockings, as though Hales expected making such an appeal by itself might be enough to convince prospective customers to make a purchase.  For those anxious that domestic manufactures might be inferior in quality to imported goods, he asserted that the stockings were indeed “very good,” but did not provide further elaboration.  Bales attempted to keep attention focused primarily on the fact that the stockings were “American manufactured.”  The compositor also did Hales a favor by positioning his advertisement at the top of the column, making the “American manufactured” headline all the more visible to readers and perhaps even implicitly suggesting that the advertisement took precedence over any that appeared below it in the same column or elsewhere on the page.

Hales certainly wished to sell the stockings that he advertised, but it is possible that he had additional motivations for inserting his notice in the South-Carolina Gazette.  He announced to the entire community his interest in producing goods in the colonies, enhancing his own standing and reputation.  His advertisement also served as encouragement for readers to make other purchases of “American manufactured” goods.  Readers could not have missed the political implications of his appeal, especially since the same notice concerning violations of the nonimportation agreement that appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal two days earlier also ran in this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Perhaps the political statement inherent in announcing “American manufactured” stockings for sale was just as important to Bales as selling those stockings.

April 20

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

Apr 20 - 4:20:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (April 20, 1770).

“He makes and sells all Kinds of FELT HATS.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s the New-London Gazette carried fewer advertisements than most other newspapers printed in the colonies, in large part due to being published in a smaller town than most of its counterparts.  Those advertisements that did appear in the New-London Gazette, however, tended to replicate the marketing strategies deployed in advertisements published in other newspapers.  T.H. Breen asserts that colonists experienced a standardization of consumer goods available for purchase from New England to Georgia.[1]  They also encountered a standardization in advertising practices when they read the notices in colonial newspaper.

Consider an advertisement that Abiezer Smith, “HATTER, at NORWICH-LANDING,” placed in the April 20, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette.  He informed prospective customers that he had “served a regular Apprenticeship to the FELT MANUFACTURE.”  Artisans frequently listed their credentials, especially upon arriving in town from elsewhere or opening a new business.  Since they did not benefit from cultivating a reputation among local consumers over time, they adopted other means of signaling that they were qualified to follow the trade they advertised.  In addition to consumers, Smith addressed retailers, the “Merchants and Shopkeepers in the Country” that he hoped would stock his hats.

Smith also made an appeal to quality and connected it to contemporary political discourse, just as advertisers in Boston and New York were doing during at the time.  The hatter at Norwich Landing proclaimed that his hats were “equal in goodness to any manufactured in this Country.”  Yet that assurance of quality was not sufficient.  He also declared his wares were preferable to any imported from Europe or elsewhere.”  Although the duties on most imported goods had been repealed, news had not yet arrived in the colonies.  For the moment, Smith stood to benefit from nonimportation agreements that prompted consumers to purchase “domestic manufactures” instead, provided that he made prospective customers aware of his product.  For retailers, he offered a new source of merchandise.  Even though his appeal would have less political resonance in the coming months, the quality remained consistent.  Many colonial consumers tended to prefer imported goods, but Smith offered an alternative that did not ask them to sacrifice the value for their money.

Smith’s advertisement could have appeared in any other newspaper in the colonies.  Indeed, given the scarcity of advertising in the New-London Gazette, he very well may have consulted (or at least had in mind) newspapers from other towns and cities when he wrote the copy for his advertisement.  His appeals that invoked his training, the quality of his wares, and the political significance of purchasing his hats made his advertisement resemble others placed by American artisans in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (1988): 81-84

April 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 12

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

Apr 12 - 4:12:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (April 12, 1770).

“He purposes to pack it in Country made Pots.”

Richard Thompson, “the Manufacturer of TOBACCO and SNUFF at Blackensburg,” placed an advertisement for his ware in the April 12, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  He invited “Gentleman Merchants,” factors, and others to submit orders for wholesale purchases quickly or else risk missing out since “it is highly probable he may enter into such Engagements, as will effectually hinder his supplying them with the Quantities that may want.”  He also listed his various products for the benefit of both wholesale and retail customers: “plain Scotch, Rapee, Spanish, and high Toast Snuff, and many Sorts of those different Kinds.”

Thompson also devoted a portion of his advertisement to the packaging for his snuff, noting that out of necessity it might deviate from what consumers expected.  He anticipated that his “present Stock” of snuff bottles would run out, forcing him to “pack [his snuff] in Country made Pots.”  Although that was not the usual or preferred form of packaging, Thompson argued that it should not dissuade customers from acquiring his snuff.  He invoked current events to make his case to principled prospective customers.  “In these Tomes of Oppression, when Patriotism is the Theme of every Lover of his County,” he declared, “it is hoped that the Want of Bottles will be no Obstacle in the Sale of his Snuff.”  Thompson suggested that consumers should accept or even welcome a minor inconvenience if it meant purchasing goods produced in the colonies rather than imported from Britain.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the king gave royal assent to repealing duties on imported glass, paper, paint, and lead on the same day that Thompson’s advertisement first appeared in the Maryland Gazette, but colonists would not learn that news for many weeks.  For the moment, nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of the duties imposed in the Townshend Acts remained in effect, a powerful symbol for both merchants and consumers.  Like others who advertised domestic manufactures as alternatives to imported goods, Thompson offered yet another avenue for practicing politics in the marketplace by purchasing his snuff packed “in Country made Pots.”

April 9

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 9, 1770).

“A small Assortment of English Goods.”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson placed an advertisement offering cash for “POT and PEARL ASH” in the April 9, 1770, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  In that same advertisement they offered for sale a “small Assortment of English Goods.”  They did not confine themselves to advertising in the Boston Evening-Post alone.  That same day they inserted the same advertisement in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Later in the week, their advertisement also ran in the April 12 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, the Boston Chronicle was the only one that did not carry Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement.

Even though they attempted to increase the number of readers who would see their advertisement, they may have declined to place it in the Chronicle for a couple of reasons.  Politics may have played a part:  the Chronicle had earned a much-deserved reputation as a Loyalist newspaper.  Smith and Atkinson may not have wished to be associated with the newspaper or its printers.  The potential return on their investment may have also influenced their decision.  The Chronicle ran far fewer advertisements than any of the other newspapers published in Boston, suggesting that it likely had fewer readers.  Smith and Atkinson may not have considered inserting their advertisement in the Chronicle worth the expense.

In addition, the political argument they made in their advertisement would not have fit the Chronicle’s outlook and reputation.  Smith and Atkinson carefully specified that their English goods had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.”  They abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of duties assessed on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.  They suggested that consumers should abide by the agreement as well, grafting politics onto decisions about their participation in the marketplace.  The Chronicle, on the other hand, devoted significant effort to accusing patriot leaders and merchants of secretly cheating on the nonimportation agreement and misleading their customers and the public.

When Smith and Atkinson decided to advertise in most of Boston’s newspapers, they likely had more than one motivation for doing so.  They did not necessarily seek merely to attract customers for their goods.  Their strategy allowed them to widely publicize that they abided by the political principles adopted by most of their community, enhancing their reputation among readers even if those readers did not become customers.

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.