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.

June 13

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

Jun 13 - 6:13:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 13, 1766).

“BOYS and GIRLS to be bound out in Town or Country … as Apprentices.”

In today’s advertisement the Overseers of the Poor issued a call for provisions at the “WORK HOUSE,” an establishment also known as the almshouse, the poorhouse, or, sometimes, the bettering house. The men, women, and children who resided there were known as inmates.

Towns in New England and elsewhere throughout the American colonies devised various methods of dealing with poor residents. Sometimes they provided “outdoor relief” via officials known as the Overseers of the Poor, funded by taxes. Under that system, the Overseers of the Poor gave money, food, clothing, or other goods directly to impoverished residents. In contrast, “indoor relief” took an institutional approach, requiring recipients of aid to enter a workhouse. Several historians, including Billy G. Smith, have noted that the proportion of colonists who relied on public relief increased in the 1760s, especially in urban centers, due in part to the disruptions of the Seven Years War. A feminization of poverty occurred as the war made wives into widows who could not support themselves and their children.

Many colonists who paid taxes preferred workhouses over outdoor relief, considering them less expensive to maintain. Towns also became more stringent in their residency requirements for receiving aid, choosing instead to “warn off” indigents.

The advertisement concludes with a nota bene informing readers that children in the workhouse could be “bound out in Town or Country … as Apprentices.” The Overseers of the Poor hoped that this might decrease their expenses while also helping boys and girls develop skills that would later allow them to pursue occupations and support themselves in adulthood rather than relying on additional public aid.

Perhaps some of the goods advertised elsewhere in the newspaper were among the “Provisions of any Kind” that residents of Portsmouth were encouraged to either donate to the workhouse or turn over in lieu of taxes.