March 8

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

Mar 8 - 3:7:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 7, 1766).

“This masterly Performance merits the closest Attention and Consideration of every true SON OF AMERICA, the Propriety of imposing TAXES on free Subjects.”

Yesterday’s advertisements from the New-Hampshire Gazette testified to the connections between slavery and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Slavery was discussed elsewhere on the same page of that issue, though it was slavery of a different sort. The printers inserted several letters forwarded by the “true born Sons of Liberty” concerning the continuing controversy over the Stamp Act. The American protestors were “determined to use there utmost Efforts to prevent even the Appearance of Slavery.” Meanwhile, readers who glanced two columns to the left would have seen the advertisements for “BARBADOS whitest LOAF SUGAR” and “A NEGRO BOY.”

Today’s advertisement appeared on the previous page. It does not include the word “slavery,” but other items published in the same issue demonstrate that many readers consciously linked the Stamp Act and enslavement (even as they may have attempted to eschew associations between sugar and slavery). In American Slavery, American Freedom (1975), Edmund S. Morgan explored the paradox of the founding of the American nation: the rhetoric of freedom and equality during the Revolution and after occurred with the enslavement of black laborers as its backdrop throughout the colonial era and beyond. The liberty of white Americans was contingent in many ways on the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, a distressing contradiction.

Today’s advertisement is certainly evidence that advertising and consumer culture took on a political valence in the years of the imperial crisis, but a story of patriotic advertising would be an incomplete story. Just as yesterday’s advertisements for sugar and an enslaved boy were bound together, the stories of Americans advocating (and eventually fighting) for their liberties and simultaneously continuing to practice slavery cannot be separated from each other.

January 30

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

Jan 30 - 1:30:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 30, 1766)

“This masterly Performance merits the closest Attention and Consideration of every true SON of AMERICA the Propriety of imposing TAXES on free Subjects without their Consent.”

The Stamp Act crisis and protests spilled over into advertisements for consumer goods in colonial newspapers.  In late 1765 and early 1766 newspapers were filled with editorials opposing the Stamp Act as well as news items about debates and protests reprinted from far and wide.  Nonimportation agreements altered consumer culture, but, as this advertisement and others indicate, the imperial crisis transformed the meaning of consumption in other ways as well.

Printers and booksellers might be considered opportunistic for taking advantage of a political crisis to market and sell newspapers, books, and pamphlets, but believing in a cause and being entrepreneurial were not mutually exclusive.  Publications that considered “the Propriety of imposing Taxes in the British Colonies” based on “Knowledge of the Laws of our Mother-Country” reflected many printers’  views and likely shaped the political attitudes of many colonists, prompting them to further consider resistance efforts and, eventually, revolution.

Even if colonists did not buy and read such any particular publication, encountering  advertisements like this one yielded a certain consistency throughout the various sections of the newspaper.  Commerce and consumption could not be separated from politics in an easily classified manner.