What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Every City and populous Town in America have some Regulations with regard to Sled and Cart Loads of Wood.”
An advertisement for an ingenious “Table, calculated to shew the Contents … of any Sled Load or Cart Load of WOOD” ran in the March 8, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The helpful resource had been published in Boston, but Samuel Freeman sold copies at Falmouth in Casco Bay (or Maine, still part of Massachusetts at the time) and Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle also had a few copies at their printing office in Portsmouth. The bulk of the advertisement, that portion printed in italics unlike all other advertisements in that issue, consisted of an explanation of the purpose of the table and an argument for adopting new policies for selling wood in Portsmouth. It does not seem clear that Samuel Freeman composed the entire advertisement. Instead, the printers may have seized an opportunity to advocate on behalf of a measure they considered useful.
“Every City and populous Town in America,” explained the portion of the advertisement possibly penned by the Fowles, “have some Regulation with regard to Sled and Cart Loads of Wood, Portsmouth only excepted.” With some dismay, the advertisement exclaimed that “now even Casco-Bay are regulating these Matters before us.” How did this work and why was it important? Looking to Boston, the advertisement explained that “Officers are appointed to Measure every Load” and then they gave each driver “a Certificate that the Load contains so much Wood.” The driver then sold that load “agreeable to said Certificate & at the Market price.” Adopting this system of invoking weights and measures to regulate those selling wood meant that if a drive “asks more” than the market price or “offers to sell [wood] without” the certificate “he is sure of being called to an Account.” This policy protected consumers when they purchased a valuable resource for heating their homes, stores, and workshops.
Portsmouth did not have such a policy. “How different this from the practice here may easily be seen,” the advertisement noted, before recommending that residents of the town might benefit from such a system. The advertisement concluded with a suggestion that a similar policy might be “proposed to the Consideration of the Town, at the ensuing annual Meeting” at the end of the month. The Fowles stood to benefit from printing and selling tables measuring wood, but that would not necessarily have been their only motivation in advocating for a policy that benefited all consumers. Like many other advertisements, this one demonstrates that discourses about politics and policies were not confined to news accounts and editorials that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers. Advertisers regularly discussed politics, endorsed nonimportation agreements, and encouraged domestic manufactures throughout the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution. In this example, however, colonists used an advertisement to garner support for a local ordinance that would bring Portsmouth in line with other towns.