June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:5:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 5, 1770).

“ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES … VIOLATORS OF THE RESOLUTIONS.”

The “GENERAL COMMITTEE” responsible for overseeing adherence to the nonimportation agreement adopted in Charleston in July 1769 ran an advertisement in the June 5, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform the community of two violations.  The story of the first had unfolded over several months.  Benjamin Mathewes, a merchant and “Subscriber to the Resolutions,” had imported “sundry Goods from London” in January, but upon being detected had “voluntarily agreed to store” them until nonimportation came to an end and “a general Importation should take Place.”  The committee published the new agreement that Mathewes signed to that effect.

For many colonists caught in such circumstances that was the end of the story.  Newspaper notices published in several colonies documented violators attempting to rehabilitate their reputations and relationships with the community by making special effort to abide by the terms of the nonimportation agreed after they had been discovered deviating from it.  Such was the case for William Glen and Son, “having also been guilty of a Breach of the Resolutions.”  Glen and Son acknowledged that they had imported some textiles “contrary to the Resolutions” and then agreed to store them for the duration of the boycott.  However, “through Mistake” they “disposed of a few Pieces.”  For that error, they “declare our Sorrow” and promised to “adhere strictly to the Resolutions” in the future.  Glen and Son also agreed to deposit the remainder of the textiles and other goods “in the public Stores” where they would not have access to them, thus offering reassurance that the mistake would not happen again.  The committee stated that Glen and Son depicted the incident as “an Act of Inadvertence, rather than Design” and recommended that their pledge to turn over the remaining textiles “will be received as a sufficient Atonement for their Fault, and restore them to the Public’s Favour and Confidence.”

Mathewes, on the other hand, did not make the same effort to demonstrate his recalcitrance, prompting the committee to take a different approach to his case.  Although he affixed his signature to an apology and claimed that he would turn over the goods, the Committee of Inspection discovered that “many of the said Goods … had been opened” and sold.  Mathewes claimed that his mother, Ann, also a subscriber to the nonimportation agreement, had been responsible for their sale while he was away from town.  Neither mother nor son “ma[d]e proper Satisfaction to the Public for such shameful Breach of their sacred Contracts.”  Indeed, the elder Mathewes continued to sell the goods “in manifest Violation of the said Resolutions.”

This resulted in consequences.  Although the General Committee had shown “all possible Lenity and Forbearance” in attempting to resolve the situation, they came to the point that they deemed it necessary to advertise “ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES, as VIOLATORS OF THE RESOLUTIONS.”  The committee asserted that these violators were guilty of “counteracting the united Sentiments of the whole Body of the People, not only in this, but all the Northern Provinces; and prefering their own little private Advantage to the general Good of AMERICA.”  The Mathewes had betrayed both consumers and their country.  The Committee even more stridently made that point, proclaiming that “every such Violator should be treated with the utmost Contempt.”  Furthermore, the committee instructed those who supported the nonimportation agreement “against having any commercial Dealings whatever with the said ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES.”  Until they took the necessary actions to redeem themselves, “their Actions must declare them to be obstinate and inveterate Enemies to their Country, and unworthy of the least Confidence or Esteem.”

The General Committee told two stories of violations of the nonimportation agreement, one about the contrite Glen and Son and the other about two generations of the Mathewes family who refused to abide by the resolutions they had signed.  In each instance, the committee made recommendations for how members of the community should interpret these actions and react to the perpetrators.  By publishing this advertisement, the committee used the power of the press in their efforts to achieve compliance with the agreement and shape the narrative of resistance to the duties on certain imported goods that Parliament imposed in the Townshend Acts.

March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 30, 1770).

“The trifling expence of a News Paper.”

Colonists did not have to subscribe to newspapers to gain access to their contents.  Some subscribers passed along newspapers to friends and neighbors.  A single newspaper could change hands several times.  Proprietors of coffeehouses often subscribed to a variety of newspapers that they made available to their patrons, just one of the many amenities intended to make their establishments more cosmopolitan and attractive to customers.  Colonists sometimes read aloud from newspapers in taverns, sharing news and editorials with larger audiences than read the articles themselves.  Colonists did not need to subscribe in order to read or hear about the news.  They could gain access to newspapers in public venues … or they could steal them.

The theft of newspapers was a sufficiently chronic problem that Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a notice in the March 30, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The Fowles excoriated the “mean, lowliv’d Fellows, who have not Souls large enough to be at the trifling expence of a News Paper, yet are continually stealing their Neighbours, and others.”  The Fowles did not deliver the New-Hampshire Gazettedirectly to subscribers.  Instead, they dispatched copies from their printing office in Portsmouth to taverns “in the several Country Towns” with the intention that subscribers would pick them up or arrange for delivery by a local carrier.  Too many “lowliv’d Fellows,” however, interfered with the system by picking up newspapers that belonged to others and “never deliver[ing them] to the proper Owners.”

The Fowles were concerned about subscribers not receiving their newspapers, but they were just as worried about the impact this “vile and scandalous Practice” would have on their business.  Customers who regularly did not receive their newspapers were likely to discontinue their subscriptions.  Theft endangered another important revenue stream.  The Fowles lamented that the missing newspapers were “often a Damage on Account of Advertisements,” a twofold problem.  First, advertising represented significant revenue that made it possible to disseminate the news.  If prospective advertisers suspected that their advertisements did not reach the intended audiences then they might refrain from placing them.  Second, many advertisements, especially notices about public meetings, estate notices, and legal notices, delivered news that supplemented the articles, editorials, and letters that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  Advertisements underwrote the newspaper business while also informing readers of matters of public interest.

The situation reached a point that the Fowles called on their “good Customers” to inform them “of those Fellows Names” who had “abused both the Customers & Printers in this Way for Years past.”  The Fowles planned to publish a list of the offenders, a public shaming that included descriptions of “their proper Character,” as well as prosecute them “as the Law directs for stopping Letters, News Papers.”  Newspaper advertisements frequently reported the theft of consumer goods in eighteenth-century America, but this notice indicates that “lowliv’d Fellows” also stole newspapers and, by extension, access to information.