What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Choice Labradore Tea.”
Two advertisements in the January 29, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette promoted tea to colonial consumers. William Vans advertised “CHOICE Bohea Tea by the Hundred, Dozen or single Pound,” acknowledging the demand for imported tea. Robert Bartlett, on the other hand, sold “Choice Labradore Tea,” an alternative produced in the colonies. As Lisa L. Petrocich explains, “Colonists brewed Labrador, or Labradore, tea from the Ledum groenlandicum evergreen plant that grows in New England, and the Middle Atlantic, and the Midwest.”
Bartlett emphasized the medicinal qualities of Labradore tea in his advertisement, advising prospective customers that the product was “esteemed as very wholesome, & good for the Rheumatism, Spleen, and many other Disorders and Pains.” He also hawked a medicine that he described as “an infallible Cure for the Tooth-Ach.” Bartlett focused on providing remedies for ailments rather than rehearsing the recent history of tea consumption in the colonies, but he almost certainly depended on consumers possessing some familiarity with the politics of Labradore tea. The import duties on glass, paper, lead, and paint imposed in the Townshend Acts had been repealed the previous year, prompting colonists to call an end to the nonimportation agreements adopted in protest, but the tax on tea remained. Some stalwarts argued that was reason enough to continue the boycotts until Parliament met all of their demands by repealing the duty on tea as well, but both merchants and consumers eager to resume trade and gain access to imported goods once again overruled them. Before that debate, however, newspapers, especially newspapers published in New England, ran news items, editorials, puff pieces, and advertisements that educated the public about Labradore tea and promoted it as an alternative to Bohea and other imported teas.
Bartlett eschewed politics in his advertisement, perhaps not wanting to alienate prospective customers who advocated for resuming trade with Britain, but the political meaning of choosing Labradore tea likely still resonated with many readers of the Essex Gazette. That Bartlett advertised Labradore tea at all indicated that he believed he believed a market for it still existed and that he could incite greater demand by presenting it as a remedy for various ailments.
 Lisa L. Petrovich, “More than the Boston Tea Party: Tea in American Culture, 1760s-1840s” (master’s thesis, University of Colorado, 2013), 24.