What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At the Sign of the Marquis of Rockingham.”
In early July 1770, Thomas Achincloss placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform consumers that he sold “a Variety of English Goods, suitable to the Season,” at his shop on King Street in Portsmouth. To help prospective customers identify his location, he reported that his shop was “next Door to Jacob Tilton’s,” an inn and tavern “at the Sign of the Marquis of Rockingham.” Tilton’s choice of a device to mark his establishment resonated with cultural and political meaning in ways that other tavern and shop signs often did not. Samuel Wheeler, a cutler in Philadelphia, marked his workshop with “the sign of the Scythe, Sickle and Brand-iron.” His sign depicted the products he made and sold. Duffield and Delany, druggists in Philadelphia, operated their shop “At Boerhaave’s Head.” Like other eighteenth-century apothecaries, they associated Herman Boerhaave, the influential Dutch physician and botanist, with their business due to his renown as a healer.
In contrast, Tilton did not name his inn and tavern for the Marquis of Rockingham due to any particular connection between the British peer and keeping a public house but instead as a cultural and political statement. Charles Watson-Wentworth, the second Marquess of Rockingham, served as Prime Minister from July 13, 1765, through July 30, 1766. During that brief tenure in the office, the American colonies dominated Parliament’s attention. The Stamp Act went into effect on November 1, 1765, but Rockingham wished to repeal it. The House of Commons heard testimony about the Stamp Act for three days in February 1766 and voted to repeal the measure on February 21. George III gave royal assent on March 18. Internal dissent within the cabinet lead to Rockingham’s resignation a few months later. He spent the next years in opposition, further enhancing his reputation as a supporter of constitutional rights for the American colonies. He would briefly become Prime Minister again in 1782, during the final years of the American Revolution. He used his influence to encourage the British government to acknowledge the independence of the United States. Already in the late 1760s and early 1770s, the Marquis of Rockingham had a reputation as a friend to the American colonies and a defender of their liberties within the British Empire. Tilton recognized this and amplified Rockingham’s political stance by making him the personification of the inn and tavern he ran in Portsmouth, New Hampshire during the era of the imperial crisis that ultimately resulted in the American Revolution.