What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“For the Encouragement of those who are willing to promote American Manufactories.”
While the Townshend Acts remained in effect, imposing duties on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea imported in the American colonies, the number and frequency of newspaper advertisements promoting “American manufactories” increased. The partnership of Gilpin and Fisher joined the chorus of advertisers encouraging colonists to “Buy American” in the late 1760s. In an advertisement for their “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” in the October 5, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Gilpin and Fisher extolled the quality of their product. They proclaimed that they “spar[ed] no Pains or Expence to render” their snuff “equal to any made here” or, more significantly, “imported from abroad. That was not merely their own puffery but rather the assessment of “some of the best Judges,” though Gilpin and Fisher did not publish their “concurrent Testimonies” nor name those “Judges.” Still, they made their point: consumers did not have to sacrifice quality when purchasing from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” instead of buying imported alternatives.
Elsewhere in the advertisement, they incorporated another popular element of the “Buy American” motif that emerged in response to an imbalance of trade with Britain, the Townshend Acts, and nonimportation agreements adopted in cities and towns in several colonies. According to many editorials and advertisements, American consumers had a moral imperative to purchase goods produced in the colonies. Doing so would correct the trade imbalance while simultaneously exerting economic resistance to Parliament’s attempts to tax the colonies via import duties. Joshua Fisher and Sons sold the snuff “by the Bottle, Dozen, or Gross,” offering discounts to those who bought in bulk. To convince both consumers and retailers to take advantage of such deals, the tobacconists called on those “willing to promote American manufactories.” The two appeals buttressed each other: purchasing “domestic manufactures” was good politics but also savvy business when getting a bargain for doing so. The “Considerable Allowance” promised to those who purchased by volume likely made products from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” even more enticing for prospective customers who wanted to practice politics through their decisions in the marketplace.
The imperial crisis and American reactions to it did not unfold solely in the news items and editorials in colonial newspapers. Instead, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others addressed the political issues of the day in their advertisements. The appeals they made to consumers helped to shape American resistance to Parliament’s attempts to raise revenues and regulate commerce in the colonies.
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“These are Manufactures America can have within herself.”
When George Traile advertised his “Manufactory of Snuff and Tobacco” in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in August 1769, he provided a short history of his business. Formerly located in New Rochelle, the manufactory had recently moved “to the Snuff Mills in the Bowery” in New York. Traile promoted the quality of his snuff, but he also had an eye for current tastes that ventured far beyond the American colonies. He proclaimed that he made and sold “all Sorts of Rappee now in Vogue in Great-Britain and Ireland, France and Holland.” Local consumers could acquire the varieties of snuff currently in fashion in some of the most cosmopolitan places in the Atlantic world without having to import it!
That assertion served as the backbone of Traile’s advertisement. After making brief comments about quality and fashion, he devoted most of his advertisement to a lesson in politics. He likely assumed this strategy would resonate with colonists currently participating in nonimportation agreements as economic acts of resistance to the taxes on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea levied by the Townshend Acts. As far as his Traile’s tobacco was concerned, “These are Manufactures America can have within herself, as good and as cheap as they can be imported.” Customers did not need to sacrifice quality or pay higher prices when they allowed politics to guide their purchases.
Traile charged true patriots with a duty to buy his snuff: “the Encouragement of this Branch of Business in the Colonies, will be found an Object highly worth the Attention of every real Patriot.” Furthermore, “as the popular Prejudices to the Snuff of this Country, are pretty much subsided all over the Colonies, he flatters himself he will meet with that Encouragement the Quality of his Commodities shall deserve, from every well Wisher to America.” In other words, colonists near and far preferred snuff produced in the colonies, provided it was quality merchandise, so anybody who had the best interests of the colonies at heart should eagerly purchase Traile’s snuff since he endeavored to provide the best product available. This was not an insignificant matter. Traile asked prospective customers who counted themselves among “the thinking Part of Mankind” to consider the annual expenses for snuff incurred by “Three Millions of People now computed to be upon this Continent.” Traile presented a vision of each consumer acting separately yet contributing to a collective action in defense of the rights and liberties of the colonies. He encouraged concerned colonists to practice politics through their participating in the marketplace, purchasing the right tobacco from his manufactory in New York City.
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
This advertisement showcased a public vendue held at an “Auction-Room in Queen Street” in Boston. J. Russell, the auctioneer, sold mainly clothing and household items, but what I found interesting was the “Scotch Snuff.” I know that tobacco was a major cash crop in the colonies, along with sugar, rice, and indigo, but I figured that tobacco was only smoked during this time.
As I researched this product I realized that there was an interesting history behind it. With the amount of trade that was flowing throughout the Atlantic, snuff thrived in the colonies and Europe. According to an exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American history, the labels on snuff packages even “reflected the trade links between Virginia and England.” Plantation owners who sold tobacco to be made into snuff prospered from this product. Since it became so popular in the colonies, by 1750 tobacconists changed the way it was produced. According to Edwin Tunis, author of Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry, initially tobacco was grounded into snuff by using had mortars by hand and was produced it small quantities. Later, tobacconists began “grinding it with water power, either between ordinary milestones, like flour, or in large mortars.” Tobacco was a commodity that was high in demand in the colonies so it is no surprise that snuff also became popular.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Most advertisers of consumer goods and services extended open invitations for potential customers to visit their shops, examine their merchandise, and make purchases whenever they wished. Public vendues (or auctions) operated differently. In her recent work on auctions in early America, Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor underscores the importance of setting a specific time for public vendues and, as a result, gathering colonists together to socialize and be entertained during the sale. Purchasing consumer goods, Hartigan-O’Connor argues, did not occur solely in transactions between shopkeeper and customer. Instead, some purchases were on display as part of larger events.
By necessity, advertisements for auctions specified a time that the sale would be held. Such information was as critical as the location or the list of goods up for bid. When they advertised in newspapers, most colonists selling goods at auction ran their advertisements at least a week in advance and often much earlier. A successful sale depended on attracting as many potential customers as possible. Letting others know when an auction would occur was especially critical if it was a one-time-only or irregularly scheduled event.
Russell, however, regularly held public vendues in his “Auction-Room in Queen Street” in Boston. His frequent advertisements alerted readers to at least one auction a week. In the advertisement that Nicholas selected for today, the time of the auction received first billing. “THIS DAY” appeared in a larger font than anything else in the advertisement, signaling that the rest of the content merited attention immediately because it was so time-sensitive. The notice continued by specifying that the auction would take place “At ELEVEN o’Clock in the Morning, AND At THREE o’Clock Afternoon.” In addition to placing this advertisement, Russell may have displayed a red flag outside his “Auction-Room,” another method of announcing a sale would take place that day (but one that did not rely on print or the distribution of newspapers or other advertising media).
That Russell scheduled his auction for “THIS DAY” caught my attention because R. & S. Draper usually published the Massachusetts Gazette on Thursdays in 1766, but for some reason this issue was delayed and appeared on Friday, November 28, 1766, rather than Thursday, November 27. Considering the news items and dozens of advertisements, had the Drapers remembered to adjust the date accordingly from “TOMORROW” (what should have appeared if the newspaper had been published on the 27th, just as it appeared in Russell’s advertisement printed in the issue from the 20th) to “THIS DAY” instead? Did this advertisement actually appear the day after the announced sale took place?
Given how often Russell advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette, constantly updating his copy to reflect auction dates and times as well as merchandise, it seems likely that the Drapers would have given special attention to his advertisement for that week, realizing that it needed to be revised accordingly to fit the schedule of their newspaper’s delayed publication. Not inconsequentially, Russell’s advertisement appeared immediately below a notice that read, in its entirety, “New Advertisements. THE Committee of the House of Representatives, to consider the Difficulties of the Trade of the Province, will meet again this Afternoon at 3 o’Clock, at the Representatives Room.” Russell had some competition for his auction “At THREE o”Clock Afternoon” that day, but the proximity of the two advertisements suggests that the Drapers made any necessary adjustments to the copy when they decided to distribute the issue a day later than usual.
That Russell’s advertisement announced a sale to be held “At ELEVEN o’CLOCK in the Morning” on “THIS DAY” brings up an issue for consideration another time. How early in the day did the Massachusetts Gazette need to be distributed in order for this to be an effective advertisement? Even with delayed publication, it was not the first time that Russell placed a “THIS DAY” advertisement. He apparently believed the newspaper circulated with sufficient time for potential customers to read it or else he would not have invested in the advertisement.
 Edwin Tunis, Colonial Craftsman: And the Beginnings of American Industry (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1957), 52.
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Any Gentlemen may be supplied with the same … in Norfolk, and … in Williamsburg.”
Philip Watson sold “POOLE’s best Scotch SNUFF” to customers in Shockoe, but that was not the only place in the colony that readers of the Virginia Gazette could purchase this product. Watson concluded his advertisement with a nota bene stating that “Any Gentlemen may be supplied with the same at Mr. Thomas Hepburn’s in Norfolk, and at Mr. James Southall’s in Williamsburg.”
The nota bene demonstrates two aspects of doing business in colonial Virginia. First, it points to the distribution of consumer goods, in this case “POOLE’s best Scotch SNUFF” in particular. Watson knew that many readers of the Virginia Gazette would not find it practical to call on him in Shockoe, so he offered additional locations that carried the same product. In order to make as many sales as possible, Watson incorporated convenience as part of his customer service.
That Watson listed three locations in three towns also testifies to the reach of newspaper distribution in the 1760s in Virginia and other colonies. Newspapers did not serve just the city or town in which they were printed. They passed through networks of subscribers and other readers throughout the city or town’s hinterland and beyond. Even in colonies with multiple newspapers, they tended to be printed in just one city. As a result, advertisements reached far beyond the places where newspapers were printed. Philip Watson could confidently place an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette, printed in the colony’s capital, and know that it would reach readers in Shockoe and Norfolk as well as Williamsburg.
As an aside, this advertisements also points to some of the difficulty using eighteenth-century names for towns. Where was Shockoe? Did Watson mean the relatively remote area that is currently an unincorporated community in Pittsylvania County? Probably not. It’s much more likely that he sold “POOLE’s best Scotch SNUFF” in what became Richmond – on the James River, the colony’s main waterway and means of transporting tobacco and other goods – which now contains the neighborhoods of Shockoe Hill, Shockoe Slip, and Shockoe Bottom. As with many other aspects of eighteenth-century advertisements, contemporary readers needed no explanation of the location of Shockoe.