May 7

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

May 7 - 5:4:1769 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 4, 1769).
“Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box.”

In the spring of 1769, Freer Armston,, a chandler and soap boiler in Norfolk, Virginia, attempted to enlarge his market by expanding his operations into Williamsburg. He placed an advertisement in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette to inform prospective customers that he had opened a new shop where he sold “TALLOW CANDLES as good as any on the continent.” With such a bold statement, Armston favorably compared his wares to any others that consumers could acquire.

To make his candles even more attractive, he took the unusual step of naming their price in his advertisement: “by the box 11 d. paying freight from Norfolk.” Advertisers rarely listed prices in eighteenth-century newspapers, though many often made general appeals to low or reasonable prices. Readers likely knew what to expect to pay for a box of tallow candles from other chandlers and shopkeepers in Williamsburg. As a newcomer, Armston attempted to stimulate interest in his merchandise by allowing prospective customers to assess on their own whether he offered a deal. He did the same for his “Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box, or 7d. halfpenny [sic] small quantities.” He was not as verbose about the quality of his soap, simply describing it as “Best,” and instead emphasized the price and potential savings by buying in bulk. Customers saved twenty percent when they purchased an entire box of hard soap.

Armston also sought to establish that he was a careful and responsible entrepreneur. In addition to selling candles and soap, he asked readers to provide him with supplies, especially “good WOOD ASHES” used in the production of soap, for which he offered “goods or money.” He was vigilant when it came to accepting ashes from Black men and women, assuming that some did not acquire them by legitimate means. Armston instructed that “all persons that send by or give their ashes to Negroes” must also send a note specifying that they had done so or else he would not accept them. The chandler and soap boiler was not about to give “goods or money” to Black people who could not demonstrate how they came into possession of ashes they delivered to his shop. In addition to offering quality goods at low prices, Armston depicted himself as a good neighbor who attended to maintaining proper order in his business dealings.

October 1

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

Oct 1 - 10:1:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 1, 1768).

The Establishment of Manufactories is essentially necessary to the Well-being of the British Colonies.”

Resistance to the Townshend Act played out in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods published in the fall of 1768. Two types of boycotts – nonimportation agreements and nonconsumption agreements – were among the most effective means of resistance adopted by colonists during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Colonists sought to leverage their economic power to achieve political goals. As Americans throughout the colonies prepared to participate in a new nonimportation agreement set to go into effect on January 1, 1769, John White, a “Tallowchandler and Soapboiler, from London,” joined an increasingly familiar refrain of artisans who promoted goods produced in the colonies.

White placed an advertisement in Providence Gazette to inform readers in “Town and Country” that he had “set up a Manufactory … in the main Street of the Town of Providence.” The tallow chandler and soap boiler devoted a significant portion of his advertisement to advancing an appeal that resonated with contemporary discussions about politics and the relationship between Parliament and colonies. “At a Time when the Establishment of Manufactories is essentially necessary to the Well-being of the British Colonies,” White proclaimed, “it is hoped and expected that a suitable Encouragement will not be found wanting in a people, who, upon all Occasions, have manifested a high Regard to the true Interests of their Country.” He did not merely announce the availability of locally produced soap and candles; he framed purchasing those items as the civic responsibility of colonists, a means of demonstrating that they indeed “manifested a high Regard to the true Interests of their Country.” Lest any should suspect that they might do so at the expense of acquiring quality goods, White offered assurances that his soap and candles were “wrought as well as they are done in London, or any Part of Europe.” Prospective customers did not need to fear sacrificing quality when they made consumer choices inspired by political ideals.

Individual colonists ultimately made their own decisions about their consumption habits during the imperial crisis. However, several constituencies attempted to persuade, cajole, shame, and sometimes even bully colonists into observing boycotts of imported goods. Friends and neighbors encouraged and watched each other, especially as the Sons of Liberty, colonial legislators, and other political leaders gained greater visibility in promoting nonimportation agreements. Coverage of their activities often appeared among the news items in colonial newspapers. Yet elsewhere in those same newspapers artisans and others who sold locally made goods placed advertisements that joined in the chorus, launching their own appeals in support of domestic manufactures in hopes of shaping consumer demand in the colonies.