October 16

GUEST CURATOR: Lindsay Hajjar

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

Boston News-Letter (October 16, 1766).

In Union-Street, opposite to Mr. James Jackson’s; BOHEA Tea by the Chest.”

This advertisement was directed at consumers in the Boston area who not only knew their way around (including how to get to Union Street), but also who James Jackson was. Joseph Dennie pinpointed a very specific location and called upon readers to purchase distinct goods. The fact that the seller uses “Mr. James Jackson’s” as a landmark could mean that the seller did not have a shop sign of his own. The seller knew that the people of Boston were interested in the goods he had and that if he used a commonly known place such as “opposite to Mr. James Jackson’s” he would be able to turn over the most profit.

T.H Breen says how important it was for the colonist to stay connected to England for trade purposes because they wanted to feel as if they had never left England while at the same time having left. Being Anglicized, or making themselves feel English, was important for a lot of colonists because even though they were living in the New World the Old World connections gave them a sense of identity. Joseph Dennie knew that the good he was selling would be in high demand because they were valued throughout the British Empire.



Lindsay chose an advertisement that appears relatively plain at first glance, but it reveals quite a bit about how colonists navigated Boston and how they conjured imaginative maps of themselves as consumers.

In an era before American cities adopted standardized street numbers (an innovation ushered in shortly after the Revolution), urban residents and visitors used landmarks to give directions and find their way around. Some advertisers indicated that their shops were located on a certain street and specified the number of “doors” from the nearest intersection. Others, as Lindsay indicates, had their own shop signs. Dozens of shop signs crowded the streets of Boston in the eighteenth century. We know of most of them not because they survived but rather because they were included in advertisements from the period. Not every shopkeeper had his or her own sign, but some advertisers indicated their proximity to shop signs that would have been familiar to potential customers. Joseph Dennie used a similar method, but chose an individual, James Jackson, rather than a shop sign to orient his prospective clients.

Dennie’s short advertisement also mapped global networks of global commerce and identity. Lindsay notes that customers would have enjoyed the grocery items Dennie sold because they were also popular in England, but that tells only part of the story. The “BOHEA Tea by the Chest” came from China. Nutmegs, mace, and cloves came from the Spice Islands in the East Indies (modern Indonesia). Cinnamon came from Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka).

Many colonists were anxious about their status as Britons. They did, after all, live in faraway outposts of the empire. Importing, purchasing, and consuming exotic grocery items from distant lands helped to confirm their identity as they participated in the same rituals of consumption as their counterparts in London and throughout England.