April 25

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

Apr 25 - 4:25:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766).

“ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary.  …  Repeal of the Stamp-Act.”

This “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” hailed the “Repeal of the Stamp-Act” and encouraged other patriotic Britons to do the same. In particular, the advertisement encouraged a variety of public displays” “general Illuminations, Ringing of Bells, Bonfires, Firing of Guns, or other Fire-Works” to be conducted “in Duty and Loyalty to our most gracious SSEVERIGN” and “in Respect, Love and Gratitude to his patriotic MINISITRY.”

This advertisement helps to demonstrate that the American Revolution did not take place as soon as Parliament passed the first act intended to better regulate colonial commerce and raise revenues after the Seven Years War. Most colonists did not immediately clamor for political independence from Great Britain. Instead, that decision took place only after a lengthy process that extended more than a decade as colonists and Parliament acted and reacted to each other.

In the spring of 1766, however, colonists were overjoyed to return to what they considered their rightful place in the global British Empire. Once “that detestable Act” – a measure also described as “unconstitutional” – was repealed, opponents in Britain’s North American colonies encouraged “Rejoicings and Exhibitions of joy thro-out this Continent” but also desired that “all whom it may concern, in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America” would join in their celebrations. In saluting the “Great GEORGE and PATRIOT PITT” along with the king’s “patriotic MINISTRY” colonists signaled that they considered themselves Britons and wished to be part of the British Empire. Only in the wake of greater disruptions and the “Contempt of an infernal, atheistical, Popish and Jacobite Crew” over the course of the next decade would revolution be fomented. The crisis had been averted – temporarily – but the promulgation of the Declaratory Act at the same time the Stamp Act was repealed suggested that “Rejoicings and Exhibitions of joy” might not last long.

**********

Take note of the first and last lines of this advertisement: “From the Boston Gazette, April 21.” and “P. S. All Printers throughout this Continent are desired to publish this Advertisement.” Just as printers had shared and reprinted news of the Stamp Act and protests against it throughout 1765 and into 1766, they also exchanged and shared news of its repeal. This advertisement, originally printed in Boston four days earlier, was inserted in the very next issue of Portsmouth’s New-Hampshire Gazette. This was how news went viral in eighteenth-century America

April 16

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 16 - 4:14:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 14, 1766).

“All Sorts of Garden Seeds.”

This advertisement sold goods that had been imported from London. The goods featured included various types of garden seeds. The advertisement listed “Pease and Beans, … split Pease, Hemp, Rape and Canary Bird Seed, red Clover and Herds Grass Seed.” Peas and beans were eaten. Hemp was used for a variety of things, including making rope. Rapeseed was a yellow flowering plant used as birdseed in colonial America, though it was used in China and Africa as a vegetable. Canary seed was used in conjunction with rapeseed for birdseed. Grass seed was used for planting grass and feeding livestock.

 

Apr 16 - Rapeseed
Rapeseed.

During the eighteenth century, the vegetables and herbs that were prepared, served, and eaten were often grown in home gardens. Due to the fact that settlers were still arriving and settling in, there were not many strong strains of familiar plants available, so plant seeds were imported from England. Colonial American gardens were grown in the style of European gardens due to the fact that inhabitants arrived to the colonies from Europe and were used to practicing garden cultivation in this manner. Most plants grown in the Colonies came from heirloom strains, indicating that they were species that had been passed down for many generations. A Colonial Williamsburg study has revealed that today all eighteenth-century varieties of broccoli, cabbage, and kale are extinct and no longer grown, though a great many other eighteenth-century vegetables are still grown at different locations throughout the United States.

 

For more information on cultivating a garden using early American techniques and understandings, attend out Old Sturbridge Village’s Garden Thyme: Vermicomposting event at 10 A.M. today or other Garden Thyme events offered the third Saturday of every month.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “All Sorts of Garden Seeds,” Bethiah Oliver sold “a general Assortment of Glass, Delph and Stone Ware, Lynn Shoes, best Bohea Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, and all other Groceries” that had been “Imported in the last Ships from London.” As we have seen in recent weeks, when it came to consumer culture colonists had a complicated relationship with England in 1765 and 1766. The protests concerning the Stamp Act spilled over into advertisements, sometimes as advertisers promoted locally produced goods and other times when they gave directions to their shops that invoked familiarity with recent events (such as stating that a shop was located “Near Liberty-Bridge“). Many colonists were energized to boycott goods imported from Britain, hoping to gain English merchants – who were represented in Parliament – as allies as politics and commerce converged.

On the other hand, many advertisements in 1765 and 1766, including today’s advertisement from Bethiah Oliver, continued to use formulaic language: “Imported in the last Ships from London.” Those ships transported more than just consumer goods. They also carried news from the center of the British Empire, including news of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Oliver’s advertisements appeared on the final page of this issue of the Boston Evening-Post. The previous page included an article that announced the “Good News!” It also demonstrates how the “glorious News of the Repeal of the STAMP-ACT” spread throughout the colonies as vessels moved from port to port, bringing letters and newspapers that were then printed or reprinted. Still, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post knew that they did not yet have the entire story: “We hear a Packet was to sail from Falmouth for New York about the 11th of February, so that we may daily expect some further Particulars of this interesting affair.” Ships from England continued to bring more goods, but they also brought more news.

Apr 16 - Good News 4:14:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 14, 1766).

Bethiah Oliver advertised “All Sorts of Garden Seeds” to customers who continued in the seasonal rhythms of colonial life. I wonder if more potential customers might have seen her advertisement as they scrambled to read the news for themselves. Even if that was not the case, her commercial notice offers a glimpse of everyday life continuing even as momentous news unfolded.

 

April 6

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Apr 6 - 4:3:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 3, 1766).

“Just published, and to be sold … THE IMPORTANCE of the Colonies of NORTH-AMERICA, and the INTEREST of GREAT-BRITAIN, with Regard.”

This advertisement caught my eye because it is the most direct reference to the events leading up to the Revolutionary War that I have encountered. The advertisement addresses the tensions that had been present after the French and Indian War, which really damaged the colonists’ perception of Britain as their mother country. This advertisement mentions explicitly that the colonies and Great Britain were having a strained relationship.

The “just published” work included remarks on the widely despised Stamp Act, which would have been sure to draw in many readers. This also depended on public literacy. Newspapers were a part of it, but there were also smaller works, such as the pamphlets advertised here, published for ordinary colonists to read. Although the most famous, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, would not be published for another decade, these publications and others were meant to reach the minds of many Americans, giving them much to think about in regards to their relationship to Britain.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Like several of the other guest curators from my Public History class, Maia has been keeping her eyes open for advertisements that illuminate the political history of the period, especially the role of the Stamp Act in the unfolding imperial crisis. It would have been difficult to miss this advertisement. The printer inserted it at the top of the first column on the first page, immediately below the masthead, making it the first item – either news or commercial notice – that a subscriber would have read.

Apr 6 - First Page of Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 3, 1766).

Note how the layout of this page provides further context and suggests how the printer likely intended readers to interact with this advertisement. It appeared immediately to the left of a list of anti-Stamp Act resolutions from the Committee of Correspondence in Cecil County, Maryland. Continuing to scan across the top of the page, readers encountered a list of resolutions passed at a recent “Meeting of the SONS OF LIBERTY of the Township of Piscataway, in the County of Middlesex, and Province of East New-Jersey.”

Of all the possible news items and advertisements that could have appeared at the top of the first column, it hardly seems like a coincidence that an advertisement for anti-Stamp Act pamphlets appeared there. The printer stoked potential customers’ outrage with the resolutions from the Committee of Correspondence and the Sons of Liberty, increasing the chances they would be interested in purchasing pamphlets about colonists’ rights and the appropriate responses to the abuses they were suffering at the hands of a Parliament that overstepped its authority. The printer yoked politics and commerce, each in the service of the other.

The story becomes more interesting when we realize that David Hall, who advertised the pamphlets, was also the printer and publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette! He used his newspaper to advance political views. At the same time, he looked to make a profit from the controversy that incited the interest that made it possible to sell these pamphlets. In designing the first page of this issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, David Hall revealed himself to be a savvy printer and entrepreneur.

March 28

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 28 - 3:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette.gif
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 28, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD By Barnabas Clarke, Near Liberty-Bridge.”

This advertisement caught my eye because it mentioned Liberty Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Almost yearly, I have visited Portsmouth, but have never heard of a Liberty Bridge. It turns out that the Liberty Bridge got its name in the year 1766 in connection with the Liberty Pole. On March 22, 1765, King George III signed the Stamp Act, which did not go into effect until November of that same year. It was later repealed on March 18, 1766, because of the strong opposition it met.

On January 6, 1766, a group of men who called themselves the Sons of Liberty made an effigy of George Grenville, the author of the Stamp Act, paraded it around, and burned it. To commemorate this event they erected a Liberty Pole bearing a flag with “LIBERTY, PROPERTY, and NO STAMPS.” On January 20, the Boston Evening-Post wrote up a story a few weeks after the event.

Mar 28 - 1:20:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (January 20, 1766).

The Liberty Bridge was the bridge that crossed what used to be Puddle Dock, which has since been filled in. The Liberty Pole did not get its official marker or a permanent pole until 1824. But the Liberty Bridge was notable enough and recent enough to be prominently displayed in this advertisement. People of the region would also have known exactly where this landmark was and would have been able to find the shop.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Even as Barnabas Clarke sold goods imported from England, the location he listed in his advertisement testified to the place he believed he and his fellow colonists inhabited in the British Empire. This place was not exclusively a geographic location but rather a sense of identity. “Near Liberty-Bridge” told potential customers where to find Clarke’s shop, but it also indicated the customary rights and privileges that Clarke and other colonists asserted they possessed. Mary selected an advertisement that, once again, demonstrates that advertising and consumption took on a political valence and encouraged colonists to think about the meanings of goods – social, cultural, and political – in the era of the American Revolution.

The Stamp Act had been repealed on March 18, 1766, ten days before this advertisement appeared, although it would take several weeks for word to arrive in the colonies. When that happened, colonists would also learn that the repeal of the Stamp Act had been accompanied by passage of the Declaratory Act, which asserted that Parliament had the authority to oversee and regulate the colonies. Liberty Poles and Liberty Bridges would continue to serve as potent symbols to colonists.

Nov 24 - 11:22:1765 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 22, 1765).

This advertisement also suggests how quickly colonists reconceived their surroundings. I have previously featured two advertisements Barnabas Clark(e) published in the New-Hampshire Gazette, one on November 1765 and the other in December 1765.* Both predated the activities of the Sons of Liberty on January 6, 1766, that Mary described. Protests by the Sons of Liberty were significant in their own right, but perhaps became increasingly effective as colonists remembered, commemorated, and incorporated them into their daily lives, including listing the location of their shops as “Near Liberty-Bridge.”

Dec 28 - 12:27:1765 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 27, 1765).

**********

*These two advertisements appeared via #Adverts250 on Twitter, prior to this blog launching on January 1, 2016.

Review of Don N. Hagist’s “The Stamp Act Riots Heard ‘Round the World”

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending a public lecture, “The Stamp Act Riots Heard ‘Round the World,” presented by Don N. Hagist at the Newport Historical Society. Hagist, an independent scholar, is the author of several books about the era of the American Revolution, including The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers Behind the Photographs; British Soldiers, American War: Voices of the American Revolution; and General Orders, Rhode Island: December 1776 – January 1778. He has also compiled four hundred advertisements in a volume that may be of particular interest to regular visitors here: Wives, Slaves and Servant Girls: Advertisements for Female Runaways in American Newspapers, 1770-1783.

For this presentation, Hagist set about exploring how the world heard about protests against the Stamp Act that took place in Newport, Rhode Island. To do so, he consulted American and British newspapers, demonstrating how local history telescoped out to tell a much larger story about the initial acts of resistance to Parliamentary authority and how protests in Newport were viewed on both sides of the Atlantic.

If we want to know about the reception the Stamp Act received in Newport, why not go to the Newport Mercury directly? Hagist deftly explained how changes in demographics and communications made reading newspapers in the eighteenth century much different than reading them in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Even a busy port like Newport was a small town compared to today’s standards, and keep in mind that newspapers were published once a week. There was little need for the local printer to provide extensive details about events that happened in town. Either local residents witnessed the protests against the Stamp Act themselves or they heard about them via word of mouth before the next issue of the local newspaper was published. Hagist explained that colonists consulted newspapers to learn about what was happening in faraway places, not their own neighborhoods. Indeed, news items were usually organized geographically, with items from London, the metropolitan center, and the English provinces appearing first, followed by news from other countries in Europe, then news from around the Atlantic world and the globe, and finally news from other colonies in British mainland North America.

As a result, the most extensive newspaper coverage of public demonstrations against the Stamp Act in Newport appeared not in the Newport Mercury but instead in publications printed in other cities. According the Hagist, the September 2, 1765, issue of the Newport Mercury, the first to appear after local residents made effigies, built a gallows, hanged and burned the effigies, and threatened the local stamp agent and forced his resignation in late August, mentioned these events, but not in nearly as much detail as the edition of the Boston Evening-Post, also published on September 2. (Here we see how printing a newspaper only once a week allowed for information to travel some distance and thus appear in print “simultaneously” as “the freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”)

The Boston Evening-Post devoted an entire column to providing extensive details about recent events in Newport. On the same day, the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, also offered coverage of the protests in Newport. Even though readers were treated to only half a column, this still exceeded the amount of detail in the Newport Mercury. In its September 6 issue, the New-Hampshire Gazette reprinted the coverage from the Boston Evening-Post. Printers continued a practice common in the colonial era: spreading news by borrowing generously from newspapers they received from their counterparts in faraway places. Reprinting news items verbatim was a standard practice, for all kinds of events and not just the protests against the Stamp Act.

Hagist then demonstrated that coverage of the protests in Newport crossed the Atlantic. The earliest report he found appeared in the London Chronicle on October 5, 1765, indicating that letters received from Boston included accounts of a “dangerous mob” in Newport. Over the course of the next month, an assortment of newspapers in London and other cities in Great Britain offered further coverage of the protests in Newport. This was news, but not “big news,” Hagist argued. One reprinting of the coverage from the September 2 Boston Evening-Post appeared between news from the continent and theater notices. Hagist explained that riots and other forms of political violence were much more common in the eighteenth century than today. Although we may think of the Stamp Act protests in Newport and elsewhere as exceptional, early modern newspaper printers and readers did not always think that they merited special attention.

Still, as time passed many London newspapers continued to insert items about the protests in Newport, sometimes rehashing information previously published when it came via a new source on one of the most recent ships to arrive at a port in England. The conclusion that Hagist reached next may have been the most surprising material for his audience: not everybody in London and the rest of England agreed that the Stamp Act was a good idea. Some sympathized with the colonists. British printers inserted the entire text of colonial charters in their newspapers so readers could decide for themselves if the traditional rights and privileges of colonists to govern themselves had been violated.

Hagist also offered one item of particular interest to me: an advertisement in which a London printer and bookseller announced that he sold about half a dozen pamphlets opposing the Stamp Act, each printed in Newport. This demonstrated both the flow of ideas and the flow of printed goods across the Atlantic. During the question-and-answer period I challenged Hagist on his interpretation of that advertisement, asking if he might have been too generous in asserting that such advertisements demonstrated any particular sentiment toward the colonists’ plight rather than opportunistic printers seeking to make a profit off of a political controversy. He acknowledged that the profit motive was indeed present, even a driving force, but argued that making a profit and engaging in an open exchange of ideas and rigorous debate were not mutually exclusive. (I’ve made similar arguments about a variety of advertisements featured here and that I have examined elsewhere, so it’s not surprising that his answer satisfied me.)

Hagist concluded, as I will now, with a brief summary of his presentation. Newspaper coverage of the Stamp Act protests in Newport was accurate. He did not find evidence of exaggerated rumors. The event, like other demonstrations occurring throughout the colonies, was major news in the American press. It was also considered news in Great Britain, but not accorded the same importance. It merely appeared alongside other news from the colonies, though over time it did spark additional debate in English newspapers. In general, coverage in British newspapers was remarkably balanced, defying modern expectations.

Over the past three months I have attempted to demonstrate that the content and appeals of many of the advertisements featured here were shaped by the events, especially continuing opposition to the Stamp Act, covered elsewhere in colonial newspapers. It’s necessary to examine the advertisements in the context of the news items in order to achieve a complete picture of how attempts to market various goods would have resonated with potential customers. Don N. Hagist’s lecture provided some of that context in a lively presentation that clearly engaged a standing-room-only audience at the Newport Historical Society last night.

**********

If you’d like to learn more about Don N. Hagist’s work, visit his blog:  British Soldiers, American Revolution.

The Stamp Act and Advertisements: The Plan

The Stamp Act, that instrument of taxation without representation that invigorated protests among so many colonists, was officially repealed 250 years ago today on March 18, 1766. Today I will explore how the Stamp Act, one of the most important precursors to the American Revolution, both included and affected newspaper advertisements.

Royal assent for the Stamp Act had been given nearly a year earlier on March 22, 1765, and the measure went into effect on November 1, 1765. (If you’d like to see day-by-day coverage drawing from colonial newspapers printed in late 1765, check out the impressive Twitter project undertaken by Prof. Joseph M. Adelman’s American Revolution class at Framingham State University during the fall 2015 semester.) Colonists began protesting the Stamp Act almost as soon as they learned about it.

On February 21, 1766, Parliament passed a resolution to repeal the Stamp Act. The king gave royal assent nearly a month later. (During the week that the king assented to repealing the Stamp Act, several American newspapers reprinted items had that been published in London newspapers the previous December. A bit of time would pass before colonists learned that the Stamp Act was no more.) On the same day the king also gave royal assent to the Declaratory Act, a warning to the colonists that although the Stamp Act had been repealed Parliament possessed the same authority to oversee affairs in America as it had in Britain.

Advertisements were enumerated in three places in the Stamp Act. Let’s have a closer look at each of them.

I.  … And for and upon every paper, commonly called a pamphlet, and upon every news paper, containing publick news, intelligence, or occurrences, which shall be printed, dispersed, and made publick, within any of the said colonies and plantations, and for and upon such advertisements as are herein after mentioned, the respective duties following (that is to say) …

For every advertisement to be contained in any gazette, news paper, or other paper, or any pamphlet which shall be so printed, a duty of two shillings.

The Stamp Act placed a tax on each newspaper printed in the colonies, but that was not the total potential revenue garnered from newspapers. Many colonists would probably have considered that imposition enough; they certainly did not appreciate an additional duty on every individual advertisement. Depending on the publication, some issues included dozens of advertisements that filled entire columns or pages, sometimes as much as two of the four pages of a broadsheet folded in half to create a four-page newspaper.

While expensive for advertisers, this provision would have been especially devastating for printers. They were unlikely to absorb the costs themselves (see Article XXVIII below), but if they insisted that advertisers paid the duty in addition to the usual costs then they risked attracting far fewer advertisers. Colonial printers rarely made a profit off of newspaper subscriptions. The real money in printing a newspaper came from the advertising.

In addition, printers frequently inserted advertisements for their own wares and services in the newspapers they published. In addition to drumming up business, this sometimes helped them to fill a column or page. Having to pay a duty on their own advertisements, traditionally inserted gratis as a benefit of operating the press, further challenged printers’ business model.

X.  Provided always, That this act shall not extend to charge any proclamation, forms of prayer and thanksgiving, or any printed votes of any house of assembly in any of the said colonies and plantations, with any of the said duties on pamphlets or news papers; or to charge any books commonly used in any of the schools within the said colonies and plantations, or any books containing only matters of devotion or piety; or to charge any single advertisement printed by itself, or the daily accounts of goods imported and exported, so as such accounts or bills do contain no other matters than what have been usually comprized therein; any thing herein contained to the contrary notwithstanding.

This portion of the Stamp Act provided exceptions for God and government: no duties for prayer books or announcements that a day of thanksgiving would be observed nor for official proclamations or reports on voting in colonial legislatures. Schoolbooks and customs information were also exempted.

This section also stated that no duty would be charged for “any single advertisement printed by itself.” This suggests that various advertising media – broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, subscription notices – were exempt, provided that they did not carry other material. Newspaper advertising, however, comprised the vast majority of advertising in colonial America in the 1760s. Trade cards, for instance, gained in popularity after the Revolution, but they were not nearly as common in the colonies in the first two-thirds of the eighteenth century as they were in London. Very few advertisers who used newspapers to disseminate commercial notices also invested in alternate media, in part because doing so would have cost significantly more. Perhaps Parliament’s intention had been either generosity or softening the blow when it approved this provision; if so, it missed the mark.

XXVIII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no officer appointed for distributing stamped vellum, parchment, or paper, in the said colonies or plantations, shall sell or deliver any stamped paper for printing any pamphlet, or any publick news, intelligence, or occurrences, to be contained in one sheet, or any lesser piece of paper, unless such person shall give security to the said officer, for the payment of the duties for the advertisements which shall be printed therein or thereupon.

This provision specified that printers could not even receive the paper necessary for continuing their usual business operations without first giving “security” that the duties on advertisements printed in newspapers would be turned over to stamp agents. In effect, this put printers in the position of collecting duties themselves, making them unwilling arms of Parliament in London. Certainly many colonial printers profited from serving as official printers for colonial assemblies and royally appointed governors, but in such positions they disseminated information. Requiring them to collect stamp duties from their customers would have significantly changed printers’ role in colonial society. The Stamp Act attempted to compel their assistance and cooperation in new ways.

Many colonists objected to the Stamp Act for a variety of reasons, but printers had perhaps more incentives than others to protest Parliament’s new means of raising revenue. The Stamp Act’s treatment of advertising has sometimes been overshadowed by attention to its many other provisions, but its effects on the ability of early Americans to market their goods and services would not have been insignificant.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:10:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 10, 1766).

“Just Published … The Necessity of Repealing the American STAMP-ACT.”

Protesting the Stamp Act continued to occupy many American colonists in March 1766. It was certainly a primary concern of the printer of the Connecticut Courant and many of that newspaper’s readers. The Connecticut Courant was a more modest publication than some of its counterparts in larger cities – its four pages featured only two columns rather than three – but it opposed the Stamp Act with the same vigor as many more robust publications.

The first two (of four total) pages of the March 10, 1766, issue were devoted to coverage of the Stamp Act, including a letter from London (dated November 1 and reprinted from the Public Ledger), an extract of another letter from London (dated December 14 and reprinted from a Boston newspaper published February 27), and several shorter reports about the reactions of colonial officials near and far.

Advertisements of any sort did not appear until the third page. Today’s featured advertisement demonstrates that the commercial notices took on a political valence during the Stamp Act crisis. Printers, authors, and other members of the book trades marketed books and pamphlets about “The Necessity of Repealing the American STAMP-ACT.” And this particular advertisement should not be considered an isolated example. It appeared immediately above a similar advertisement for a pamphlet about “THE RIGHTS of the COLONIES TO THE PRIVILEGES Of British SUBJECTS.” The former was published in Boston and the latter in New York.

Mar 11 - Connecticut Courant Third Page 3:10:1766
Third page of the Connecticut Courant (March 10, 1766).

Both appeared in a column headed with an announcement that “THE last Tuesday of this Month (being the 25th Day) there is to be a General Congress of the SONS OF LIBERTY, in this Colony, to meet in Hartford, by their Representatives chosen for that Purpose.” (Was this an advertisement? It appeared alongside other advertisements, but given the printer’s political proclivities it is quire possible he inserted this notice gratis.) News coverage of the Stamp Act continued in the column to the left.

The content of the newspaper provides important context for understanding today’s advertisement. The other items formed a narrative that may have influenced potential customers to purchase one or both of the pamphlets offered for sale.

Boycotts of imported goods certainly gave decisions about which goods to purchase (or not) political valence in the 1760s and 1770s, but advertisements for books and pamphlets defending the “RIGHTS of the COLONIES” encouraged colonists to become readers who were better informed and who could better articulate why the actions of Parliament were so dangerous.

March 8

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

Mar 8 - 3:7:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 7, 1766).

“This masterly Performance merits the closest Attention and Consideration of every true SON OF AMERICA, the Propriety of imposing TAXES on free Subjects.”

Yesterday’s advertisements from the New-Hampshire Gazette testified to the connections between slavery and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Slavery was discussed elsewhere on the same page of that issue, though it was slavery of a different sort. The printers inserted several letters forwarded by the “true born Sons of Liberty” concerning the continuing controversy over the Stamp Act. The American protestors were “determined to use there utmost Efforts to prevent even the Appearance of Slavery.” Meanwhile, readers who glanced two columns to the left would have seen the advertisements for “BARBADOS whitest LOAF SUGAR” and “A NEGRO BOY.”

Today’s advertisement appeared on the previous page. It does not include the word “slavery,” but other items published in the same issue demonstrate that many readers consciously linked the Stamp Act and enslavement (even as they may have attempted to eschew associations between sugar and slavery). In American Slavery, American Freedom (1975), Edmund S. Morgan explored the paradox of the founding of the American nation: the rhetoric of freedom and equality during the Revolution and after occurred with the enslavement of black laborers as its backdrop throughout the colonial era and beyond. The liberty of white Americans was contingent in many ways on the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, a distressing contradiction.

Today’s advertisement is certainly evidence that advertising and consumer culture took on a political valence in the years of the imperial crisis, but a story of patriotic advertising would be an incomplete story. Just as yesterday’s advertisements for sugar and an enslaved boy were bound together, the stories of Americans advocating (and eventually fighting) for their liberties and simultaneously continuing to practice slavery cannot be separated from each other.

January 31

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Jan 31 - 1:30:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 30, 1766)

“Which has been proved by many Trials to be equal to the best snuff imported from Great-Britain.”

Advertisements for goods, such as the one depicted above, were commonplace in colonial newspapers. Advertising snuff, also known as sniffing tobacco, would not have been a shocking advertisement for the time as tobacco was a popular product. What is striking about the notice is what the tobacco was compared to:  tobacco imported from Great Britain.

I also find it interesting that Gilpin and Fisher would make a comparison to tobacco from Great Britain at a time when several of the colonies were prone to unrest. Britain had just passed the Stamp Act tax in 1765; some British products were currently being boycotted. Perhaps since the people of the colonies still considered themselves British citizens, they would have wanted to be loyal to British products. On the other hand, the advertisement would give colonists a sense of security in local products since the colonists had been so used to British goods.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I was excited when Maia chose this advertisement, for a variety of reasons. She did not know that I had already selected an advertisement from the Massachusetts Gazette for yesterday that was also shaped by the Stamp Act, making this a wonderful transition into her responsibilities as guest curator for this week. I also appreciated the appeal to locally produced good, which Maia highlights in the quotation she selected from this advertisement: “Which has been proved by many Trials to be equal to the best snuff imported from Great-Britain.”

When I have featured advertisements that make similar appeals, I have emphasized their political valence and their rhetoric of resistance. Maia offers a perspective that I have not given as much attention: assuring colonists that domestic products were as good as any imported from Great Britain was not just an assurance of quality. This was also a means of offering reassurance to potential customers who faced an increasingly disorienting world of consumption disrupted by transatlantic politics.

Also, in questioning to what extent colonists might have wanted, on some level, to remain loyal to British goods Maia also reminds us that this was indeed a period of resistance – not yet revolution – and colonists continued to embrace their identity as members of the British empire even as they sought redress of grievances within the British system of law and politics.

January 30

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

Jan 30 - 1:30:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 30, 1766)

“This masterly Performance merits the closest Attention and Consideration of every true SON of AMERICA the Propriety of imposing TAXES on free Subjects without their Consent.”

The Stamp Act crisis and protests spilled over into advertisements for consumer goods in colonial newspapers.  In late 1765 and early 1766 newspapers were filled with editorials opposing the Stamp Act as well as news items about debates and protests reprinted from far and wide.  Nonimportation agreements altered consumer culture, but, as this advertisement and others indicate, the imperial crisis transformed the meaning of consumption in other ways as well.

Printers and booksellers might be considered opportunistic for taking advantage of a political crisis to market and sell newspapers, books, and pamphlets, but believing in a cause and being entrepreneurial were not mutually exclusive.  Publications that considered “the Propriety of imposing Taxes in the British Colonies” based on “Knowledge of the Laws of our Mother-Country” reflected many printers’  views and likely shaped the political attitudes of many colonists, prompting them to further consider resistance efforts and, eventually, revolution.

Even if colonists did not buy and read such any particular publication, encountering  advertisements like this one yielded a certain consistency throughout the various sections of the newspaper.  Commerce and consumption could not be separated from politics in an easily classified manner.