What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“LIBERTY. A POEM.”
Current events were not confined to the news and editorials in colonial newspapers published during the era of the American Revolution. Consider the July 5, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. Multiple advertisements addressed the tensions between Parliament and the colonies in one way or another. In his advertisement for “a tolerable Assortment of Goods,” but only those that did not violate the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of the duties imposed on certain goods by the Townshend Acts. He maintained “a constant Supply of such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.” Ann Mathewes and Benjamin Mathewes did not abide by the nonimportation agreement; as a result, they found themselves the subject of a lengthy advertisement that documented their transgressions and cautioned “against having any commercial Dealings whatever” with them until they brought themselves back into compliance with the resolutions. Until then, “their Actions must declare them to be obstinate and inveterate Enemies to their Country, and unworthy of the least Confidence or Esteem.”
In contrast, another advertisement celebrated those colonists who defended the rights of the colonies. T. Powell published and sold “LIBERTY. A POEM” by Rusticus, likely a reprint of a poem published in Philadelphia two years earlier (which I will confirm once libraries and archives open to researchers once again). Powell dedicated this edition to “the SONS OF LIBERTY in SOUTH-CAROLINA,” honoring those who had organized and enforced the boycott of British goods. Peter Timothy, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, printed the poem on Powell’s behalf and sold it at his printing office, but it was also available at the office where Charles Crouch printed the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Timothy and Crouch competed with each other for subscribers and advertisers, but they promoted a common cause in selling “LIBERTY. A POEM” and influencing colonists to consider the politics of the moment at every possible opportunity. For readers of the South-Carolina Gazette who did not purchase their own copies, the advertisement alone resonated with meaning as they connected it to the other contents of the newspaper. Those readers who did acquire copies brought the poem into their homes to further imbibe the sentiments it expressed. Either way, this advertisement and others encouraged colonists to consider how consumption and commerce, the purpose of so many advertisements, intersected with politics and current events.