March 7

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Essex Gazette (March 7, 1769).

“The best New-England Flour of Mustard.”

In “A Taste for Mustard: An Archaeological Examination of a Condiment and Its Bottles from a Loyalist Homestead in Upper Canada,” Denise C. McGuire provides an overview of mustard production and consumption and examines an excavation of the Butler Homestead site in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. “Flour of Mustard” was very popular in Britain. It played an important role in eighteenth-century cooking, but was also considered to have medicinal value. It also reveals changes in transatlantic trade. Initially imported in the American colonies, it was subsequently grown there. As we can see in this advertisement, flour of mustard was sold in the colonies; it even specifically states that it was “New-England Flour of Mustard,” proudly showing that the mustard was grown and produced in the colonies.

That production continued after the American Revolution, intended for local consumption as well as export. When a cache of glass bottles was discovered, the square shape led McGuire to believe that they were mustard bottles. The discoveries at the Butler Homestead show that Loyalists got their flour of mustard from American producers after the Revolution. “[E]ven two generations after the first wave of Loyalist settlement, the ability to acquire simple commodities was not always easily accessible in more remote locations.”[1] Such evidence shows that the Butler family retained commercial ties to upstate New York even after the Revolutionary War.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When she consulted me about including this advertisement among those she would examine during her week as guest curator, Olivia expressed some concern about Chloe Amour previously examined flour of mustard in another advertisement recently featured on the Adverts 250 Project. She did not wish to duplicate the work of one of her peers. I encouraged her to continue with Thomas Walley’s advertisement, especially after she revealed that she had already consulted McGuire’s article. We certainly had more to learn about this particular commodity. As we move chronologically from the imperial crisis to the early republic, our Revolutionary America class has so far focused on the politics and economics of producing, trading, and consuming goods in the 1760s through the early 1780s. By incorporating mustard bottles uncovered during an archaeological excavation of a Loyalist site in Canada, Olivia has given our class a preview of the period we will be examining later in the semester.

For my part, I’m interested in the many similarities between Walley’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette and William Chace’s advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Both named their products “New-England Flour of Mustard,” emphasizing that it had been produced locally. Walley underscored that his mustard “has been greatly admired, both for its Strength and Flavor, by all that have used it.” Similarly, Chace proclaimed that his mustard “is allowed by the best Judges to be superior both for Strength and Flavour to any imported.” In this instance, Chace more explicitly attached a political meaning to acquiring his mustard, comparing it imports that many colonists had vowed to eschew as acts of economic resistance against the Townshend Acts. Walley made a nod toward such appeals when he offered to make “An Allowance … to those that buy to sell again, in order to encourage this Manufacture.” Such discounts may have helped to move his product out the door and, eventually, into the hands of greater numbers of consumers, but they also invoked images of “domestic manufacture” so often touted in news and editorials, especially in those moments that the imperial crisis intensified. Even Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, stocked a “small Parcel of the above Mustard” to make it available to residents of Salem who might not otherwise have an opportunity to acquire it from Walley at his store in Boston. In advancing similar appeals to prospective customers, Walley and Chace demonstrated that they participated in a larger conversation about the meaning of mustard. In the late 1760s, mustard did more than merely flavor food. It was enmeshed in the politics of the period.

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[1] Denise C. McGuire, “A Taste for Mustard: An Archaeological Examination of a Condiment and Its Bottles from a Loyalist Homestead in Upper Canada,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 20, no. 4 (December 2016): 680.

December 11

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (December 8, 1768).
New-England FLOUR MUSTARD … superior in Strength and Flavor to any IMPORTED.”

Although he carried some imported goods at his store on Dock Square in Boston, Thomas Walley emphasized locally produced goods in his advertisement in the December 8, 1768, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. Indeed, even the headline in a larger font than most of the rest of his advertisement proclaimed that many of his wares had local origins: “New-England Flour of Mustard.” Ever since learning of the Townshend Act and new duties placed on certain imported goods, colonists in Boston and throughout Massachusetts had vowed to limit their purchases of English goods as a means of protest. This coincided with concerns about an imbalance of trade that favored Britain over the colonies, prompting interest in encouraging “domestic manufactures” whenever possible as alternatives to imported goods. Some advertisers explicitly promoted the politics of consumption, but others made such arguments implicitly, realizing that declarations that their wares had been produced in the colonies would resonate with prospective customers already primed to recognize the political meanings of their decisions as consumers.

Still, advertisers like Walley made it clear that customers did not have to sacrifice quality for their principles. For most of the “domestic manufactures” in his advertisement, he included some sort of explanation concerning its quality. The “much-admired New-England FLOUR MUSTARD,” for instance, had been “found by repeated Trials of the best Judges to be superior in Strength and Flavor to any IMPORTED.” Walley did not provide further details about these “best Judges,” but he did offer assurances that this product was not unknown or new to the market. Customers could purchase it with confidence that others had already enjoyed and endorsed it. When it came to “PIGTAIL TOBACCO” and “Choice SNUFF,” Walley indicated that his inventory “manufactured in Boston” met the same standards as a well-known brand. The tobacco was “equal to Kippin’s” and the snuff “equal to Kippen’s best.” Similarly, Walley sold “STARCH, manufactured in Boston” that was “the best Sort” and “equal to [imports from] Poland,” known for their quality. Readers may have greeted such proclamations with skepticism, but such assurances may have helped to convince prospective customers to give these products a chance. Walley did not allow the political ramifications of consumer choices to stand alone in marketing his wares. Instead, he paired politics and quality to enhance the appeal of several “domestic manufactures” he made available to consumers in Boston.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (June 9, 1768).
“Choice N.E. Flour of Mustard.”

Thomas Walley’s advertisement in the June 9, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette included an interesting mixture of imported and locally produced wares. He first promoted the imported goods: figs, tea, sugar, coffee, rice, and other groceries. Then he shifted attention to two products produced in New England: “choice Starch made in BOSTON” and “choice N.E. Flour of Mustard.” In describing each as “choice,” Walley indicated that they achieved the same quality as imported goods. He further underscored that the starch was “equal to Poland.”

He devoted significantly more space to mustard seeds, inserting a nota bene that made the advertisement half again as long. Walley had previously advertised “Choice New-England Flour of Mustard … which by repeated Trials is found to be extraordinary good, therefore needs no further Recommendation.” In his new advertisement he called on colonists not only to purchase mustard produced locally but also to participate in making it available as an option for all consumers. He offered cash for mustard seed, but he encouraged “Persons in the Country [to] endeavour to raise and save more Mustard Seed than they have done heretofore” for reasons other than financial gain. He depicted such efforts as “serving their Country” since “N.E. Flour of Mustard” was “certainly found to be preferable to any that is imported.” In what ways was it preferable? Walley did not mean solely the quality or taste. Instead, he invoked a movement to encourage “domestic manufactures” and the consumption of goods produced in the colonies as a means of resistance to abuses perpetrated by Parliament, including the Townshend Act that had gone into effect the previous November. Over the past several months, newspapers throughout the colonies published or reprinted the resolutions of, first, the Boston Town Meeting and, in response, other towns that determined to decrease their dependence on goods imported from or via Britain.

Walley’s advertisement demonstrates that the idealism did not always keep pace with the practical realities. After all, he deployed “Choice Turkey FIGS” recently imported as the headline for an advertisement that eventually turned its attention to goods produced in the colonies. A series of advertisements encouraged colonists to drink “LABRADORE TEA” instead of imported “Best Bohea Tea,” but the demand for imported teas continued. Colonists could not produce some of the groceries listed in Walley’s advertisement. The merchant realized that was the case. Still, he encouraged colonists to modify their behaviors concerning products that were readily available, such as “Starch made in BOSTON,” as well as participate in bringing greater quantities of others, especially “N.E. Flour of Mustard,” into the local marketplace.

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Bohane

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

“New Rice by the Cask.”

Thomas Walley sold “New Rice by the Cask” at his “Store, on Dock-Square.” Rice was one of the most profitable goods cultivated in colonial America. According to James M. Clifton, settlers from Barbados and other colonies in the West Indies introduced rice to South Carolina. Colonists there had much to learn about rice, doing so through trial and error. The earliest mention of rice shipment recorded was in 1692, but after that point it became a staple crop, one that supported much of the economy for the entire colony.[1] In order to reduce the amount of strenuous labor required to produce this popular commodity, colonists in South Carolina sought to perfect machines and mills that could aid in processing rice.[2] Unfortunately, this proved quite unsuccessful and remained a challenging process throughout the colonial period. Rice crops became more profitable, however, with the labor of black slaves who worked on plantations and knew how to properly cultivate rice.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “New Rice by the Cask,” Thomas Walley also peddled a variety of other goods. He emphasized textiles and “all sorts of Groceries,” such as tea, olive oil, and mustard. The assortment of fabrics available at his store included “homespun check,” cloth that had been woven in the colonies rather than imported from England. Walley did not explicitly link his products to the imperial crisis that had intensified six months earlier when the Townshend Act went into effect, but he did offer prospective customers the opportunity to participate in a larger coordinated effort to resist Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue without the consent of the colonies. Several months before Walley’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, the Boston Town Meeting (followed by many others) had voted to use commerce as leverage in the political dispute with Parliament. They pledged to encourage “American manufactures” rather than continue their dependence on imported goods. In so doing, they acknowledged that in order to change their consumption habits that they first needed to modify the amount of goods produced in the colonies.

Just as this advertisement obscures the role of enslaved labor in producing “New Rice by the Cask,” it also obscures the role women played in this political strategy. Barred from participating in the formal mechanisms of government, women pursued other avenues when it came to participating in resistance efforts during the imperial crisis that culminated in the Revolution. American women produced Walley’s “homespun Check,” first spinning the thread and then weaving it into checkered cloth. Women also made choices about which goods to consume, their decisions extending to entire households. Women who purchased homespun could make very visible political statements by outfitting every member of their families in garments made from that cloth. The meanings of consumption increasingly took on political valences in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. In that realm, women often exercised as much power as men as they exercised their judgment in selecting which goods to acquire and which to reject. Their decisions reverberated beyond the point of purchase; everyday use of clothing, housewares, groceries, and other goods advertised in newspapers and sold by merchants and shopkeepers became laden with political significance.

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[1] James M. Clifton, “The Rice Industry in Colonial America,” Agricultural History 55, no. 3 (July 1981): 267.

[2] Clifton, “Rice Industry,” 278.