July 3

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

Jul 3 - 7:3:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 3, 1770).

The Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer.”

On July 3, 1770, Thomas Robie of Marblehead, Massachusetts, placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette.  In it, he promoted “GUN-Powder, Shot, Bar-Lead, and Wool-Cards” as well as nails in a variety of sizes and “a Number of other Articles, in the Hard Ware Way, imported in August last.”  Yet Robie did more than merely mention the merchandise he offered for sale.  The shopkeeper devoted just as much space in his advertisement to explaining the circumstances for acquiring those goods, asserting that he abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of the duties on certain imported goods.  In so doing, he defended his reputation and responded to rumors that apparently circulated about the origins of his inventory.

He hereby informs the Public,” Robie proclaimed, “that notwithstanding the Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer, he is not now, nor ever has been , possessed of any Goods ordered since April, 1769 (six or eight Months before the nonimportation Agreement was entered into by this Town) excepting the four first mentioned Articles, which are allowed by said Agreement.”  He offered an accounting of his activities, noting both when he ordered goods and which items did not fall under the nonimportation agreement and thus did not count as violations.  In specifying that he ordered (rather than received) goods prior to the agreement going into effect, he may have revealed the source of some of the confusion if those orders had not arrived before the prohibition on placing new orders went into effect.  Some merchants and shopkeepers parsed the provisions of nonimportation agreements, especially when they allowed for gradual implementation that allowed for the receipt of orders already placed but not new orders.  Robie noted that his hardware had been imported in August 1769, but he had not placed any new orders since April 1769.

Whether Robie adhered to the letter of the agreement, the spirit of the agreement, or neither, he believed that gossip that “represent[ed] him in the unpopular Light of an Importer” damaged his standing in the community.  That prompted him to turn to the public prints to address those stories and offer reassurances to prospective customers that they would not become complicit in undermining the political principles that inspired the nonimportation agreement if they purchased his goods.

June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:5:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 5, 1770).

“ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES … VIOLATORS OF THE RESOLUTIONS.”

The “GENERAL COMMITTEE” responsible for overseeing adherence to the nonimportation agreement adopted in Charleston in July 1769 ran an advertisement in the June 5, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform the community of two violations.  The story of the first had unfolded over several months.  Benjamin Mathewes, a merchant and “Subscriber to the Resolutions,” had imported “sundry Goods from London” in January, but upon being detected had “voluntarily agreed to store” them until nonimportation came to an end and “a general Importation should take Place.”  The committee published the new agreement that Mathewes signed to that effect.

For many colonists caught in such circumstances that was the end of the story.  Newspaper notices published in several colonies documented violators attempting to rehabilitate their reputations and relationships with the community by making special effort to abide by the terms of the nonimportation agreed after they had been discovered deviating from it.  Such was the case for William Glen and Son, “having also been guilty of a Breach of the Resolutions.”  Glen and Son acknowledged that they had imported some textiles “contrary to the Resolutions” and then agreed to store them for the duration of the boycott.  However, “through Mistake” they “disposed of a few Pieces.”  For that error, they “declare our Sorrow” and promised to “adhere strictly to the Resolutions” in the future.  Glen and Son also agreed to deposit the remainder of the textiles and other goods “in the public Stores” where they would not have access to them, thus offering reassurance that the mistake would not happen again.  The committee stated that Glen and Son depicted the incident as “an Act of Inadvertence, rather than Design” and recommended that their pledge to turn over the remaining textiles “will be received as a sufficient Atonement for their Fault, and restore them to the Public’s Favour and Confidence.”

Mathewes, on the other hand, did not make the same effort to demonstrate his recalcitrance, prompting the committee to take a different approach to his case.  Although he affixed his signature to an apology and claimed that he would turn over the goods, the Committee of Inspection discovered that “many of the said Goods … had been opened” and sold.  Mathewes claimed that his mother, Ann, also a subscriber to the nonimportation agreement, had been responsible for their sale while he was away from town.  Neither mother nor son “ma[d]e proper Satisfaction to the Public for such shameful Breach of their sacred Contracts.”  Indeed, the elder Mathewes continued to sell the goods “in manifest Violation of the said Resolutions.”

This resulted in consequences.  Although the General Committee had shown “all possible Lenity and Forbearance” in attempting to resolve the situation, they came to the point that they deemed it necessary to advertise “ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES, as VIOLATORS OF THE RESOLUTIONS.”  The committee asserted that these violators were guilty of “counteracting the united Sentiments of the whole Body of the People, not only in this, but all the Northern Provinces; and prefering their own little private Advantage to the general Good of AMERICA.”  The Mathewes had betrayed both consumers and their country.  The Committee even more stridently made that point, proclaiming that “every such Violator should be treated with the utmost Contempt.”  Furthermore, the committee instructed those who supported the nonimportation agreement “against having any commercial Dealings whatever with the said ANN & BENJAMIN MATHEWES.”  Until they took the necessary actions to redeem themselves, “their Actions must declare them to be obstinate and inveterate Enemies to their Country, and unworthy of the least Confidence or Esteem.”

The General Committee told two stories of violations of the nonimportation agreement, one about the contrite Glen and Son and the other about two generations of the Mathewes family who refused to abide by the resolutions they had signed.  In each instance, the committee made recommendations for how members of the community should interpret these actions and react to the perpetrators.  By publishing this advertisement, the committee used the power of the press in their efforts to achieve compliance with the agreement and shape the narrative of resistance to the duties on certain imported goods that Parliament imposed in the Townshend Acts.

July 20

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

Jul 20 - 7:20:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 20, 1769).

“Violaters of the Non-importation Agreement.”

An advertisement concerning violations of the nonimportation agreement in New York, one “Of greater Importance to the Public, than any which has yet appeared on the like Occasions,” ran in the July 20, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. It detailed the indiscretions of Simeon Cooley, “Haberdasher, Jeweller and Silversmith,” who had moved to New York from London a few years earlier. Cooley had done well for himself, benefitting “so much by the Favour of his Customers” that he had managed to purchases a house in the city, near the Merchants Coffee House. When it came to the politics of nonimportation, Cooley initially displayed “a Disposition to co-operate with his Fellow Citizens, in the Measures thought necessary to be pursued for the Recovery and Preservation of their common inestimable Rights and Liberties.”

Yet Cooley did not abide by the nonimportation agreement that he had willingly signed. He was one of the first residents of New York suspected of having broken the pact, yet he explained that his goods did not fall under the agreement because they had been ordered before it went into effect. They arrived later than expected, but he had not submitted new orders since signing the agreement. Seemingly to his credit, he agreed to place those goods in storage while the agreement was still in effect, but that was just a ruse that took advantage of the leniency of the committee responsible for enforcement. Cooley attempted to salvage his reputation; the committee did not realize his “knavish Jesuitical Intentions.” He insisted that his goods would be ruined “unless they were opened and well cleaned.” Under that subterfuge, the “vile Ingrate” did not return all of the offending goods to the storehouse.

Even more boldly, he more recently imported other goods in the Edward, the “last Ship from London.” A record of the Edward arriving in New York appeared in the shipping news on the same page as the advertisement detailing Cooley’s transgressions. Cooley had finished pretending to submit to the nonimportation agreement: “he hesitates not to declare, that he has not at any time with-held his Orders for Goods, that he has already sold Part of those so treacherously and fraudulently obtained out of the Public Store, as before mentioned, that he will continue to sell the Remainder, together with those which arrived since, and all such as may arrive hereafter.” Cooley had no regard for anything stated in the nonimportation agreement, even though he had willingly signed it.

In response, the advertisement called on “the virtuous Inhabitants of this Colony” to exercise the appropriate “spirited and patriotic Conduct” when it came to Cooley and his “contemptuous Machinations.” This was not merely a matter of refusing to buy and sell from “so contemptible a Reptile and Miscreant” but also refusing to “have the least Intercourse with him on any Pretence whatsoever.” In other words, those who supported “so righteous a Cause” as the nonimportation agreement were instructed to shun Cooley. Furthermore, it was necessary to make an example of Cooley to keep his contagion from spreading. The advertisement demanded that he should “be treated on all Occasions, and by all legal Means as an Enemy to his Country, a Pest to Society, and a vile Disturber of the Peace, Police, and good Order of this City.”

Through his own actions, Cooley had damaged his reputation. He neglected to learn from his mistakes and refused to back down when discovered. This lengthy advertisement documented his violations of the nonimportation agreement and recommended punishments appropriate to the egregious manner he conducted himself. The repercussions were not confined to the realm of commerce but instead extended to his everyday interactions with the “virtuous Inhabitants of this Colony” as they shunned him for his violations. Cooley had earned the “Hatred of the Public.”