Lesson title: Merchants, Shopkeepers, and Colonial Newspapers
Overview: This lesson addresses the relationship of the colonial press to merchants on the eve of the Revolution. It shows both how merchants and shopkeepers used the press to promote their businesses and how the press became a political tool used by patriots to put pressure on traders. After examining two Boston Gazette items provided on this website, students will list at least one cause and effect relationship concerning Boston traders and their businesses as reported in the press. Allow about 30 minutes for this analysis.
Historical background: From the 1720s on, merchants and shopkeepers increasingly turned to newspapers to advertise their wares. By the 1750s, advertisements contained long and varied lists of fashionable merchandise. Often, traders drew attention to their British connections, noting that new goods were "imported from London." In the 1760s and 1770s, when colonists turned to boycotts and non-importation agreements as tools of protest against parliamentary legislation, goods became highly politicized. At the same time, newspapers conveyed important information about those who supported and opposed such movements. Advertisements and notices in the press underlined the political context of shopping and the disruptive impact of protests on trade.
Guiding Questions: What was the relationship between the press and traders on the eve of the Revolution? How were Boston's colonial shopkeepers and merchants affected by newspaper articles?
Learning Objective: The student will identify the economic and political cause/effect relationships involving merchants and shopkeepers mentioned in items from Boston newspapers.
Activities: For elementary students, analyzing primary sources is a new activity that must be guided and taken slowly. Have students read aloud the Jane Eustis advertisement in the Boston Gazette concerning her intention to close up her shop. Discuss the content of the item. Have students identify unfamiliar terms and look them up in a dictionary or in the site glossary. Then follow the same procedure with the Boston Gazettearticle on Boston traders who did not support non-importation agreements.
Assessment: Many students at the elementary level have already engaged in cause and effect exercises with regard to literature. A cause and effect chart is a useful tool for clarifying and emphasizing historical connections and causation. Have students list at least one cause/effect relationship per article concerning Boston traders and their businesses as reported in the press.
Bibliography: For more on the Cumings sisters and Jane Eustis, see Patricia Cleary, Elizabeth Murray: A Woman’s Pursuit of Independence in Eighteenth-Century America. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.)Teacher-author: This lesson was prepared by Meri Fedak, Long Beach Unified School District.