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William Jackson, an Importer; at the Brazen Head

William Jackson, an Importer; at the Brazen Head Broadside
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[ This description is from the project: Object of the Month ]

In this anonymous broadside notice, probably distributed in Boston in the winter of 1769-1770, "It is desired that the SONS and DAUGHTERS of LIBERTY, would not buy any one thing, of [William Jackson]." In spite of enormous public pressure, Jackson, a Boston merchant, defied the non-importation agreement that almost all of his fellow merchants had signed in August 1768.

Jackson's Variety Store

William Jackson was born in Boston in 1731. By 1756, he was in business with his widowed mother, Mary Jackson, who operated a store at the sign of the Brazen Head in Cornhill, next to the Town House (the Old State House) in Boston, where they sold hardware as well as groceries and general merchandise. Although the Jacksons lost all their property in a devastating Boston fire that began in their home in 1760, by 1763 "Billie" Jackson was in business on his own, importing an extraordinary range of English imported goods—everything from "buff, blue, and scarlet Broadcloth" to "German serges, stuffs for gowns, Linnen, Cambricks, and Lawns [a fine linen thinner than cambric] of all Prices, neat silk and black Russel Shoes, brass Kettles, London Pewter, frying and warming pans, Buckles, Buttons, Knives, Rasors, with a full Assortment of all kinds [of] London, Birmingham, and Sheffield Hard Wares, too many to enumerate," along with "blue & white Tea-Cups, Saucers, Milk Jugs, English Loaf Sugars, etc., etc., etc.," as well as "Fresh Hyson, Souchong, Singlo, and Bohea Teas," "Lisbon lemmons," and "Glocester cheese."

Non-importation Agreements

During the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765-1766, one of the most effective methods adopted by the American colonists to pressure the royal government to repeal the Stamp Act duties had been non-importation agreements signed by colonial merchants. The merchants agreed to suspend the importation of British goods and their boycott, together with the general refusal to pay stamp duties and more violent resistance by the Sons of Liberty, led to the repeal of the Act.

With the enactment of the Townshend Acts in 1767, resistance to British encroachments upon the rights of the American colonists quickly revived and centered on new non-importation agreements. This time, however, there was less support for the boycott of British imported goods and some colonial merchants, including William Jackson in Boston, chose to flout the agreements.

The Price of Loyalty

In January-February 1770, William Jackson was listed in Boston newspapers among "the Names of those who audaciously continue to counteract the united Sentiments of the Body of Merchants throughout NORTH AMERICA, by importing British goods contrary to the agreement." Handbills and newspaper advertisements warning Bostonians not to patronize the shops of merchants who defied the non-importation agreement had circulated since the spring of 1769, but this broadside probably dates from later in 1769 or early in 1770 when crowds erected signs and effigies pointing out "importers" (including Jackson), and gathered in the street outside their stores to harass potential customers. These were among the events, including an apparent attempt to burn down Jackson's store, that led up to the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770.

William Jackson remained a loyal supporter of the King through the outbreak of the American Revolution. When the British forces evacuated Boston in March 1776, he fled by ship, only to be captured by an American privateer and forced to return to Boston. The following year, after a period of imprisonment, he was accused of attempting to profit from the distress caused by the Revolution and ceremonially banished from Boston. He had done so well in business in the years leading up to the Revolution that he received only modest compensation from the British government and died in England in 1810.

Educational Website Devoted to the Coming of the Revolution

The Massachusetts Historical Society launched an educational website, The Coming of the American Revolution, that brings more than 150 digitized documents from the Society's collections (including the broadside displayed here) into classrooms with transcriptions, accompanying contextual essays, guiding questions, and a full teacher-created curriculum. Letters, newspapers, broadsides and eyewitness accounts from the years 1764-1776 are arranged into fifteen topical areas and nine overarching concepts. The website, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, makes accessible key documents from a crucial period of American history in an easily navigable format. As one educator has noted, "This website bridges the gap between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries. Students are able to read original documents from the eighteenth century with the technology of the twenty-first."

For Further Reading

Boston 1775. "At the Brazen Head in Cornhill Boston," (first of many blogs about the store).
     In a series of posts at his website, Boston 1775, beginning on 26 December 2018, J. L. Bell has added much additional information to what we know about the Jackson family's store "at the Brazen Head"--including how it received its interesting name--and corrected a number of books and websites (including the MHS website) where it has been described erroneously as a tavern.

Breen, T. H. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jones, E. Alfred. The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Their Memorials, Petitions, and Claims. London: The Saint Catherine Press, 1930.

Maier, Pauline. From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972.

Matthews, Albert. "Joyce Junior." Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Volume 8 (Transactions 1902-1904). Boston: Published by the Society, 1906, 90-104.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution. New York: Columbia University, 1918.

Tyler, John W. Smugglers & Patriots: Boston Merchants and the Advent of the American Revolution. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986.

Note: This web presentation was revised in January 2019 when clarifications were made to the description of the variety store and a new resource was added to the reading list.