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California standards:

Lesson title: Colonial Trade and Advertising

Overview: In this lesson, students will explore the world of colonial shopping and commerce. By analyzing colonial advertisements, they will gain an understanding of how shopkeepers appealed to customers and how colonial commerce involved trans-Atlantic trade. The activities in this lesson should take approximately 50 minutes. The materials needed for this lesson, as well as the standards it meets, are noted at right.

Historical background: In the colonial period, shopkeepers advertised their goods in various ways. Some posted signs with images of the goods they sold, so that people who could not read would know what was for sale, such as a fan outside a fan shop. Some placed notices in newspapers, which were published in larger towns weekly after the 1720s. Other shopkeepers handed out or posted flyers known as broadsides. These advertisements reveal the increasing variety of imported consumer goods available in colonial America in the mid-eighteenth century. The details in them indicate that many of the goods came directly from England. Shopkeepers drew attention to their British connections to attract customers who sought to imitate and participate in British fashions. A student background essay is available in the materials section.

Guiding questions: How did early American colonial shopkeepers attract business? What information do their advertisements reveal about daily life in colonial America? What insights do these advertisements offer about colonial commerce?

Learning objective: The student will demonstrate an understanding of colonial advertising and commerce.

Activities: Begin the lesson by using a copy of an advertising broadside from Elizabeth Murray’s shop. Have students read the document and background essay carefully, noting any words that may need clarification. Next, have students fill out the provided worksheet for historical analysis. (30 minutes) 

Assessment: After discussing or showing other examples of broadsides and shop signs, have students assume the identity of colonial shopkeepers who must design broadsides advertising their shops. Make sure that they design their broadsides using key words, fonts, and illustrations to attract potential customers; they should keep within acceptable colonial terms (not using modern slang or slogans). Also have them create a sign to put outside their shops. Make sure that both educated and uneducated customers could tell what goods or services are offered. (20 minutes)

Extending the lesson: This lesson lends itself to extension activities.

1. To study the colonial trade routes, have students create a map showing the flow of goods between the colonies and Great Britain and other parts of the world. Make sure they include arrows to indicate the directions various goods were going. Label the names of various goods, as well as important colonial seaports.

2. Using a modern advertisement from a newspaper or magazine, have students orally describe the use of key words, fonts, and illustrations to attract potential customers.

Teacher-author: This lesson was prepared by Meri Fedak, Long Beach Unified School District.