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T. H. Breen, Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 115.


The eighteenth century witnessed a rapidly growing consumer market in the colonies.  Increased quantities of goods – of wider variety, higher quality, and lower price – become available throughout the colonies. In this excerpt, historian T. H. Breen addresses the physical presence and numbers of the retail establishments that consumers frequented in their search for British goods.

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“Nestled among the more prominent structures of the port cities—perhaps on crowded streets just beyond the docks—one would have encountered the stores that linked ordinary consumers to the great British merchant houses which had originally transported the manufactured goods to America. However modest these shops may have appeared in comparison to the soaring church spires, they were no less important in the lives of the colonists…. A survey conducted in 1771 revealed that Boston, a city of about sixteen thousand people, supported over five hundred separate shops. Several smaller port towns in Massachusetts also reported surprisingly large numbers. Although Salem had a population only half that of Boston, it listed 172 stores, while nearby Charleston, a modest farm community, boasted of ninety-nine retail outlets.”


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