Every now and then, I reach the dammit! point of my research, where I am forced to realize that Everything I Assumed Was Wrong. I try to make those moments a cause for celebration, even though they’re often deeply frustrating. Do not pass GO, Do not collect $200, Go directly to the Library.
Well… Boston ain’t London. And the North American colonies ain’t Great Britain. The business structure, the size of the cities, is different. Distribution of goods is different, thanks to tariffs and non-import/export laws. Which means?
Peddling. It’s not a thing. Or it’s a very difficult thing to document.
Which means that all the things I’d thought about doing for the Massacre (day or night) are probably wrong. (Remember, this is when we celebrate!)
Hey, I’m not the only one rethinking my approach.
But there it is: I’ve looked in the Boston Selectmen’s Minutes for 1768-1771, and while there is plenty of small pox (yay!) and many lemons being imported (yay! punch!) and there are licenses being granted for selling strong drink in inns and houses, there are no peddlers licenses. There are no licenses for street vendors of any kind. Hmmmm….
I’ve also read the Dublin Seminar publications Itinerancy in New England and New York (1984) and Life on the Streets and Commons, 1600 to the Present (2005). Not looking good here for street vendors and hawkers pre-1800.
While I never particularly trust early 20th century monographs and articles without footnotes, the somewhat entertaining Hawkers & walkers in early America : strolling peddlers, preachers, lawyers, doctors, players, and others, from the beginning to the Civil War informed me that street vending was not common in North American British Colonies, and in fact, was not commonly seen until after 1800.
What the ever-loving heckers?
I found peddlers’ licenses in Philadelphia for 1770: all men. But so far, nothing in Providence, Boston, or Newport (or Connecticut). The theory is that itinerant sales people didn’t pay taxes the way merchants did, and that merchants therefore lobbied against them. In Providence, the earliest mention I’ve found thus far is a lobster and fish man at the Great Bridge in 1818.
Just as the watch of Boston differed from the watch in London, so too, it seems, did the petty retailers. I still can’t quite believe there were no street peddlers and hawkers in colonial cities, but I’ll need a new way to approach this question.