Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“My Wife Joanna Hebbard, hath for some time past Eloped from me.”
This advertisement does not present a commodity to be traded in the marketplace. Unlike slaves and indentured servants, Robert Hebbard could not buy or sell his wife. That did not necessarily make Joanna Hebbard’s position much less precarious than that of runaway indentured servant Daniel O’Mullen or the “Likely strong NEGRO GIRL” featured in recent days. Under the laws of coverture, a woman’s legal rights and obligations — indeed, her identity as well — were subsumed under her husband upon marriage. Joanna Hebbard, like so many other women in colonial America, was expected to abide by the will of the family patriarch, the head of household, in order to maintain good order within the family and, by extension, stable government within the colony. Robert Hebbard’s advertisement does not reveal what sorts of domestic relations caused his wife to depart, but advertisements for runaway wives indicate that not all women were willing to be confined by the laws of coverture. Sometimes “eloping” from their husbands became their only option.