What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“It appears that his Advertisement was the invidious product of Malice, and not of Prudence.”
A week ago I featured an advertisement for a runaway wife. Robert Hebbard cautioned against “trusting, trading or dealing with” his wife, Joanna. I noted that the advertisement was a little of the ordinary for this project. My intention is to explore advertising used to market consumer goods and services. Still, I included an advertisement for a runaway wife because earlier in the week I had featured another runaway, an indentured servant who had been captured (who was indeed a commodity for the term of his indenture), as well as an advertisement announcing the impending sale of an enslaved woman (another person who was also a commodity, though most likely permanently in this case). Like those two, the advertisement for the runaway Joanna featured a person on the margins being further marginalized in an advertisement bought and paid for by somebody who regularly exercised greater power and authority in colonial society and commercial interactions.
Runaway wives appeared frequently in the advertising pages of colonial newspapers. I encountered at least one other while selecting advertisements for the past week. On occasion, such advertisements spark a response, as we see here. The response is much more extensive than the original advertisement, which could perhaps be explained in part by Joanna, as a woman, being at a disadvantage in any sort of public dispute with Robert, the head of household and, according to the laws of coverture, her master in many ways. Sometimes runaway wives published answers to their husband’s notices themselves, but I do not believe that it is inconsequential that Joanna Hebbard deferred to a man to defend her in print. It may have been one thing to exercise such agency in departing from her husband, but quite another to engage him directly in a very public dispute. Aaron Cleaveland makes quite clear that Joanna “now resides in this Town, in good Credit” (which may refer to her character or her ability to engage in commercial exchanges) “and has never contracted the least Debt on his Account” (which certainly refers to the marketplace and Joanna’s capacity for behaving responsibly). Despite Robert Hebbard’s efforts, it doesn’t seem that he was able to obstruct his wife’s ability to make the necessary purchases to support herself independently.
I offer this advertisement for those who were intrigued by Robert Hebbard’s notice last week, as an update and continuation of the story. Will this be the last we hear from the Hebbards? I’m not certain. Starting next Sunday one of my students will begin guest curating. I am leaving the selection of advertisements up to her, but I will be looking through subsequent issues of the New-London Gazette so I can provide further updates if the Hebbards or any of their acquaintances did indeed turn to the public prints to hash out their family affairs.