GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
Elizabeth Clark placed this advertisement to sell an assortment of seeds. She got her supplies “per Capt. Freeman” from London. The timing makes perfect sense, because April showers bring May, June, July, and August crops. With it being late March the planting season was right upon colonists in Boston and the rest of Massachusetts.
Anyone who frequently visits the Adverts 250 Project might notice that this advertisement seems repetitive. To be honest I had to review my work from my first week as guest curator in February. The historical impact that woman of the past have on women of the present and future interests me greatly so I try to pick advertisements that feature primarily woman if I am able. On February 17, I featured an advertisement from Lydia Dyar, who also sold garden seeds and had gotten them from Captain Freeman. In his additional commentary Prof. Keyes also pointed out an advertisement from yet another woman, Susanna Renken, who both sold seeds and bought them from Captain Freeman. All three of these woman posted similar advertisements, for mostly the same product, and bought their goods from the same man.
Two of them seem to have had shops in the same vicinity: Mill Creek. Susanna Renken states that her shop is “near the Draw Bridge” and Elizabeth Clark advertised that she was located “near the Mill Bridge,” which was located on Mill Creek. This trade card helped further convince me that these two woman shops were near each other because William Breck had a shop “at the Golden Key near the draw-Bridge Boston.”
Nathaniel Abraham, who also regularly advertised in the Boston newspapers, listed “Sign of the Golden Key, in Ann-street” as his location too.
This map shows that Ann Street intersected Mill Creek. The drawbridge crossed Mill Creek. Elizabeth Clark, Susanna Renken, William Breck, and Nathaniel Abraham had shops located near each other.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
I am impressed with the way that Elizabeth mobilizes several different primary sources –newspaper advertisements, trade cards, maps – in a preliminary attempt to reconstruct neighborhoods and marketplaces in Boston in the 1760s. This is work that historians and scholars in related fields have undertaken on a grander scale.
I appreciate that Elizabeth draws attention to an aspect of eighteenth-century advertisements that has not yet received much attention here: when examined systematically the locations listed in the advertisements help us to understand not only the geography of early American towns and cities but also relationships of various sorts.
More than two decades would pass before publication of the Boston Directory, the city’s first directory that listed the occupations and residences of its inhabitants, in 1789. That and subsequent city directories from Boston and other urban centers in early America have been invaluable to historians, but such sources do not exist for earlier periods.
Elizabeth has discovered on her own – and helps to demonstrate – that newspaper advertisements provide more information than just lists of goods or attempts to convince potential customers to make purchases. They include valuable information about where people worked and where they lived, details that fill in some of the blanks for an era before city directories.