July 17

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jul 17 - 7:17:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 17, 1766).

Mary Biddle sold “MAPS of the Province of Pennsylvania and PLANS and PROSPECTS of the CITY of PHILADELPHIA” at “the House of Capt. M’Funn, in Third street, above Arch street.” Her advertisement did not provide much additional information, leaving the impression that she might have been a mere retailer of these items. She offered very little detail about the maps, a bit of a surprise considering the labor and expertise that went into creating and producing maps in the eighteenth century. What was Mary Biddle’s connection to the maps she advertised?

Jul 17 - 10:7:1762 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 7, 1762).

Many readers may have already been aware of some of the particulars of the map Biddle sold. Nearly four years earlier she (and others) had published a subscription notice in advance of producing the map. By seeking subscribers, Biddle and her partners were able to gauge interest in their project in order to determine if it would be profitable. The subscription notice also served to incite interest in the project, increasing the chances that it would be successful and turn a profit.

That subscription notice included more information about Biddle’s role in making the map available to the public. She was listed as an editor, along with Matthew Clarkson. Despite the impression created by her later advertisement, Biddle was not merely a retailer. She was a cartographer in her own right!

The Library of Congress provides some biographical information that tells more of Biddle’s story. She was the daughter of Nicholas Scull and Abigail Heap. Scull was a prominent surveyor and cartographer who served as Surveyor General of Pennsylvania from 1748 until his death in 1761. All three of Scull’s sons went on to become surveyors, but it appears that the elder Scull passed along his knowledge to his daughter as well.

Jul 17 - Map of Philadelphia
Nicholas Scull, Matthew Clarkson, and Mary Biddle, To the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, Common Council of Freemen of Philadelphia this Plan of the Improved Part of the City (Philadelphia:  Sold by the Editors, Matthew Clarkson and Mary Biddle, 1762).  Library of Congress.  For more detail, zoom in on the map via the Library of Congress.

When Mary Biddle and her husband fell on hard times, she contributed to the family by editing this map, which had been “surveyed and laid down by the late Nicholas Scull.” The map itself included an advertisement in the lower right corner: “Sold by the Editors Matthew Clarkson and Mary Biddle in PHILADELPHIA.” This map was eventually republished many times, but the 1762 edition was the only one that acknowledged Biddle’s contribution.

Today’s short advertisement belies the significant role that Mary Biddle played in the creation, production, and distribution of this important map. In that regard it was similar to many other advertisements placed by men for the businesses they operated that did not acknowledge the labor, skill, expertise, or other contributions their wives and other female relatives contributed to their enterprises.

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