What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
Mary Cowley was the subject of some gossip by “Envious or Prejudiced” residents of Newport. She placed this advertisement in part to promote her business enterprises and in part to set the record straight when it came to some false reports she had heard.
Cowley was a busy woman, which likely brought her under more scrutiny than some of her neighbors and made her a target of “Envious or Prejudiced” gossip. She pursued two occupations, proprietress of a house of entertainment and dancing instructor. Both of these may have made other colonists suspicious of her, especially if she was unmarried or widowed and without a male relative to oversee her activities and interactions with patrons who visited her at “the House near the Entrance of Mr. Dyer’s Grove” or her pupils for the dancing lessons she provided at her own house. Male dancing masters frequently inserted reassuring words in their advertisements to convince potential students and the general public of their propriety, which was especially important given the close physical contact with students inherent in dancing lessons. Cowley was also vulnerable to such suspicions, especially if she offered lessons in the absence of a patriarch to chaperone her. She did venture to address such concerns, but only pledged to “give Satisfaction in every Branch of my Undertaking.”
Entertaining “none but the genteeler Sort” (which may have entailed serving food and beverages and overseeing polite conversation) appears to have been a relatively new endeavor for Cowley. Some may have assumed that it would so distract her from teaching dancing that she would cease meeting with students, but she had “no Thoughts of giving up that Business.”
Unlike many other female advertisers who assured potential customers and the general public that they behaved in appropriately feminine fashion even though they operated businesses of their own and inserted their voice in the public prints to attract business, Mary Cowley took a much more assertive tone. She answered gossip that circulated beyond the newspaper and concluded by thanking “every Well wisher of their humble Servant” for the “due Encouragement” they would bestow upon her.