What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To carry on Business on her own proper Account, as sole Dealer and seperate Trader.”
Anne Raymor published an advertisement with an unusual twist. Throughout the colonies, newspaper readers would have been very familiar with advertisements for runaway wives, a genre in which aggrieved husbands announced that their wives had absconded or “eloped” from them and warning merchants, shopkeepers, and other not to extend any credit to them. In such instances, men exercised financial mastery over women, curtailing their ability to participate in the marketplace as consumers.
According to today’s advertisement, Anne Raymor wished to be more than a consumer. She wanted to “carry on Business on her own proper Account, as sole Dealer and seperate Trader, exclusive and free from any Concern with her Husband.” In this instance, it was the wife who sought to sever financial connections with the husband. This was a particularly transgressive course considering the political and economic rights of women under the laws of coverture in eighteenth-century America.
Upon marriage, a woman became a feme covert, her legal identity subsumed by her husband, the head of the family and household. She could not own property in her own name, sign contracts, control her own earnings, or sue others in court. All of these actions would have been important and necessary, then as now, for women who operated businesses, whether shopkeepers, milliners, seamstresses, or tavernkeepers. An unmarried woman, a feme sole, did not labor under such restrictions.
Raymor did not provide any details about her dispute with her husband, but she sought some means to function as a feme sole and pursue her business interests independently of her husband’s oversight or interference. Obtaining credit “from some of her Friends” provided an avenue to do so, at least according to the “Advice of Council at Law” that she had consulted.
This advertisement demonstrates that women found themselves in a precarious position when it came to being entrepreneurs in eighteenth-century America. Making a living was also difficult for men, but it was even more imperative for most women to rely on others, especially networks of friends, when they operated on their own in the marketplace. Anne Raymor found herself in the position of using the limited space in her advertisement to delineate her relationship with her husband rather than extolling the qualities of her merchandise.