What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The mustard and chocolate business is carried on as usual.”
Mary Crathorne, a widow, placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette calling on “ALL persons that are any ways indebted to the estate of JONATHAN CRATHORNE … to make immediate payment.” She also requested that “all those who have any demands against said estate” to submit them so she could settle accounts. As administratrix (or executor) of her husband’s estate, she followed the standard protocols for placing newspaper advertisements.
Yet she also appended a nota bene to inform readers, regardless of whether they had unfinished business with her husband’s estate, that “The mustard and chocolate business is carried on as usual, and the highest price for mustard seed is given.” Like many other widows, Crathorne carried on her husband’s business after his death. Although she shouldered some new responsibilities, much of what went into the daily operations of the “mustard and chocolate business” may have been quite familiar to her already. Especially in busy port cities like Philadelphia, colonial wives often assisted their husbands who ran businesses. They served customers and provided other labor when necessary, yet their contributions usually remained hidden or unacknowledged.
Mary Crathorne may not have taken over all of her husband’s former duties. Her role may have been restricted to managing and overseeing male relatives and employees who continued the business on her behalf, leaving the specialized work to them. Still, she now held a position as the proprietress who represented the business to the public. Her name appeared in the public prints, not only peddling mustard produced at her shop but also negotiating for the supplies necessary for continuing the endeavor. She announced that she paid “23 shillings per bushel,” proclaiming it the “highest price for mustard seed” paid in the colony.
This advertisement does not tell Mary Crathorne’s entire story, but it does suggest that women played a more substantial role in the colonial marketplace as entrepreneurs – producers, suppliers, and retailers – than advertisements placed by their husbands might otherwise indicate. At least temporarily, Mary Crathorne operated her husband’s business after his death, perhaps continuing and expanding on activities that she previously performed.