What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To be SOLD, by Priscilla Manning, At her Shop in SALEM.”
Priscilla Manning placed a remarkable advertisement for “her Shop in SALEM” in the December 19, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Compared to newspapers published in nearby Boston and Portsmouth, the Essex Gazette carried relatively few advertisements for consumer goods and services. Those that did appear tended to be short, extending no more than a single “square.” Manning’s advertisement, on the other hand, filled two squares. Other advertisements in the Essex Gazette offered a summary of inventory, such as “An Assortment of English and India GOODS,” but Manning enumerated the choices she made available to customers. She stocked dozens of textiles as well as hose, caps, gloves, shoes, and trimmings to adorn garments.
Manning’s advertisement resembled those that ran in Boston’s newspapers much more than those that tended to appear in the Essex Gazette. In that regard it may have been remarkable in the Essex Gazette, but not when considered in the context of newspaper advertisements published throughout the colonies in the 1760s. Manning adopted familiar methods of marketing her wares in her advertisement, likely having consulted newspapers from Boston and other places in addition to the Essex Gazette. Yet that did not disqualify her advertisement from being remarkable in another aspect. Few female entrepreneurs advertised consumer goods and services, even in the largest and busiest port cities. Although women constituted a significant proportion of shopkeepers in urban ports, they tended not to promote their activities in the marketplace in the public prints. This made Manning’s advertisement twice as bold in the Essex Gazette, bold for its length and bold for publicizing the activities of a female entrepreneur. Manning’s name served as a headline; it appeared in larger font than anything else on the same page or the facing page. At a glance, it made her business the single most visible item in that issue of the Essex Gazette. Although women were underrepresented among advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America, they certainly were not absent. Advertisements like those placed by Priscilla Manning made it impossible to overlook women’s activities in the marketplace as producers, suppliers, merchants, and, especially, retailers, not just as shoppers and consumers.
Update: This was the first of many advertisements Manning placed over several decades. Donna Seger uses them (and includes images!) as the foundation for a short biography of Priscilla Manning Abbot in “It was Her Shop” on Streets of Salem.