What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The Smith’s Shop is carried on … with the same Care and Dispatch as was in her Husband’s Lifetime.”
When Thomas Williams, a blacksmith in Prince George’s County, Maryland, passed away, his widow, Cave, served as administratrix of his estate, joined by another Thomas Williams, perhaps an adult son, as administrator. They jointly placed an advertisement in the February 1, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette, deploying standard language calling on “ALL Persons having any just Claims” against the estate to present them. At the same time they requested that anyone “indebted to the said Estate” settle accounts or else face legal action.
That advertisement featured an addendum that revealed the widow did not serve as administratrix of the estate merely in a ceremonial capacity. She assumed responsibility for her husband’s business and pledged to maintain it after his death. “The Smith’s shop,” she informed readers, “is carried on, by the Subscriber, with the same Care and Dispatch as was in her Husband’s Lifetime.” The widow most likely did not work as a blacksmith herself, though historians have identified some women who did pursue that trade in colonial America. She much more likely managed the business, continuing and expanding on contributions she made to the family business while her husband was still alive. She may have previously served in a role that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has described as “deputy husband,” taking on tasks most often associated with men but undertaken by their wives when necessary. Those tasks might have included interacting with customers and ordering supplies on behalf of the business, exercising authority presumed to belong to her husband but seamlessly transferred to her as his representative. The widow certainly had a sense of what needed to be done for the “Smith’s Shop” to serve customers and succeed. She vowed that “all Gentlemen and others may depend on their Work being done faithfully.” She also asserted that she kept on hand “a Sufficiency of Coal and Iron, so as not to disappoint any Customer.” Even if Cave Williams did not pump the bellows or pound a hammer herself, she understood the operations of her family’s blacksmith shop. She aimed to convince previous clients of that, asking for “the Continuance of their Favours,” while simultaneously attracting new customers.