What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“She continues to make up EVERY ARTICLE in the MILINARY WAY.”
Readers encountered many advertisements that listed dozens of consumer goods when they perused the June 11, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and the supplement that accompanied it. Indeed, rather than news accounts the first items on the first page consisted of advertisements for “a general and very compleat ASSORTMENT of GOODS, just imported … from London” that listed many kinds of textiles, garments, and adornments. Male entrepreneurs placed most of those advertisements, but women also made an appearance in the public prints. Jane Thomson ran her own notice for a “neat assortment of MILINARY GOODS.”
Thomson stocked everything from “pink, green, white, sky blue, and black English persians” to “women and girls silk and leather gloves and mitts” to “blond lace, single and double edged.” After listing dozens of items, she proclaimed that her inventory also included “many other articles, too tedious to enumerate.” She offered as many choices to consumers as her male competitors. In addition to retailing those goods, Thomson informed prospective clients that she “continues to make up EVERY ARTICLE in the MILINARY WAY, and FINE JOINS LACE as usual.” That made her a producer as well as a purveyor of goods.
Editorials in early American newspapers often framed women solely as consumers, usually to critique their activities in the marketplace, but Thomson demonstrated that women filled other roles during the consumer revolution. They ran their own businesses, negotiated with English merchants who supplied their inventory, kept ledgers and other records, collected debts, produced goods, placed advertisements, and mentored other women. Thomson informed readers that she sought “one GIRL a[s] an apprentice,” someone she could train as a milliner who might eventually operate her own business.
Many more women pursued shopkeeping and other occupations in eighteenth-century American than placed newspaper advertisements. As a result, the public prints did not give a complete accounting of the presence of women in the marketplace as producers and purveyors of consumer goods. As they went about their daily business, however, colonists certainly knew that many of their female friends, relatives, and neighbors operated businesses of one kind or another. Jane Thomson’s advertisement only hints at the number of women who made or sold goods in Charleston in the early 1770s.