Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“My wife, HANNAH FREDERICK, did … elope from my bed and board.”
In the eighteenth century, aggrieved husbands often took to the pages of newspapers to warn others not to extend credit to misbehaving wives who “eloped” from them. Readers regularly encountered “runaway wife” advertisements in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Those notices continued to appear during the era of the American Revolution and, as Mary Beth Sievens demonstrates, well into the nineteenth century.
Although most notices followed a pattern, each provided details specific to a particular household. Wives usually “eloped” from their husbands on their own, but in an advertisement in the August 8, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle one husband reported that his wife, Hannah Frederick, “did … elope from my bed and board … with a certain Abraham Hudson.” The husband believed that the two of them traveled “from Fish-Kills, in Duchess County, in New-York government … to Elizabeth-Town” in New Jersey “and from thence to Philadelphia.” To aid readers in identifying his wife, the advertiser reported that her “maiden name was Hannah Coleman” and she “served her time,” likely as an indentured servant, “with John Taylor, at Tinicum-Island.” He concluded with a formulaic statement cutting his wife off from his credit: “these are therefore to forewarn all persons from trusting her on my account, as I shall pay no debts of her contracting after the date hereof.”
Printers published such advertisements without offering commentary of their own, but, in this instance, William Goddard did insert a clarification. “In the copy of the foregoing Advertisement, which was sent to the Printer,” he explained, “the Advertiser’s name was omitted.” As a result, the husband’s name appeared as “———- FREDERICK.” That being the case, how did Goddard handle payment for the advertisement? Some printers required advertisers to pay in advance, even though they extended credit to subscribers. After all, advertising comprised a lucrative revenue stream. Occasional notices in eighteenth-century newspapers, however, make clear that some printers did allow credit for advertisements as well as subscriptions. This husband may have submitted payment, but not his name, to the printing office … or Goddard may have taken a chance that he would settle up in a timely manner. Even if that was the case, the printer’s trust only went so far. The advertisement ran just twice (August 8 and 15), though most newspapers initially published advertisements for three or four weeks for a set fee before charging a lower fee for each insertion. Goddard may have been carefully managing how much credit he extended to “———- FREDERICK” even as that husband attempted to exert control over his credit when it became clear his wife was beyond his influence.
 Mary Beth Sievens, “Female Consumerism and Household Authority in Early National New England,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 4, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 353-371.