October 29

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Boston-Gazette (October 29, 1770).

SARAH DAWSON, the Widow of JOSEPH DAWSON, Gardener.”

Compared to their male counterparts, relatively few female entrepreneurs placed advertisements promoting their commercial activities in Boston’s newspapers in the early 1770s.  With the exception of clusters of advertisements placed by female seed sellers in the spring, commercial notices constituted a primarily male space in the public prints.  Esther Harrison was one of those female shopkeepers who did run advertisements.  Her notice in the October 29, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette listed a variety of “Shop Goods cheap for Cash,” similar to advertisements placed by Benjamin Church, Archbald Cunningham, Joshua Gardner, John Gore, Jr., John Head, William Smith, Thomas Walley, and others.

Two other women joined Harrison in advertising the businesses they operated in that edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Most likely by chance rather than by design, their advertisements appeared side by side, one in each column on the final page.  Abigail Davidson and Sarah Dawson both advertised trees, shrubs, and seeds.  Unlike Harrison, Davidson and Dawson connected their businesses to men who had once operated them.  Dawson identified herself as “the Widow of JOSEPH DAWSON, Gardener, lately deceas’d.”  Davidson noted that the trees she sold had been “grafted and innoculated by William Davidson, deceased.”  In both instances, the women likely contributed to the family business before the death of a male relation but did not become the public face for the business until after.  Davidson and Dawson made reference to those male gardeners in much the same way that male advertisers often described their credentials as they sought to convince prospective customers and clients that they were qualified for the job.

Harrison, Davidson, and Dawson all ran businesses.  Their entrepreneurial activities included marketing their wares via newspaper advertisements.  Harrison presented herself as the sole proprietor of her shop, but Davidson and Dawson adopted an approach often taken by women who found themselves responsible for the family business after the death of a husband or other relation.  They identified themselves in connection to the deceased relative, mediating their commercial message through the authority and expertise of men.  Even as female advertisers, their appearance in the public prints contributed to the depiction the marketplace as a predominantly masculine space when it came to producers, sellers, and suppliers.

September 17

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Boston-Gazette (September 17, 1770).

“To be sold one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”

Abigail Davidson was one of several women in Boston who placed newspaper advertisements offering seeds for sale in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Their advertisements usually ran in multiple newspapers starting late in the winter and continuing through the spring.  Most of these female seed sellers, including Davidson, did not place advertisements for seeds or other goods at any other time during the year.  That made Davidson’s advertisement in the September 17, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette all the more notable.

Rather than marketing seeds exclusively, Davidson offered trees, bushes, and “all Sorts of dried Sweet Herbs” as well.  She proclaimed that she had “a large Collection of the best Sorts of young graffed and innoculated English Fruit Trees.”  That work had been done “by William Davidson, deceased.”  Abigail did not comment on her relationship to the deceased William, but expected that prospective customers were familiar with his reputation for horticulture.  She did not previously mention a husband, son, brother, or other male relation in her advertisements, but perhaps a recent death in the family prompted her to assume greater responsibilities that had her placing advertisements in the fall in addition to the spring.  Widows who operated family businesses following the death of their husbands frequently made reference to their departed spouses in their newspaper advertisements as a means of offering reassurance to prospective customers that the quality of their goods and services continued uninterrupted.

Davidson was determined to attract customers and set her prices accordingly.  In a nota bene that concluded her advertisement, she declared that she sold her trees, bushes, and seeds “one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”  In other words, she offered a deep discount to her customers.  If she feared the family business might lose customers following the death of William, this strategy stood to preserve those relationships as well as entice new customers interested in significant savings.  Davidson combined William’s reputation and bargain prices in her marketing efforts.

March 5

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Mar 5 - 3:5:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 5, 1770).

“Large Marrowfats, early Charlston.”

Susanna Renken and Abigail Davidson were the first in 1770.  Spring was on the way.  Newspaper advertisements for garden seeds were among the many signs of the changing seasons that greeted colonists in Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution.  Every year a cohort of women took to the pages of the several newspapers published in Boston to promote the seeds they offered for sale.  Renken and Davidson both placed advertisements in the March 5, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, conveniently placed one after the other.  Readers could expect that soon advertisements placed by other female entrepreneurs would join them.  Although printers and compositors usually did not impose any sort of classification system on newspaper notices, they did tend to cluster advertisements by women selling seeds together, a nod toward the possibility of organizing the information in advertisements for the convenience of subscribers and other readers.  Renken, usually one of the most prolific and aggressive of the female seed sellers when it came to advertising, also placed a notice (with identical copy) in the March 5 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

Renken concluded her advertisement with a brief note about other merchandise available at her shop, “all sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.”  That brief reference to a commercial strategy for protesting the duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts belied how the imperial crisis would intensify by the end of the day.  That evening a crowd outside the Boston Custom House on King Street (now State Street), harassing British soldiers.  The encounter culminated in the Boston Massacre or what Paul Revere termed the “BLOODY MASSACRE” in an engraving intended to stoke patriotic sentiment among the colonists.  Three men died instantly; two others who were wounded died soon after.  Collectively, they have been considered the first casualties of the American Revolution, along with Christopher Seider who had died less than two weeks earlier.  A week after Renken and Davidson placed their first advertisements of the season, other women joined them in advertising seeds in the Boston-Gazette.  Their advertisements, however, were enclosed in thick borders that denoted mourning.  Many of them appeared on the same page as coverage of the Boston Massacre.