January 20

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 20, 1773).

“I accused her wrongfully, and beg her pardon for the same.”

Newspaper advertisements delivered many kinds of information in eighteenth-century America.  Some described consumer goods and services offered by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans.  Legal notices and estate notices supplemented news articles about local events.  Advertisements about enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from their enslavers and indentured servants who ran away before their contracts ended provided descriptions and promised rewards for their capture and return.  Notices about wives who “eloped” from their husbands and, as a result, no longer had access to credit kept readers informed about some of the gossip in their community.

Other advertisements carried other kinds of gossip.  In the January 20, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, for instance, Mary Doyle inserted a notice in which she confessed that she mistakenly accused an acquaintance of stealing her pocketbook, realized her error, and asked for forgiveness.  “I MARY DOYLE,” she stated, “having mislaid my Pocket-Book, and missing it in the Market place, most injustly charged Mrs. Mary M’Clean, (wife of Hugh M’Clean, Stone-cutter,) with taking the same.”  Doyle apparently found her missing pocketbook and realized her error, prompting her to published the advertisement.  “I therefore think myself bound to inform the public,” she continued, “that I accused her wrongfully, and beg ger pardon for the same.”

Like most advertisements about recalcitrant wives who vexed their husbands, this advertisement did not include all the juicy details about what happened at the market.  Readers could imagine the scene that unfolded.  Some may have already been aware of what transpired, having witnessed it themselves.  Others may have already heard gossip about an altercation between the two women.  Those learning about the confrontation for the first time may have wanted to learn more and decided to ask their friends and acquaintances about what occurred.  Rather than quiet the gossip about Doyle’s missing pocketbook and the accusations she made against McClean, the advertisement may have helped in inciting more gossip.  New chatter, however, had a conclusion in which Doyle set the record straight by restoring McClean’s reputation.  She shifted the story away from a possible theft to her own mistake in making an erroneous accusation.  Doyle sought to repair her relationship with McClean, though publishing a newspaper advertisement also facilitated gossip about a recent argument in the market.