September 4

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

Sep 4 - 9:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (September 1, 1768).

“Under the inspection of Mrs. BROADFIELD, whose knowledge and experience in that branch of business is well known.”

Margaret Broadfield was not exceptional for having placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the late summer of 1768, though female entrepreneurs were certainly disproportionately underrepresented among advertisers in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Especially in bustling port cities, women pursued a variety of occupations but relatively few promoted their businesses in the public prints. Still, female shopkeepers, milliners, seamstresses, and others placed advertisements frequently enough that readers were accustomed to seeing women appearing alongside men among the paid notices in colonial newspapers, just as they were accustomed to encountering women working alongside men when they traversed the streets of cities and towns.

What did make Broadfield’s advertisement exceptional was the authority she asserted over a male colleague. When women and men appeared together in eighteenth-century advertisements, the copy often suggested that women played subordinate roles to their male counterparts. Such advertisements implied that women in business labored under appropriate supervision by husbands, sons, or other male relations. That was not the case with Broadfield. She made it clear that she exercised authority over a male associate, Elijah Bond, at least when it came to preparing sturgeon for the market.

For many years Broadfield had “made it her business to cure STURGEON in North-America.” The quality of her product had been widely acknowledged. Local consumers, according to Broadfield, considered her sturgeon and its associated products “preferable to any manufactured by other persons.” Those products included pickled sturgeon, caviar, glue, oil, and isinglass (a gelatin used in making jellies and glue and for clarifying ale). Yet it was not just customers in the colonies who had recognized the quality of the various commodities she marketed. Broadfield had “obtained the first premium of Fifty Pounds sterling, from the society of arts and commerce in London” for her abilities in “manufacturing sturgeon in the several branches.”

Broadfield was preparing to leave the colonies. She advertised in hopes of finding a successor to take over her business permanently, either a “sober industrious person” or a family whom she could teach “the whole art, secret, and mystery of manufacturing sturgeon in the several branches.” For the moment, however, one of her suppliers, Elijah Bond, carried on her business in addition to operating his own fishery near Trenton. He did so “under the care and inspection of Mrs. BROADFIELD, whose knowledge and experience in that branch of business is well known.” It was Broadfield’s expertise that gave value to the sturgeon products offered for sale, whether purchased from Bond near Trenton or from shopkeepers in Philadelphia. Few advertisements depicted women exercising such authority over male associates in eighteenth-century America, but they were not completely unknown. Broadfield deemed her own skill and reputation the most important elements for selling her products and, ultimately, transferring her business to another entrepreneur.

September 20

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

Sep 20 - 9:17:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 17, 1767).

“Many other Medicines.”

In addition to working as a steward and apothecary at the Pennsylvania Hospital, George Weed sold a variety of medicines from his home “at the Corner of Arch and Front-streets” in Philadelphia. Regardless of the malady, Weed seemed to have some sort of remedy for every patient: “an excellent Syrup to cure the Bloody Flux,” “a Balsamick Syrup, which cures Colds, Coughs, Shortness of Breath, Spitting of Blood,” and other symptoms of consumption, and “a Sudorifick Elixir, which cures the Gout and Rheumatism … by a gentle Sweat.” He also peddled “Fine Cordials for Infants,” but was also prepared “to cure the Venereal Disease in all its Stages” for adult patients

In the 1770s, the apothecary assumed the title of “Dr. George Weed” in various advertisements, though this may have been a courtesy initially bestowed by patients and associates who benefited from consuming or selling his medicines. In 1767, he proclaimed that he had been “bred to the Practice of PHYSICK and SURGERY,” deploying a phrase that often denoted some sort of formal education or apprenticeship. Whatever impression such wording suggested to readers, Weed may have been referring to his “more than 30 Years Experience” during which time he “had the greatest Opportunity to gain Skill, from his own immediate Observations, and the Advice of the ablest Physicians of this Province.” If potential customers misunderstood the nature of his training, that hardly mattered compared to the “greatest Attention and Integrity” he devoted to “the Relief of the Sick, the Wounded, Infirm and Distressed.”

Weed’s employment at the Pennsylvania Hospital came to an end in 1767. Once he found himself in the position of earning a living “in a more private Station,” he may have considered his previous affiliation with the hospital sufficient for taking the title of doctor if it meant convincing more prospective customers to purchase his nostrums and tinctures. Calling himself “Dr. George Weed” bestowed additional authority as he marketed the medicines he mixed to customers in Philadelphia and exported them to other colonies. Weed did not consistently use this title in advertisements he placed during the final year of his life, but the Pennsylvania Evening Post referred to him as “Dr. GEORGE WEED” when announcing his death on February 1, 1777. For nearly a year, his widow, Elizabeth, subsequently sought to mobilize the clout associated with “Doctor George Weed” as she advertised that she continued to sell medicines he prepared before his death.

Although the apothecary did not tout himself as “Dr. George Weed” in his advertisements immediately after leaving the Pennsylvania Hospital, as more time elapsed he may have realized the benefits of shading his qualifications just slightly in order to sell his drugs. Patients who published testimonials, shopkeepers who sold his elixirs, and newspaper editors who reported his death all eventually granted him the title of doctor, perhaps out of respect for his skill and experience if not in recognition of any particular formal training.