February 4

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

Feb 4 - 2:1:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (February 1, 1770).

“The Smith’s Shop is carried on … with the same Care and Dispatch as was in her Husband’s Lifetime.”

When Thomas Williams, a blacksmith in Prince George’s County, Maryland, passed away, his widow, Cave, served as administratrix of his estate, joined by another Thomas Williams, perhaps an adult son, as administrator. They jointly placed an advertisement in the February 1, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette, deploying standard language calling on “ALL Persons having any just Claims” against the estate to present them. At the same time they requested that anyone “indebted to the said Estate” settle accounts or else face legal action.

That advertisement featured an addendum that revealed the widow did not serve as administratrix of the estate merely in a ceremonial capacity. She assumed responsibility for her husband’s business and pledged to maintain it after his death. “The Smith’s shop,” she informed readers, “is carried on, by the Subscriber, with the same Care and Dispatch as was in her Husband’s Lifetime.” The widow most likely did not work as a blacksmith herself, though historians have identified some women who did pursue that trade in colonial America. She much more likely managed the business, continuing and expanding on contributions she made to the family business while her husband was still alive. She may have previously served in a role that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has described as “deputy husband,” taking on tasks most often associated with men but undertaken by their wives when necessary. Those tasks might have included interacting with customers and ordering supplies on behalf of the business, exercising authority presumed to belong to her husband but seamlessly transferred to her as his representative. The widow certainly had a sense of what needed to be done for the “Smith’s Shop” to serve customers and succeed. She vowed that “all Gentlemen and others may depend on their Work being done faithfully.” She also asserted that she kept on hand “a Sufficiency of Coal and Iron, so as not to disappoint any Customer.” Even if Cave Williams did not pump the bellows or pound a hammer herself, she understood the operations of her family’s blacksmith shop. She aimed to convince previous clients of that, asking for “the Continuance of their Favours,” while simultaneously attracting new customers.

October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 5, 1768).

“Mrs. Cosgreve would undertake to teach young Ladies to sew and read.”

Although several schoolmasters and –mistresses offered their services in Savannah in the late 1760s, James Cosgreve published one of the most extensive advertisements in the Georgia Gazette. The length was due in part to the schoolmaster’s description of his curriculum. Like his counterparts, he taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, he also delivered lessons in several other subjects not as widely taught by other schoolmasters in Georgia at the time. For instance, Cosgreve indicated that he provided instruction in “Mathematicks, such as the first six books of Euclid, with their application in the theory and practice of Trigonometry, Navigation, Surveying, Gnomicks, Astronomy, Geography, Algebra, and the Use of the Globes.” He also offered two tracks of language instruction to match the abilities and resources of his students. Advanced students learned Latin and Greek, but those who “cannot spend so much time at school as to acquire” those languages “to any degree of perfection” could instead study “the English and French tongues grammatically.” Cosgreve was well qualified to teach all of these subjects, “having acquired a competent skill and communicative faculty … by the laborious study and experience of a long course of years, in the most noted Seminaries, Academies, and Schools in Ireland, England, and America.”

In a short nota bene Cosgreve first noted where he resided and then added that “Mrs. Cosgreve would undertake to teach young Ladies to sew and read.” Mrs. Cosgreve was not nearly as accomplished as her husband, yet she also contributed to their household economy by offering her services as a teacher. She too participated in the marketplace, yet the representation of her activities that appeared in the public prints was dramatically overshadowed by her husband’s lengthy narration of his credentials and subjects he taught. Such was often the case for wives of schoolmasters and others who provided goods and services. If their contributions to family businesses and household finances were acknowledged at all, they tended to be mentioned only briefly in the conclusions to advertisements, almost as an afterthought. Admittedly, James Cosgreve did require a greater amount of space to detail the many and varied subjects he proposed teaching to “young Gentlemen and Ladies,” but that did not mean that Mrs. Cosgreve’s parallel instruction in sewing and reading had to be consigned to a nota bene. The husband could have instead chosen to depict his wife as an assistant or junior partner while still maintaining his status as the head of a well-ordered household. Such an approach was not unknown in eighteenth-century advertisements placed by schoolmasters whose wives made contributions to the enterprise. In this case, however, Cosgreve may have believed that placing any more emphasis on his wife would have distracted from the image of himself, the atmosphere of genteel learning at his school, and the extensive curriculum that he sought to market to prospective students and their parents.

February 19

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Feb 19 - 2:17:1766 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 17, 1766).

“A large Assortment of Kilmarnock Carpets.”

Lewis and Bant posted this advertisement to advertise their carpeting and flooring company. They also say they have a good assortment of other English goods which would be sold to the consumer for “very low for cash.” Their shop was located in Cornhill Street, which is now part of Washington Street in Boston.

The advertisement describes their carpets as Kilmarnock and being imported from Glasgow. Glasgow is a major river port city, whereas Kilmarnock is in west central Scotland. Many goods were made in the country and they would be brought into populated port cities to be sold or exported.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 9.32.04 AM
Location of Kilmarnock in Scotland.

The carpet is being sold in ½ , ¾, and yard measurements, which is not much different than today. Unless you are buying a standardized size (usually 8×12 ft or 6×9 ft) today, carpets are custom measured in either yards or feet. Also parts of the advertising style haven’t changed much for carpet companies in the Boston area. Lechmere Rug Co. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a local family-owned carpet company that has been in the area since 1975.

This advertisement grabbed my attention because I have worked at Lechmere Rug since I was little, alongside my father, who owns the business, and my brother. I have measured homes and dropped off rugs, so naturally I chose this advertisement because it reaches close to home for me.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

One of the things that I enjoy most about working on the Adverts 250 Project is discovering the ways that eighteenth-century advertisements resonate with others. For some readers, specific advertisements speak to their own scholarly interests. Others draw connections between certain advertisements and their everyday lives, their occupations, their hobbies, their interests, their choices as consumers in the early twenty-first century.

I would not have predicted that Elizabeth would select this particular advertisement. It appeared right above shopkeeper Jane Eustis’s much lengthier advertisement. Knowing that Elizabeth is especially interested in women’s history and sought to include as many advertisements from women as possible during her time as guest curator, I would have guessed Jane Eustis’s advertisement would have been at the top of her list.

But that was before I knew that Elizabeth had worked in the family business at Lechmere Rug Co. Her father’s name is listed on the web site, but not the names of their expert installers or other staff. Patrick Curley speaks with pride on behalf of the craftsmen he employs. Lewis and Bant’s advertisement does not indicate the names of others who worked in their shop either, but many historians of women in early America have demonstrated that wives and other female relations often assisted in operating family businesses in the colonial era. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has described them as “deputy husbands” because these women temporarily assumed traditionally masculine responsibilities in the marketplace when their husbands were not available.

Today’s advertisement may not explicitly feature a woman, unlike others Elizabeth has chosen, but it does allow us to explore women’s history as we question who else might have been working in Lewis and Bant’s shop. Then and now, many members make valuable contributions to family businesses. Elizabeth has assisted her father and brother at Lechmere Rug Co. It is possible that wives and daughters worked in Lewis and Bant’s shop as well.