What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.”
Elisabeth Russel, John Giles, and William Russel, the executors of Alexander Russel’s estate, harnessed the power of the press in fulfilling their duties. In the spring of 1771, they ran an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, calling on “ALL Persons indebted to the Estate … to make immediate Payment, and all Persons having Demands thereon to bring them in.”
The estate notice also attended to the continuation of the business that Alexander operated before his death. “THE SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS,” the executors announced, “is carried on as heretofore, under the Direction of a proper Person.” Furthermore, “Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.” In similar circumstances, some widows took over managing the family’s business, continuing responsibilities they previously pursued and expanding others. After all, they made significant contributions before their husbands died, even if their names never appeared in advertisements. Husbands tended to be the public face, but wives provided various kinds of labor, including keeping ledgers and interacting with customers, that did not receive the same recognition and notice.
When it came to the managing the Russels’ “SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS,” however, the widow did not assume all of the responsibilities previously undertaken by her husband. Instead, the executors assured prospective clients that “a proper Person” oversaw the day-to-day operations. Yet they did not erase the widow. They made clear that “Mrs. Russel” was now the proprietor. The employees were “her Hands.” She appreciated customers who continued to hire their services. This formulation positioned the widow as both a proprietor who took appropriate steps in maintaining the business and an object of sympathy who merited consideration following the death of her husband. Her livelihood depended, at least in part, on the family’s business remaining a viable enterprise. In the interests of both her customers and herself, the executors suggested, the widow made responsible decisions. Prospective customers could have confidence that the Russel family’s business, now headed by Elisabeth, maintained the same quality and continued uninterrupted in the wake of Alexander’s death.