March 18

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

Boston Evening-Post (March 18, 1771).

“Susannah Brimmer … has resigned Business to he Son.”

In the early 1770s, Susannah Brimmer ran a shop the South End of Boston.  In May 1771, she placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter announcing that she “resigned Business to her Son, Andrew Brimmer.”  The younger Brimmer recently imported a “fresh Assortment of English Goods” from London and planned to sell them “Wholesale and Retail, Very Cheap for Cash.”  He also carried “Pepper, Spices, English Loaf Sugar,” and other grocery items.

Even though Susannah had been an enterprising entrepreneur who established her own clientele and made improvements to her shop, she did not appear in the pages of the Evening-Post, the Weekly News-Letter, or any of the other newspapers published in Boston prior to transferring her business to her son.  She did not place advertisements to promote her business.  Susannah instead relied on other means of attracting customers, such as renovations to her shop to enhance the shopping experience for consumers.

Not every merchant and shopkeeper in colonial Boston advertised in one or more of the many newspapers printed there, but women who ran businesses advertised less often than their male counterparts.  Certainly, fewer women than men earned their livelihoods as proprietors of businesses, yet that does not explain why they were proportionally underrepresented among advertisers.  It does not explain why Susannah never advertised until she transferred her business to Andrew.

Perhaps attitudes about women in business help to explain the reticence of some female entrepreneurs when it came to inserting advertisements in the public prints.  A satirical letter to the editor by the purported “Widows of this City” in the January 21, 1733, edition of the New-York Weekly Journal mocked “she Merchants” and their participation in any sector of the public sphere.  Shopkeepers like Susannah Brimmer may have navigated a careful course of encouraging prospective customers without drawing unwelcome attention to themselves via newspaper advertisements.  Friendships and other relationships, word of mouth, making improvements to her shop, and other strategies likely served Brimmer well in the absence of running advertisements.  Once she “resigned Business to her Son,” however, she did not have the same concerns.  To increase his likelihood of success, she recommended his shop to both “her Customers and Others,” hoping that he would build on and expand the clientele she cultivated.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:26:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 26, 1768).

“He entreats a Continuation of Messrs. DAVID and JOHN DEAS’s Customers.”

Andrew Lord launched a new enterprise in the spring of 1768, at least an enterprise that was new to him. He took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journalto announce that he had “bought out Messrs. DAVID and JOHN DEAS, and taken the Stores and house lately occupied by them.”  He planned to sell all of the merchandise already on hand, pledging to part with it “very low.”  Prospective customers enjoyed bargain prices as the new proprietor attempted to clear out the existing inventory.

In addition to inviting new patrons to his store, Lord hoped to invoke loyalty among customers who already shopped there when it still belonged to the previous owners:  “He entreats a Continuation of Messrs. DAVID and JOHN DEAS’s Customers.”  This was not loyalty to the purveyors of goods but rather loyalty to the goods themselves.  Lord implied that since the Deas’s former customers appreciated the wares they had previously purchased that they would continue to be satisfied as they selected among the inventory he had obtained.  He much more explicitly, however, invited the Deas’s customers to give him a chance to demonstrate that he could serve them just as well as the former proprietors had done.  He stressed that “he expects a compleat Assortment of GOODS by the first Vessels from London and Bristol,” an assortment that he believed maintained the standards that customers had come to anticipate when making purchases in the store he now operated.

The existing clientele may have factored into Lord’s decision to acquire a shop and inventory owned by two of Charleston’s most prominent merchants and slave traders.  According to his advertisement, he certainly hoped that familiarity with the location and merchandise would convince previous patrons to continue making purchases at the same store, especially since he offered low prices and an extensive selection.  The proprietor had changed, but other aspects of the business remained the same.  Accordingly, there was no need to seek out other vendors, at least not without first giving Lord the opportunity to demonstrate that customers would not experience any disruption in the experience they had come to expect when shopping at that store.