November 8

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

Nov 8 - 11:8:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 8, 1768).

“M. NELSON, PASTRY-COOK, from LONDON.”

The advertisements that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers testify to the presence of women in the marketplace as purveyors of goods and services, not merely as consumers. They ran their own businesses. They advanced their commercial activities in the public prints, carving out greater visibility for themselves in their communities. Yet women who advertised adopted a variety of approaches when it came to establishing that visibility.

Consider three advertisements that appeared in the November 8, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its supplement devoted entirely to advertisements. Mary King, a milliner, achieved the greatest visibility. Her notice used her name as a headline: “MARY KING.” A secondary headline, “A COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT of / MILLINARY GOODS,” described the merchandise that she then listed in greater detail. King achieved greater visibility as a female entrepreneur than either of the other two women who placed advertisements in the same issue.

Sabina Taylor was the least visible. Her advertisement filled only six lines, making it one of the shortest in the entire issue. Unlike many of the other advertisements of similar length, hers did not include a headline that pronounced her name in larger font and capital letters. Instead, the schoolmistress figuratively signed her name on the final line. Although “SABINA TAYLOR” appeared in capitals, her name still was not in a larger font. The lack of white space in her own notice as well as the headline for the advertisement that appeared immediately below, “TO BE SOLD CHEAP,” crowded out Taylor’s signature, making it even more difficult to spot her on the page.

  1. Nelson charted a middle course. Her advertisement occupied only lightly less space than King’s notice. She also had a headline – “M. NELSON” – and secondary headline – “PASTRY-COOK, from LONDON” – with sufficient white space to draw attention to her advertisement. Yet she did not list her full name, making it impossible for many readers to recognize at a glance that her advertisement promoted an enterprise operated by a woman. Many residents of Charleston would have already known of Nelson and her business. For those who did not, it would not have been apparent that a woman placed the advertisement until they read the body in which Nelson expressed “her sincere thanks to those gentlemen and ladies who has honoured her with their custom.” Nelson asserted visibility for her business while simultaneously downplaying her own visibility as a female entrepreneur.

Women who provided consumer goods and services were present among the advertisers in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but their decisions about the copy for their advertisements resulted in various levels of visibility. While Mary King boldly claimed a place alongside male entrepreneurs, Sabina Taylor and M. Nelson obscured their participation in the marketplace even as they promoted the goods and services they offered to consumers.

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.

April 7

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

Apr 7 - 4:7:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 7, 1768).

“MARY SYMONDS, MILLENER, Is now removed from her late Shop.”

The advertisement that Mary Symonds, a milliner, inserted in the April 7, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazettedid not look any different than others promoting consumer goods and services, but that belies her role as an extraordinary advertiser in early America.

What made Symonds extraordinary?  It was not merely that she was a female entrepreneur who advertised her wares in the public prints.  True, women were disproportionately underrepresented among newspaper advertisers in eighteenth-century America, especially in busy urban ports like Philadelphia where they comprised anywhere from a quarter to a third or more of shopkeepers.  Despite their numbers, relatively few ran newspaper advertisements.  Yet enough did that Symonds could not be considered extraordinary – then or now – for placing an advertisement that promoted the “very large and neat Assortment of MILLENERY GOODS for Sale” at her new shop on Chestnut Street.

In addition to regularly running notices in newspapers, Symonds resorted to at least one other form of advertising, one that male merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans dominated even more than newspaper advertisements.  By 1770 she distributed a large trade card to incite demand among prospective customers.  Trade cards circulated widely in England, especially in London.  The practice made its way across the Atlantic to the colonies, but relatively few women adopted this method of advertising.  Those that did tended to commission rather simple designs that did not rival the engraved images that graced the trade cards passed out by their male counterparts.

Fewer than half a dozen trade cards distributed by American women in the eighteenth century have survived, indicating that even fewer women resorted to trade cards than placed newspaper advertisements.  That made Symonds an extraordinary advertiser.  Her trade card stands out as an example not of what was probably in the eighteenth-century marketplace but instead what was possible.  The milliner devised an advertising campaign that incorporated one of the most innovative methods deployed by male entrepreneurs, supplementing her newspaper advertisements with engraved trade cards for current customers and prospective clients.  In so doing, she made a major investment in her marketing efforts, expecting it to pay off by attracting more business to her shop.

Colonists encountered a visual landscape of advertising every day.  By distributing her trade card, Mary Symonds claimed a place in that visual landscape of circulating ephemera just as she physically occupied a space in the marketplace by operating a shop on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.

Mar 23 - Mary Symonds Trade Card
Trade card (with receipted bill on reverse) distributed  by Mary Symonds in 1770 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania:  Cadwalader Collection, Series II: General John Cadwalader Papers, Box 5: Incoming Correspondence: Pa-Sy, Item 19: Su-Sy).

December 15

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

Dec 15 - 12:15:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 15, 1767).

“She continues the Upholstery Business with Mr. COLEMAN.”

Rebecca Weyman’s advertisement announcing that “she continues the Upholstery Business” demonstrated what was possible for women participating in the eighteenth-century marketplace, though not necessarily what was probable. Relatively few women placed newspaper advertisements publicizing the goods and services they provided during the colonial era. Of those who did resort to the advertising to promote their business endeavors, most were shopkeepers, seamstresses, milliners and schoolmistresses. Each pursued occupations widely considered appropriate for women. Seamstresses and, especially, milliners might have been considered artisans, but their work depended on skills traditionally associated with women’s labor within the household. Their presence in the marketplace and the public prints did not disrupt prevailing gender expectations.

On occasion, other female artisans ran advertisements, but they were small in number among both the general population and advertisers. Those who did place newspaper advertisements often did so in collaboration with a male relative, supervisor, or partner, perhaps as a means of tamping down apprehensions that they participated in the market in ways that deviated from what was considered appropriate for women. Note that Rebecca Weyman appended her own advertisement to the conclusion of Thomas Coleman’s much lengthier notice. In it, she specified that she “continues the Upholstery Business with Mr. COLEMAN.” For his part, Coleman indicated that he operated the business “At Mr. Edward Weyman’s.” The female upholsterer had both a business partner and a male relation overseeing her work. This gave her additional security to earn a living as an upholsterer by sanctioning her endeavors and shielding her from criticism. In a marketplace dominated by men, Rebecca Weyman mobilized her affiliation with these particular men as a means of giving her more freedom to operate her business, doing her best to transform constraint into opportunity.

Not all female advertisers, however, opted to establish masculine oversight of their business endeavors in their advertisements. An advertisement for a female shopkeeper appeared in the same column of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, placed by “FRANCES SWALLOW, SOLE-TRADER.” Among the colonies, South Carolina had a fairly unique legal designation for married women who operated businesses independently of their husbands: sole trader. Swallow established her autonomy in the first line of her advertisement, adopting a very different strategy than Weyman. Perhaps Rebecca Weyman believed that allowing Thomas Coleman to do the bulk of the marketing in their joint advertisement allowed her to attract attention for her services without attracting condemnation for her intrusion into the marketplace.

October 15

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

Oct 15 - 10:15:1767 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (October 15, 1767).

“MILLINERY … supplied on the shortest notices, by … M. and J. HUNTER.”

At a glance, this advertisement for a “GENTEEL ASSORTMENT of MILLINERY” placed by M. and J. Hunter in the October 15, 1767, issue of the Virginia Gazette seems to obscure the participation of women in the marketplace – and in the public prints – as retailers and producers, at least to modern readers who do not possess the same familiarity with Williamsburg in the 1760s as residents of the period.

Only upon close reading of the second paragraph does it become clear that M. and J. Hunter, the “humble servants” who imported and sold “all the materials for making hats and bonnets,” were women. Since milliners often tended to be women, some readers might have made this assumption as soon as they spotted the word “MILLINERY” in large, bold letters. Yet male shopkeepers and merchants, even if they did not work as milliners themselves, also imported, advertised, and sold millinery supplies to milliners and the general public. That the Hunters who placed the advertisement were women becomes clear when once states, “The subscriber having a sister just arrived from LONDON, who understands the millinery business, she hopes to carry it on to the satisfaction of those who shall favour them with their commands.” Here it becomes clear that the “subscriber,” the person who placed the notice, was a woman who went into business with a sister recently arrived in the colony: “The subscriber” referenced herself as “she.”

While it requires some special attention for the modern reader to identify M. and J. Hunter as female entrepreneurs, it would not have been as difficult for eighteenth-century readers who resided in Williamsburg. Note the careful attention to detail in the advertisement. The Hunters described their merchandise in detail, providing a long list of items as a means of signaling the wide array of choices available to consumers. They made appeals to gentility, fashion, and price. Yet they did not indicate where they operated their millinery shop. This suggests that the Hunters, especially the sister who already resided in Williamsburg for some time, believed that local readers of the Virginia Gazette already knew who they were and where to find them. The signature “M. and J. Hunter” alone does not reveal to modern readers that these milliners were women, but it would have been sufficient for contemporary residents of Williamsburg to immediately associate the advertisement with female entrepreneurs.

October 4

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

Oct 4 - 10:1:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 1, 1767).

“The mustard and chocolate business is carried on as usual.”

Mary Crathorne, a widow, placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette calling on “ALL persons that are any ways indebted to the estate of JONATHAN CRATHORNE … to make immediate payment.” She also requested that “all those who have any demands against said estate” to submit them so she could settle accounts. As administratrix (or executor) of her husband’s estate, she followed the standard protocols for placing newspaper advertisements.

Yet she also appended a nota bene to inform readers, regardless of whether they had unfinished business with her husband’s estate, that “The mustard and chocolate business is carried on as usual, and the highest price for mustard seed is given.” Like many other widows, Crathorne carried on her husband’s business after his death. Although she shouldered some new responsibilities, much of what went into the daily operations of the “mustard and chocolate business” may have been quite familiar to her already. Especially in busy port cities like Philadelphia, colonial wives often assisted their husbands who ran businesses. They served customers and provided other labor when necessary, yet their contributions usually remained hidden or unacknowledged.

Mary Crathorne may not have taken over all of her husband’s former duties. Her role may have been restricted to managing and overseeing male relatives and employees who continued the business on her behalf, leaving the specialized work to them. Still, she now held a position as the proprietress who represented the business to the public. Her name appeared in the public prints, not only peddling mustard produced at her shop but also negotiating for the supplies necessary for continuing the endeavor. She announced that she paid “23 shillings per bushel,” proclaiming it the “highest price for mustard seed” paid in the colony.

This advertisement does not tell Mary Crathorne’s entire story, but it does suggest that women played a more substantial role in the colonial marketplace as entrepreneurs – producers, suppliers, and retailers – than advertisements placed by their husbands might otherwise indicate. At least temporarily, Mary Crathorne operated her husband’s business after his death, perhaps continuing and expanding on activities that she previously performed.