July 5

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (July 2, 1772).

“M. ASBY, Millener from LONDON.”

In the summer of 1772, James Asby took to the pages of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform the public that he imported a “compleat Assortment of Gold, Silver, Pinchbeck & Tortoishell WATCHES” and sold them at his shop “nearly opposite the British Coffee-House in King-street.”  He placed that notice in collaboration with M. Asby, a “Millener from LONDON” who advised “her Customers and other Ladies” that she “removed from the Corner of Cross-street to a Tenement in Capt. Joy’s Buildings in Quaker-Lane.”  James and M. did not disclose their relationship.  They might have been husband and wife operating businesses at different locations, but they might have been brother and sister, father and daughter, or mother and son.

Whatever their relationship, promoting the millinery shop accounted for two-thirds of the advertisement, an interesting contrast to most advertisements shared by male and female relations.  In most instances, women’s contributions to the family business or enterprises that they pursued on their own amounted to a brief sentence or two at the end of an advertisement, if they were mentioned at all.  In this case, however, M. described in some detail the “compleat Assortment of dress and undress Caps of the newest Fashions, Ribbons, Gauzes, silk Gloves and Mits, Ladies Patterns for Ruffels, and Handkerchiefs, and many other Articles in the Millenary Way” that she imported.  In addition, she declared that she made cloaks, hats, bonnets, and other garments “on the shortest Notice, and in the most fashionable Taste.”  By reiterating “newest Fashions” and “most Fashionable Taste,” she sought to reassure prospective customers that they could trust her to outfit them according to the latest styles.  Underscoring that she was an entrepreneur in her own right, M. concluded the advertisement with a note that “An Apprentice is wanted to the said Business.”

Even as James and M. invested in an advertisement together, she became the focal point of the notice.  Her name and occupation, “M. ASBY, Millener from LONDON,” appeared in larger font and centered, drawing attention.  In contrast, James’s name, though in all capitals, appeared in the same size font in the middle of a paragraph.  Only on closer examination would readers have discovered that the two placed the advertisement together.  At first glance, most readers likely assumed the advertisement concerned M. and her business alone.  Even though her name appeared second, she took the lead in the advertisement that James and M. shared.

May 22

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

Connecticut Journal (May 22, 1771).

Mrs. SMITH takes this Method to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary.”

When Joseph Smith relocated from New York to New Haven, he took to the pages of the Connecticut Journal to “acquaint the Public, That he has open’d a Store … and has for Sale a Variety of fancy’d GOODS, proper for the Season.”  He then listed a variety of textiles, including “Flower’d and plain Sattins of all colours,” “Strip’d Camblets,” and “Flower’d and strip’d Muslins.”  He also carried accessories, such as “Black & white Silk & Thread Laces for Caps,” “Feathers & Flowers of all Colours,” and “All Kinds of Trimings for Cloaks.”  In addition to enumerating dozens of items, Smith asserted that he stocked “sundry other Articles too tedious to mention.”

Although Smith presented himself as the primary purveyor of these goods, the advertisement revealed that his wife also contributed to the family business.  In a brief note that followed the catalog of merchandise, she addressed prospective customers.  “Mrs. SMITH takes this Method,” she declared, “to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary either plain or fashionable, such as Caps, Hats, Bonnets, Cloaks, Childrens Jockies, &c.”  She provided an ancillary service that enhanced the retail business.  She undoubtedly assisted her husband in serving customers, making recommendations about what was “plain or fashionable,” and taking care of other aspects of running the store, but her contributions did not end there.  She was an entrepreneur in her own right, even if the advertisement emphasized Joseph as the proprietor and only made reference to her skills and labor at the very end.  Still, Mrs. Smith gained greater visibility in the public prints than most wives, daughters, and other female relations who aided male heads of households in operating their businesses.  Elsewhere in the same issue of the Connecticut Journal, Hubbard and Atwater, Isaac Beers and Elias Beers, and Paul Noyes advertised various goods, from medicines to textiles to leather breeches.  None of their notices mentioned anyone other than the proprietors of their businesses, but all of them almost certainly benefited from invisible labor provided by women.  Even in what appeared as a postscript to a much longer advertisement, Mrs. Smith gained greater public recognition as an entrepreneur than most other women did for their contributions to their family businesses.

March 25

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

Boston-Gazette (March 23, 1772).

“Elizabeth Coleman … Continues the Brewing-Business.”

Women who advertised that they provided goods and services usually fell into one of several occupational groups. Female shopkeepers promoted a variety of imported goods, especially textiles and accessories for making clothing. Milliners and seamstresses advertised the hats and garments they made for clients.  Schoolmistresses invited prospective students and their parents to lessons that included reading, writing, and sewing.

On occasion, however, women who pursued other occupations ran advertisements in the public prints.  Elizabeth Coleman, for instance, informed the public that she “Continues the Brewing-Business” in a notice that ran in the March 23, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  She pledged to “serve with Dispatch, the best of double and single Malt and Spruce Beer in as large or small quantities as is wanted.”  No order was too large or too small for Coleman!  Furthermore, she set prices “at as reasonable Rate as good Beer can be afforded.”

Although Coleman operated a “Brewing-Business,” she may have been the proprietor and employer rather a brewer herself.  She indicated that she “now employed a Person brought up to the Business.”  Perhaps that employee’s knowledge, skill, and experience supplemented her own, expanding the number of brewers affiliated with Coleman’s business.  Perhaps as a woman in a predominantly male occupation she sought to downplay her own contributions as brewer in favor by giving credit to an employee “brought up to the Business,” believing that strategy would attract more customers.

Whatever the extent of Coleman’s active participation as a brewer, she was an entrepreneur who ran her own business and sought visibility for it in the public prints.  In addition to selling beers produced by her “Brewing-Business,” she also marketed “the best of Philadelphia and Baltimore Beer” imported from other colonial ports.  Her customers could choose from among a selection of beers to suit their tastes and budgets.  They could even enjoy their beverages, perhaps with some food, at Coleman’s establishment.  She declared that she “keeps good Entertainment for Man and Horses.”  In addition to retailing beer, she ran a tavern with access to a stable as part of her larger operation.  That made her as industrious an entrepreneur as any of the male merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who also placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette.

February 26

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

Boston-Gazette (February 24, 1772).

“A fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds.”

It was a sign that spring was approaching.  The first advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds” than ran in the Boston newspapers in 1772 appeared in the February 24 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Lydia Dyar informed the public that she stocked seeds for “Collyflower, Cucumber, Onion, Carrot, Turnip, Raddish, and Lettice of all sorts,” an “assortment of Flower Seeds,” and “a Variety of other Seeds not mentioned.”  She pledged that her inventory, obtained “from the Seeds men in LONDON,” consisted of seeds “warranted to be fresh and good, and of the last Year’s Produce.”

Dyar was one of several “Seeds women” in Boston who placed newspaper advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  More than half a dozen female entrepreneurs annually took the pages of newspapers published in the busy port city to draw attention to the imported seeds they offered for sale.  Most did not advertise at any time of the year except spring, nor did most advertise other sorts of goods.  That does not mean that they did not keep shop throughout the rest of the year, only that they exclusively advertised seeds in the spring.

Although Dyar was the first to insert an advertisement in the public prints in 1772, readers likely expected other “Seeds women” would soon join her.  In past years, compositors tended to cluster advertisements from Dyar and her competitors together, one after another in the lengthy columns in standard issues or occupying an entire page on smaller sheets distributed as supplements.  Compositors rarely resorted to placing advertisements with similar purposes together in eighteenth-century newspapers, making it all the more notable when they seemed to recognize a distinct classification for advertisements for seeds.  The “Seeds women” of Boston comprised a unique cohort of advertisers.  In no other American city or town did so many female entrepreneurs place so many advertisements promoting seeds.  It was indeed a sign that spring was approaching, but one witnessed solely by readers of Boston’s newspapers.

January 30

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 30, 1772).

“The copartnership between HANNAH and HEPHZIBAH CARNES is mutually dissolved.”

For a time in the early 1770s, Hannah Carnes and Hephzibah Carnes operated a millinery shop together.  In December 1771, however, they “mutually dissolved” their partnership and set up their own businesses.  The former partners became competitors, both placing advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy.

Both women were conscious of the costs of advertising.  They placed their notices in only two of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time.  In addition, each of them listed some of the items available among the “large and compleat assortment of Millinery and piece Goods” in their shops, but also stated that their wares were “too numerous to particularize in an advertisement.”  Hannah went into greater detail in her advertisement, perhaps a necessity because Hephzibah remained in the shop “near the Town pump, in Cornhill,” and Hannah “removed to the shop opposite to Mr. Cranch Watch-Maker’s near the Mill Bridge.”  With Hephzibah having the advantage of a location already familiar to former customers, Hannah may have found it necessary to elaborate on the goods and services she offered as a means of catching the attention of “the Ladies” that she hoped would seek out her new shop.  Unlike Hephzibah, Hannah also mentioned that she sold “Bohea Tea” to entice prospective customers.

Their notices happened to appear one after the other on three occasions in the Massachusetts Spy, likely the result of happenstance rather than design on the part of the milliners.  Hannah launched her advertising campaign first, placing a notice in the Boston-Gazette on December 23, 1771.  It ran in that newspaper for five consecutive weeks.  Hephzibah also placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette, starting on December 30, but only for three weeks.  On only one occasion, January 13, did their advertisements appear together.  Once again, Hannah may have invested in more advertising in order to direct customers to her new location.  Both women ran advertisements in the Massachusetts Spy on January 2, 9,16, and 30.  In that newspaper, their notices appeared together in all but the January 16 edition.  These variations suggest that compositors made decisions about the placement of the advertisements when they set the type for each issue.  Hannah and Hephzibah may not have appreciated their advertisements appearing in such close proximity, but advertisers exercised little control over where their notices appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.

November 19

Who placed an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Essex Gazette (November 19, 1771).

“Priscilla Manning, At her Shop a few Doors above Capt. WEST’s Corner.”

Advertising accounted for one-third of the contents of the November 19, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  A substantial number of notices promoted consumer goods and services available in Salem, Massachusetts.  George Deblois advertised “excellent BOHEA TEA” as well as “English & Hard-Ware GOODS.”  Similarly, John Appleton carried “the very best Bohea Tea” and a “fine Assortment of English and India, Scotch and Irish GOODS.”  In an advertisement that extended almost an entire column, Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., listed dozens of items from among the “large and general Assortment of English and India Goods” that he imported “in the last Ships.”  He called special attention to “Bohea TEA, (warranted good).”  John Andrew informed prospective customers that he stocked an “Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” at his shop “At the Sign of the Gold Cup,” though he did not mention tea.

Priscilla Manning joined these merchants and shopkeepers in advertising the merchandise she sold to consumers.  Her inventory included “Bohea, Hyson & Souchong TEAS” as well as a “general Assortment of English and India GOODS.”  Manning had been operating a shop “a few Doors above Capt. WEST’s Corner” for at least two years, according to advertisements in the Essex Gazette, but her name would disappear from the pages of that newspaper in 1772 when she married George Abbot.  Historian Donna Seger has traced Manning’s life and career, noting that Abbot apparently took over Manning’s shop.  Advertisements in the Essex Gazette bore his name and made reference to “his shop a little above Capt. West’s Corner.”  When Abbot died in 1784, Manning “re-opened her shop … and built a big new house—both in her name.”  She almost certainly continued to work in the shop during those twelve years that her husband’s name appeared in the public prints, eclipsing her contributions to the family business.  Given that Manning was a woman of business in her right before her marriage and after the death of her husband, it raises questions about how many wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, and other female relations worked in the shops advertised by Deblois, Appleton, Sparhawk, and Andrew.  Which women, known to customers and the community but unnamed in the notices, came to mind when eighteenth-century readers perused those advertisements?

September 24

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 24, 1771).

“AN ASSORTMENT OF MILLINARY GOODS.”

Elizabeth Prosser, a milliner, took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise “AN ASSORTMENT OF MILLINARY GOODS” available at her shop on Broad Street in Charleston.  She informed prospective customers that her wares recently arrived “per the MERMAID, Capt. BALL.”  Merchants, shopkeepers, and others who sold imported goods often noted the ships that transported their merchandise across the Atlantic as a means of demonstrating to consumers that they had new items among their inventory.  New also implied fashionable, but Prosser explicitly made the connection.  She proclaimed that she carried “the most fashionable” millinery goods for “those Ladies who please to Favour her with their Custom.”

At the same time that she addressed readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Prosser attempted to cultivate a clientele among readers of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Her advertisement appeared in both newspapers on September 24, 1771.  Purveyors of goods and services frequently advertised in multiple newspapers, seeking to reach more prospective customers and increase their share of the market.  Prosser apparently considered it worth the expense to place the same advertisement in two newspapers simultaneously.  She did not, however, decide to insert her advertisement in the third newspaper published in Charleston at the time, the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

If she had done so, her advertisement might have appeared alongside one placed by a competitor.  In the September 24 edition of that newspaper, Jane Thomson advertised “A fresh Supply of MILLINARY GOODS” that she “received by theMermaid, Capt. Ball, from LONDON.”  Thomson did not advertise in the other two newspapers.  That limited the competition between the milliners, at least in the public prints, but it also meant that readers of all three newspapers encountered advertising by female entrepreneurs who joined their male counterparts in marketing a vast array of imported goods.  Prosser addressed the “Ladies” in her notice, but women did not participate in the marketplace merely as consumers.  Prosser, Thomson, and many other female entrepreneurs conducted business as “she-merchants,” shopkeepers, and artisans during the era of the American Revolution.

August 12

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (August 12, 1771).

“Mary Smith … will be obliged to the friends of her Husband for their Custom.”

Following the death of her husband Thomas, a twine spinner, Mary Smith operated the family business on her own.  In the summer of 1771, she placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy to inform “the Public, that the Business is continued at the usual Place.”  She likely made a variety of contributions to the enterprise while her husband still lived, but became the proprietor and public face of the business upon becoming a widow.

In that regard, she joined other colonial women who gained greater visibility as entrepreneurs when they ran newspaper advertisements after their husbands died.  Mary Ogden, for instance, inserted an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that “ACQUAINTS the Public, that the Business of Shoe-making is carried on as usual.”  It appeared immediately below the estate notice she placed in collaboration with the other executors.  Similarly, Mary Crathorne, administratix of her husband Nathan’s estate, advised readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that the “mustard and chocolate business is carried on as usual.”  Cave Williams adopted a similar strategy, following the estate notice concerning her husband Thomas in the Maryland Gazette immediately with an update that the “Smith’s Shop is carried on, by the Subscriber, with the same Care and Dispatch as was in her Husband’s Lifetime.”

Other widows who placed similar advertisements placed greater emphasis on some combination of sympathy and assistance from their communities.  In the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, Elisabeth Russel stated that her deceased husband’s “SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS is carried on as heretofore, under the Direction of a proper Person.”  Even though she did not oversee the business directly, the advertisement noted that “Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.”  Elizabeth Mumford was more overt in her effort to gain sympathy from prospective customers.  She explained to readers of the Newport Mercury that “the Shoe-making Business is still carried on at her Shop in the New-Lane, for the Benefit of her and her Children, by JOHN REMINGTON, who has work’d with her late Husband several Years.”  Mary Smith may have been making a similar bid for sympathy and assistance when she declared that she “will be obliged to the friends of her Husband for their Custom” and that “the smallest favours will be greatfully Acknowledged.”

In the advertisements they composed and inserted in the public prints, each of these widows made choices about how to present themselves and their businesses.  Some more actively participated in the continued operations of those enterprises than others, but each probably had some previous experience from assisting their husbands in a variety of ways.  They strove to convince prospective customers that they could depend on the same quality and skill without interruption.

June 11

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 11, 1771).

“She continues to make up EVERY ARTICLE in the MILINARY WAY.”

Readers encountered many advertisements that listed dozens of consumer goods when they perused the June 11, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and the supplement that accompanied it.  Indeed, rather than news accounts the first items on the first page consisted of advertisements for “a general and very compleat ASSORTMENT of GOODS, just imported … from London” that listed many kinds of textiles, garments, and adornments.  Male entrepreneurs placed most of those advertisements, but women also made an appearance in the public prints.  Jane Thomson ran her own notice for a “neat assortment of MILINARY GOODS.”

Thomson stocked everything from “pink, green, white, sky blue, and black English persians” to “women and girls silk and leather gloves and mitts” to “blond lace, single and double edged.”  After listing dozens of items, she proclaimed that her inventory also included “many other articles, too tedious to enumerate.”  She offered as many choices to consumers as her male competitors.  In addition to retailing those goods, Thomson informed prospective clients that she “continues to make up EVERY ARTICLE in the MILINARY WAY, and FINE JOINS LACE as usual.”  That made her a producer as well as a purveyor of goods.

Editorials in early American newspapers often framed women solely as consumers, usually to critique their activities in the marketplace, but Thomson demonstrated that women filled other roles during the consumer revolution.  They ran their own businesses, negotiated with English merchants who supplied their inventory, kept ledgers and other records, collected debts, produced goods, placed advertisements, and mentored other women.  Thomson informed readers that she sought “one GIRL a[s] an apprentice,” someone she could train as a milliner who might eventually operate her own business.

Many more women pursued shopkeeping and other occupations in eighteenth-century American than placed newspaper advertisements.  As a result, the public prints did not give a complete accounting of the presence of women in the marketplace as producers and purveyors of consumer goods.  As they went about their daily business, however, colonists certainly knew that many of their female friends, relatives, and neighbors operated businesses of one kind or another.  Jane Thomson’s advertisement only hints at the number of women who made or sold goods in Charleston in the early 1770s.

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.