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.

October 29

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

Boston-Gazette (October 29, 1770).

SARAH DAWSON, the Widow of JOSEPH DAWSON, Gardener.”

Compared to their male counterparts, relatively few female entrepreneurs placed advertisements promoting their commercial activities in Boston’s newspapers in the early 1770s.  With the exception of clusters of advertisements placed by female seed sellers in the spring, commercial notices constituted a primarily male space in the public prints.  Esther Harrison was one of those female shopkeepers who did run advertisements.  Her notice in the October 29, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette listed a variety of “Shop Goods cheap for Cash,” similar to advertisements placed by Benjamin Church, Archbald Cunningham, Joshua Gardner, John Gore, Jr., John Head, William Smith, Thomas Walley, and others.

Two other women joined Harrison in advertising the businesses they operated in that edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Most likely by chance rather than by design, their advertisements appeared side by side, one in each column on the final page.  Abigail Davidson and Sarah Dawson both advertised trees, shrubs, and seeds.  Unlike Harrison, Davidson and Dawson connected their businesses to men who had once operated them.  Dawson identified herself as “the Widow of JOSEPH DAWSON, Gardener, lately deceas’d.”  Davidson noted that the trees she sold had been “grafted and innoculated by William Davidson, deceased.”  In both instances, the women likely contributed to the family business before the death of a male relation but did not become the public face for the business until after.  Davidson and Dawson made reference to those male gardeners in much the same way that male advertisers often described their credentials as they sought to convince prospective customers and clients that they were qualified for the job.

Harrison, Davidson, and Dawson all ran businesses.  Their entrepreneurial activities included marketing their wares via newspaper advertisements.  Harrison presented herself as the sole proprietor of her shop, but Davidson and Dawson adopted an approach often taken by women who found themselves responsible for the family business after the death of a husband or other relation.  They identified themselves in connection to the deceased relative, mediating their commercial message through the authority and expertise of men.  Even as female advertisers, their appearance in the public prints contributed to the depiction the marketplace as a predominantly masculine space when it came to producers, sellers, and suppliers.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:30:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 30, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD, By ELIZABETH VAN DYCK.”

The front page of the July 30, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury featured a letter “To the PRINTER” reprinted from the Public Ledger and several advertisements for consumers goods.  Many of those notices used the names of the advertisers as headlines, setting them in larger type and often in capitals.  At a glance, readers saw that ABEEL & BYVANCK; GEORGE BALL; RICHARD CURSON; Herman Gouverneur; Greg, Cunningham and Co.; PHILIP LIVINGSTON; JOHN McKENNEY; and ELIZABETH VAN DYCK all offered goods for sale to consumers in the city and beyond.

In many ways, those advertisements each resembled the others.  With the exception of George Ball and the partnership of Abeel and Byvanck, each advertiser purchased a “square” of space and filled most of it with a short list of their merchandise.  Abeel and Byvanck’s advertisement occupied two squares and George Ball’s four.  Each of those longer advertisements divided the list of goods into two columns, as did Richard Curson’s advertisement.  With minor variations, these advertisements for consumer goods adhered to a standard format.

That meant that the most distinguishing feature of Elizabeth Van Dyck’s advertisement was that it promoted a business operated by a female entrepreneur.  Women comprised a substantial minority of shopkeepers in colonial American port cities, with some estimates running as high as four out of ten.  Yet they did not place newspaper advertisements in proportion to their presence in the marketplace as purveyors of goods rather than consumers.  Van Dyck was the only female shopkeeper who advertised in that issue of New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, while more than a dozen advertisements for consumer goods deployed men’s names as their headlines.  No female shopkeepers advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Post-Boy published the same day, nor the New-York Journal three days later.

The representation of the marketplace among the advertisements in New York’s newspapers presented it as primarily the domain of men, at least as far as wholesalers and retailers were concerned.  Even though women operated shops in the bustling port in the early 1770s, they did not establish a presence in the public prints in proportion to their numbers.  When Van Dyck chose to join the ranks of her male counterparts who advertised, she composed a notice that conformed to the standard format.  She struck a careful balance, calling attention to her business but not calling too much attention to it.  In so doing, she claimed space for herself in the market, both the actual market and the representation of it in the newspaper, while demonstrating that women’s activities as entrepreneurs need not be disruptive to good order.

April 6

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

Apr 6 - 4:6:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 6, 1770).

“Seeds.”

It was a sign of spring.  Just as advertisements for almanacs told readers of colonial newspapers that fall had arrived and the new year was coming, advertisements for seeds signified that winter was coming to an end and spring would soon be upon them.  In the newspapers published in Boston in the late 1760s and early 1770s, this meant a dramatic increase in female entrepreneurs among those who placed advertisements.  Women who sold goods or provided services appeared only sporadically among newspaper notices throughout the rest of the year, but turned out in much greater numbers to peddle seeds in the spring.

Although printers and compositors did not usually organize or classify advertisements according to their purpose in eighteenth-century newspapers, they did tend to group together notices placed by women selling seeds.  Consider the last column of the final page of the April 6, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Although it concluded with a legal notice, advertisements for seeds sold by women comprised the rest of the column. Bethiah Oliver hawked seeds available at her shop “opposite the Rev. Dr. Sewall’s Meeting House.”  The appropriately named Elizabeth Greenleaf advised prospective customers to visit her shop “at the End of Union-Street, over-against the BLUE-BALL.”:  Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Nowell sold seeds at their shop “six Doors to the Southward of the Mill-Bridge.”  Susanna Renken also carried seeds at her shop “In Fore Street, near the Draw-Bridge.”  She was the only member of this sorority who advertised other wares, declaring that she stocked “all sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.”  She was also the only one who sometimes advertised at other times during the year.  Did the others sell only seeds and operate seasonal businesses?  Or did they also carry other wares but refrain from advertising?

Spring planting was a ritual for colonists, including women who kept gardens to help feed their families.  Placing advertisements about seeds for growing peas, beans, onions, turnips, lettuce, and other produce was a ritual for the female seed sellers of Boston.  Encountering those advertisements in the city’s newspapers became one or many markers of the passage of time and the progression of the seasons for readers of those newspapers.  The news changed from year to year, but advertisements for seeds in the spring was a constant feature of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and other newspaper.

December 19

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

Dec 19 - 12:19:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 19, 1769).

“To be SOLD, by Priscilla Manning, At her Shop in SALEM.”

Priscilla Manning placed a remarkable advertisement for “her Shop in SALEM” in the December 19, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Compared to newspapers published in nearby Boston and Portsmouth, the Essex Gazette carried relatively few advertisements for consumer goods and services. Those that did appear tended to be short, extending no more than a single “square.” Manning’s advertisement, on the other hand, filled two squares. Other advertisements in the Essex Gazette offered a summary of inventory, such as “An Assortment of English and India GOODS,” but Manning enumerated the choices she made available to customers. She stocked dozens of textiles as well as hose, caps, gloves, shoes, and trimmings to adorn garments.

Manning’s advertisement resembled those that ran in Boston’s newspapers much more than those that tended to appear in the Essex Gazette. In that regard it may have been remarkable in the Essex Gazette, but not when considered in the context of newspaper advertisements published throughout the colonies in the 1760s. Manning adopted familiar methods of marketing her wares in her advertisement, likely having consulted newspapers from Boston and other places in addition to the Essex Gazette. Yet that did not disqualify her advertisement from being remarkable in another aspect. Few female entrepreneurs advertised consumer goods and services, even in the largest and busiest port cities. Although women constituted a significant proportion of shopkeepers in urban ports, they tended not to promote their activities in the marketplace in the public prints. This made Manning’s advertisement twice as bold in the Essex Gazette, bold for its length and bold for publicizing the activities of a female entrepreneur. Manning’s name served as a headline; it appeared in larger font than anything else on the same page or the facing page. At a glance, it made her business the single most visible item in that issue of the Essex Gazette. Although women were underrepresented among advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America, they certainly were not absent. Advertisements like those placed by Priscilla Manning made it impossible to overlook women’s activities in the marketplace as producers, suppliers, merchants, and, especially, retailers, not just as shoppers and consumers.

Update:  This was the first of many advertisements Manning placed over several decades. Donna Seger uses them (and includes images!) as the foundation for a short biography of Priscilla Manning Abbot in “It was Her Shop” on Streets of Salem.

December 14

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

Dec 14 - 12:14:1769 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (December 14, 1769).
“She has an assistant just arrived from London.”

In the late 1760s, relatively few women in Williamsburg, Virginia, resorted to the public prints to advertise consumer goods and services. Many certainly worked in shops operated by husbands and other male relations, their contributions hidden when it came to marketing. Others ran their own shops but neglected to make themselves more visible to the public by placing newspaper advertisements. They participated in the marketplace without calling attention to themselves, perhaps relying on friends and regular patrons to promote them via word of mouth.

Sarah Pitt, however, joined the ranks of women who did advertise. On December 14, 1769, she placed an advertisement in William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. She did not run the same advertisement in the other newspaper printed in Williamsburg, Alexander Purdie and John Dixon’s Virginia Gazette. Her marketing did not reach as many readers as notices that other advertisers placed in both publications. Still, she informed readers of Rind’s newspaper that she sold an array of textiles, accessories, and other merchandise, most of it intended for women and children.

To maintain and even enlarge her customer base or, as she described it, “a continuance of the Ladies custom,” Pitt also reported that “she has an assistant just arrived from London.” This assistant, presumably a woman, “understands the millinery business.” This allowed Pitt to expand her enterprise by providing a service associated with the goods she sold. She provided one-stop shopping for customers who wished to purchase, for example, “Balladine silk,” “rich black lace,” “white blond thread,” “fine cap wire,” and “shaded flowers” to be made into a hat. Having “just arrived from London,” Pitt’s assistant would have been familiar with the current fashions in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. With that knowledge, she could recommend other accouterments and combinations of goods to purchase for the purpose of making hats or “mounting fans, and making cardinals and bonnets.”

Sarah Pitt made savvy decisions when she advertised in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. She emphasized consumer choice by listing a vast array of goods available at her shop. She also promoted a service that many other shopkeepers did not provide, noting the contributions her new assistant made to the business.

October 22

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

Oct 22 - 10:19:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 19, 1769).

“ELIZA BRAITHWAITE … is removed from Mrs. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s.”

Eliza Braithwaite, a milliner originally from London, inserted an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in October 1769. She informed “the Ladies, and others” that she had changed locations, moving from “Mr. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s,” still on Market Street but “a few Doors higher up.” She intended to continue pursuing her trade at the new location and called on “those Ladies, who have been kind enough to employ her before she removed” to “continue their Favours.”

Relatively few female entrepreneurs placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, certainly not in proportion to their presence in the marketplace as shopkeepers and tradeswomen. That made their advertisements notable, then and now. When they did inject themselves into the public prints, some women were bolder than others. Braithwaite took a fairly conservative approach in her advertisement, almost as though she hoped to limit the amount of attention she might receive as a result of making her business so visible. She adopted standard language that appeared in advertisements placed by tailors and milliners throughout the colonies. She did her work with “particular Care.” She charged “the cheapest Rate.” She made hats and other accessories “in the newest and genteelest Taste.” While this could indicate Braithwaite’s familiarity with the conventions of marketing in eighteenth-century America, it might also signal hesitation to distinguish herself too much from her competitors. That she conformed to the expectations of milliners, male and female, may have been the most important appeal Braithwaite wished to advance in her advertisement.

The circumstances that prompted Braithwaite to place a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette also testified to a conservative approach to advertising. She did address “the Ladies, and others,” but her primary purpose seems to have been maintaining her clientele rather than expanding it. She wanted former customers to know that she had moved so they could find her at her new location and continue employing her. Although Braithwaite’s advertisement exposed her business to much larger audiences, any invitation to new customers was implicit rather than explicit. Did Braithwaite advertise in the Pennsylvania Gazette or any of the other newspapers printed in Philadelphia on other occasions? Whether she promoted her business in the public prints at other times merits further investigation.

March 30

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Massachusetts Gazette (March 30, 1769).

“WINE To be Sold by ROSANNA MOORE.”

Rosanna Moore advertised wine imported from other places around the Atlantic world, including Madeira, an island that lies about 450 miles off the western coast of Morocco. Wine, like many other goods, was a common import into the colonies. However, when colonists first came to Virgnia, they tried to make wine. According to Charles M. Holloway, “it was tobacco that made a market, but in the beginning wine looked more likely.” This was one of the contributing factors to the colony not doing well when it was first founded; the colonists could not trust the water source.” Holloway states that “settlers [were] often reduced to drinking from the wide muddy tidal stream, and … sometimes paid for the gamble with their lives.” Because of this, colonists relied on imported wines and they tried to make cider to replace wine. Eventually, the vineyards were actually profitable, but that would not be for a long time. Holloway gives a figure from 1768, a year before Moore’s advertisement: “Virginians exported to Britain a little more than thirteen tons of wine while importing 396,580 gallons of rum from overseas, and another 78,264 from other North American colonies.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

On many occasions Rosanna Moore would have been the only female entrepreneur advertising goods and services in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, but that was not the case in the March 30, 1769, edition. Three other women also inserted advertisements in that issue. Elizabeth Clark, Elizabeth Greenleaf, and Anna Johnson each listed the “Assortment of Garden Seeds” they imported from London and offered for sale at their shops in Boston. Their notices appeared in a single column, one after another, forming a block of advertisements placed by women, making their presence in the public prints difficult to overlook.

Throughout the late winter and early spring of 1769, female seed sellers advertised in most of the newspapers published in Boston. It was an annual ritual that contributed to a rhythm of advertising. Just as advertisements for almanacs tapered off, a sign that the new year had come and gone, advertisements for garden seeds, the vast majority placed by women, began filling the pages of Boston’s newspapers. During the last week of March 1769, female seed sellers placed advertisements in all of the city’s newspapers except the Boston Chronicle. (Established within the past couple of years, the Chronicle had not cultivated the same volume of advertising as its competitors. All sorts of advertisers, including seed sellers, apparently preferred to pursue their marketing efforts in other publications.) Advertisements from Elizabeth Clark, Bethiah Oliver, Susanna Renken, and Elizabeth Greenleaf filled the entire final column on the last page of the Boston Evening-Post. Advertisements from Susanna Renken, Rebeckah Walker, Lydia Dyar, and Abigail Davidson appeared one after another in the Boston-Gazette, while Elizabeth Clark’s advertisement ran elsewhere on the same page. In Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette (published on the same broadsheet as the Boston Post-Boy), Sarah Winsor, Susanna Renken, Anna Johnson, and Elizabeth Greenleaf occupied almost an entire column with their advertisements for imported seeds.

The merchandise offered by these female seed sellers differed from the “OLD Sterling MADEIRA … and other WINES” hawked by Moore. Renken, who noted in some of her advertisements that she had “a Box of China Ware to sell,” was the only one of those female seed sellers who regularly advertised other sorts of wares throughout the rest of the year. Although female shopkeepers comprised a significant minority of shopkeepers in port cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, they did not advertise in proportion to their numbers. Female seed sellers appear to have been the exception. Perhaps the occupation became so feminized as to outweigh any concerns about trumpeting their presence in the marketplace as suppliers rather than consumers. Even as competitors, Clark, Davidson, Dyar, Greenleaf, Johnson, Oliver, Renken, and Walker participated in a common venture when they advertised seeds in Boston’s newspapers. Rosanna Moore, the lone female entrepreneur advertising anything other than seeds in late March 1769, remained an outlier.