What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Eloped from me Frances Doyne of Pembrook, my Wife Jerusha Doyne.”
Frances Doyne was an anxious and disgruntled patriarch.
Advertisements for runaway wives were a common feature in eighteenth-century newspapers. Any given issue of a newspaper was likely to carry such an advertisement. On occasion some four-page issues included two or more advertisements for runaway wives. Depending on the town where the newspaper was published, advertisements for runaway wives might appear as often as announcements about other runaways, including slaves, indentured servants, and apprentices. The Adverts 250 Project has previously featured other advertisements for runaway wives, including Robert Hebbard and a response on behalf of his wife Joanna (and further consideration by historian J.L. Bell) and the competing claims of Cornelius M’Carty and Jonathan Remington concerning Lydia M’Carty.
Readers of eighteenth-century newspaper were familiar with the conventions of the runaway wife advertisement. They tended to follow a formula and often used boilerplate language, making them virtually interchangeable except for the names of the husbands and wives. In most instances a husband reported that his wife had departed from their home (often using the phrase “eloped from me” in contrast to “eloped with me” – a very different meaning of eloping than its most common usage today). The husband further warned merchants and shopkeepers not to extend any credit to the disobedient wife because he would not cover any debts for his recalcitrant spouse.
Many scholars have used advertisements for runaway wives to explore the domestic relationships and marital relationships in the eighteenth century. Several have used them as evidence of women making use of informal or extralegal means of expressing agency and pursuing their own best interests in a society that formally excluded them from full participation in the public realm. For a wife reduced by colonial laws to the status of feme covert, running away from an abusive or unpleasant husband was a means of resistance.
Frances Doyne offered an interesting variation at the conclusion of his advertisement warning against his wife, Jerusha. In a nota bene he stated, “If she returns, she will be kindly received upon reasonable Terms.” Most husbands who placed these sorts of advertisements did not address the possibility of the wife returning; most likely assumed that it was the duty of the woman to return and assume her proper place in the household. After all, a runaway wife already undermined her husband’s authority and reputation as a man capable of properly ordering his household. Why seem to be negotiating or pleading with her to return. Doyne, however, presented that as a possibility. While the rest of the advertisement was for all readers, the nota bene was directed at Jerusha Doyne specifically. It very well could have been, however, that Frances and Jerusha had very different notions of what it mean to be “kindly received upon reasonable Terms.”