October 3

GUEST CURATOR:  Katerina Barbas

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

New-York Journal (October 3, 1771).

“A Woman of good character … may hear of a place by inquiring of the Printer hereof.”

This advertisement highlights traditional gender roles for European colonists in colonial America. European gender roles constituted that the ideal family was led by a man who was in charge of his family and represented it beyond the home, while a woman performed domestic work and ran the household. These European gender roles were brought to the colonies in the new world. According to an article on National Geographic’s website, white women in colonial America had responsibilities within the household such as cooking, cleaning, sewing, making soap and candles, and caring for and educating children, which was their primary role. Seeking a “woman of a good character” required that the woman be an exceptional role model, because she would be supporting the emotional and moral development of the children and prepare them for adulthood. A woman who responded to this advertisement would have been responsible for teaching young girls in the family how to perform household tasks in order to prepare them for the traditional role as wife and mother.



Among the many legal notices and advertisements for consumer goods and services that colonists paid to insert in the New-York Journal, a variety of employment advertisements appeared as well.  Many of them featured labor undertaken by women.  In the advertisement Katerina chose to feature today, an unnamed advertiser sought a woman willing to move fourteen miles from the busy port to serve as a “nursery maid” for a family in the countryside.  In another advertisement in the October 3, 1771, edition, another anonymous advertiser offered work for a “Careful woman who understands washing, cooking … and is willing to do all work in a middling family.”  That advertisement concluded with a nota bene proclaiming that “None need apply without being able to produce a good character from reputable people.”  In other words, candidates needed to produce references before entering the household.  The family in the countryside seeking a nursery maid also likely requested similar assurances.

In both instances, the prospective employers relied on John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, to act as a broker.  The family in the countryside informed prospective nursery maids that they “may hear of a place by inquiring of the Printer hereof.”  Similarly, the “middling family” instructed women with appropriate references that they “may hear of employment by applying to the printer.”  Holt disseminated some information in print, but, at the request of advertisers, reserved some details only for readers who contacted the printing office.  That was also the case for a “likely healthy Negro” woman offered for sale.  An unnamed enslaver described the woman as “an excellent thorough Cook” who could “pickle and preserve.”  The advertisement did not say much else about the woman except that she was “about 24 Years of Age.”  Like so many other advertisements, it declared, “for Particulars, inquire of the Printer.”  In this instance, Holt became not only an information broker but also a broker of enslaved labor.  He actively facilitated the slave trade, first by running the advertisement in his newspaper and then by collaborating with enslavers who bought and sold the “likely healthy Negro” woman.

Colonists turned to the public prints as a clearinghouse for acquiring workers, female as well as male.  Advertisements offering employment to women maintained expectations about the roles they fulfilled within families, like cooking, cleaning, and caring for children.  Some of those advertisements offered women new opportunities with employers of their choosing, but others merely perpetuated the enslavement of Black women.  Gender played an important part in shaping the experiences of women who applied to the advertisement Katerina selected for today, but it was not the only factor that defined their role in New York and other colonies.

December 2

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 2, 1766).

“Silk handkerchiefs, cloaks, petticoats.”

After reading through the products being advertised I decided to focus on petticoats because I was somewhat familiar with them, but I did not exactly know what they were. Through my research I learned they were first introduced as undergarments in the 1500s, but they were constantly enlarged over time and eventually replaced by the slip in the 1920s.

Between 1770 and 1776, petticoats were usually made of “dainty colored materials that were filled with a layer of cotton or wadding. The wadding was kept in place by using various patterns of the quilting stitch.” One petticoat from the 1760s in the collections of George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore was made of “peach satin silk with wool batting between the two layers.” In the 1700s, women often wore quilted petticoats under “open-front robes or as stand-alone skirts.” In certain cases quilted petticoats were made to showcase “intricate handiwork in the quilted pattern. Geometric patterns, birds, flowers and even pastoral scenes were all common themes for quilted petticoats.”

Petticoats were a common piece of women’s outfit throughout the colonial period. They could be worn them under other clothing either for fashion or simply for warmth.



The petticoats in this advertisement were certainly intended for female customers, yet Nathaniel Hayward did not make any particular effort to address the women of Charleston. Women may well have been the primary consumers of many of the textiles and adornments listed in Hayward’s advertisement (though many of the women who purchased those goods would have done so with the intention of making garments and other items for use by men as well as women). Other imported goods in the advertisement – stationery, ironmongery, “saddlery,” and “cabinet ware” – would have appealed to both sexes and the “mens hats” were designated specifically for, well, men.

While it may be tempting to divide the eighteenth-century worlds of production and consumption into male and female pursuits, respectively, especially given the feminization of consumption in later periods, newspaper advertisements from the colonial and Revolutionary eras suggest that early Americans did not necessarily equate consumption almost exclusively with women. Very few eighteenth-century advertisements directly addressed female consumers. Those that did tended to come from advertisers who offered services specifically for women, such as seamstresses who made women’s clothing, but they were balanced by a similar number of advertisements for men’s tailors. Early Americans were more often exposed to advertisements that addressed both women and men as “ladies and gentlemen” or used other language that otherwise made it clear that they sought potential customers of both sexes.

In the 1760s, however, the greatest number of advertisements for consumer goods and services made little effort at all to acknowledge the gender of prospective customers or to make special appeals to one sex rather than the other or to differentiate most merchandise according to the sex. Instead, advertisers generally promoted their wares to all colonists, only occasionally noting that certain goods were appropriate for either women or men (such as the “mens hats” nestled within today’s advertisement). Nathaniel Hayward sold petticoats for women, but he made no effort to suggest only women might be interested in the myriad of textiles he sold. In that regard his approach aligned with most eighteenth-century advertisers who did not make assumptions about the feminization of fashion and consumption. Such views sometimes found voice in editorials in other parts of eighteenth-century newspapers, but advertisements that positioned women as more likely to be consumers than men were relatively rare. That marketing strategy became much more common in the nineteenth century, following the rise of industrialization and the cult of domesticity that made the home the domain of middle-class women.

January 28

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

Jan 28 - 1:28:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (January 28, 1766)

“To be sold, By DAVID MOORE … Women’s Damask and Calamanco Shoes … Boys Felt Hats … &c. &c.”

I recently featured an advertisement noteworthy in that it explicitly addressed female consumers.  I pointed out that this was not a standard practice in colonial America, that most advertisers did not narrow the realm of possible customers by specifying that they expected to sell their wares to patrons of one sex or the other.  I also noted some occasional exceptions, such as milliners who specialized in women’s hats or tailors who made men’s garments.  Still, most shopkeepers, like David Moore, did not place advertisements that singled out one sex or the other.

That being said, many shopkeepers did indicate that they stocked goods, almost always clothing items, intended for men or women, boys or girls, such as the “Women’s Damask and Calamanco Shoes” and Boys Felt Hats” in this advertisement.  They were not, however, parceled out in distinct sections of advertisements.  Instead, they appeared mixed in with the multitude of other goods included in the list advertisements so common during the period.  Rather than categorize their merchandise to make it easier for consumers to find men’s, women’s, and children’s garments, advertisers allowed them to discover these items in the midst of others that may or may not have been related.