What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JOHN & SARAH CRANE, TAYLOR and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON.”
Given their participation in the colonial marketplace as the providers of goods and services, women were underrepresented among the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. Some female entrepreneurs did place their own advertisements to promote businesses they operated, but others followed a different strategy when they jointly advertised with men. Such advertisements had several variations. In most, a woman advertised alongside a male relation, most often as wife and husband but sometimes as siblings or as mother and son. On occasion, women advertised with male partners who were not related to them, but such instances were much less common.
Joint advertisements also varied in terms of how prominently they featured women’s activities in the marketplace. Some focused almost exclusively on the activities of a male head of household and only mentioned in passing that a woman also worked in the shop or otherwise provided goods or services on her own. Such advertisements frequently used the man’s name as the headline and did not mention the woman until the final sentence or in a nota bene that almost seemed an afterthought. Others, such as an advertisement by John Holliday and Mrs. Holliday, devoted equal amounts of space to the separate endeavors of both parties, yet still focused primary attention on the husband by using his name as the headline and promoting his business before turning to his wife.
Sometimes, however, men and women placed advertisements that portrayed them as equal partners in their enterprises, especially when they pursued related occupations. That was the case with John and Sarah Crane, “TAYLOR and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON,” in an advertisement in the January 16, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. The headline featured both of their names in capital letters. The body of the advertisement addressed the qualities they both contributed to the garments they made. A nota bene even promoted certain items made by “Mrs. Crane” beyond those customers might have expected from a mantuamaker, suggesting her skill and versatility. The Cranes apparently continued this egalitarianism into other aspects of their marketing. Their advertisement indicated their shop was marked “With their names in gold letters over the door.” The space there they conducted their business, just like their advertisement, was a shared domain where the Cranes acted as partners. Their story demonstrates what was possible for married women as providers of goods and services in the colonial marketplace, even if it was not the most probable arrangement.