What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“James Sloan … hath thought proper to advertise me his Wife for absconding from him.”
In the wake of marital discord in the Sloan household, James placed an advertisement concerning his wife, Altye, in the June 13, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal. According to James’s version of events, his wife had “in many Respects misbehaved, and without any just Cause eloped from me, wasting and embezling my Substance.” James further accused Altye of “endeavour[ing] to run me in Debt.” Accordingly, he placed the advertisement “to warn all Persons not to trust or entertain her on my Account” because he would not pay any “Debt of her contracting since her Elopement.”
Runaway wife advertisements like this one appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers from New England to Georgia. They usually went unanswered, at least in the public prints. Husbands advanced narratives about what happened, but wives generally did not have the resources to publish their own version of events. That was not the case, however, for Altye Sloan. She ran her own notice that acknowledged her husband’s advertisement, suggesting that James had been prompted to tell a tale to the public by “some dissolute Persons like himself.” In turn, she offered a more accurate rendering of events, claiming that “she neither has embezzled his Substance, nor eloped from him.” Instead, James “turned her out of Doors” after “beat[ing] and abus[ing] her often Times.” As far as Altye was concerned, that amounted to “sufficient C[au]se to abandon such an insolent Person.” She concluded by proclaiming that she would not run her husband into debt and neither would she pay any of his bills.
The two advertisements ran one after the other in the June 13 edition of the New-York Journal. They did so again in the June 20 and 26 editions, before being discontinued. The compositor may have chosen to place them together for easy reference, but the notations on the final line of each advertisement suggest that Altye may have requested that her advertisement appear with her husband’s notice. The notations on the final lines corresponded to the issue numbers for the first and last times advertisements were supposed to run. They aided compositors in determining whether advertisements belonged in an issue. The “83 86” in James’s advertisement indicated that it first appeared in issue 1483 (June 6) and ran through issue 1486 (June 27). For Altye’s advertisement, “84 86” corresponded to first running in issue 1484 (June 13) and concluding in issue 1486 (June 27). According to the rates in the colophon, most advertisements ran at least four weeks. James’s advertisement did so, in issues 1483, 1484, 1485, and 1486, but Altye’s advertisement ran for only three weeks. She may have made special arrangements for a shorter run (and lower fees) that matched the remaining time her husband’s advertisement would appear. As part of the deal, she could have requested that their advertisements run one after the other.
Altye could not prevent her husband from advertising, but she apparently possessed the means to purchase space in the New-York Journal to tell her side of the story. Rather than allow her husband to control the narrative, she may have also requested that her notice appear with his in order to give readers a more complete story of what actually transpired in the Sloan household. Most so-called “runaway wives” did not have opportunities to leverage print to inform the public that it was actually husbands who “misbehaved” and they “eloped” to protect themselves from various kinds of mistreatment and abuse. Altye Sloan did publish her account of events, managing to have it inserted with her husband’s advertisement to increase the chances that readers would not see his version without the additional context she provided.