The Messy Marriage of Joanna and Robert Hebbard Further Considered

A few weeks ago I featured two advertisements that revealed some of the domestic squabbles in the Hebbard household, first a runaway wife notice from Robert Hebbard warning others against “trusting, trading or dealing with” his wife, Joanna, and the other, published a week later, a rejoinder from Aaron Cleaveland testifying to Joanna’s character and excoriating her husband.  Certainly these advertisements did not tell the Hebbards’ entire story.

Jan 17 - 1:17:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 17, 1766).

J.L. Bell has investigated the lives and times of Robert and Joanna Hebbard in greater detail over the course of the past three days at Boston 1775.  I promised to keep my eyes open for further advertisements from or about the Hebbards, but I have not yet turned up any.  Bell, however, has used a variety of other sources to flesh out the lives and relationships of members of the Hebbard and Cleaveland families.  Follow these links to learn more about Joanna Hebbard and her travails in eighteenth-century America.

Part 1.  “Joanna Hebbard, hath for some time past Eloped from Me

Part 2.  “To make a just return to his injurious Advertisement

Part 3.  “Joanna Cleveland’s ‘Leap in the Dark’

Jan 24 - 1:24:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 24, 1766).

January 24

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

Jan 24 - 1:24:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 24, 1766)

“It appears that his Advertisement was the invidious product of Malice, and not of Prudence.”

A week ago I featured an advertisement for a runaway wife.  Robert Hebbard cautioned against “trusting, trading or dealing with” his wife, Joanna.  I noted that the advertisement was a little of the ordinary for this project.  My intention is to explore advertising used to market consumer goods and services.  Still, I included an advertisement for a runaway wife because earlier in the week I had featured another runaway, an indentured servant who had been captured (who was indeed a commodity for the term of his indenture), as well as an advertisement announcing the impending sale of an enslaved woman (another person who was also a commodity, though most likely permanently in this case).  Like those two, the advertisement for the runaway Joanna featured a person on the margins being further marginalized in an advertisement bought and paid for by somebody who regularly exercised greater power and authority in colonial society and commercial interactions.

Jan 17 - 1:17:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 17, 1766)

Runaway wives appeared frequently in the advertising pages of colonial newspapers.  I encountered at least one other while selecting advertisements for the past week.  On occasion, such advertisements spark a response, as we see here.  The response is much more extensive than the original advertisement, which could perhaps be explained in part by Joanna, as a woman, being at a disadvantage in any sort of public dispute with Robert, the head of household and, according to the laws of coverture, her master in many ways.  Sometimes runaway wives published answers to their husband’s notices themselves, but I do not believe that it is inconsequential that Joanna Hebbard deferred to a man to defend her in print.  It may have been one thing to exercise such agency in departing from her husband, but quite another to engage him directly in a very public dispute.  Aaron Cleaveland makes quite clear that Joanna “now resides in this Town, in good Credit” (which may refer to her character or her ability to engage in commercial exchanges) “and has never contracted the least Debt on his Account” (which certainly refers to the marketplace and Joanna’s capacity for behaving responsibly).  Despite Robert Hebbard’s efforts, it doesn’t seem that he was able to obstruct his wife’s ability to make the necessary purchases to support herself independently.

I offer this advertisement for those who were intrigued by Robert Hebbard’s notice last week, as an update and continuation of the story.  Will this be the last we hear from the Hebbards?  I’m not certain.  Starting next Sunday one of my students will begin guest curating.  I am leaving the selection of advertisements up to her, but I will be looking through subsequent issues of the New-London Gazette so I can provide further updates if the Hebbards or any of their acquaintances did indeed turn to the public prints to hash out their family affairs.

January 17

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jan 17 - 1:17:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 17, 1766)

“My Wife Joanna Hebbard, hath for some time past Eloped from me.”

This advertisement does not present a commodity to be traded in the marketplace.  Unlike slaves and indentured servants, Robert Hebbard could not buy or sell his wife.  That did not necessarily make Joanna Hebbard’s position much less precarious than that of runaway indentured servant Daniel O’Mullen or the “Likely strong NEGRO GIRL” featured in recent days.  Under the laws of coverture, a woman’s legal rights and obligations — indeed, her identity as well — were subsumed under her husband upon marriage.  Joanna Hebbard, like so many other women in colonial America, was expected to abide by the will of the family patriarch, the head of household, in order to maintain good order within the family and, by extension, stable government within the colony.  Robert Hebbard’s advertisement does not reveal what sorts of domestic relations caused his wife to depart, but advertisements for runaway wives indicate that not all women were willing to be confined by the laws of coverture.  Sometimes “eloping” from their husbands became their only option.