What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“SIMON FRANKS, by an Advertisement … forth that I, MARGARET-JACOB-ENNER FRANKS, his Wife, eloped for him.”
On July 10, 1770, Simon Franks placed a short advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to warn others not to extend credit to his wife, Margaret. In it, Simon declared that Margaret “eloped from her said Husband, without any just Cause.” In turn, he ran the advertisement “to forewarn all Persons from trusting her, as I am determined to pay no Debts of her contracting.” Such notices frequently appeared in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Simon’s advertisement followed a familiar formula.
Such advertisements rarely garnered any sort of response in the public prints. Wives often “eloped” from their husbands, often as a result of abuses they suffered within the household and not, as Simon claimed, “without any just Cause.” Yet they rarely told their side of the story in newspaper advertisements of their own, in part because husbands exerted control over family finances and put purveyors of goods and services, including printers, on notice not to allow wives to make any charges. Margaret apparently had access to cash or friends intervened on her behalf. She did not even wait a week to publish her response in the next issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Instead, two days later her own advertisement, more than twice the length of Simon’s notice, ran in the South-Carolina Gazette.
Margaret referred readers back to her husband’s advertisement “in Mr. CROUCH’s last Paper” and provided a short summary of Simon’s accusations and instructions about cutting off her credit. She then went about setting the record straight, taking action in a way relative few “runaway wives” did in eighteenth-century America. She was determined “to shew the Public a true State of my supposed Elopement.” She explained that “my now being absent from him, was occasioned by his most cruel and inhuman Treatment to me.” She cataloged a series of abuses that stemmed from “his always getting in Liquor, putting me in Fear of my Life.” The “severe Threats” led to “Blows” and eventually to “turning me out of Doors, in the Dead of Night.” Even more shocking, this left Margaret and “a poor helpless Infant” from a previous marriage “exposed to the Inclemency of the Weather.” Her situation prompted Margaret to seek a “Peace Warrant” from a magistrate in order to “live from [Simon] undisturbed.”
According to Margaret, her husband did not tell the full and complete story. He attempted to cast her in an unfavorable light when her had been the one who had given “just Cause” for her to depart from his household. Formulaic runaway wife advertisements hinted at more complicated stories of marital discord; they did not narrate events from the perspectives of the wives. Margaret Jacob Enner Franks was one of the relatively few women to respond to such an advertisement in the public prints, defending her reputation and providing the community with a more complicated picture of what had occurred in the Franks household. In so doing, she shifted attention back to the misconduct of her husband.