July 3

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 1, 1771).

“THE imprudent Behaviour of my Son JESSE HALL, lays me under the painful Necessity of forwarning all Persons from harbouring or concealing him.”

Conradt Wolff lamented that his wife, Jenny, “hath behaved herself in such a manner as lays me under a necessity of forbidding any persons from trusting her on my account.”  In an advertisement in the July 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, he warned the public that he “will pay no debts of her contracting.”  Throughout the colonies, similar notices frequently ran in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Aggrieved husbands deployed “runaway wife” advertisements to discipline disobedient women, though their notices told only one side of a story of marital discord. Relatively few wives possessed the resources to respond in print.  Those that did usually provided much different narratives, often accusing their husbands of abuse and neglect.  From their perspective, running away was an act of self-preservation and principled resistance rather than willful disobedience.

On occasion, colonists resorted to the public prints in the wake of other sorts of tumult within their households.  On the same day that Wolff placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette, Moses Hall placed his own notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Hall, however, deplored the misbehavior of his son, Jesse.  “THE imprudent Behaviour of my Son,” Hall declared, “lays me under the painful Necessity of forwarning all Persons from harbouring or concealing him.” Furthermore, “they may depend on being prosecuted to the utmost Rigour of the Law, if they disregard this Notice.”  Hall did not elaborate on his son’s “imprudent Behaviour,” though gossip and rumors likely circulated beyond the newspaper.  That was almost certainly the case for the Camps and the Brents in Elizabethtown, New Jersey.  John D. Camp, Jr., informed readers of the New-York Gazette that he had been “compel’d by David Brent, to marry Catherine, his daughter.”  Camp vowed to “allow her a separate Maintenance, in all Respects suitable to her Degree,” but he would not pay “any Debts of her Contracting.”  Camp carefully avoided the details about events that resulted in his unwelcome wedding.  If friends and acquaintances had not been discussing whatever transpired between John and Catherine and her father before the advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette, its appearance probably prompted them to share what they knew for certain and speculate on what they did not.

Wolff, Hall, and Camp all attempted to focus attention on the subjects of their advertisements:  an absent wife, a troublesome son, or an imperious father-in-law.  In even publishing their notices, however, they called attention to themselves and their shortcomings in maintaining order within their households.  They sought to regain authority through the power of the press, but in the process they made their private altercations all the more visible to the public.  They framed the narratives and obscured the details, yet they still alerted others to scenes of difficulty and embarrassment that did not reflect well on them despite their efforts to shift responsibility to the actions of others.

April 20

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

Providence Gazette (April 20, 1771).

“His Design is … to exclude his Wife from all Interest in, or Advantage from said Farm.”

On occasion, advertisements published in colonial newspapers generated responses disseminated in subsequent advertisements.  Such was a case when Moses Lyon advertised a farm in South Brimfield, Massachusetts, in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1771.  Nathaniel Child placed an advertisement in response, apparently on behalf of Lyon’s wife.  Child asserted that potential buyers needed to know more about the conditions of the sale before they purchased the property.

“Justice requires,” Child proclaimed, “the Public should be informed, that [Lyon’s] Design is, if possible, to exclude his Wife from all Interest in, or Advantage from said Farm.”  In an effort to prevent such an injustice, Child published his advertisement.  He explained that Lyon’s “now lawful Wife … sustains a reputable Character” and had not “done any thing that might justly forfeit an Interest in his Affections, any more than in his Estate.”  Child did not provide all the details about the discord in the Lyon household, but he did accuse Moses of “repeated Declarations,” a “Series of public Conduct,” and “certain notorious Facts, more loudly speaking than Words” that all indicated he sought to “prevent [his wife] having the least Advantage from any of his Estate.”

Child did not specify his relationship to the Lyon family.  Perhaps he was father, brother, or cousin to the aggrieved wife.  Whatever the relationship, he framed his intervention as a matter of “Justice” so “no Person should be misled, or act in the Dark” when purchasing the farm.  Why did this warning come from him?  By law and by custom, Lyon’s wife did not possess as much power as her husband.  As a result, enlisting a male ally to act as her advocate in the public prints may have been one of the best strategies at her disposal for protecting her interests.  A third party, even a male relation, who testified to Lyon’s “Conduct towards her” likely stood to garner more trust in the veracity of that account than if she relayed a similar story on her own.  Publishing an advertisement in response to Lyon’s real estate notice gave his “now lawful Wife” and her defender greater leverage than had she pursued the matter in private.