What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Whoever is inclinable to purchase the said sloop may treat with Mrs. Germain at her house in Savannah.”
The September 21, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette included several estate notices. The executors of Robert Adams’s estate informed readers about the sale of “ALL THE HOUSEHOLD GOODS” scheduled to take place at the end of October. Similarly, the executors of James Love’s estate announced an auction of “A LARGE QUANTITY of MAHOGANY, RED BAY, and WALNUT PLANK, an ASSORTMENT of CABINET-MAKERS and JOINERS TOOLS, and SOME HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE” to be held in early November at the shop he formerly occupied. Another estate notice described a “SLOOP called the BUTTERFLY, lately the property of Mr. Michael Germain, deceased.”
Each of these estate notices identified a female executor. “ANN ADAMS, Administratrix,” was presumably the widow of Robert Adams, given that the notice advised that the sale would take place “at the house of Mrs. Adams in Savannah.” The notice concerning the Butterfly did not formally specify that Michael Germain’s widow was an executor, but it did advise that “Whoever is inclinable to purchase the said sloop may treat with Mrs. Germain at her house in Savannah.” The notice concerning James Love’s estate does not reveal the relationship connecting “ELIZABETH WHITEFILED, Executrix,” and the deceased cabinetmaker, but she may have been a daughter or sister. In each instance, a woman assumed important legal and financial responsibilities and turned to the public prints to carry them out.
Yet they did not do so alone. “ANN ADAMS, Administratrix,” fulfilled her duties in coordination with “JAMES HERIOT, Administrator.” “ELIZABETH WHITEFIELD, Executrix,” worked with “PETER BLYTH, Executor” to settle Love’s estate. Mrs. Germain had a male counterpart as well. Those interested in purchasing the Butterfly had the option of negotiating “with Hugh Ross” instead of the widow. None of these advertisements reveal the division of labor undertaken by the executors, but they do demonstrate that colonial women were not excluded from these important duties. Their male counterparts may have provided oversight, but wives and other female relations likely possessed more knowledge about family finances and the commercial activities of deceased men than just about anybody else. Even when adult sons or former business partners also served as executors, women made invaluable contributions in the process of settling estates.