April 10

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

Providence Gazette (April 10, 1773).

“An Assortment of choice Medicines.”

Nearly four months had passed since Thomas Truman first placed a notice in the Providence Gazette to request that “all Persons who have Accounts unsettled with Doctor SAMUEL CAREW, late of Providence, deceased,” visit Truman at the “House and Shop lately occupied by Doctor CAREW” to make or receive payment.  He also informed the public that he “proposes to tarry in Providence, and continue the Practice of Physic and Surgery,” reminding “all those Gentlemen and Ladies who have kindly favoured him in the Way of his Business” that he served an apprenticeship under Carew’s supervision.  Truman positioned himself as Carew’s successor, hoping to inherit the physician’s patients.

On April 10, Truman inserted a new notice in which he “once more” directed “those who have hitherto neglected to bring in their Accounts against the Estate of Doctor SAMUEL CAREW” to so do “directly, that they may be settled.”  Similarly, he asked that those “indebted to said Estate … make Payment immediately … that the Books may be closed, and the Debts paid off with Honour.”  In a nota bene, Truman stated that he no longer occupied Carew’s former house and shop.  He had “removed … two Doors further down Street,” where he sold “an Assortment of choice Medicines.”  He offered the lowest prices for the quality of the medicines he peddled.

The timing of Truman’s new advertisement may have been a coincidence, but it happened to appear a week after Ebenezer Richmond placed his own notice that he “proposes to attend to the Practice of Physic and Surgery in this Town” and boasted of his extraordinary record of success caring for patients over several years.  Truman no doubt wished to close the books on Carew’s estate, but he may have also noticed the presence of a rival in the public prints.  Given that advertisements usually ran for three weeks or more, Truman may not have wanted Richmond to enjoy the benefits of being the sole physician to advertise in the city’s only newspaper.  That competition may have played as much of a role in convincing Truman to place a new notice as his desire to bring a conclusion to Carew’s estate.

March 24

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

Pennsylvania Journal (March 24, 1773).

“I had not just cause to attack her reputation in the manner I have published.”

It was a rare retraction.  James Harding instructed William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, to discontinue an advertisement in which he advised the community against extending credit to his wife, Margaret.

James did not reveal the circumstances the prompted him to place his first advertisement in the March 3, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  In that notice, he succinctly declared, “LET no Person credit my Wife, MARGARET HARDING, on my account, for I will pay none of her debts, after this date.”  Throughout the colonies, aggrieved husbands regularly placed similar notices concerning recalcitrant wives.  In many instances, they provided much more detail about how the women misbehaved or even “eloped” or abandoned their husbands.  Without access to the family’s financial resources, controlled by each household’s patriarch, most wives could not publish rebuttals.  Those who did offered very different accounts of marital discord and who was really at fault.  For many women, running away was the most effective means of protecting themselves from abusive husbands.

Less than a week after placing the advertisement, James had a change of heart and sent instructions for the printers to remove the notice from subsequent issues.  “HAVING published an advertisement in your last Paper, prohibiting persons from crediting my Wife, MARGARET HARDING, on my account,” James stated, “I do hereby, in justice to my Wife’s character, declare, that I had not just cause to attack her in the manner I have published.”  Having reached that realization, he “therefore do forbid the continuance of said advertisement.”  Once again, James did not go into details, though friends, neighbors, and acquaintance – women and men alike – probably shared what they knew and what they surmised as they gossiped among themselves.

Pennsylvania Journal (March 24, 1773).

James intended for his initial advertisement to run for a month, according to the “1 m,” a notation for the compositor, that followed his signature.  In the end, that notice appeared just one before the Bradfords published his retraction in the March 10, 17, and 24 editions of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Someone in the printing office may have felt some sympathy for Margaret.  The retraction ran immediately below the “PRICES-CURRENT in PHILADELPHIA” on March 10, making it the first advertisement readers encountered as they transitioned from news items to paid notices.  That likelihood increased the chances of readers noticing the retraction, even if they only skimmed the rest of the advertisement.  Margaret did not share her side of the story in the newspaper, but it may have been some consolation that James’s acknowledgement that he erred in “attack[ing] her reputation” appeared repeatedly and the initial notice only once.  That was more satisfaction than most women targeted by similar advertisements received from their husbands in the public prints.

November 18

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 18, 1772).

“I AM very sorry for advertising my Wife.”

Marital discord in the Elwell household spilled over into the public prints in the fall of 1772.  In a notice dated October 20, John Elwell of “Salem County, West New-Jersey” revealed some of those difficulties to the readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  His advertisement ran a week later in the October 28 edition, stating that “MARCEY ELWELL, my Wife, hath eloped from me, and I am apprehensive that she will run me in Debt.”  Accordingly, he placed the notice “to forewarn all Persons not to trust her on my Account, as I am determined not to pay any Debts of her contracting, after the Date hereof.”  Elwell used formulaic language that appeared in many similar advertisements published throughout the colonies.  As in almost every other instance, the notice told only a portion of the story without any commentary from the wife who reportedly “eloped” from her husband.  Only in rare instances did women publish rebuttals.

Marcey Elwell was not one of those wives who found the resources to run her own advertisement, but a short time later her husband apparently had a change of heart.  In a notice dated November 2, he rescinded his previous statement.  “I AM very sorry for advertising my Wife,” he wrote, “it being done through the Heat of Passion and Inconsideration; which I now retract.”  It took longer for that advertisement to reach the printing office in Philadelphia than the initial one.  The updated notice ran in the November 18 edition, more than two weeks after John wrote it.  By that time, news that the Elwells reconciled may have spread via word of mouth in their local community.  The second newspaper notice served as an update and conclusion for the broader public, alerting shopkeepers, artisans, and others that they could once again do business with Marcey.  Although John did not discuss the particulars in either advertisement, the second notice may have also been part of his penance in convincing his wife to return to him.  The husbands who placed such advertisements sought to shape the narratives about what occurred in their households, though readers knew that the wives had their own perspectives about what happened.  Marcey’s side of the story did not appear in print, but her husband did make a rare public acknowledgment that it was he who had given in to “the Heat of Passion and Inconsideration.”  Few wives received such apologies in the public prints.

June 5

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

Connecticut Journal (June 5, 1772).

“I shall from this Date, pay no Debts of his contracting.”

Advertisements that ran in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy in the spring of 1772 testified to marital discord in the Wolcott household.  In the May 8 edition, Jeremy Wolcott inserted a notice informing the public that “My wife SARAH, and MYSELF, being unhappy in the Marriage State !! which had subjected me to great anxiety; and for Reasons, I hereby forbid any Person trusting her on my Account, for I will not pay any Debts by her contracted, after this Date.”  It was one of dozens of similar advertisements placed by anxious patriarchs in newspapers published in New England that year.  Throughout the colonies, aggrieved husbands ran similar notices in their attempts to assert control over wives they claimed did not obey their commands.  Jeremy’s advertisement appeared in the next two issues as well.

When it concluded its run, something unusual happened.  Sarah inserted her own advertisement in response, a rare instance of a wife answering her husband’s charges in print.  Not surprisingly, Sarah told a very different story than the one rehearsed by Jeremy, one that likely humiliated him even more than placing his own advertisement that implicitly confessed his inability to exercise proper authority within his household.  In a notice that first appeared in the May 29 edition, Sarah referred to Jeremy’s notices “in the Connecticut Journal, No. 238, 39, and 40” that advised “the Publick, not to trust me on his account, and declar’d he will pay no Debts of my contracting.”  Given the actual state of affairs, according to Sarah, that advertisement misrepresented Jeremy’s record of providing for his wife.  “I think I ought (in Justice to myself),” she proclaimed, “inform the Public, That I never was trusted a farthing on his Credit, in my Life.” Furthermore, “when I was married to my said Husband, he had no Estate, and was much in Debt, which I soon after paid for him, and ever since he has been supported out of the Incomes of my Estate, for he has done little or nothing to support himself.”  In Sarah’s version, Jeremy had never fulfilled his responsibilities as husband and head of household.

She then turned the tables on him, issuing similar directions “not to trust him hereafter, on my Account, as I shall from this Date, pay no Debts of his contracting, further than the Select-Men’s Allowance.”  Sarah paid taxes legitimately levied by locally elected representatives, but she asserted that she did not want the resources she brought to the marriage used by Jeremy for any other purposes.  That must have resulted in further embarrassment for Jeremy, especially since the vast majority of women targeted in the sort of advertisement that he placed did not have the means to offer any sort of rebuttal in print.  Most of the time, husbands exercised exclusive access to the power of the press.  On occasions, however, women like Sarah Wolcott published forceful responses that may have caused their husbands to wish that they have never gotten the printing office involved at all.

November 20

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (November 18, 1771).

“I am no servant.”

As soon as the Pennsylvania Packet commenced publication in late October 1771, William Henry Stiegal placed advertisements to promote the American Flint Glass Manufactory at Manheim in Lancaster County.  That advertisement ran for several weeks.  Stiegal soon supplemented it with another notice, that one offering “FIVE PISTOLES REWARD” for “a certain servant man, named FELIX FARRELL, by trade a Glass Blower” who ran away from the factory.  Stiegal described Farrell and promised the reward to whoever “secures him in any of his Majesty’s [jails].”  It was one of many advertisements for runaway servants that ran in newspapers printed in Philadelphia that fall.

Most went unanswered, but Felix Farrell published a response to set the record straight.  Readers encountered both Stiegal’s notice claiming Farrell ran away and Farrell’s response in the November 18 edition.  Farrell acknowledged Stiegal’s advertisement, but warned that he was “no way desirous of having any person plunge himself into an expensive law-suit.”  He then filled in details that Stiegal overlooked in his notice, stating that he and other men migrated to Pennsylvania “to pursue the business of making glass-ware.”  They were “pleased with the civility” that Stiegal demonstrated to them when they first arrived, especially since they were “strangers in America.”  Stiegal convinced them “to enter into articles of agreement with him.”  The relationship, however, turned sour, at least according to Farrell.  He reported that Stiegal “forfeited the covenant on his part” by not paying the promised wages.  That meant that Farrell had “a right to leave his employ and to bring action against him” rather than “drudge and spend my whole life and strength” upholding a broken contract.

Most significantly, Farrell declared, “I am no servant.”  He did not reach that conclusion on his own, but had instead “taken the opinion of an eminent gentlemen of the law” who examined the articles of agreement between Stiegal and Farrell.  Furthermore, Farrell warbed that “no person can be justified in apprehending me.”  Anyone who attempted to do so “will subject himself to an action of false imprisonment.”  Farrell retained a copy of the articles of agreement, asserting his willingness to publish them for consideration in the court of public opinion as well as pursue more formal legal proceedings if Stiegal continued to harass him.

The power of the press usually operated asymmetrically when it came to runaway advertisements in eighteenth-century America.  Wives who “eloped” from their husbands usually did not publish responses.  Enslaved men and women who liberated themselves did not place notices, nor did most indentured servants.  Felix Farrell was one of those rare exceptions, someone who had both the resources to pay for an advertisement and firm enough standing not to place himself in further jeopardy by calling additional attention to himself.

August 27

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

Connecticut Courant (August 27, 1771).

“I think it high time to clip the wings of these public spirited gentlemen, that make so great an appearance in our weekly papers.”

A trio of advertisements about “runaway wives” appeared in the August 13, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant, each of them describing the misbehavior of a woman who absconded from her husband and warning others not to extend credit because their aggrieved husbands refused to pay any debts they contracted.  Richard Smith placed one of those advertisements, claiming that his wife, Hannah, “makes it her business to pass from house to house with her [busy] news, tattling and bawling and lying.”  In addition, he accused her of “carrying out things out of my house, things contrary to my knowledge.”

Such advertisements told only part of the story.  In most instances, wives did not possess the same access to the press as their husbands, especially once husbands published notices that they refused to make payments on behalf of recalcitrant wives, so runaway wife advertisements largely went unanswered in the public prints.  Occasionally, however, women defended their behavior and their reputations by publishing notices of their own.  When Hannah Smith did so, she told a very different story than the one her husband previously presented in the Connecticut Courant.

Hannah blamed both her husband and his children from a previous marriage for the discord in their household.  She first pointed to the “perfidious instigation” of his children that “represented me in a false and ungenerous light, to be wastful, tattling, and wilfully absenting myself.”  Problems arose, Hannah claimed, because she had a husband “who keeps himself (for the most part) intoxicated ten degrees below the level of a beast.”  She also experienced emotional and physical abuse, reporting that Richard “allows some of his children to treat a step mother with the most abusive, ignominious language, not sparing to kick her.”  None of these details appeared in Richard’s advertisement!

Since Richard made accusations against her in a public forum, Hannah in turn insisted that the situation “absolutely necessitated” that she “ask the public, how a woman ought to behave” in such circumstances.  At the same time, she critiqued advertisements for runaway wives more generally, perhaps reacting to the three that appeared one after the other and concluded with Richard’s advertisement concerning her alleged misconduct.  “As the woman is the weaker vessel,” Hannah asserted, “I think it high time to clip the wings of these public spirited gentlemen, that make so great an appearance in our weekly papers.”  Richard Smith had not told an accurate or complete story in his advertisement; neither had Samuel Pettibone and John Savage in their notices.  In a rare rebuttal that appeared in print, Hannah Smith defended not only herself but also Mary Pettibone, Nancy Savage, and other women targeted by runaway wife advertisements.

June 13

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

New-York Journal (June 13, 1771).

“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.

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.

September 2

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

Sep 2 - 8:30:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 30, 1770).

“Some People have surmised that the above Advertisement was inserted only to amuse the Publick.”

Henry Barnes, a merchant, did not meet with success the first time he offered the “Whole of the Real-Estate” he owned in Marlborough for sale in an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury in the summer of 1770.  He inserted his advertisement for three consecutive weeks in the issues distributed on July 5, 12, and 19.  In it, he described “a Dwelling-House in good Repair, very pleasantly situated, with the Out-Houses” as well as a large store conveniently located and “extremely well-calculated for Business both Wholesale and Retail.”  The property also included “a very large Pearl-Ash Work,” a still that could produce five hundred barrels of cider a year, seven acres of land for mowing and pasturing, and “a Number of Asparagus Beds in their prime.”  Prospective buyers could anticipate making a living, not just residing, on this property.  Yet the “Whole of the Real-Estate of HENRY BARNES” did not sell.

Barnes had an idea why that was the case.  Four weeks after his advertisement originally ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, he placed it again, but this time with an addition.  In a nota bene that concluded the advertisement, Barnes stated, “Whereas some People have surmised that the above Advertisement was inserted only to amuse the Publick: This is to Certify, that I am determined to sell, provided anybody comes up to my Terms which are thought to be very reasonable.”  Apparently, Barnes’s advertisement had not gone unnoticed, even though it had not produced the results he intended.  Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury and others in the community became aware of Barnes’s real estate notice, discussed it, and dismissed it.  That prompted Barnes to return to the public prints to address the gossip, rumors, and idle talk that the first iteration of his advertisement produced.  He ran the advertisement with the addendum on August 16, 23, and 30.

How effective were newspaper advertisements in eighteenth-century America?  Answering questions about reception is difficult.  Barnes testified to an unintended consequence of placing his advertisement.  It did not initially result in a sale of his real estate, but other colonists did notice it and talk about it.  They read the notice, even if they did not respond in the manner that Barnes hoped.