January 17

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

Connecticut Journal (January 17, 1772).

“All Persons Indebted to said Sherman, are desired to make immediate Payment, to prevent Trouble.”

John Sherman had two purposes in placing an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy in January 1772.  He aimed to attract customers for the “large Quantity of GOODS” available at his shop, but he also wished to collect on debts.  As was often the case in colonial newspapers, he pursued both goals in a single advertisement rather than placing multiple notices with distinct purposes.  This may have been a strategy to avoid paying for more than one notice, depending on how the printer set advertising rates, but it also suggests that advertisers expected readers to closely examine the content of advertisements as well as news articles, letters, and editorials that appeared elsewhere in newspapers.

In a slightly longer advertisement, Roger Sherman addressed three different purposes.  Like John, he marketed textiles and “a general Assortment of other GOODS.”  He also demanded that “those indebted to him by Book or Note … make immediate Payment to avoid Trouble.”  That threat of legal action echoed the language deployed in John’s advertisement. Finally, he made a much more specific request: “The Person who has his Province Law-Book is desired to return it.” Rather than place a separate advertisement solely about returning the book, he expected that readers would peruse his entire notice.

Such was the case among colonizers who placed advertisements in other newspapers.  On the same day that these advertisements ran in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, Samuel Noyes, a jeweler, ran a notice in the New-London Gazette.  He devoted the vast majority of it to listing items available at his shop, including shoe and knee buckles, rings, and lockets.  At the very end, he also announced that he “Wanted a likely Boy as an Apprentice to the Goldsmith’s Business.”  Not completely trusting readers to closely examine the conclusion of the advertisement, the compositor used a slightly larger font to draw attention, but that was not usually the case in advertisements with multiple purposes.  Neither of the notices in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy featured variations in font size except for the names of the advertisers (which also served as headlines).

September 6

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

“ROGER SHERMAN … has lately sent a Fresh Assortment of Goods there to the Care of Mrs. SARAH JOHNSON.”

Sep 6 - 9:6:1766 Connecticut Gazette
Connecticut Gazette (September 6, 1766).

Relative to the number of women who worked as shopkeepers or otherwise operated businesses of various sorts in eighteenth-century America, very few women placed advertisements to promote their endeavors and attract customers. As a matter of principle, I do not wish to further obscure women’s participation in the marketplace as producers and retailers on the supply side of the equation; all too often they are depicted merely as consumers on the demand side. Accordingly, I select advertisements placed by women as frequently as practical.

Today’s advertisement caught my attention because it promotes a business run by a woman, yet it was not placed by the woman herself. Sarah Johnson sold “a Fresh Assortment of Goods” in Wallingford, a town about a dozen miles outside of New Haven. Roger Sherman, however, placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Gazette to “acquaint his Customers at Wallingford” that Johnson sold those goods and provided discounts for customers who bought in volume. He also wanted potential customers in New Haven to know that he sold a similar “Assortment of Goods” on the same terms.

This advertisement raises questions about the arrangements Johnson and Sherman made. It appears that Johnson oversaw the day-to-day operations of the shop in Wallingford, including the necessary accounting and negotiating (as indicated when Sherman allowed for payment in “such other Species as may be agreed on” instead of cash). Yet she seems to have been an employee of some sort rather than a partner. What kind of stake did she have in the enterprise? Did she own any of the inventory she stocked? Did she earn commissions on the goods she sold? How much risk had she assumed compared to Sherman? How much autonomy did she exercise in selecting goods and setting prices? Did she participate in the decisions to offer discounts or to call in debts? Note that Sherman referred to customers Johnson served in Wallingford as “his Customers,” suggesting how he envisioned his relationship to both Johnson and their (his?) clients.

This advertisement acknowledges Sarah Johnson’s presence in the operation of a shop in Wallingford, Connecticut, but it does not fully elaborate on her position relative to Roger Sherman beyond suggesting that even though she participated in the marketplace she did so as a subordinate to Sherman. The advertisement, intended for public consumption, maintained the gender hierarchy of the period, regardless of whatever practices Johnson and Sherman devised outside the public eye.