April 10

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 10, 1771).

“Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.”

Elisabeth Russel, John Giles, and William Russel, the executors of Alexander Russel’s estate, harnessed the power of the press in fulfilling their duties.  In the spring of 1771, they ran an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, calling on “ALL Persons indebted to the Estate … to make immediate Payment, and all Persons having Demands thereon to bring them in.”

The estate notice also attended to the continuation of the business that Alexander operated before his death.  “THE SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS,” the executors announced, “is carried on as heretofore, under the Direction of a proper Person.”  Furthermore, “Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.”  In similar circumstances, some widows took over managing the family’s business, continuing responsibilities they previously pursued and expanding others.  After all, they made significant contributions before their husbands died, even if their names never appeared in advertisements.  Husbands tended to be the public face, but wives provided various kinds of labor, including keeping ledgers and interacting with customers, that did not receive the same recognition and notice.

When it came to the managing the Russels’ “SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS,” however, the widow did not assume all of the responsibilities previously undertaken by her husband.  Instead, the executors assured prospective clients that “a proper Person” oversaw the day-to-day operations.  Yet they did not erase the widow.  They made clear that “Mrs. Russel” was now the proprietor.  The employees were “her Hands.”  She appreciated customers who continued to hire their services.  This formulation positioned the widow as both a proprietor who took appropriate steps in maintaining the business and an object of sympathy who merited consideration following the death of her husband.  Her livelihood depended, at least in part, on the family’s business remaining a viable enterprise.  In the interests of both her customers and herself, the executors suggested, the widow made responsible decisions.  Prospective customers could have confidence that the Russel family’s business, now headed by Elisabeth, maintained the same quality and continued uninterrupted in the wake of Alexander’s death.

April 6

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

Providence Gazette (April 6, 1771).

Consider his Misfortunes, and to favour him with their Custom.”

When Elisha Brown resumed “his former Right and Estate in the GRIST-MILL” that he once operated, he took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to increase his chances of success.  He outlined his plans for running the mill, but also attempted to play on the sympathies of prospective clients in an advertisement that first ran on April 6, 1771.  He acknowledged that he was back in business thanks to “the Favour and Assistance of many of his Creditors, and some of his Friends” and requested “the Favour of his former Customers … to consider his Misfortunes, and to favour him with their Custom.”  Brown did not elaborate on those “Misfortunes,” apparently believing the community was already familiar with them and would respond to his plea that they once again entrust their grain to him for processing.

To serve his customers, Brown planned “to give constant Attendance” at the mill from sunrise until nine o’clock at night.  He would “make their Meal good” as well as replace any bags lost by mistake, but specified that he needed customers’ assistance in bringing him grain that was “clean and dry” in well-marked bags.  Achieving customer satisfaction depended in part on the care that clients took in preparing their grain for the mill, yet the miller also played an important role in the process.  Brown aimed “to please his Customers,” but resumed operations on a trial basis.  He pledged that if he “should be so unfortunate as not to please them” he would “procure some other Person to tend said Mill to their Satisfaction.”  Brown hoped to earn the approbation of his clients on his own, but he recognized that the success of the business might ultimately depend on hiring an associate.

In the process of informing the community that he once again operated his mill, Brown constructed a narrative of redemption to encourage clients to avail themselves of his services.  He already benefited from the “Favour and Assistance” of creditors and friends who overlooked his “Misfortunes” and now called on former customers and prospective new ones to do the same.  He asked them to give him an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment and competence during a trial period, intending to win their trust and return business.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:31:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 31, 1769).

“The Shoe-making Business is still carried on at her Shop.”

Elizabeth Mumford did not insert herself into the public prints until necessity forced her to do so. When her husband Samuel, a cordwainer, passed away in the summer of 1769, she ran advertisements in the Newport Mercury calling on “her late Husband’s Friends and Customers” to continue to patronize the family business. She referred to the shop on New Lane as “her Shop” and reported that she employed John Remmington, “who has work’d with her late Husband several Years.” Former customers may have been familiar with Remmington already, having interacted with him in the shop in the past. Whether or not they had previously made the acquaintance, Mumford underscored that the “Shoe-making Business” continued without disruption and that customers could “depend on being served with as good Work of every Sort as in her Husband’s Life-time.” Remmington’s presence provided continuity in the production of shoes, but Mumford likely made other contributions, such as waiting on customers and keeping accounts.

Mumford, however, downplayed any role that she had played or continued to play in the family business as partner, supervisor, or assistant. Instead, she presented herself as a widow who happened to own the shop yet otherwise depended on the good will of others. She reported that Remmington continued working at her Shop “for the Benefit of her and her Children,” making her appeal to “her late Husband’s Friends and Customers” all the more poignant. Without husband and provider, the widow and children found themselves in a vulnerable new position. Mumford crafted her advertisement to encourage sympathy and a sense of collective responsibility for her family among friends and patrons. She took what steps she could in engaging Remmington’s continued employment at her shop, but that did not matter if their former customers did not return in the wake of Samuel’s death. In other circumstances, the quality of the shoes produced in the shop on New Lane may have been sufficient promotion in newspaper advertisements, but Mumford did not consider that enough following the death of her husband. She crafted a narrative with greater urgency even as she noted the continuities in the shop. As a widow she enjoyed new financial and legal powers, but she tempered her portrayal of herself as an independent entrepreneur in her efforts to retain her husband’s clientele and “the Continuance of their Favours.”

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1768 Newport Gazette
Newport Mercury (September 5, 1768).

“He will clean a Clock and keep it in good Repair three Years for One Dollar.”

When Robert Proud turned to the Newport Gazette to advertise that he “cleans Clocks and Watches” late in the summer of 1768, he determined that he needed to do more than promote the low prices he charged for his services. After proclaiming that he performed his work “as cheap as any One in America,” he listed his prices and laid a service plan for prospective customers. That plan included an initial cleaning as well as keeping clocks and watches “in good Repair” for a specified period. For clocks set his rate at “three Years for One Dollar” and for watches at “Half a Dollar [for] for One Year.” Most clock- and watchmakers, like other artisans, did not publish their fees in their advertisements. Proud backed up his assertion about his low prices by putting them on display for prospective customers to assess as they made a decision about whether to visit his shop. Some of his competitors occasionally offered to undertake additional repairs if customers were not satisfied with their initial efforts, but they usually limited such guarantees to a single year. By comparison, Proud’s service plan – three years for clocks – was quite generous.

That was enough to distinguish Proud from others who cleaned and repaired clocks and watches, yet he further elaborated on the service prospective customers could expect to receive in his efforts to attract their patronage. He efficiently completed his work, completing most jobs in a single day. For items dropped off in the morning, Proud either had them ready that evening or “next Day at farthest.” Prospective customers could expect the work done in a timely manner rather than consigning their clocks and watches to linger in Proud’s workshop. Furthermore, they did not need to interact with him directly in order to receive quality service, an appeal that Proud made especially for “any Person in the Country [who] will favour him with their Work.” Anyone who chose to have their clocks and watches delivered to his workshop rather than visiting in person and interacting directly with Proud could still “depend on being as well used as if present.”

Proud concluded his advertisement with a very different sort of appeal: he noted that he had fallen on hard times. “The Business is now so small,” he lamented, “that without some Increase, he cannot a get a comfortable Subsistence for his Family.” The situation was so dire that even though he had served the Newport community for twenty years that “from Necessity, [he] must, in a short Time, leave this his native Place, to seek his Bread elsewhere.” Proud pivoted from laying out his innovative service plan to attempting to provoke sympathy from readers. It must have been difficult to acknowledge his financial insecurity in the public prints, but by pairing that disclosure with his detailed service plan Proud suggested that he did not make false promises. Instead, prospective customers could depend on him following through on efficiently repairing their clocks and watches and returning them in a timely manner. His livelihood and the “Subsistence for his Family” was at stake if he did not deliver on the services and service plan he described in his advertisement.