What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“She now has full Liberty to contract any Debts on my Account.”
In the summer and fall of 1768, the Wiggin family of Stratham, New Hampshire, engaged in a domestic dispute that played itself out in the public prints. Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette had their first glimpse of the Wiggins’ trouble when Tuften placed an advertisement in the August 19 edition. He informed the public that his wife, Sarah, “refuses to live with me as an obedient Wife” and instructed others from “giving her Credit on my Account.” In a nota bene, Tuften addressed a short note directly to his wife: “If she returns, she will be kindly received upon reasonable terms.”
Apparently Sarah had no desire to reconcile with her husband at that time. The next issue included a brief notice from the printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, that her “APPEAL to the Public representing her Husband’s Advertising her in this Paper, came too late, but will be in our next.” The Fowles reinforced the discord, reporting that this appeal would demonstrate “how greatly [Sarah] has been injured and imposed upon by [Tuften].” In so doing, they signaled to readers that the pages of the next issue would contain gossip that they would not want to miss. A public argument between husband and wife certainly could not hurt circulation of their newspaper. The September 2 edition included Sarah’s advertisement, extending three-quarters of a column. The aggrieved wife delivered a detailed account of the many abuses she had suffered at the hands of her husband.
For three consecutive weeks readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette glimpsed a new scene of the Wiggins’ marital difficulties. Most eighteenth-century runaway wife advertisements did not garner responses in print, but occasionally a wife or one of her friends or relatives did attempt to present the story from her perspective. Even more rarely, a subsequent advertisement advised the public that a couple had resolved their altercation. Tuften Wiggin placed such an advertisement in the October 7, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He advised “THE PUBLICK” that “the Breach between us is now made up; and I do hereby REVOKE that Advertisement in every Part.” Sarah now had “full Liberty to contract any Debts on my Account … if she should be so inclined.” The new notice did not mention how the Wiggins had arrived at their accord, only that they had made peace. Now that Sarah was back in Tuften’s good graces, the Fowles benefited from another windfall from the couple’s dispute: one more advertisement that generated revenues for the newspaper. The printers made money each time the Wiggins decided that they would continue to publish their saga in the public prints.