January 9

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 9, 1769).

“The Business of Shoe-making is carried on as usual.”

Mary Ogden likely never appeared in the public prints prior to the death of her husband, but in the wake of that event she placed two advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. The first was a standard estate notice for Moses Ogden of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, that listed her as executrix along with executors Robert Ogden, Jr., and John Cousens Ogden. It called on “ALL Persons having any Demands upon the Estate of Moses Ogden” as well as “those who are any wise indebted to the said Estate” to settle their accounts as quickly as possible. The Ogdens also threatened legal action or “further Trouble” for those who did not heed the notice.

Although Mary worked in collaboration with the executors, presumably relatives, in the first advertisement, the second invoked her name alone. Appearing immediately below the estate notice, it deployed her name as a headline in a font much larger than the rest of the advertisement. The widow announced “that the Business of Shoe-making is carried on as usual.” Furthermore, “orders for any Articles in that Way, shall be complied with in the best and most expeditious Manner.” In other words, the death of her husband Moses did not bring an end to the family business. Mary sought to support herself by continuing the endeavor “as usual.”

The widow Ogden did not provide further details about the operations of the business. She may have made shoes herself, or she may have overseen one or more employees who previously worked for her husband. Like many other wives of shopkeepers and artisans, she likely played an important role in maintaining the family business while her husband still lived, although his would have been the most prominent public face associated with their shared enterprise. Still, she may have interacted with customers, helped with bookkeeping, and assisted in making shoes. All of these roles prepared her for running the business on her own after the loss of her husband. At that time, her name became the one associated with the business. Her name achieved much greater prominence in the marketplace and, especially, in print, even if her contributions to the family business did not much change after the death of her husband.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 22, 1767).

“She undertakes to make and mend Men’s Leather Shoes.”

Elizabeth Shaw, “Shoe-Maker, from Europe,” was not the only woman who placed a newspaper advertisement for consumer goods and services in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today. Mary Hill also inserted a commercial notice in the Boston Post-Boy, informing potential customers that she sold a “Variety of Millinary.” Priscilla Manning informed readers of the Boston Evening-Post that she carried a “Variety of English & India GOODS” at her shop. In other colonies, Mary Maylem’s advertisement for a “neat Assortment of fashionable GOODS” appeared in the Newport Mercury. The Widow Hays hawked “ALL Sorts of PICKLES … with several Sorts of SWEET MEATS” in the New-York Gazette while Margaret Collins and Elizabeth Bevan each placed her own advertisement for “Gentlemen Lodgers” in the New-York Mercury. Mrs. Adams did not place a separate advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette, but writing master William Adams indicated near the end of his notice that “Mrs. Adams will teach young ladies to sew” and planned to acquire “a compleat assortment of millinary” to retail on her own.

Shaw joined the ranks of other women who entered the marketplace by inserting an advertisement in the public prints, but the nature of her business differed from the other women who advertised on the same day. Among those who sold goods, Manning and Maylem operated shops where they sold all kinds of imported goods, but especially textiles and housewares. Hill specialized in selling millinery and also made her own hats to sell to other women. Hays provided food to her customers. Collins, Bevan, and Adams extended their domestic responsibilities into business endeavors, the first two taking in boarders and Adams teaching girls to sew. Although they all entered the marketplace, these women followed occupations deemed appropriate to their gender. Shaw, on the other hand, practiced a trade more often associated with men, though not their exclusive domain. She did not limit herself to predominantly female clients, but instead made and repaired “Men’s Leather Shoes” as well. The other female advertisers demonstrated what was probable when it came to women’s occupations in colonial America, but Shaw’s advertisement testified to what was possible.

April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 14, 1767).

“To be sold cheap for Cash … ELEANOR REAZON.”

Women and Advertisements. In choosing this advertisement, the part that stood out to me was the fact that it was placed by a woman. Eleanor Reazon, an ordinary woman, embodied the group of women who sought to make a living for themselves and their families. What is also important to note is that women, especially once the Townshend Acts were passed, played a significant role in both adhering to boycotts, as well as breaking them and continuing their sale of goods and their tea parties. Historian T.H. Breen explains the importance of women supporting boycotts. Peter Oliver, a prominent Loyalist, accused patriot women of breaking the boycotts.

Despite the uniqueness of a woman placing an advertisement, the content is not as surprising. Hats and bonnets, as well as fabrics and tea, all represented what women most likely sold. The advertisement did not include boats, wood, or other heftier goods, but rather smaller, fine items sold within her home. During this period, the role of women and business varied. Patricia Cleary states, “A close examination of women’s trading, however, points to other possibilities: that the work itself carried implications for women beyond their family roles. Women shopkeepers, whose business practices illuminate the changing consumer world of the midcentury, highlight the interplay of gender and commerce and suggest the existence of a sphere of female entrepreneurship and association.”[1]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Eleanor Reazon was the only female entrepreneur to place an advertisement promoting consumer goods and services in the April 14 issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its supplement, though she certainly was not the only female shopkeeper active in Charleston at the time. Women who ran shops in the eighteenth century tended not to advertise their enterprises. In turn, that produced a skewed glimpse of the marketplace in the public prints, suggesting that women acted almost exclusively as consumers.

Female shopkeepers occupied complicated space in the public sphere and market. Men dominated the world of business, while women were expected to tend to the household. Yet many women found themselves engaged in the world of trade and commerce. Sometimes this was brief, as in the case of deputy husbands who temporarily stepped forward in the absence of their husbands. Other times women had a more sustained presence in the marketplace, including widows who either continued businesses formerly run by their husbands or established their own shops, taverns, or other enterprises to support themselves. Both deputy husbands and widows justifiably participated in business only when the absence of their husbands made it necessary.

Single and married female shopkeepers were in a more precarious position. Presumably no man supervised single women, while married women who operated their own businesses usurped roles and responsibilities supposedly reserved for male heads of household. These circumstances may have made female entrepreneurs hesitant to expose themselves to unwanted scrutiny by advertising in newspapers. Instead, the language used in many advertisements placed by women in the eighteenth century suggests that many preferred to rely on word-of-mouth marketing via networks of friends and neighbors rather than listing their businesses alongside those of their male competitors in the advertising pages.

Eleanor Reazon, however, did not resort to any sort of explanations to justify inserting her voice into the world of commerce represented in the advertising section of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. As Shannon notes, she sold a relatively narrow range of goods compared to some of her male counterparts, but otherwise her marketing efforts did not much differ. Although many women downplayed their role as traders, Reazon and others claimed a place in the market as “she-merchants” and entrepreneurs. Advertising from the period demonstrates that there was not just one way for women of business to comport themselves in eighteenth-century America.

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[1] Patricia Cleary, “‘She Will Be in the Shop’: Women’s Sphere of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia and New York,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 119, no. 3 (July 1995): 182.

March 9

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

Mar 9 - 3:9:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 9, 1767).

“Red and white Clover, Red Top and Herds Grass Seed, warranted to be of last Year’s Growth.”

Compared to their male counterparts, women who pursued their own businesses placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers much less frequently. Even though they comprised a sizeable minority of shopkeepers in urban ports, they tended not to inject themselves into the marketplace via the public prints.

For one type of female entrepreneur, however, that changed, at least temporarily, in Boston for several weeks in late winter and early spring in the 1760s. Women who specialized in selling seeds placed advertisements in Boston’s newspapers and competed with each other for customers as the time for planting gardens approached.

Consider the March 9, 1767, issues of the Boston-Gazette. Susanna Renken’s advertisement appeared on the first page. Notices placed by four other female seed sellers (and one male competitor who, unlike the women, described his occupation as “Gardener”) filled almost an entire column on the final page of the supplement devoted solely to advertising. Just as Renken stated in her advertisement, Bethiah Oliver, Elizabeth Clark, Lydia Dyar, and Elizabeth Greenleaf noted that they imported seeds from London and listed the varieties they stocked. Each had advertised the previous year as well.

Clark, Dyar, and the appropriately named Greenleaf confined their advertising to seeds, but Renken also promoted “all Sorts of English GOODS and China Ware” and Oliver stocked “a general Assortment of Glass, Delph and Stone Ware, Lynn Shoes, best Bohea Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, and all other Groceries.” Their advertisements suggest that Renken and Oliver ran operations much more extensive than peddling seeds, which may explain why those two also inserted advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy on the same day. Clark, Dyar, and Greenleaf may have also stocked various imported housewares and groceries, despite not making an indication in their own advertisements. None of these five women who ran advertisements for the seeds they sold in successive springs, however, placed advertisements at other times during the year.

What explains the prominence of advertisements by women selling seeds amid the scarcity of advertising by other women in colonial Boston’s marketplace? Why did the women in this occupation turn to advertising when other women who operated other sorts of businesses did not? Why did Renken and Oliver only advertise their other wares at the conclusion of their advertisements for seeds and not in separate advertisements throughout the rest of the year? These advertisements demonstrate women’s activity in the marketplace as sellers, not just consumers, but they also raise a series of questions about the limits of that participation captured in print during the period.

December 15

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

dec-15-12151766-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (December 15, 1766).

She has employ’d a young woman lately arrived from London.”

When she decided to “decline Business for the present,” shopkeeper and milliner Elizabeth Colvil announced the eighteenth-century equivalent of a going-out-of-business sale. She “resolved to dispose of all her shop goods by wholesale and retail, at prime cost, for ready money only; the sale to continue till all are sold.” Colvil was liquidating her merchandise, enticing prospective customers with low prices in order to move the process along as quickly as possible.

In and of itself, that sort of promotion distinguished Colvil’s advertisement from many others of the period, but it was not the only aspect of her announcement that set it apart. After listing much of her remaining merchandise and promising “sundry other goods too tedious to mention,” Colvil indicated that she had hired an assistant, a young woman who had recently arrived from London. Her assistant, “who understands the millinary business, in all its branches,” would stay on until Colvil closed shop. At that time, she would pursue the business on her own “in the most extensive manner.” Although Colvil was not selling her shop to her assistant, she was setting her up as her successor.

To that end, Colvil made an appeal to current and prospective customers: “those ladies that shall please to favour her [the young woman recently arrived from London] with their custom, may rely on being served on the best terms, and their work done in the neatest and most fashionable manner.” Colvil voiced a strong endorsement of her assistant, directing the women of New York to patronize her assistant’s shop once Colvil had departed the marketplace.

This differs significantly from most eighteenth-century advertisements in which male merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans indicated the amiable end of a partnership or the transfer of a business from one man to another. In such cases they used advertisements to announce a change in status but did not incorporate an extensive endorsement of the new business or its proprietor.

Elizabeth Colvil probably knew a thing or two about the particular difficulties of being a woman and operating a business in eighteenth-century America. As a result, she attempted to assist her assistant in launching her own shop, recognizing that a young woman, especially one new to the city and unknown to most of its residents, would benefit from establishing a good reputation as quickly as possible. Colvil’s endorsement in her advertisement was the first step. The assistant working with customers was the second. She could build up a clientele, drawing on Colvil’s network of patrons, while the senior shopkeeper and milliner was still active in the business. In this advertisements, Elizabeth Colvil advocated on behalf of a fellow female entrepreneur.

October 1

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

oct-1-1011766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 1, 1766).

“MARY HUGHES, Takes this Method to inform the Ladies.”

My final post as guest curator introduces the first advertisement by a female entrepreneur I saw in the newspapers I read through. In the Georgia Gazette, Mary Hughes “Takes this Method to inform the Ladies” that she offered an extensive list of goods specifically for women, notably wax and pearl earrings, garnet necklaces, ribbons, “stomachers” (which were “the early ancestors of the corset” and “essential part of a woman’s wardrobe”), and much more. Despite other advertisements catering primarily to men, with a few products aimed for women included, Mary Hughes’ advertisement was aimed solely at women.

This short advertisement ended with Hughes explaining that “she proposes to carry on the millenary business.” A milliner specialized in making women’s hats. Based on the goods listed in her advertisement, it seemed she had all the imported materials necessary to become a continued success! To make that happen, she needed customers. Hughes’ message went on to explain that she would be “very much obliged to those ladies who will grant her their favours.” To me, it seems that this last invitation had a sense of desperation. Perhaps that was not the case; perhaps it is just the formal language that makes it so much different from modern advertisements. Today, I believe this would sound more like a request for charity rather than generating business for her shop.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

I’m both surprised and not surprised that this was the first advertisement for consumer goods and services that Nick encountered during his week as guest curator. I’m not surprised because such advertisements by female entrepreneurs were often rare. They certainly appeared in disproportionately low numbers compared to the number of women that historians know operated their own shops or provided other services in eighteenth-century America, especially in urban ports.

On the other hand, advertisements placed by women were present in colonial newspapers. That Nick did not encounter any others earlier in the week says something about what often comes down to serendipity in the research process. Women did place newspaper advertisements in the 1760s, but they were less likely to do so than their male counterparts. As a result, some issues occasionally featured greater numbers of advertisements by women, while others were completely devoid of marketing efforts conducted by women. Chance, as much as any other factor, explains why Nick did not encounter advertisements by women in any of the other newspapers he consulted this week.

Historians have to work with the sources available to us. We tell the stories that the documents allow us to tell, not always the stories that we would like to tell or that we wish the documents would allow us to tell. Uncovering the history of women in the colonial marketplace and, especially, the history of women in eighteenth-century advertising requires special attention and effort. As often as possible, I select advertisements placed by women to feature on the Adverts 250 Project, both as a matter of principle and as an informal part of my methodology. Women’s participation in the marketplace as producers and retailers was already underrepresented in the public prints in the eighteenth century. I do not wish to compound the problem by overlooking their commercial notices when they did appear.

As a result, I especially appreciate that Nick selected Mary Hughes’ advertisement to feature and analyze. He certainly had other choices for today, but by telling a story that he had not yet told he joined other historians in the endeavor to include women in our narratives of the past.

September 11

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

Sep 11 - 9:11:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (September 11, 1766).

“The above articles all in the newest and genteelest taste.”

Milliners and shopkeepers often promoted their merchandise by noting that it had been imported from London or other English ports, suggesting that this gave their wares special cachet in terms of both taste and quality. They frequently named both the ship and the captain that transported their goods across the Atlantic, which allowed savvy newspaper readers to recognize vessels recently listed in the shipping news elsewhere in the newspaper. In this way, potential customers could assess for themselves that an advertiser stocked the most current fashions.

In most instances, milliners and shopkeepers relied on networks of correspondence involving faraway merchants and producers to obtain the goods they sold to colonists. American retailers – and the customers they served – had to trust that they had indeed received merchandise currently fashionable in metropolitan London, though many suspected that the distance that separated them from the capital allowed correspondents to pawn off leftover or undesirable goods that otherwise would not have been sold.

In this advertisement, however, Ann Pearson stated that she had “Just returned from London” and had imported a vast array of textiles and accouterments for personal adornment. Rather than accept whatever goods distant correspondents dispatched, she had an opportunity to select which items she wished to offer to her customers. She concluded her advertisement with an assurance that the “above articles [were] all in the newest and genteelest taste.” Unlike most other milliners and shopkeepers who sold imported English goods, Pearson was in a unique position to make this claim, having witnessed current styles in London herself rather than relying on the good will of intermediaries and middlemen.

September 9

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

Sep 9 - 9:9:1766 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 9, 1766).

“To carry on Business on her own proper Account, as sole Dealer and seperate Trader.”

Anne Raymor published an advertisement with an unusual twist. Throughout the colonies, newspaper readers would have been very familiar with advertisements for runaway wives, a genre in which aggrieved husbands announced that their wives had absconded or “eloped” from them and warning merchants, shopkeepers, and other not to extend any credit to them. In such instances, men exercised financial mastery over women, curtailing their ability to participate in the marketplace as consumers.

According to today’s advertisement, Anne Raymor wished to be more than a consumer. She wanted to “carry on Business on her own proper Account, as sole Dealer and seperate Trader, exclusive and free from any Concern with her Husband.” In this instance, it was the wife who sought to sever financial connections with the husband. This was a particularly transgressive course considering the political and economic rights of women under the laws of coverture in eighteenth-century America.

Upon marriage, a woman became a feme covert, her legal identity subsumed by her husband, the head of the family and household. She could not own property in her own name, sign contracts, control her own earnings, or sue others in court. All of these actions would have been important and necessary, then as now, for women who operated businesses, whether shopkeepers, milliners, seamstresses, or tavernkeepers. An unmarried woman, a feme sole, did not labor under such restrictions.

Raymor did not provide any details about her dispute with her husband, but she sought some means to function as a feme sole and pursue her business interests independently of her husband’s oversight or interference. Obtaining credit “from some of her Friends” provided an avenue to do so, at least according to the “Advice of Council at Law” that she had consulted.

This advertisement demonstrates that women found themselves in a precarious position when it came to being entrepreneurs in eighteenth-century America. Making a living was also difficult for men, but it was even more imperative for most women to rely on others, especially networks of friends, when they operated on their own in the marketplace. Anne Raymor found herself in the position of using the limited space in her advertisement to delineate her relationship with her husband rather than extolling the qualities of her merchandise.

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.