August 30

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

Aug 30 - 8:30:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 30, 1768).

“REBECCA WRIGHT, SOLE-DEALER, MILLINER, from LONDON.”

Late in the summer of 1768, Rebecca Wright, a “MILLINER, from LONDON,” took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to announce that she intended to open her own shop on King Street in Charleston. She informed prospective customers that she pursued “the MILLINARY BUSINESS in all its branches, in the genteelest taste.” In just a few words, Wright commented on her abilities to pursue her trade and her attention to current fashions. In those regards the appeals in her advertisement paralleled some of the most common appeals deployed by artisans throughout the eighteenth century. Her notice, however, deviated from those placed by other artisans in once significant manner: the headline.

For most artisans, their name alone served as the headline for their advertisements. Their occupation or trade appeared as a secondary headline. Such was the case in other advertisements that ran in the same column as Wright’s notice. These included “JAMES OLIPHANT, JEWELLER, in Broad-street, next door to the Post-office,” “JOHN LORD, CARVER and GILDER,” and “THOMAS COLEMAN, UPHOLSTERER and PAPER-HANGER.” The headline for Wright’s advertisement had an additional element, identifying her as a “SOLE-DEALER” before listing her occupation as a secondary headline. What did this designation mean?

Laws replicating the English practice of coverture were in place throughout the colonies. Such laws negated the separate legal identity of married women. This certainly had ramifications for women in business. As the Elizabeth Murray Project explains, “Most legal arrangements, such as contracts, were considered to be the husband’s sole right and responsibility. … If [a wife] were able to enter into contracts on her own, she could ultimately be held liable in ways that might deprive a husband of services to which he had first claim.” Wives who ran their own businesses did so under the authority of their husbands, who were legally responsible for the debts incurred and other commercial activities of their entrepreneurial wives. Only Pennsylvania and South Carolina passed feme sole trader statutes that enabled married women to participate in the marketplace on their own behalf, separating their legal identity from husbands when it came to business.

Wright proclaimed that this was case with her millinery shop. The headline of her advertisement announced that she operated her business on her own, that she (not her husband) was ultimately responsible for making contracts, paying debts, suing for payment, and any other legal actions necessary for its operation. This advertisement – along with one placed by “FRANCES SWALLOW, SOLE DEALER,” on the same page – testifies to the commercial independence that some married women managed to achieve even in an age when coverture was the common practice.

July 19

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

Jul 19 - 7:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 19, 1768).

“The BARBER’s BUSINESS is carried on as usual.”

Elizabeth Butler’s advertisement in the July 19, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal demonstrates that women pursued a wide range of occupations in colonial America. Divided into two parts, Butler’s advertisement promoted two different services she provided. In the first portion, she announced that she had “good Accommodations for Boarders” who could “depend on being faithfully served, and meeting with the genteelest Treatment.” Women throughout the colonies provided such services. In that regard, Butler did not describe anything out of the ordinary. In the second portion of her advertisement, however, Butler indicated that she practiced an occupation usually reserved for men: shaving and trimming beards as well as cutting and dressing hair. “The BARBER’s BUSINESS is carried on as usual,” Butler informed prospective clients, apparently reminding many readers of the services that she apparently had already provided for some time.

When women placed newspaper advertisements for the services they provided they also indicated what was probable and what was possible for members of their sex in the marketplace. Most advertisements fell in the category of what was probable, such as those placed by milliners, schoolmistresses, and women who took in boarders. A significantly smaller number of advertisements, on the other hand, belonged to the category of what was possible. Women sometimes practiced trades considered the domain of men, such as barbering. Butler’s advertisement testifies to the flexibility sometimes exhibited in the gendering of occupations in colonial America. While women did not enter most trades in large numbers, a few did manage to carve out space for themselves without being too disruptive of social norms. They did so by remaining exceptions to expectations rather than seeking to transform generally accepted ideas about who should work in particular occupations. That Butler simultaneously pursued an occupation considered appropriate for women – operating a boardinghouse – may have reassured residents of Charleston that she sought only to stretch rather than shatter the gendered boundaries associated with barbering.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:7:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 7, 1768).

“MARY PHILIPS, Has just imported … A Large and neat Assortment of MILLENARY.”

Mary Philips was certainly not the only female shopkeeper in New York in 1768, but she was the only woman who advertised consumer goods in the July 7, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal and its two-page supplement. Numerous male merchants and shopkeepers advertised imported goods, including Henry C. Bogart, Isaac Noble, Thomas Charles Willet, John Morton, Isaac Low, William Seton, and John Hawkins. Even when taking into consideration that male shopkeepers outnumbered female shopkeepers in eighteenth-century America, women who sold consumer goods were still disproportionately underrepresented in newspaper advertisements in the largest urban ports, especially New York and Philadelphia. Women comprised a significant minority of shopkeepers in those cities, as much as one-quarter to one-third or more, yet even though they participated in the marketplace as retailers rather than consumers they opted not to promote such enterprises in the public prints.

That is not to say that women did not advertise at all. Many women did – and did so quite extensively, with advertisements that usually resembled those placed by their male counterparts or, on occasion, exceeded their efforts. Mary Philips’s advertisement fell into the first category. She incorporated several popular appeals into her advertisement for “A large and neat Assortment of MILLENARY and new fancied Goods to the newest Fashion and genteelest Taste.” With a few well-chosen phrases, she made appeals to fashion and consumer choice. Unlike her male counterparts who inserted advertisements in the July 7 issue, she did not list any of her merchandise. Instead, she advised that her inventory was “too tedious to mention.” Shopkeepers of both sexes sometimes resorted to this strategy. This method also evoked consumer choice and challenged prospective customers to imagine what might be available, but also required less investment in advertising fees since such notices occupied less space on the page. While Philips’s choices for her advertisement replicated those sometimes made by her male counterparts, they still seem striking when compared to the other advertisements for consumer goods in the same issue of the New-York Journal. She was the only shopkeeper who opted not to provide even a short list, making her advertisement even less visible than those of her male counterparts.

Other women did place advertisements in that issue, though they advertised services rather than goods. Mrs. Hogan and Mrs. Gray announced plans “to open a School for the general Education of young Ladies” and Mrs. Johnston advised readers that she now operated “a Publick House of Entertainment” at “the Sign of the Duke of Rutland, in Elizabeth-Town.” Other advertisements concerned women, including two for runaway wives and one selling an indentured servant. Still, the pages of the newspaper disguised the extent that women like Mary Philips participated in the colonial marketplace as retailers rather than merely as consumers.

June 13

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

Jun 13 - 6:13:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 13, 1768).

To be Sold by Susanna Renken, At her Shop in Fore-Street.”

Susanna Renken was one of several women who took to the pages of the several newspapers published in Boston to advertise the assortment of seeds she stocked and sold in late winter and early spring in the late 1760s. In February 1768 she commenced this annual ritual among the sisterhood of the city’s seed sellers. Over the course of the next couple of weeks Rebeckah Walker, Bethiah Oliver, Elizabeth Clark, and Lydia Dyar and the appropriately named Elizabeth Greenleaf also inserted their own advertisements. As had been the case in previous years, their notices sometimes comprised entire columns in some newspapers, a nod towards classification in an era when printers and compositors exerted little effort to organize advertisements according to their content or purpose.

Even though some of these female seed sellers indicated that they sold other goods, usually grocery items, most did not intrude in the public prints to promote themselves in the marketplace throughout the rest of the year. They published their advertisements for seeds for a couple of months and then disappeared from the advertising pages until the following year. Susanna Renken was one of the few exceptions to that trend. Her advertisement for seeds concluded with brief mention of her other wares: “ALSO,–English goods, China cups and saucers, to be sold cheap for cash.” Nearly four months later she followed up with a much more extensive advertisement that listed dozens of items available at her shop, an advertisement that replicated those placed by other shopkeepers – male and female – who did not sell seeds (or, at least, did not promote seeds as their primary commodity in other advertisements).

What explains the difference between the strategies adopted by Renken and other female seed sellers? Did Renken better understand the power of advertising than her peers? After all, in addition to being one of the few to place additional notices she was the first to advertise in 1768, suggesting some understanding of being the first to present her name to the public that year. Was she more convinced than the others that advertising yielded a return on her investment that made it profitable to budget for additional notices? Alternately, Renken may have diversified her business more than other female seed sellers. She may have stocked a much more extensive inventory of imported dry goods than competitors who carried primarily seeds and groceries and perhaps a limited number of housewares. If that were the case, Renken may have earned a living as a “she-merchant” throughout the year while other female seed sellers participated almost exclusively in that trade and did not need to advertise during other seasons.

It is impossible to reconstruct the complete story of what distinguished Renken and her entrepreneurial activities from the enterprises of Clark, Dyar, Greenleaf, and other female seed sellers by consulting their advertisements alone. Many of those who trod the streets of Boston in the 1760s, however, would have possessed local knowledge that provided sufficient context for better understanding why Renken inserted addition advertisements and her competitors were silent throughout most of the year, especially if Renken continuously operated a shop with an assortment of merchandise and the others pursued only seasonal work when the time came to distribute seeds to farmers and gardeners.

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Bohane

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

“New Rice by the Cask.”

Thomas Walley sold “New Rice by the Cask” at his “Store, on Dock-Square.” Rice was one of the most profitable goods cultivated in colonial America. According to James M. Clifton, settlers from Barbados and other colonies in the West Indies introduced rice to South Carolina. Colonists there had much to learn about rice, doing so through trial and error. The earliest mention of rice shipment recorded was in 1692, but after that point it became a staple crop, one that supported much of the economy for the entire colony.[1] In order to reduce the amount of strenuous labor required to produce this popular commodity, colonists in South Carolina sought to perfect machines and mills that could aid in processing rice.[2] Unfortunately, this proved quite unsuccessful and remained a challenging process throughout the colonial period. Rice crops became more profitable, however, with the labor of black slaves who worked on plantations and knew how to properly cultivate rice.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “New Rice by the Cask,” Thomas Walley also peddled a variety of other goods. He emphasized textiles and “all sorts of Groceries,” such as tea, olive oil, and mustard. The assortment of fabrics available at his store included “homespun check,” cloth that had been woven in the colonies rather than imported from England. Walley did not explicitly link his products to the imperial crisis that had intensified six months earlier when the Townshend Act went into effect, but he did offer prospective customers the opportunity to participate in a larger coordinated effort to resist Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue without the consent of the colonies. Several months before Walley’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, the Boston Town Meeting (followed by many others) had voted to use commerce as leverage in the political dispute with Parliament. They pledged to encourage “American manufactures” rather than continue their dependence on imported goods. In so doing, they acknowledged that in order to change their consumption habits that they first needed to modify the amount of goods produced in the colonies.

Just as this advertisement obscures the role of enslaved labor in producing “New Rice by the Cask,” it also obscures the role women played in this political strategy. Barred from participating in the formal mechanisms of government, women pursued other avenues when it came to participating in resistance efforts during the imperial crisis that culminated in the Revolution. American women produced Walley’s “homespun Check,” first spinning the thread and then weaving it into checkered cloth. Women also made choices about which goods to consume, their decisions extending to entire households. Women who purchased homespun could make very visible political statements by outfitting every member of their families in garments made from that cloth. The meanings of consumption increasingly took on political valences in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. In that realm, women often exercised as much power as men as they exercised their judgment in selecting which goods to acquire and which to reject. Their decisions reverberated beyond the point of purchase; everyday use of clothing, housewares, groceries, and other goods advertised in newspapers and sold by merchants and shopkeepers became laden with political significance.

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[1] James M. Clifton, “The Rice Industry in Colonial America,” Agricultural History 55, no. 3 (July 1981): 267.

[2] Clifton, “Rice Industry,” 278.

March 23

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

Mar 23 - 3:23:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 23, 1768).

“MARTHA BAMFORD, Admrx. Who carries on the business as usual.”

Colonial newspapers, especially the advertisements, testify to the participation of women in the marketplace as producers, retailers, and suppliers rather than merely as consumers … but only if we make the effort to identify those women.

At a glance, today’s advertisement looks like a standard estate notice. Martha Bamford, the administratrix, called on “ALL persons indebted to the ESTATE of WILLIAM BAMFORD” to settle their accounts. She also invited “all those who have any demands” against the estate to submit requests for payment. In this regard, Bamford’s advertisement closely paralleled another inserted by Judith Carr in the same issue of the Georgia Gazette. It advised: “ALL persons indebted to the late Mark Carr, Esq deceased, are hereby required to make immediate payment and those who have any demands against the said Mark Carr are requested to deliver in the same, properly attested, to Grey Elliott, Esq. in Savannah, or at Blyth to JUDITH CARR, Executrix.” In both cases the widow (or a female relative who shared the deceased’s surname) placed an advertisement as part of fulfilling her responsibilities of administering an estate.

Yet that was not the only purpose of Martha Bamford’s notice. She informed “Ladies and Gentlemen,” whether they had business with the estate or not, that they “may be dressed; Tates and Wigs made in the neatest manner.” In offering these services, Bamford “carries on the business as usual.” Her choice of words suggests that she continued operating a business that had been William’s occupation before his death … or, perhaps more accurately, an occupation jointly pursued by both William and Martha but that had been considered his business via custom and law due to his role as the head of household. Wives, daughters, sisters, and other female relations often assisted or partnered in operating family businesses primarily associated with men but received little acknowledgment of their contributions, especially not in advertisements. For some, their participation in the marketplace as producers became apparent in the public prints only after they assumed sole responsibility for the family business after the death of a husband or other male relative. For many others, those who did not advertise at all, their work remains obscured, even if their friends and neighbors in the eighteenth century were fully aware of their contributions to the family business.

October 25

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

Oct 25 - 10:22:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 22, 1767).

“A NEAT assortment of coarse, fine and superfine broadcloths.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would have recognized Magdalen Devine’s advertisement at a glance even if it had not featured her name in capital letters. Why? Devine used a woodcut that depicted some of her merchandise. In so doing, she successfully branded her business, repeatedly inserting it along with extensive lists of the merchandise she stocked.

The Adverts 250 Project previously examined another advertisement Devine placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1767. The content changed significantly. Then, Devine announced that she had imported a variety of goods in the Carolina from London and the Peggy from Glasgow. In her new advertisements, she hawked goods that had recently arrived via the Mary and Elizabeth from London as well as “the last vessels from Liverpool and Glasgow.” Both advertisements listed hundreds of items potential customers would find among her inventory; although the types of goods were similar, she enumerated different items in each.

Some aspects of Devine’s advertisements remained consistent. In May and October she gave her address, “In Second-street, between Market and Chestnut-streets, the fourth door from the Quaker meeting-house,” and concluded by assuring readers that “she will sell at the lowest terms, for cash or short credit.” Yet the most significant feature of her advertisements had to have been the woodcut that appeared at the top, a woodcut that occupied as much space as some of the shorter advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Devine deployed the woodcut as a brand to identify her business and distinguish it from others, but it also illustrated some of her merchandise. The shopkeeper sold all kinds of imported textiles; her advertisements filled half a column because she listed so many different styles, colors, and qualities of fabrics. Her woodcut provided visual affirmation of her inventory. It showed two rolls of patterned cloth (suggesting quantity) flanked by swatches that revealed distinctive patterns (suggesting fashion).

Commissioning a woodcut would have been an additional expense for Devine, but the length and frequency of her advertisements indicate that she was willing to invest in advertising. She likely considered the woodcut a good investment since it immediately identified her advertisements whenever they appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the newspaper that usually included more advertising (including a two-page supplement) than any other newspaper printed in the American colonies in the 1760s. Devine relied on standard marketing appeals throughout her advertisements, but her woodcut attracted attention and distinguished her marketing efforts.