August 19

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

Aug 19 - 8:19:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 19, 1767).

“I will not pay any debts of her contracting.”

Four short lines on the final page of advertisements in the August 19, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette alerted residents of Savannah to discord in the Frentz household. John Frentz placed a notice “to forewarn all persons from purchasing effects of any kind from my wife, Margaret Frentz, or crediting her on my account.” He added that he would not “pay any debts of her contracting” after August 4, 1767.

By August 19, regular readers of the Georgia Gazette would have been aware of Frentz’s prohibition already. The notice first appeared two weeks earlier in the August 5 edition and again on August 12. Like many advertisements published during the colonial era, it ran for three weeks before disappearing from the pages of the public prints. The discord between John and Margaret Frentz, however, most likely did not evaporate quite so quickly, not if it had been so substantial as to warrant airing in public in the local newspaper.

Frentz’s advertisement was the only one of its kind in the Georgia Gazette throughout the month of August 1767, but it was not a sort unfamiliar to colonists. In larger ports, weekly newspapers often carried as many as half a dozen such warnings published by husbands targeting absent or recalcitrant wives. Any given issue published in New York or Philadelphia was as likely as not to contain at least one such notice.

Frentz’s notice, however, did differ from most others in one significant way. He did not indicate that Margaret had departed from his household. Similar announcements have collectively become known as “runaway wife” advertisements; they usually included some sort of variation on the wife “eloping” away from husband and home, thus justifying the aggrieved husband no longer assuming responsibility for any debts contracted by an absent and insubordinate wife.

Margaret may not have departed at the time John composed his advertisement, but he still worried about what sorts of mischief she might do to his disadvantage. He attempted to eliminate, or at least curtail, her ability to participate in the marketplace, disavowing any debts she initiated. He also sought to prevent her from selling any sorts of goods, presumably including his own belongings, which may have been a strategy for preventing her from eventually “eloping” once she had accumulated enough cash to have a fair chance of making her escape.

Runaway wife advertisements are often interpreted as evidence of women asserting agency in eighteenth-century America, removing themselves from unhappy marriages and households. That was certainly the case, but they also demonstrate that husbands continued to possess the upper hand, even after wives departed. Women had less access to cash and credit as well as fewer opportunities to participate in the marketplace. In this advertisement, John Frentz used buying and selling goods as a means of curbing the agency of his disobedient wife.

July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 24, 1767).

“REBECCA WOODIN … CONTINUES to teach young ladies.”

Although women placed newspaper notices advertising goods and services in eighteenth-century America they were disproportionately underrepresented in the public prints compared to how actively they participated in the marketplace as retailers, suppliers, and producers rather than merely as consumers. Sometimes women’s enterprises made their way into the advertising section because male relations mentioned them in passing in notices that much more extensively promoted their own endeavors. Such was the case in writing master William Adams’s advertisement repeatedly published in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in the summer of 1767. He described his curriculum in detail before briefly noting that “Mrs. ADAMS, makes children’s gowns, slips, and teaches them to sew, mark, &c. She clear-starches, and washes silk stockings in the best manner.” Mrs. Adams’ participation in the marketplace was practically hidden in plain sight, appended to an advertisement that featured her husband’s name in all capitals and a larger font as its headline.

This was not always the case, however, when male and female relations shared advertising space. Rebecca and Thomas Woodin (presumably husband and wife, but perhaps siblings or parent and child) informed potential patrons of the services they offered in an advertisement that gave primacy to Rebecca’s school. Her description of “the different branches of Polite Education” and promise “to give satisfaction to all who place their children under her care” comprised approximately two-thirds of the advertisement. Rebecca’s enterprise came first, with Thomas, a carver and cabinetmaker, adding that he taught drawing and sold a variety of furniture. Not exactly an afterthought, Thomas did not appear first in the advertisement, usually the privileged place reserved for men when they shared advertising space with women. The structure of the advertisement recognized Rebecca Woodin’s labors as those of a partner who contributed to the household economy, especially compared to the cursory treatment Mrs. Adams received in her husband’s notice.

Each portion of the advertisement could have stood alone, yet the compositor did not insert a line across the entire column to indicate that one advertisement had ended and another began. Instead, a much shorter line allowed the two portions to flow together visually. This may have been the result of the Woodins pooling their resources to purchase a single advertisement rather than pay for two separate notices for enterprises pursued within the same household. The layout of the advertisement also suggested that the schoolmistress was subject to at least some level of masculine oversight. The depiction of Rebecca’s occupation was mediated by her connection to Thomas, yet he did not overshadow her.

May 17

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

May 17 - 5:14:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 14, 1767).

“Imported … by MAGDALEN DEVINE … the following goods.”

Compared to their male counterparts, female shopkeepers placed relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers (and turned to other forms of marketing media, such as magazine wrappers, trade cards, and broadsides, even less often). Women’s participation in the marketplace as retailers rather than consumers was disproportionately underrepresented among advertisements in colonial and Revolutionary-era newspapers.

Magdalen Devine’s lengthy list-style advertisement was notable, however, not only because she was a female entrepreneur who turned to the public prints to promote her business. To draw attention to her notice, Devine included a woodcut that depicted the sorts of textiles she imported and sold at her shop on Second Street near the Quaker Meetinghouse. A border surrounded two rolls of cloth positioned next to two swatches, all of them arrayed to demonstrate four different patterns. This visual image reinforced the work done in Devine’s dense list of merchandise: customers could expect to make choices among the assortment of dry goods she stocked.

Given that few male advertisers, whether shopkeepers, artisans, or others, commissioned woodcuts to include in their marketing efforts, Devine’s advertisement was quite extraordinary. To paraphrase Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s analysis of gendered women’s activities in colonial New England, Devine’s advertisement demonstrates what was possible rather than what was probable when women took on some of the same tasks and responsibilities most often reserved for or associated with men.

Three other women played a role in advertisements that appeared in the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notice placed by “JOHN HOLLIDAY, TAYLOR,” included a final paragraph about “Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound” for removing hair. Unlike her husband, Mrs. Holliday’s name did appear in all capitals. “WILLIAM SYMONDS” and “MARY SYMONDS, Millener,” cooperated in placing an advertisement, though Mary seems to have been the driving force. The advertisement briefly noted that William “has just imported in the last vessels, a neat assortment of merchandize.” Mary, on the other hand, provided a list of her “neat assortment of millenery goods” that exceeded Devine’s in length. (Symonds was one of the few female entrepreneurs who distributed her own trade card in eighteenth-century America, though she would not do so for another decade.) Finally, “ANN PEARSON, MILLENER,” also inserted a list-style advertisement, seemingly of her own accord. It did not mention any male relatives who might have overseen her participation in the marketplace.

The woodcut that accompanied Devine’s advertisement made her marketing memorable. The May 14 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette consisted of eight pages (the four-page standard issue as well as a four-page supplement) with nearly seven of them devoted to advertising. Only two other advertisements included woodcuts, a generic ship with Alexander Lunan’s notice about freight and passage on a ship about to sail for South Carolina and an extended hand with dyer Joseph Allardyce’s advertisement for his shop “at the Sign of the Blue Hand.” Although men most actively advertised consumer goods and services in early America, women also adopted marketing innovations and experimented with various methods for marketing their wares.

March 19

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 19, 1767).

“To be sold by WILLIAM JACKSON, at his Shop at the Brazen Head.”

This advertisement made me curious about William Jackson and the Brazen Head since I am from a town close to Boston. These curiosities led me to the Massachusetts Historical Society’s article on William Jackson.

Jackson was born in 1731. Mary Jackson, his widowed mother kept the Brazen Head Tavern next to the Town House (which is now known as the Old State House) in Boston. In 1758, William went into business with his mother, starting a “variety store” selling an assortment of goods in the same location,.

William Jackson was a Loyalist who adamantly supported the king throughout the imperial crisis and the Revolution. The Massachusetts Historical Society notes that in a Boston newspaper Jackson was named along with others for being “those who audaciously continue to counteract the united Sentiments of the Body of Merchants throughout NORTH AMERICA, by importing British goods contrary to the agreement.” He was such a loyalist to the king, that when the British abandoned Boston in March of 1776, he tried to leave as well, only to be caught and imprisoned for a year. In the end, William Jackson returned to England, where he resided until his death in 1810.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

At a glance, William Jackson’s advertisement does not appear to explicitly reveal much about women’s roles in the eighteenth-century marketplace, either as consumers or producers/sellers. However, Ceara and I did not need to do much research to discover that William Jackson’s story cannot be told without acknowledging women’s participation in commerce and consumer culture. As Ceara has already outlined, one of Jackson’s first forays into the world of business involved a partnership with his mother, already an experienced businesswoman who operated a tavern. Although widows may have been more likely to operate businesses than their married sisters, in the century before the Revolution wives stepped forward to act as what Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has described as “deputy husbands” who attended to matters of business in the temporary absence of their husbands. Many eighteenth-century advertisements make reference to wives or other female relations who worked in shops owned by their husbands, but historians have demonstrated that even if women’s contributions were not acknowledged in the marketing materials that they were indeed present and assisting in the operation of the family business.

Mar 19 - Jackson Broadside
Anonymous broadside accusing William Jackson of not abiding by nonimportation agreements (Boston:  ca. 1769-1770).  Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society.

To learn more about William Jackson, Ceara consulted the online collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. In addition to a short biography of the prominent Loyalist shopkeeper, the MHS has made available an image of an anonymous broadside (ca. 1769-1770) warning “SONS and DAUGHTERS of LIBERTY” against purchasing goods from Jackson, “an IMPORTER,” who operated in violation of a non-importation agreement that most merchants and shopkeepers had signed in 1768 in response to the Townshend Acts. Note that the broadside addressed both “SONS” and “DAUGHTERS,” imbuing decisions that both men and women made about consumption with political meaning. Barred from formal mechanisms of political participation – voting and holding office – women engaged in political debates and civic discourse through other means, including the politicization of consumer culture. Nonimportation and nonconsumption agreements, what we would call boycotts today, were effective only if they had widespread approval and adherence. Women’s role in managing their household economy took on political significance as each personal choice whether to buy certain goods made a statement about their views. As acts of consumption increasingly had political valence, neutrality became impossible. During the imperial crisis, women were political actors in the overlapping marketplace of goods and marketplace of ideas.

William Jackson’s advertisement is an especially fine choice to examine during Women’s History Month. It reminds us that much of women’s history has been obscured but not hidden beyond recovery. A willingness to conduct a little more research, to ask new questions, and to approach sources from new perspectives allows us to tell a much more complete story of the American past.

 

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 22

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

dec-22-12221766-boston-post-boy
Boston Post-Boy (December 22, 1766).

“A General Assortment of English Goods.”

Elizabeth Williams operated a shop out of her “House in Beer Lane, near the Rev. Mr. Pemberton’s Meeting-House” in Boston. She imported “a general Assortment of English Goods” from London, including “Cotton Velvets,” Mens mill’d Hose, Gloves and Caps,” and “Stationary & hard Ware.” Although she listed approximately two dozen types of merchandise, she also carried “a variety of other Articles, to many to be here inserted.”

In promoting a variety of consumer goods recently imported from English ports, Williams advanced one of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century. She offered choices to potential customers, drawing them in by naming popular items and by promising even more for shoppers to discover and examine once they were in her shop. Indeed, “variety” was important in Williams’ marketing efforts. In addition to general descriptions of her merchandise, she inserted the word into her list twice: “A variety of Broad Cloths” and “A great Variety of Coat and Breast Buttons.” Her customers would not be stuck with whatever she happened to have on hand; instead, they could choose according to their own tastes.

Williams also made appeals to price, noting that she sold her English goods “at the lowest Advance.” For one product, “yard-wide Irish Linnens,” she had several different sorts “of all Prices,” again offering choices to her potential customers. In addition, she made implicit appeals to fashion when she listed several textiles, as well as an explicit appeal when she described her candlesticks as “New-fashion.”

In making appeals to choice, price, and fashion, Williams adopted several of the most popular marketing strategies deployed by her male competitors. In that regard, little distinguished her advertisement from others except that a woman’s name appeared at the beginning. Other historians have demonstrated that in the busiest urban ports, like Boston, as many as one-third of shopkeepers were women by the middle of the eighteenth century, although they do not comprise such a high proportion of advertising for consumer goods and services. Women faced challenges when they operated retail establishments, but they were not excluded from participating on the supply – rather than the consumption – side of the marketplace. Elizabeth Williams’ advertisement demonstrates one method used by some female shopkeepers to integrate into a male-dominated occupation.

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.