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.

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.