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.

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.