August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:17:1769 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (August 17, 1769).

“A very curious Address to the Patriotic Ladies of New-York.”

John Keating’s advertisements for the “NEW-YORK PAPER MANUFACTORY” became a familiar sight in the New-York Chronicle and other newspapers printed in the city in the late 1760s. Keating marketed the goods produced at the manufactory – “Sheathing, packing, and several Sorts of printing Paper” – but he also solicited the supplies necessary for making paper. He regularly called on colonists to turn in clean linen rags “(for which ready Money will be given)” that would then be made into paper.

Keating’s advertisements had a political valence, sometimes explicitly, but always implicitly. Through the Townshend Acts, Parliament imposed duties on imported paper and other goods, prompting merchants and shopkeepers in several colonies to devise nonimportation agreements as a means of exerting economic pressure to achieve political ends. In addition to boycotts, advocates for American liberty encouraged domestic manufactures and the consumption of goods produced in the colonies as an alternative to imported wares. Keating’s “PAPER MANUFACTORY” resonated with political purpose even when he did not directly connect the enterprise to the ongoing dispute between Parliament and the colonies.

This iteration of Keating’s advertisement included a brief note that framed the paper manufactory in political terms: “A very curious Address to the Patriotic Ladies of New-York, upon the utility of preserving old Linen Rages, will make its Appearance in the next Chronicle.” No such article appeared in the next several issues, but a note from the editors indicated that “Several Entertaining Pieces from our Ingenious Correspondents” did not run “for want of room.” The “curious Address” likely rehearsed similar appeals to those that Keating and other colonists previously advanced in the public prints. Manufacturing paper in the colonies was a patriotic act. Participating in the production of paper gave colonists, including women, an opportunity to give voice to their own political sentiments. Although women neither voted nor served as elected officials in eighteenth-century America, they participated in politics through other means. Men often endorsed such acts and encouraged women to think about the political ramifications of their actions, as Keating did in this advertisement. Even without publishing the entire “curious Address,” Keating made it clear that women played a critical role in the political contest over taxes on paper.

February 20

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

Boston-Gazette (February 20, 1769).

“To be sold by Lydia Dyar … A Variety of sundry Garden Seeds.”

It was a sign of spring, even though the season would not arrive for another month. Lydia Dyar placed an advertisement for “A Variety of sundry Garden Seeds” in the February 20, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In so doing, Dyar was one of the first advertisers to participate in an annual ritual. Just as the first appearances of advertisements for almanacs marked the arrival of fall, advertisements for garden seeds heralded spring, especially in newspapers published in Boston.

Dyar was one of several seed sellers who annually inserted advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and other local newspapers. Just a few days after her notice ran, Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Greenleaf both placed advertisements for seeds in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. Over time many others who sold seeds, the overwhelming majority of them women, would join Clark, Greenleaf, and Dyar on the pages of the public prints. Each tended to advertise in multiple newspapers, presenting colonists with an image of a feminized occupational group. Compared to their male counterparts, relative few women who were purveyors of goods placed advertisements to promote their commercial activities. That made the simultaneous appearance of half a dozen or more advertisements by female seed sellers in a single issue of a newspaper particularly noticeable.

Compositors contributed to the enhanced visibility of those advertisements, often placing them together such that they filled entire columns or sometimes the smaller sheets issued as supplements to standard issues. Printers and compositors rarely organized advertisements by category; usually they did not impose any sort of classification system, yet advertisements for seeds were an exception. They tended to place those notices together, presenting readers with advertisement after advertisement that featured women’s names in larger font as the headlines. Most of these women rarely advertised other goods or services during the rest of the year, but for a couple of months in late winter and early spring they asserted a noteworthy presence in the pages of Boston’s newspapers.

December 28

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

Georgia Gazette (December 28, 1768).

“Proposes carrying on the BAKING BUSINESS.”

When Elizabeth Anderson went into business in December 1768, she placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette. In a short notice she informed the residents of Savannah that she now occupied “the house where the late Mrs. Pagey lived” and “proposes carrying on the BAKING BUSINESS.” Although the enterprise was a new one for Anderson, she aimed to benefit from depicting it as a continuation of the services previously offered by Pagey. She encouraged “the customers of Mrs. Pagey to continue their favours” at the same location but with a new baker. In addition to attracting new customers, she hoped that the clientele already cultivated by Pagey would seamlessly transfer their business to her.

Anderson did not provide further details about her venture. Perhaps she intended to replicate Pagey’s hours and services as closely as possible. Sticking to a system successfully deployed by the late baker increased the likelihood of maintaining her former customer base. She certainly expected that readers of the Georgia Gazette, whether or not they had been “customers of Mrs. Pagey,” were familiar with the house where the baker had resided before her death.

In each of the issues that carried her advertisement, Anderson was the lone woman who promoted consumer goods and services. She was not the only woman to place a notice in the Georgia Gazette that month. “REBECCA FAUL, Executrix,” ran her short advertisement calling on “ALL persons indebted to the ESTATE of GEORGE FAUL, blacksmith, … to make immediate payment” for the final time in the December 14 issue. In the December 21 and 28 editions, “AVE MARIA GARDNER, Administratrix,” ran a similar notice directed to “THE creditors of George Gardner, deceased.” Enslaved women were the subjects of several other advertisements, though they did not place those notices themselves.

Women were more likely to appear in the advertisements than anywhere else in colonial newspapers. Among the advertisements they placed, white women most often appeared in their capacity as executors when husbands or other male relations died. Yet other women did sometimes insert their names in the public prints for other reasons. Entrepreneurs like Elizabeth Anderson did not rely solely on personal relationships and word-of-mouth to promote their businesses. Instead, they used advertising as a means of expanding their participation in the market as providers of goods and services, not merely as consumers.

September 26

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

Sep 26 - 9:26:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (September 26, 1768).

“A Dancing-School is not for Diversion or Exercise only, but is designed to reform their Manners and Behaviour.”

When fall arrived in 1768, Mary Cowley placed an advertisement in the Newport Mercury to announce that she planned to “open School for the Season” on the last Wednesday in September. Advertisements for itinerant dancing masters and their schools frequently appeared in colonial newspapers, but Cowley’s notice differed in at least three significant ways. First, she was a female dancing instructor who promoted her lessons in the public prints in an era when her male counterparts dominated that occupation. Second, her advertisements spanned nearly a quarter century, unlike dancing masters who frequently moved from one town to another in search of new clients after only a couple of years. She advertised her dancing school in the Newport Mercury as early as December 1763 and as late as November 1786, though her notices that appeared during the war indicated that she operated a coffeehouse and might have taken a hiatus from giving lessons. Third, most of her advertisements were significantly longer than those placed by dancing masters. Perhaps as a woman in an occupation usually associated with men she considered it necessary to make it clear that nothing sordid occurred during her lessons.

To that end, Cowley maintained her “usual good Orders” during lessons that occurred at dancing assemblies. Her advertisements set forth a series of rules that those in attendance were expected to follow. For instance, students had to purchase tickets in advance. No one could enter without a ticket, allowing Cowley to monitor and control who attended. She informed those who arrived late “not to interrupt the Company, but wait until the next Dance is call’d.” Cowley also expressed her “hope that Gentlemen & Ladies of a Superior Rank & Age, will cheerfully condescend to conform to the Rules and Orders, that those of the younger Sot may profit by their Example.” She made it clear that her purpose and methods focused on more than just learning the right steps. Cowley offered an education in genteel comportment.

She said so quite bluntly, perhaps at the risk of losing some prospective pupils. “As I know many think the Intent of a Dancing-School is only Diversion, and are highly offended if they are reprimanded for any Rudeness of Indecency,” Cowley declared, “I would inform them such, that in my Business I have no Respect to such Persons, and shall never be afraid to remind them, That a Dancing School is not for Diversion or Exercise only, but is designed to reform their Manner and Behaviour.” This may have alienated some potential students, but Cowley did not seem particularly worried about that. She had addressed her advertisement to “the Gentlemen and Ladies who belong to my School, and all others of Distinction and Character.” This was a recurring theme in her notices. In an advertisement from December 19, 1763, Cowley stated that she was “absolutely determined, that no Lady who is not accompanied with a good Character, shall have any Admittance. Likewise, no Gentleman or Lady, who exceeds the Bounds of Decency or good Manners in one Point, or who will not be submissive to the Orders and Rules of the School, shall be countenanced here, on any Consideration.” In the October 28, 1765, edition of the Newport Mercury she had indignantly asserted, “This is not the first Time I have been obliged publicly to forbid several Ladies (who, for once more, shall be nameless) of coming to my School, who can have no Pretence, either by Acquaintance, Behaviour, Family, Fortune, or Character, to any Share of this genteel Amusement.” Such “unwelcome Guests” could “depend upon being affronted in the most public Manner” if they “presume to take those Liberties again.” After all, Cowley’s dancing school was “a chosen Place of Resort only for Gentlemen and Ladies of Family and Character.” There were some clients Cowley was not disappointed to lose.

Dancing masters often made references to their reputation and good character in their advertisements. Just a few weeks before Cowley placed her advertisement in the Newport Mercury, Peter Vianey placed a notice in the New-York Journal to address rumors that he was the same dancing master “whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago.” Even though she had the advantage of residing in Newport for several years, Cowley still defended her own reputation in her newspaper advertisements. She listed the rules to preemptively address inappropriate behavior and tamp down gossip. As a woman who ran a dancing school she exerted great effort in eliminating suspicions that her establishment was more akin to a brothel than a dancing assembly. She offered “Diversion,” but only the sort that conformed to genteel “Manners and Behaviour.”

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.