September 6

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

“ROGER SHERMAN … has lately sent a Fresh Assortment of Goods there to the Care of Mrs. SARAH JOHNSON.”

Sep 6 - 9:6:1766 Connecticut Gazette
Connecticut Gazette (September 6, 1766).

Relative to the number of women who worked as shopkeepers or otherwise operated businesses of various sorts in eighteenth-century America, very few women placed advertisements to promote their endeavors and attract customers. As a matter of principle, I do not wish to further obscure women’s participation in the marketplace as producers and retailers on the supply side of the equation; all too often they are depicted merely as consumers on the demand side. Accordingly, I select advertisements placed by women as frequently as practical.

Today’s advertisement caught my attention because it promotes a business run by a woman, yet it was not placed by the woman herself. Sarah Johnson sold “a Fresh Assortment of Goods” in Wallingford, a town about a dozen miles outside of New Haven. Roger Sherman, however, placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Gazette to “acquaint his Customers at Wallingford” that Johnson sold those goods and provided discounts for customers who bought in volume. He also wanted potential customers in New Haven to know that he sold a similar “Assortment of Goods” on the same terms.

This advertisement raises questions about the arrangements Johnson and Sherman made. It appears that Johnson oversaw the day-to-day operations of the shop in Wallingford, including the necessary accounting and negotiating (as indicated when Sherman allowed for payment in “such other Species as may be agreed on” instead of cash). Yet she seems to have been an employee of some sort rather than a partner. What kind of stake did she have in the enterprise? Did she own any of the inventory she stocked? Did she earn commissions on the goods she sold? How much risk had she assumed compared to Sherman? How much autonomy did she exercise in selecting goods and setting prices? Did she participate in the decisions to offer discounts or to call in debts? Note that Sherman referred to customers Johnson served in Wallingford as “his Customers,” suggesting how he envisioned his relationship to both Johnson and their (his?) clients.

This advertisement acknowledges Sarah Johnson’s presence in the operation of a shop in Wallingford, Connecticut, but it does not fully elaborate on her position relative to Roger Sherman beyond suggesting that even though she participated in the marketplace she did so as a subordinate to Sherman. The advertisement, intended for public consumption, maintained the gender hierarchy of the period, regardless of whatever practices Johnson and Sherman devised outside the public eye.

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 20, 1766).


When she set up shop in Savannah, Jean Campbell wanted readers of the Georgia Gazette to know that “she intends to carry on the MILLENARY and MANTUA MAKING BUSINESS.” It appears that this was a new endeavor for Campbell, making it especially necessary that she advertise her services to potential customers who would not otherwise have known that she made hats and dresses. Furthermore, Campbell may have been a recent arrival in the city. Note that she did not specify an address for her shop (which may have been her residence as well), but instead stated that “She may be heard of by applying to the printer.” Especially if she were a single woman, Campbell may have been hesitant to publicly announce her location, for reasons of both safety and propriety. If she had lived in Savannah for any amount of time she could have depended on many residents knowing where to find her without directing them to the printing office. After all, the town was not that large in 1766; those who lived in the city became familiar to others who also lived there for any length of time.

In addition, if she had previously operated a “MILLENARY and MANTUA MAKING BUSINESS” in Savannah she might have been able to depend on a network of customers, especially other women, to continue to patronize her as well as spread the word through their social networks. In general, women advertised much less often than men in eighteenth-century America. They did not place commercial notices in newspapers as frequently as their numbers merited, into taking into consideration that women were less likely to operate businesses than men. Campbell may have placed this advertisement as a necessity, at least until she forged relationships with neighbors and customers in Savannah.

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:6:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 6, 1766).


It would have been impossible to overlook Donald Mackay’s description of Maria, an enslaved young woman: “TALL SLIM LIKELY YOUNG NEGROE GIRL.” Each of the adjectives suggested that Maria was attractive, a young woman that most masters and others would have found desirable, a young woman who most likely would have become increasingly alluring as she continued to mature.

In the absence of any sort of visual image (not even a crude woodcut), Mackay put a black body on display by asking readers to imagine Maria’s appearance and inviting them to scrutinize every black woman they encountered to determine if they might be the runaway Maria.

This advertisement also hints at the treatment that Maria may have already experienced or that she was likely to experience at some point. White men had unfettered access to enslaved women throughout early American history, from the colonial period through the antebellum era and the Civil War. Writing under the pseudonym Linda Brent nearly a century after this advertisement was published, Harriet Jacobs published a slave narrative in which she documented the constant threat of sexual absue she faced as a slave in North Carolina in the early nineteenth century. Various other sources – slave narratives, letters, ledgers, and journals, written by both black and white authors – confirm the sexual violence perpetrated against black women under slavery. Some do so explicitly.

Others, like this advertisement, raise the possibility with more subtlety, asking observers to read between the lines.

A multitude of circumstances probably influenced Maria’s decision to run away, but her vulnerability to sexual abuse was likely one of them. Donald Mackay did not elaborate on all the reasons that he wanted this “TALL SLIM LIKELY YOUNG NEGROE GIRL” captured and returned, but eighteenth-century readers would have been aware of what was unwritten. This advertisement was about more than recovering a piece of human property who could work in the fields or do domestic labor in the household.

Advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children allow us to reconstruct portions of their lives when we read against the grain and interrogate the implications of what white authors have written.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:21:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 21, 1766).

Mary Cowley was the subject of some gossip by “Envious or Prejudiced” residents of Newport. She placed this advertisement in part to promote her business enterprises and in part to set the record straight when it came to some false reports she had heard.

Cowley was a busy woman, which likely brought her under more scrutiny than some of her neighbors and made her a target of “Envious or Prejudiced” gossip. She pursued two occupations, proprietress of a house of entertainment and dancing instructor. Both of these may have made other colonists suspicious of her, especially if she was unmarried or widowed and without a male relative to oversee her activities and interactions with patrons who visited her at “the House near the Entrance of Mr. Dyer’s Grove” or her pupils for the dancing lessons she provided at her own house. Male dancing masters frequently inserted reassuring words in their advertisements to convince potential students and the general public of their propriety, which was especially important given the close physical contact with students inherent in dancing lessons. Cowley was also vulnerable to such suspicions, especially if she offered lessons in the absence of a patriarch to chaperone her. She did venture to address such concerns, but only pledged to “give Satisfaction in every Branch of my Undertaking.”

Entertaining “none but the genteeler Sort” (which may have entailed serving food and beverages and overseeing polite conversation) appears to have been a relatively new endeavor for Cowley. Some may have assumed that it would so distract her from teaching dancing that she would cease meeting with students, but she had “no Thoughts of giving up that Business.”

Unlike many other female advertisers who assured potential customers and the general public that they behaved in appropriately feminine fashion even though they operated businesses of their own and inserted their voice in the public prints to attract business, Mary Cowley took a much more assertive tone. She answered gossip that circulated beyond the newspaper and concluded by thanking “every Well wisher of their humble Servant” for the “due Encouragement” they would bestow upon her.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 17, 1766).

Mary Biddle sold “MAPS of the Province of Pennsylvania and PLANS and PROSPECTS of the CITY of PHILADELPHIA” at “the House of Capt. M’Funn, in Third street, above Arch street.” Her advertisement did not provide much additional information, leaving the impression that she might have been a mere retailer of these items. She offered very little detail about the maps, a bit of a surprise considering the labor and expertise that went into creating and producing maps in the eighteenth century. What was Mary Biddle’s connection to the maps she advertised?

Jul 17 - 10:7:1762 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 7, 1762).

Many readers may have already been aware of some of the particulars of the map Biddle sold. Nearly four years earlier she (and others) had published a subscription notice in advance of producing the map. By seeking subscribers, Biddle and her partners were able to gauge interest in their project in order to determine if it would be profitable. The subscription notice also served to incite interest in the project, increasing the chances that it would be successful and turn a profit.

That subscription notice included more information about Biddle’s role in making the map available to the public. She was listed as an editor, along with Matthew Clarkson. Despite the impression created by her later advertisement, Biddle was not merely a retailer. She was a cartographer in her own right!

The Library of Congress provides some biographical information that tells more of Biddle’s story. She was the daughter of Nicholas Scull and Abigail Heap. Scull was a prominent surveyor and cartographer who served as Surveyor General of Pennsylvania from 1748 until his death in 1761. All three of Scull’s sons went on to become surveyors, but it appears that the elder Scull passed along his knowledge to his daughter as well.

Jul 17 - Map of Philadelphia
Nicholas Scull, Matthew Clarkson, and Mary Biddle, To the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, Common Council of Freemen of Philadelphia this Plan of the Improved Part of the City (Philadelphia:  Sold by the Editors, Matthew Clarkson and Mary Biddle, 1762).  Library of Congress.  For more detail, zoom in on the map via the Library of Congress.

When Mary Biddle and her husband fell on hard times, she contributed to the family by editing this map, which had been “surveyed and laid down by the late Nicholas Scull.” The map itself included an advertisement in the lower right corner: “Sold by the Editors Matthew Clarkson and Mary Biddle in PHILADELPHIA.” This map was eventually republished many times, but the 1762 edition was the only one that acknowledged Biddle’s contribution.

Today’s short advertisement belies the significant role that Mary Biddle played in the creation, production, and distribution of this important map. In that regard it was similar to many other advertisements placed by men for the businesses they operated that did not acknowledge the labor, skill, expertise, or other contributions their wives and other female relatives contributed to their enterprises.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (June 9, 1766).

“Sattin … Persians … Taffeties … Patches … Callicoes … Bengals … Ginghams … Cherederies.”

When Jane Gillam announced that she stocked “a Variety of English Goods” she was not exaggerating. The shopkeeper named approximately fifty textiles, but that may not have been an exhaustive list. Even if it was, she offered a dizzying assortment of fabrics, especially considering that some fabrics came in multiple colors or patterns.

To many modern readers, this advertisement may seem disorienting. What’s the difference between “Cherederies” and “Garlicks” or between “Callamancoes” and “Ozenbrigs”? Gillam expected eighteenth-century readers – her potential customers – recognized all the variations, but most of the distinctions are likely lost among modern Americans. Fortunately, historians of material culture have created a variety of resources documenting the different types of fabrics that made their way across oceans and into merchants’ warehouses and retailers’ shops.

Advertisements like those placed by Gillam have aided historians in determining which fabrics were available in early America. Consider the subtitle for one of the standard works in the field, Florence M. Montgomery’s Textiles in America, 1650-1870: A Dictionary Based on Original Documents, Prints and Paintings, Commercial Records, American Merchants’ Papers, Shopkeepers’ Advertisements, and Pattern Books with Original Swatches of Cloth (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984).

Initially I set about providing a short description of each fabric in Gillam’s advertisement as described in Montgomery’s dictionary, but I quickly discovered that the distinctions were too numerous and too complicated to do that here. Instead, how about a quick definition of the four textiles listed above, just to get a sense of what colonial Americans knew about textile that most Americans never learn.

Cherederies = Cherryderry (charadary, carridary): “Striped or checked woven cloth of mixed silk and cotton imported from India from the late seventeenth century.” (199)

Garlicks = Garlick (garlits, garlix, gulick, gulix): “A linen cloth first imported from Goerlitz, Silesia. It could be fully or partially bleached.” (245)

Callamancoes = Calimanco (calamande, calamandre): “A worsted ‘stuff … [with] a fine gloss upon it. There are calamancoes of all colours, and diversly wrought; some ate quite plain; others have broad stripes, adorned with flowers; some with plain broad stripes; some with narrow stripes; and others watered.’” (185)

Ozenbrigs = Osnaburg (oznabrig): “Coarse, unbleached linen or hempen cloth first made in Osnabrück, Germany. It was commonly used for trousers, sacking, and bagging.” (312)

As we can see from the descriptions of just four of the fabrics listed in Gillam’s advertisement, colonial consumers imagined different uses for different kinds of cloth. At a glance, they would have made assumptions about which they desired and which they could afford.

June 8

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

Jun 8 - 6:6:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 8, 1766).

“RUN away … some time in October 1762, a Mulatto woman named VIOLET.”

Violet made her escape almost four years earlier, but Philip Kearny was still actively pursuing her in June 1766.

This advertisement demonstrates the efforts enslaved men and women put into making their escapes as well as how vigorously their masters worked to return them to bondage. From hundreds of miles away, Kearny used this advertisement to tell quite a story about Violet. She was born, or so Kearny claimed, in “Princetown” (now Princeton), New Jersey, but in her mid twenties she ran away. She made it to “Frederick town” (now Frederick), Maryland, before being captured and “committed to the gaol.” She managed to escape, which didn’t seem to surprise Kearny, since he described her as “cunning and artful.” He suspected that she was in Maryland, Virginia, or North Carolina, hence his advertisement in the Virginia Gazette.

Even before she ran away, Violet did not recognize Kearny as her master. According to the slaveholder, Violet “pretends to be a free woman,” but his narrative indicates that the story was more complex. She disputed that she was a “slave for life,” suggesting that perhaps she had engaged in some sort of indenture or other contract and then been forced into slavery. The details were murky (and Violet would have given a different account of events than the slaveholder), but Kearney reiterated that “she was born a slave.”

Advertisements for runaway slaves have sometimes been called the first slave narratives. Although Violet did not write this advertisement, it is possible to recognize her resistance and recover some of her story by reading against the narrative presented by Kearny.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1766 Georgia Gazette 4th page
Georgia Gazette (May 28, 1766).
May 28 - 5:28:1766 Georgia Gazette 1st page
Georgia Gazette (May 28, 1766).

Domestic strife from the M’Carty household found its way into the advertisements that appeared in the Georgia Gazette. Advertisements for runaway wives, warning shopkeepers and others not to extend credit because abandoned and disgruntled husbands refused to pay any charges on their behalf, were quite common in eighteenth-century America. Most were of a similar length as today’s advertisement by Cornelius M’Carty about his wife Lydia.

Responses to such advertisements appeared much less regularly, though they were not unknown. For instance, see an advertisement by Robert Hebbard published in the New-London Gazette in January and a response refuting Hebbard from the next issue. (Intrigued by this exchange, J.L. Bell conducted additional research on the messy marriage of Joanna and Robert Hebbard.) Similarly, Jonathan Remington published an advertisement that explained, at least in part, why Cornelius M’Carty claimed that he “suffered too much” at the hands of Lydia.

It seems that Remington (as well as his wife and children) had been a boarder in the M’Carty household for eighteen months. Cornelius was present for some of that time but apparently away during a portion of it. It sounds as though Cornelius suspected that Remington had an affair with his wife, but the boarder declared that “he has never had, directly or indirectly, any indecent freedom or criminal conversation” with Lydia. He published his advertisement to dispel gossip, having heard “a report … greatly prejudicial to the character and conduct” of Lydia.

Remington defended Lydia’s reputation, but in the process he also defended his own, taking the extraordinary step of appearing before two justices of the peace to swear to the veracity of hic claim’s about Lydia’s character. Remington, a tailor, likely feared the social and economic repercussions of the rift between Cornelius and Lydia M’Carty. This advertisement thus served more than one end by proclaiming publicly that neither Lydia M’Carty nor Jonathan Remington had engaged in any unsavory activities in the absence of Cornelius M’Carty.

May 15

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

May 15 - 5:15:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 15, 1766).

“To be sold by MARY HARVEY, … a well chosen and neat Assortment of Dry and wet Goods.”

Female shopkeepers were disproportionately underrepresented among the advertisements placed in colonial newspapers. Consciously seeking to avoid erasing women from the commercial landscape as producers, suppliers, and retailers – not solely as consumers on the other side of exchanges – I take notice every time I spot an advertisement placed by a woman when I am making selections about which to feature here.

It would be unfair, however, to assume that I chose Mary Harvey’s advertisement solely based on her sex. It reveals so much more about early American marketing and consumer culture than “just” demonstrating that women played varied roles (though I contend that is significant in its own right). When I first began studying eighteenth-century advertising I expected to identify distinct methods or appeals made by men and women, but Mary Harvey’s advertisement, like so many others placed by women, demonstrates that male and female advertisers relied on similar appeals. In this advertisement, Harvey promised low prices. By providing an extensive list of her wares she also engaged potential customers to think of the range of choices that will allow them to make selections according to their own tastes.

Harvey also concludes with a political appeal that mirrored those frequently made by male advertisers: “as she has made it her Study to promote Home-made Manufactures, she hopes for the Countenance of her old Friends, and all those who are Lovers of their Country.” Although not allowed to participate in the formal mechanisms of politics due to her sex, Harvey joined many others in imbuing consumer choices with political ramifications. Through her advertising, Mary Harvey gained a voice in public discourse about the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act, and the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:9:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 9, 1766).

“AGNES … is a fair straight made lusty Mulatto, and has small breasts.”

When the Virginia Gazette made its debut in the Adverts 250 Project a week ago, I opted to feature a genre of advertisements – those seeking the return of runaways – rather than a particular advertisement. Accompanied by crude woodcuts, runaway advertisements were easy to identify at a glance. I remarked how startling it seemed to see nine runaway advertisements on a single page of the Virginia Gazette. As David Waldstreicher has argued, slavery, commerce, and print culture were bound together in eighteenth-century America.

Runaway advertisements presented an alternate means of placing black bodies on display in early America, first by describing them in great detail and then by encouraging readers to carefully surveil the black men and women they encountered. In the case of Agnes (also known as Agie), this amounted to more than noticing her garments (“a striped red, white, and yellow calamanco gown, a short white linen sack, petticoat of the same, a pair of stays with fringed blue riband, a large pair of silver buckles”). It also included attention to physical features, such as “a small scar over one of her eyes.”

Yet the descriptions could sometimes be far more intimate and invasive, especially as white colonists characterized black and mulatto women’s bodies. According to today’s advertisement, Agnes was “a fair straight made lusty Mulatto, and has small breasts.” Even as the advertiser acknowledged one of the essential aspects of Agnes’ womanhood, he deprived her of the consideration and deference that would have been shown to most white women (especially middling and elite white women) when describing them in conversation or in print. Calling specific attention to the size of Agnes’ breasts served to further commodify her rather than humanize her.

N.B. Notice that this advertisement states that Agnes ran away in the middle of January, yet it was published nearly four months later in early May. I hope that she made good on her escape permanently.