Monday, November 20, 2017

Nearly 27-year-old James Monroe 1758-1831 Marries 17-year-old Elizabeth Kortright 1768-1830

On January 16, 1786, future President 27-year-old James Monroe (1758-1831) married 17-year-old New York beauty named Elizabeth Kortright (1768-1830).  Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (1768-1830), wife of the 5th president of the United States, was the eldest daughter of 5 children of Laurence Kortright, a wealthy New York merchant of late 17C Flemish descent, & his wife, Hannah (Aspinwall) Kortright. Her father’s fortune, much enlarged by privateering during the French & Indian War, was greatly reduced during the Revolutionary War, but Elizabeth Kortright was reared in the exclusive & formal atmosphere of New York mercantile society.  Considered one of the great beauties of the city, she first met James Monroe in 1785, when he was a Virginia delegate to the Confederation Congress sitting in New York.
Detail of a Miniature of Elizabeth Kortright (1768-1830).

The 6 ' tall Monroe, already a famous revolutionary & a practicing lawyer, married not for money, but for love. They were married on Feb. 16, 1786, at New York’s Trinity Episcopal Church.  After a brief honeymoon out on Long Island, the newlyweds rode back to New York City to live with her father, until the Continental Congress adjourned. The Monroes returned to Virginia, where he had graduated from the College of William & Mary, & promptly started a family. They settled first in Fredericksburg & then in Albemarle County, Va.  There Monroe practiced law & pursued a political career which found him successively United States Senator, minister to France, governor of Virginia, minister to Great Britain, Secretary of State, &, ultimately, president of the United States.  In keeping with the custom of the day, Monroe shielded his private life from public view, by the & his wife were devoted to each other, & they were rarely separated.  Three children were born to them: Eliza in 1787; a son in 1799 who died in infancy; & Maria Hester, in 1801 or 1802, who was married in the White House in 1820 to Samuel L. Gouverneur.
James Monroe (1758-1831)

Elizabeth & her daughter followed Monroe to Paris, when President George Washington appointed him ambassador to France in 1794. There, he & Elizabeth became enthusiastic Francophiles. Elizabeth, with her sophisticated social graces, adapted easily to European society. The French aristocracy referred to her as "la belle americaine."  The violent fallout of the French Revolution marred the Monroes' sojourn in France.  They acquired a lasting appreciate of French manners & styles which was later reflected in the furnishing they purchased for the White House.  Both spoke French fluently.  Members of the aristocracy whom the Monroes befriended were increasingly falling prey to the rebels' guillotine. In 1795, Elizabeth succeeded in obtaining the prison release of the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette. When he learned that the wife of America’s great friend the Marquis de Lafayette, the dashing Frenchman who had served on Washington's staff during the American Revolution, had been imprisoned by Robespierre & was in danger of being executed, Monroe, believing that direct appeals to the Committee of Public Safety would be of no avail, arranged for his wife to visit her.  The tearful meeting of the women at the gate of the prison drew a large & sympathetic crowd, & the demonstration was sufficient to secure Madame de Lafayette’s release. 
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (1768-1830) by John Vanderlyn

When Monroe's term as ambassador ended in 1796, he brought his family back to America & settled on the Oak Hill plantation in Virginia. For the next 15 years, he shuttled his family between stints in Virginia political office & the occasional foreign appointment. In 1811, Monroe accepted President James Madison's offer to serve as U.S. secretary of state. Six years later, Monroe himself was elected president from 1817-1825.

 After her husband’s appointment as Secretary of State in 1811 & his elevation to the presidency in 1817, Mrs. Monroe was constantly in the public eye.  No accounts of her as a person, however, survive, although her regal bearing & distinguished appearance often inspired comment.  “Her dress was superb black velvet,” one presidential guest recalled; “neck & arms bare & beautifully formed; her hair in puffs & dressed high on the head & ornamented with white ostrich plumes; around her neck an elegant pearl necklace” (quoted in Daniel Coit Gilman, James Monroe, 1883, pp. 182-83).  She seems to have been easy & affable in small groups, but her public manner was marked by a formality & reserve which some labeled haughtiness.

During their 1st year in Washington, the Monroes lived in temporary lodgings until the White House, which had been destroyed by the British during the War of 1812, was repaired. As first lady, Elizabeth, usually very social, deferred to her husband's wishes to minimize White House social events. He & Elizabeth both deplored the opulent displays of the previous first lady, Dolley Madison, preferring more private, stately affairs modeled after European society. 

Just after he assumed office, in June 1817, President Monroe embarked on a "Goodwill Tour" of the United States. Paying expenses out of his own pocket, the new president was greeted by cheering crowds & treated to celebratory picnics, dinners, & receptions in every city he visited. After touring New York, Philadelphia, & Baltimore, Monroe stopped in Boston, where a newspaper hailed his visit as the beginning of an “ERA OF GOOD FEELINGS.” Despite this phrase, while in the White House, the Monroes endured the depression called the  Panic of 1819 & a fierce national debate over the admission of the Missouri Territory. Monroe is most noted for his proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which stated that the United States would not tolerate further European intervention in the Americas.

As First Lady she was inevitably compared with her predecessor, the warm & open-hearted Dolley Madison, who had elevated presidential receptions above the dull level of official functions. In a rapidly growing Washington, the Monroes introduced a new formality, & White House receptions took on an austerity reminiscent of George Washington’s administration, with Monroe & his wife receiving guests but manifesting little personal solicitude.  In her 1st year Mrs. Monroe appeared only infrequently at White House dinners, & consequently ladies were seldom invited.  She further announced that she would not make or return any calls, although it had been Mrs. Madison’s custom not only to return all calls but to pay her respects to visiting ladies.  Many women, particularly the wives of Senators, took offense at the new rule, but Mrs. Monroe, supported by Louisa Catherine Adams, whose husband was then Secretary of State, prevailed, & the new policy became firmly set.  Mrs. Monroe’s French-educated & somewhat formidable daughter Eliza (Mrs. George Hay) shared her social duties at the White House, where social life was also curtailed by Elizabeth's declining health. Washingtonians, eager to being seen with the powerful even back then, mistook the lack of White House social events for snobbery.
James Monroe (1758-1831) by Gilbert Stuart

During her husband’s 2nd term Mrs. Monroe’s always delicate health failed rapidly, & her public appearances became more rare.  She preferred to spend as much time as possible at Oak Hill, their country home in Loudoun County, Va., some twenty miles from the capital, where she was joined by Monroe upon his retirement in 1825.  She died at Oak Hill in 1830 & was buried there.  Of her death the aged ex-President wrote to James Brown, “After having lived with the partner of your life, in so many vicissitudes…& afforded to each other comforts which no other person on earth could do…to have her snatched from me…is an affliction which none but those who feel it, can justly estimate” (Dec. 9, 1830), John Deposit, University of Virginia Library).  According to the family, Monroe burned 40 years' worth of their intimate correspondence. 
James Monroe (1758-1831) painted by Rembrandt Peale about 1824-1825

Upon Elizabeth's death in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City, to live with his daughter Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur who had married Samuel L. Gouverneur in the White House.  Monroe’s death occurred the next year.  In 1903 Elizabeth Monroe’s body was re-interred beside that of her husband in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA.

Friday, November 17, 2017

New York Business Woman Mary Alexander 1693-1760

The Alexander Papers at the New-York Historical Society Library contain the records of the mercantile business of Mary Alexander and provide a glimpse into the life of a colonial NYC businesswoman

From the New-York Historical Society Library

Mary Alexander’s mercantile business specialized in “haberdashery,” or what today is called notions. Records from this firm include samples of fabrics that Mary Alexander had requested or purchased. According to the records, Mary ordered expensive silks and worsteds as well as plain, utilitarian materials. The sample above is from the 1730’s and includes swatches of silver lace and crepe. The fabric samples are still vibrantly colored and are beautiful to examine.


Mary Alexander was born in New York City in 1693. In 1711, she married Samuel Prevoost, an importer. The couple had three children and together ran their mercantile business. Mary contributed much of her inheritance to the business and generally acted as a business partner with her husband. 

After Prevoost’s death around 1720, Mary married James Alexander, a notable attorney and politician. She had seven more children in her second marriage (only five lived to adulthood) and continued to run the Prevoost mercantile business. She sold goods in her store in front of their mansion on Broad Street and soon became one of the leading merchants in New York City. With her social connections and her successful business, Mary was a prominent member of colonial society and is reputed to have served as an informal advisor to many New York politicians. Mary Alexander died in 1760 and was buried with her husband at Trinity Church.
From the New-York Historical Society Library

All information and images in this posting are from the blog of the New-York Historical Society Library. This article written by library Curator of Manuscirpts Maurita Baldock. Click here for more from the N-YHS..

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Female Apprentices in 18C Colonial America

Apprentice Female Tinsmith? Detail Ferblantier (Tin Plate Maker) Encycopedia of Diederot & d'Alembert 1765

Though there was no system of standards governing the trades in the British American colonies, the method of learning a trade generally followed the apprenticeship guidelines established by the guilds in medieval England & Europe. 

It was unusual or sometimes even shocking to come upon women doing tasks normally done by men. Traveling through the English countryside in 1741, William Hutton happened upon a blacksmith's shop, where he saw "one or more females, stripped of their upper garments, & not overcharged with the lower, wielding the hammer with all the grace of the sex."   Women were not excluded from membership in the earlier guilds. The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in London lists 65 "brethren" & 2 "sistren" in its 1434 charter. "No one contested the right of wives & daughters to work in a shop or at a stall leased in the name of the husband & father," writes Olwen Hufton in The Prospect before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800. "The tendency of a master in an occupation where there was scope for the employment of his daughter—particularly if he had no sons—may have been to familiarize her with the techniques of the trade. At the humblest levels, where the master in question did not employ journeymen & where any apprentices kept quiet, then the master's daughter unofficially may have done much work without incurring opposition from the guild."  Male or female, a prospective guild member had to apply for entrance by apprenticeship, patrimony, redemption, or marriage. Most women applied by right of marriage, or widowhood. More than 200 youngsters are documented to have been apprenticed to women in Oxford between 1520 & 1800, evidence that women claimed the rights of masters.  Conspicuous differences existed in the strength & types of guilds to enforce their control, so a female's success or participation in a business could vary from place to place, from year to year. "Complaints were more common in periods of economic strain," Hufton wrote, "particularly when the labour supply was overabundant & rising prices outstripped wages. In easy times, journeymen were less anxious & might permit without complaint some infiltration by women into what they saw as their sphere of activity."  Girls were apprenticed, too, usually in cases of orphaning. Parish or pauper apprenticeships, as they were called, featured contracts that left blank spaces so the court or church official could write in "him" or "her," "she" or "he." K. D. M. Snell's Annals of the Labouring Poor lists nearly 300 orphan girls apprenticed to trades in the 18C in the southern counties of England.  But the guild system began to decline during the 18C, & with it went the detailed records. A 1770 publication called The Tradesman's True Guide or a Universal Directory for the Towns of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsal, Dudley & the manufacturing village in the neighborhood of Birmingham carries exhaustive lists of tradesmen & -women alphabetically by name & by trade. There are women listed in every trade from butcher to wire drawer.  Records of guilds & corporations frequently omit mention of female apprentices suggests Bridget Hill in Women, Work, & Sexual Politics in Eighteenth-Century England, because "the completion of a man's apprenticeship had political & social, as well as economic consequences (parliamentary franchise) that did not apply to women."

In 18C colonial British America & the New Republic the distinction between indentures for servants & apprentices was less clear. Binding out or apprenticing became a catch-all concept that both provided a controllable & skilled labor force to the new country & provided parent/authority figures to children who had no parents. In the 17C & early 18C, scholars project that 80% of the Chesapeake’s immigrants were indentured servants from Britain & Europe. Some authorities state that more than  75% of all immigrants who settled south of New England were indentured servants, convict servants, or redemptioners.  Most of these servants were over the age of 20, but a significant number were young men & girls still in their teens. Historian John C. Coombs suggests that by the 1670s, slaves had begun to replace white indentured servants among the Chesapeake gentry before both Bacon's Rebellion & the sharp decline in new servants. By 1690, enslaved Africans & African Americans account for nearly all of the Virginia gentry's bound workforce. Slaves account for only 25-40% of the non-elites' workforce.

In return for their passage to the Chesapeake, these young servants agreed to work on the land, in trades, or do household chores, for a period of time, usually between 4-7 years, without pay. During their service, masters provided food, clothing & shelter.  Servants whose contracts had expired typically received "freedom dues," loosely described as a quantity of corn & clothing. The 1705 Virginia statute "An Act concerning Servants & Slaves" was the 1st to explicitly mention this "good & laudable custom," & required that male servants, "upon their freedom," be supplied with 10 bushels of corn, 30 shillings (or the like value in goods), & a musket worth at least 20 shillings. Women were entitled to 15 bushels of corn & the equivalent of 40 shillings. Many of these youths from across the Atlantic were orphans, some were kidnapped onto ships sailing for the New World, and some were from indigent families who could not care for their children, & therefore sent them off to make their own way.

Colonial courts dealt with a broad variety of indentures, roughly divided into 2 categories: (1) voluntary apprenticeships, where a parent entered a voluntary arrangement with a 3rd party, usually to train the child in a specific trade in exchange for the child's services & some parents even paid the master for training the child; & (2) involuntary apprenticeships, where the parents were dead or unable to properly raise their children & court officials placed them with a master. Many children in the colonial era did not spend their whole childhood under the custody & control of their own parents or step-parents. These children were put under the custody & control of masters (& sometimes mistresses), to whom they were indentured. "Binding out, putting out, & apprenticing" were all variations on the well-established English custom of placing children in the home of a master who was obliged to provide ordinary sustenance & some training in return for services. This training could be as specific as teaching a skilled craft, or it could be as general as instruction in basic reading & the catechism. Laws differed by colony pertaining to articles of indenture for servants & for apprentices. 

Some scholars estimate that colonial British American young women comprised less than 1/5 of recorded indentures. Generally, these apprenticeships of girls were for household work or textile trades (spinning, weaving, or knitting).  Though apprenticeship contracts do exist for the British American colonies, they tend to be fewer & they are not as specific. And without the meticulous record keeping of the older guilds, what happened to a boy or girl once an apprenticeship began is difficult to track. Orphan apprenticeship contracts from the period sometimes record more detail than a standard agreement, although many of the girls' apprenticed trades are listed as "unspecified," & the only way to guess what they learned is if the master's or mistress's business is known. Colonial British American apprenticeship was a system of on-the-job training which was based on both ancient & medieval practices.  The basis of colonial laws of apprenticeship were the English 1562 Statute of Artificers and the English 1601 Poor Law, which standardized customs long recognized & enforced by the guilds and local authorities. 

The Virginia Poor Law of 1672 gave county courts the power to place all children, whose parents were unable to raise them, as apprentices. Churchwardens were ordered to report children in this category. The Virginia Orphan Act of 1705 empowered the Orphan's Courts to bind out all orphans whose estates were too small to support them. It also gave the court the power to hear complaints of apprentices for ill use by their master or failure to teach his trade.  

Female colonial apprentices often worked in the shops of dressmakers & sometimes with tailors. Some of these apprenticeships were based on formal contracts between the child’s parents & the artisan with the aim of teaching the child a skill she could use one day to earn money. Many formal apprenticeships for girls tended to be short - often just one year. Sometimes, though, they could be very long for poor & orphaned girls, some very young. In 1715 Northumberland County, Virginia, Ariskam Crowder was "hereby bound an apprentice to serve Mary Knight in all lawfull Services & imploym until he shall attain the age of One & twenty years, he being Seven years old."  One 1770 New England document records an apprenticeship binding 7-year-old Rebeccah Baxter to male tailor Elijah Treadway in Middletown, Connecticut. According to the terms of the document, she was to stay in Treadway’s household for 11 years, until she turned 18. 

Four females are named in York County, Virginia, apprenticeships recorded from 1747 to 1789. Earlier York County records contain several others. Generally, these apprenticeships were for household work or textile trades - spinning, weaving, or knitting.  
At least one woman in Pennsylvania owned a traditionaly male business. She was a brass founder. A 1730 Pennsylvania Gazette ad was placed searching for one James Curry, "an Apprentice to Mrs. Paris of Philadelphia, Brass Founder."  The Pennsylvania Gazette printed the rules of contracting apprentices to "the Masters or Mistresses" in 1763, such that the youngster "shall be bound by Indenture to serve as an Apprentice in any Art, Mystery, Occupation or Labour, with the Assent of his or her Parent."

In 1762, the law dealing with orphans as apprentices in North Carolina stated: Where the estate of an orphan shall be of so small value that no person will educate & maintain him or her for the profits thereof, such orphan shall, by direction of the court, be bound apprentice, every male to some tradesman, merchant, mariner or other person approved by the court, until he shall attain to the age of 21 years, & every female to some suitable employment, till her age of 18 years; & also such court may, in like manner, bind apprentice all free base-born (illegitimate) children, & every such female child, being a mulatto (mixed parents-Black & White)or mustee (mixed parents-Indian & White), until she shall attain the age of 21 years: And the master or mistress of every such apprentice shall find & provide for him or her diet, clothes, lodging & accommodations, fit & necessary; & shall teach, or cause him or her to be taught to read & write; & at the expiration of his or her apprenticeship, shall pay every such apprentice the like allowance as is by law appointed for servants by indenture or custom, & on refusal shall be compelled thereto in like manner; & if upon complaint made to the inferior court of pleas & quarter sessions, it shall appear that any such apprentice is ill used, or not taught the trade, profession or employment to which he or she was bound, it shall be lawful for such court to remove & bind him or her to such other person or persons as they shall think fit.

Records from Boston show that in 1769, Ann Cromartie, age 13, was bound to Ruth DeCosta by the Overseers of the Poor to learn the “Art, Trade or Mystery of a Mantuamaker.”  Her term was about 5 years, again until she turned 18.

Many Virginia apprenticeship contracts (indentures) were private arrangements between a master & an apprentice's parents & were not recorded in the public records. Apprenticeships ordered by the courts for orphans & poor children were recorded, but their lengths varied widely or were often stated only as to age 21. Of the 110 apprenticeships recorded in York County, Virginia, from 1745 until 1789, 34 were “until 21,” and 64 were from 4 to 7 years.

Records from a Massachusetts lawsuit in 1791, tell of 24-year-old Clarinda Colton’s contract with male tailor Ithamar Burt. She was supposed to get one year of training. But her parents alleged in the suit that when Clarinda returned home after one year, she knew almost nothing about cutting cloth. Clarinda had apparently been assigned mainly to do household chores.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

18C Women Owning Millinery Shops


In the 1500s & 1600s, the millinery business involved shopkeepers who dealt in milanese (as in Milan, Italy) ware, like silks, ribbons, armor, swords & other Italian goods. Millinery, however, began to change its meaning as swords & armor fell out of fashion. The word also took on a new life as English retailing underwent a big shift in the mid-1600s. The Great Fire of London in 1655 had a lot to do with this change. Prior to the fire, trades were concentrated along certain streets. After the fire, trades intermingled in new shopping districts. Shopkeepers also began selling many goods & services in their stores, offering customers greater convenience & expanded choices. A milliner could carry possibly a thousand different goods, becoming the forerunner of the modern department store. At this point, the term “milliner” was tied to the Latin word "mille," meaning 1000.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation tells us that prior to the American Revolution, millinery shops were almost always a woman's business. Women had a place in 18C British American commercial life. Those who reached their majority & were not married could own property, buy & sell, sue & be sued, represent themselves in court, make contracts & perform other routine commercial & legal functions. In short, they had all the rights of men, but they did not have the privileges of voting or holding public office. 

Milliners catered to the fashion needs of men, women, & children. In addition to being a trades-woman who made fashion accessories, the milliner was also a businesswoman who sold a wide range of fashionable imported goods. It was not uncommon for a milliner in the British American colonies, to advertise that she had just imported from London the very latest in mercery, haberdashery, jewelry, hosiery, shoes "and other items too tedious to mention." The millinery sold fabric, baby & children's clothes, hats & shoes, dolls, jewelry, tea pots, sugar, needles, thread, laces, liquor, lottery & theatre tickets, ribbons, hair pieces, medicines, books, games, & much, much more. A millinery store owner also needed to know about fashion & the intricacies of the clothing business. A well-informed entrepreneur might know about sewing, tailoring, gown making, laundrying, ironing & making & maintaining fine lace.
Henry Robert Morland 18C Ironing

The other primary 18C woman's trade was that of mantua making – or gown making. On occasion, the apprenticeship for milliners also included learning the skills of mantua making. Independent of a millinery shop, the gown maker was on par with the tailor – both were skilled in cutting, fitting, & sewing but usually were not able to sell fabric to their customers. In the 18C, fabric accounted for the largest part of the cost of clothing. Mantua-makers specialized in making women's gowns. Not only did milliners sell fabric straight from the bolt, they also employed or contracted with  mantua makers who made dresses, jackets, & gowns for customers. 

A mantua-maker was responsible for draping, cutting, & sewing the gown. It was possible for a gown to be "gotten-up" in the very latest fashion from London with 3 half-hour fittings in 7 days. From fabric sold in the shop, milliners would make items such as: shirts, shifts, aprons, neckerchiefs, caps, cloaks, hoods, hats, muffs, ruffles, & trim for gowns. The cost of any clothing varied depending on the type of fabric that was chosen. A gown made from wool, silk, or cotton cost more than one made from linen. The cost for the labor was less expensive than the material involved. The fabric was usually 80%-90% of the cost of the gown. 

Clothing producers knew that one way to keep sales humming was to keep styles changing. Many British American colonists had an insatiable appetite for news, particularly fashion news, which reached America fairly quickly given the slow transportation of the day. In the early 1770s, Virginians learned about the latest styles through English newspapers & magazines. The news typically was 6 to 8 weeks old until it finally arrived from across the Atlantic, but it was welcome never-the-less.The whirl of fashion during the 1700s was endless & often contradictory. During the 18C, ladies' skirt styles changed five times. It was not unheard of for hat styles to change 17 times during a 2-year period. “Solomon in all Glory was not array'd like on of These,” wrote visitor Rev. Jonathan Boucher of upper class Virginians in 1759. “I assure you, Mrs. James, the common Planter's Daughters here go every Day in finer Cloaths than I have seen content you for a Summer's Sunday. You thought (homely Creatures as your are) my Sattin Wastecoat was a fine best, Lord help You, I'm noth'g amongst the Lace & Lac'd fellows that are here. Nay, so much does their Taste run after dress that they tell me I may see in Virginia more brilliant Assemblies than I ever c'd in the North of Engl'd, & except Royal Ones P'rhaps in any Part of it.”

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Women, Tea Parties, & the American Revolution

The Boston tea party occurred in December 1773, when angry gentlemen of Boston, some costumed as Native Americans, destroyed property of the East India Tea Company on ships in the Boston harbor in protest of British taxation & trade policies.  There were other 18C colonial patriotic tea parties as well.
W. D. Cooper. Boston Tea Party, The History of North America. London E. Newberry, 1789.

The livid English Parliament quickly passed a set of laws to punish the upstart colonials in Massachusetts, closing the Boston port & limiting all British American colonial rights to self-government. Many American colonists up & down the Atlantic called these the Intolerable Acts” — the final proof that Great Britain intended to destroy their liberty.

After the Boston tea party, gentlemen began meeting in local groups throughout the colonies to lend their support to the rising talk of revolution. (Men were meeting, of course, because women did not vote or hold office in the Britain or her colonies.)

In July 1774, gentlemen of the Cape Fear region, led by transplanted Boston attorney William Hooper (1742-1790), met at Wilmington, North Carolina, calling for a provincial congress & for a congress of all the colonies to respond to Britain. One of the resolutions passed at this meeting stated, "That we will not use nor suffer East India Tea to be used in our Families after the tenth day of September next, and that we will consider all persons in this province not complying with this resolve to be enemies to their Country."

The Edenton Tea Party first became known throughout colonial British America from a London newspaper article reporting the event, which appeared in the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser in January of 1775.

The newspaper reported that in North Carolina on October 25, 1774, 51 prominent women from the Edenton area gathered at the home of Elizabeth King, with Penelope Barker (1728-1796) presiding, to sign a petition supporting the American cause. It was extremely rare, if not unheard of, for British women, especially colonial women, who had no legal powers, to petition for political change.

At the meeting, Barker reportedly said, “Maybe it has only been men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like the men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.”

The Edenton petition doesn’t actually mention tea, but it supports the July Wilmington “resolves” against importing British products such as clothing & tea. Many angry colonists participated in the resistance to Britain through nonimportation, simply refusing to buy goods imported from Britain. Colonials did not have to pay taxes on goods they did not purchase, and the loss of income might persuade British merchants & shippers to support the colonial cause.

The text of the petition by the women gathered in Edenton, North Carolina, on October 25, 1774, reads: As we cannot be indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country,
and as it has been thought necessary, for the public good, to enter into several political resolves by a meeting of Members deputed from the whole Province,
it is a duty which we owe, not only to our near and dear connections who have concurred in them, but to ourselves who are essentially interested in their welfare, to do every thing as far as lies in our power to testify our sincere adherence to the same;
and we do therefore accordingly subscribe this paper, as a witness of our fixed intention and solemn determination to do so.


Abagail Charlton, Mary Blount, F. Johnstone, Elizabeth Creacy, Margaret Cathcart, Elizabeth Patterson, Anne Johnstone, Jane Wellwood, Margaret Pearson, Mary Woolard, Penelope Dawson, Sarah Beasley, Jean Blair, Susannah Vail, Grace Clayton, Elizabeth Vail, Frances Hall, Elizabeth Vail, Mary Jones, Mary Creacy, Anne Hall, Mary Creacy, Rebecca Bondfield, Ruth Benbury, Sarah Littlejohn, Sarah Howcott, Penelope Barker, Sarah Hoskins, Elizabeth P. Ormond, Mary Littledle, M. Payne, Sarah Valentine, Elizabeth Johnston, Elizabeth Cricket, Mary Bonner, Elizabeth Green, Lydia Bonner, Mary Ramsay, Sarah Howe, Anne Horniblow, Lydia Bennet, Mary Hunter, Marion Wells, Tresia Cunningham, Anne Anderson, Elizabeth Roberts, Sarah Mathews, Elizabeth Roberts, Anne Haughton, Elizabeth Roberts, Elizabeth Beasly.

From England, in January 1775, 16 year-old Arthur Iredell wrote to his older brother who was a judge based in Edenton, James Iredell (1751-1799), describing the British reaction to the Edenton Tea Party. According to Arthur Iredell, the incident was not taken seriously in England, because it was led by women.
Philip Dawes, A Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton in North Carolina. Published in London in 1775.

British journalists & cartoonists depicted the women in a negative light, as bad mothers & loose women. In a satirical cartoon published in London in March of 1775, the North Carolina ladies were drawn as female versions of the much maligned macaroni characters of the period.

Arthur Iredell sarcastically wrote to his brother James, who would later become one of the first associates of the United States Supreme Court, back in North Carolina, I see by the newspapers the Edenton ladies have signalized themselves by their protest against tea-drinking. The name of Johnston [the maiden name of Mrs. James Iredell] I see among others; are any of my sisters relations patriotic heroines?
Is there a female congress at Edenton, too? I hope not, for we Englishmen are afraid of the male congress, but if the ladies, who have ever since the Amazonian era been esteemed the most formidable enemies: if they, I say, should attack us, the most fatal consequence is to be dreaded.
So dextrous in the handling of a dart, each wound they give is mortal: whilst we, so unhappily formed by nature, the more we strive to conquer them, the more we are conquered.
The Edenton ladies, conscious, I suppose, of this superiority on their side, by a former experience, are willing, I imagine, to crush us into atoms by their omnipotency: the only security on our side to prevent the impending ruin, that I can perceive, is the probability that there are but few places in America which possess so much female artillery as Edenton.


Perhaps because of her husband James Iredell's official position, Hannah Johnston Iredell refrained from signing resolutions supporting the First North Carolina Provincial Congress, which voted to boycott certain British products. However, Hannah's sisters & her sisters-in-law signed the petition.

Not about to be outdone by their neighbors & not at all deterred by the sarcastic English press, the patriotic ladies of Wilmington, North Carolina, held their own “party” in the spring of 1775, actually burning their tea.

Janet Schaw, a visitor from Scotland who had no sympathy for the colonial rebellion, reported the event in her journals, noting that not everyone in Wilmington approved of the protest: The Ladies have burnt their tea in a solemn procession, but they had delayed however till the sacrifice was not very considerable, as I do not think any one offered above a quarter of a pound. The people in town live decently, and tho’ their houses are not spacious, they are in general very commodious and well furnished.
All the Merchants of any note are British and Irish,and many of them very genteel people. They all disapprove of the present proceedings. Many of them intend quitting the country as fast as their affairs will permit them, but are yet uncertain what steps to take.


But the women patriots had just begun to fight. Purdie's Virginia Gazette reported on May 3, 1775, that women were giving their jewelery to support the Continental Congress like “Roman Females” before them and will “fearless take the field against the ememy” for their glorious cause if their services are needed.

Women began to write letters about the revolutionary cause to their local newspapers. One anonymous women wrote a letter urging her fellow women to sacrifice for the war in Dixon's Virginia Gazette of January 13, 1776. Anne Terrel of Bedford County, Virginia also wrote in the same newspaper to support of the Revolutionary War on September 21, 1776.

During the Revolution more than 20,000 women became army camp followers--cooking, laundering, mending, and acting as nurses for the soldiers. Camp followers received half the food ration, when there was food at all, and minimal compensation. When the British occupied a town, they sometimes brutalized colonial women & their children. Hundreds of women took up arms to serve as soldiers & others served as spies for the colonial army.

Even those women left at home to raise the family & manage the business or the farm helped as they could. One woman passing an evacuated house in Woodbridge, New Jersey, looked in the window & saw a drunken Hessian soldier. She went home, got an old firelock, returned to take the Hessian’s firearms & then walked him about a mile to the patrol guard of the New Jersey regiment to delivered her prisoner. The incident was reported in Dixon's Virginia Gazette on April 18, 1777.

As the war progressed, women began collecting & contributing funds to equip local troops, where their kinfolk & neighbors were serving. The light horsemen of General Nelson of the Virginia Cavalry received just such donations according to Purdie's Virginia Gazette of June 12, 1778.

After the successful war, most male landowners could vote in the new republic. Women were granted the right to vote in the United States of America in 1920.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Colonial Women participate in Consumer Boycotts during the American Revolution

During the American Revolution, many women joined protests and boycotts of imported British goods voluntarily, while others succumbed to pressure from patriots.  The colonists first used nonimportation to protest the Sugar Act in 1764, and they turned to it again when the Townshend duties were passed in 1767. Although some merchants, especially those in Philadelphia, resisted these agreements, nearly every colony eventually signed them. 

Nonimportation affected merchants and artisans, such as seamstresses, in opposite ways. Artisans benefited because the ban on British goods enlarged the market for domestic-made products. 

In contrast, the movement divided merchants. Those who dealt primarily in dry goods from Britain believed that they were being unfairly singled out. They complained that the boycotts left virtually unaffected the merchants who dealt in West Indian molasses and rum. 

Nonofficial bodies, called committees of inspection and headed by merchants, planters, and artisans, took on the responsibility of enforcing the agreements. Patriotic newspapers did their part by publishing the names of merchants who continued to import from British suppliers. Mobs sometimes exerted pressure by tarring and feathering those who refused to honor the agreements. A few merchants were driven out of town or had their warehouses damaged and looted. 

In 1769 an angry mob confronted the Boston shopkeepers Betsy and Anne Cuming for continuing to import British goods. “I told them we have never antred into eney agreement not to import for it was verry trifling owr Business,” Betsy wrote to a friend. The committeemen threatened to publish the sisters’ names in the newspaper, but Betsy claimed that the publicity only “Spirits up our Friends to Purchess from us.” The Cumings could not long resist the Patriots’ pressure, however, and the sisters immigrated to Nova Scotia when the British army evacuated Boston in 1776.

Women participated in and even organized consumer boycotts. Because almost everyone was a consumer to some degree, many individuals and groups participated in the patriot cause by resolving not to consume British-made products. Merchants dealing in imported luxury items were hurt by these movements. 

Women vowed to stop serving tea and refrained from wearing clothes made with fabrics imported from Britain. A widely reprinted appeal that first appeared in 1767 urged them to “Wear none but your own country linen / Of economy boast. Let your pride be the most / To show cloaths of your make and spinning.” 

At least one wedding received publicity because, as one newspaper reported, “the bride and two of her sisters appeared in very genteel-like gowns, and others of the family in handsome apparel, with sundry silk handkerchiefs, &c., entirely of their own manufacture.” 

A few women’s groups even formalized their agreements, to much fanfare. In February 1770 the Boston Evening Post reported that more than three hundred “Mistresses of Families” had vowed to “totally abstain” from serving tea, “Sickness excepted” as an expression of their desire to save the “Country from Ruin and Slavery.” 

Another group of women in North Carolina signed an agreement in October 1774 proclaiming it their “duty” to do “every thing as far as lies in our power” to support the “publick good.” Most of the shunned items were luxuries, not necessities. In addition to tea, wine, and fancy textiles patriotic Americans gave up their coaches and carriages, gold and silver buttons, diamonds, clocks, watches, and jewelry. These boycotts allowed participation in public affairs to those, especially women, who had few other channels for expressing their political sentiments.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

British American Women Merchants

A few women in British Colonial America participated in trade. In England, some had done so since at least the fourteenth century, and a small number even belonged to guilds. 

Most colonial businesswomen were widows who had taken over upon the death of their husbands or single women forced to support themselves and perhaps a few dependents. But working for pay was hardly typical for women, and operating as a merchant was even rarer. 

During the revolutionary era women made up less than 10 percent of all the traders in Boston. At most, only about 2 percent of New York’s substantial merchants were women. One was Mary Alexander, who was born Mary Spratt in 1693. In 1711 she married merchant Samuel Provoost, and when he died in 1719, Mary took over his dry goods business. In 1721 she married James Alexander, a prominent attorney and member of the New York Council, with whom she had seven children in addition to the three that she had with her first husband. 

According to James Alexander, Mary did not let child-bearing stop her from continuing her business; in fact she was back at the store the day after giving birth to one of her daughters, selling goods worth some thirty pounds. When James died in 1754, Mary was named the executrix of his estate. 

Yet no matter how large their businesses might be, colonial American female merchants rarely sought political clout. The New York Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1768, had no female members, and none seemed interested in joining.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Women, Business and George Washington

March 27, 2015 by Julie Miller, 
Early American historian in the Manuscript Division.
Library of Congress Blog

In 1766, Philadelphia shopkeeper Rebecca Steel advertised that she had for sale “Dry Goods, Bohea, Green, Hyson, and Congo Teas &c. as usual, at the most reasonable Rates,” and also “a Parcel of fine silks” that she would “sell low” (Pennsylvania Gazette, Oct. 9, 1766). In the same advertisement she warned her customers that if they didn’t “make speedy payment,” she would “be put to the disagreeable Necessity of suing.” A decade later, in the thick of the Revolutionary War, George Washington bought tea from Steel. He didn’t have to worry about being sued, however, since he paid his bill. We know this because the receipt, (Feb. 10, 1777) signed by Thomas Mifflin, quartermaster general of the Continental Army, is in his papers at the Library of Congress.

Steel’s receipt is just one among many pieces of evidence in Washington’s papers that he regularly did business with women. Many of the women he dealt with were poorer and less formidable than Rebecca Steel. In New York on Sept. 20, 1776, he paid a woman six shillings to wash his “plain shirts,” stocks (a kind of 18th-century necktie), stockings and a silk handkerchief. The bill he signed identifies her only as a “servant of Major Leach in the camp.” (See this story from the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog about another laundress who worked for Washington during the Revolutionary War.) Hannah Till, a servant who worked at Washington’s headquarters at Morristown, N.J., signed the receipt for wages she received on June 23, 1780, with an X, the mark used in place of a signature by people who did not know how to write. These were temporary jobs for poor women with limited skills who were available to work for Washington as he moved around from place to place during the Revolutionary War.

Other women had more sophisticated skills or valuable goods to offer. Dorothy Shewcraft, for example, sold Washington a pair of andirons and a “scotch carpett” for his New York headquarters (May 6, 1776), and Hannah Stewart made him “table cloths and two towels” when he was headquartered in West Point (Aug. 14, 1779). Both Shewcraft and Stewart signed the receipts they received from Washington with clear, neat signatures. Widow Ann Emerson, housekeeper in Washington’s Philadelphia household while he was president, came so highly recommended that she felt confident enough to bargain for her salary, declining to accept less than £50 per year, a price, Washington’s secretary reported, that was “much too high.” Emerson also won the privilege of keeping her 7-year-old daughter with her, even though Martha Washington “had rather it should not be brought into the family.” This was a standard objection on the part of employers of live-in servants. (Tobias Lear to George Washington, May 1, 1791).

Much of the work that women did for pay in early America was an extension of household work. Women kept gardens and sold produce, kept chickens and sold eggs, and kept cows and sold dairy products. Young, unmarried women often went to work as servants for their neighbors as a way to experience a little independence and build a nest egg before marriage. Nearly all women were constantly at work spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, mending and washing. Women delivered babies and provided nursing for their families and neighbors. In a world in which there were no grocery stores, clothing stores and sometimes, especially on the frontier, no trained doctors, these women provided not only for their households but also for their communities.

Some women, however, stepped into traditionally male domains, operating printshops and publishing newspapers, managing land, farming, and owning shops, merchant and manufacturing firms, and trading ships. Typically these women were widows. According to Anglo-American law in this period, when a woman married, her husband took control of her property and the money she earned legally belonged to him. When a woman’s husband died, however, she could regain her economic autonomy and in some cases get control of family property and businesses. Some wives had been supporting their husbands’ businesses with their money or labor long before they owned them as widows.

Washington dealt with several such widows. From the 1760s through the early 1770s, when in accord with revolutionary boycotts he stopped importing goods from England, he repeatedly bought nails, hinges, padlocks and other metal supplies from the British firm of Theodosia Crowley and Co. Crowley was in her 30s when her husband, heir to one of England’s great ironworks, died and left her the business until her sons were old enough to take over. They lived long enough to do so, but when they too died young, Crowley took over the business again and ran it herself with the help of a series of managers. By the time she died at 88 in 1782, she had run the business for a total of 38 years. Not only had she outlived her husband by more than half a century, she also outlived all 6 of her children. (For Washington’s purchases from Crowley, see, for example, Robert Cary, invoices, March 1760, March 1761 or April 1762).

During the revolution, Washington dealt not only with Rebecca Steel, the Philadelphia tea merchant, but also with Ann Van Horne, a New York wine merchant. In April 1776, just before Washington arrived in New York City to face the British ships that were gathering threateningly in the harbor, the steward and housekeeper in charge of setting up his headquarters ordered 37 bottles of wine from Van Horne. Unlike Hannah Till, who could not sign her name, Van Horne signed hers in a clear, firm hand. Van Horne had married into a family of New York merchants, one of whom was her husband, Garrit Van Horne, who had died by 1765. He seems to have respected her business abilities, since he made her a co-executor of his will. Advertisements in New York newspapers in the 1760s and 1770s show her managing his estate, selling Madeira, claret, brandy, sugar and Cheshire cheese, and also substantial land holdings and a slave. (New York Mercury, Sept. 23, 1765; New York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, Aug. 12, 1771).

The following winter Washington purchased tea from Rebecca Steel. Like Ann Van Horne, Steel was a widow and the co-executor of the estate of her husband, James Steel (Pennsylvania Gazette, Dec. 2, 1742). Historian Karin Wulf identifies her as one of Philadelphia’s handful of “elite” women shopkeepers. One of her frequent customers was Quaker Philadelphian Catherine Drinker, whose detailed diary records her visits to Steel’s shop and her husband Henry Drinker’s attendance at her funeral in 1783. Steel’s life can also be traced in her advertisements in Philadelphia newspapers.

More long-lasting and complex was Washington’s business relationship with his Virginia neighbor, Penelope Manley French. French was a wealthy widow of Washington’s own age who owned land adjacent to Washington’s that he very much wanted to buy but that she did not want to sell. Her ownership of the land took the form of a life interest that would pass to her only child, Elizabeth, at her death. When Elizabeth married in 1773, two years after the death of her father, Daniel French, Washington commented: “Our celebrated Fortune, [Miss] French, whom half the world was in pursuit of, bestowd her hand on Wednesday last . . .” (Washington to Burwell Bassett, Feb. 15, 1773). Penelope French’s land formed a part of the fortune that Elizabeth French brought to her husband, Benjamin Dulany. (The Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg, which contained the Dulanys’ marriage announcement, was published by widow Clementina Rind. The following year, Virginia’s House of Burgesses, of which Washington was a member, appointed her the colony’s printer).

French held out against Washington for many years. But despite her display of determination, there is not a single letter between her and Washington in his papers. All her communication with him was carried out through male surrogates, her son-in-law and her half-brother, William Triplett. Eventually she gave in – partially. In 1786 Penelope French agreed, not to an outright sale, but to a rental of the land for the duration of her lifetime. But even after she agreed to it, French didn’t make it easy for Washington to conclude the deal. When in September 1786 Washington rode over to William Triplett’s to meet with French and sign the papers, he found Triplett sick in bed and French absent. He and Triplett signed the papers a month later in court in Alexandria, without her (Diary, Sept. 16 and Oct. 16, 1786).

Washington continued to work around French. In a 1799 letter to Benjamin Dulany about a related arrangement (Washington to Benjamin Dulany, July 15, 1799) in which he was renting slaves from French, Washington carefully writes, “I thought it respectful & proper however, to couple her name with yours” and acknowledges Dulany’s own interest in the deal, since the slaves would “ultimately, descend to you, or yours.” (Washington to Benjamin Dulany, Sept. 12, 1799.) Washington was treading difficult territory here. On one hand he scrupulously named French, who was after all the one he was doing business with; at the same time he reminded her son-in-law, who was acting for her, of his own stake in the deal. (The slaves who were the subject of the deal had no say at all.) Washington died that December; Penelope French outlived both him, and the arrangement she made with him, by almost six years (Penelope French obituary, Alexandria Advertiser, Oct. 19, 1805).

Friday, October 27, 2017

Woman Shopkeeper in 1769 Boston, Mrs. James Smith (Elizabeth Murray)

Mrs. James Smith (Elizabeth Murray) Boston, 1769, by John Singleton Copley (American artist, Boston, 1738–1815)

Elizabeth Murray was born in & spent the 1st 12 years of her life in Unthank, Scotland, until her older brother James, an up-&-coming merchant, brought her to his new North Carolina home to be his housekeeper. In this capacity, Murray learned the attendant responsibilities, such as "keeping accounts with local merchants & vendors, selecting & purchasing the items needed for household consumption, overseeing the work of any servants, & performing numerous chores associated with housecleaning & preparing food & clothing" 

At 17, she moved with James & his new bride to London, where Murray saw the city bustling with shop-owning women who sold wide arrays of cloth & other popular goods from all over the world. Also, London, offered her a chance to see the latest fashions in ladies' clothing. Sailing back to America, the Murrays stopped in Boston, where Elizabeth Murray, now 23, decided to stay in the bustling commercial hub to open her own shop. Because many urban women were running taverns & small schools, it was considered an appropriate extension of women's acceptable domestic duties to support themselves through businesses they ran out of their homes.

Backed by her brother's mercantile connections in Great Britain, Elizabeth established credit in the commercial world & was able to sell the latest fashions from London in her Boston shop. She advertised in local newspapers, such as the Boston Gazette & the Boston Evening-Post, showcasing both her world-class ladies' apparel & her talents as a teacher of "Needle Works." Additionally, Elizabeth allowed her female students to board with her, to supplement her income. After a trip to London to make more business connections, Elizabeth returned to Boston & sent for James' daughter Dolly, wanting to give her the chance to pursue the "superior educational opportunities" in the northern city. Dolly worked under both Elizabeth & other local women to gain an education in arithmetic, shop-keeping, reading, & sewing.

In 1755, Elizabeth married trader & ship's captain, Thomas Campbell, thereby trading in her status as an independent single woman for the protection (& legal limitations) of couverture. Their union signified a business partnership, in which Thomas handled the larger commercial transactions, while Elizabeth only ran the shop. Additionally, she became part of a female network of shop-owners & teachers in Boston with whom she interacted & traded services with daily. However, by the age of 32, Elizabeth became widowed, when Thomas unexpectedly died of the measles in 1759.

By 1760, Elizabeth married for a 2nd time to a wealthy, elderly widower named James Smith, who would change her financial status for the rest of her life. Under an unusual 18C prenuptial agreement, James stipulated that she would not be rendered personally, legally, or financial dependent under couverture. This meant that Elizabeth would be allowed to keep all of her own money that she had earned as a shopkeeper, & would be entitled to 1/3 of his considerable estate, if he died before her. Because of their wealth, both Elizabeth & James stopped working & enjoyed a leisurely life in Brush Hill, outside of Boston. She did, however, continue to teach women the ways of shop-keeping & other business ventures, financially helping out young women like her nieces Dolly, Betsy, & Anne, as well as local up-&-coming merchants like Ame & Elizabeth Cumings. 

In the summer of 1769, Elizabeth Murray cared for her aging, infirm husband, James Smith, who died in early August. Shortly thereafter, the new widow began to make plans for a trip to England & Scotland. During these preparations, she sat for the above portrait by the renowned Boston-born artist John Singleton Copley. One of the colonies' most talented artists, Copley left America permanently in 1774, & settled in England.

For the rest of the story, see See: Patricia Cleary's Elizabeth Murray: A Woman's Pursuit of Independence in Eighteenth-Century America, 2000

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

18C Women Across the Globe

1797 Jacques Grasset of Saint-Sauveur (France, 1757-1810), Costumes of Different Countries, Los Angeles County Art Museum

Across the 18C globe, dress varied widely. In the early 1700s, British & British American colonial women dressed similarly, but they could get an idea how women in far places also might dress from clothing & costume drawings, which were becoming more popular & more widely available at the time.

The clothing worn by 18C British American women was characterized by great diversity, as one would expect in a society ranging from royal governors & wealthy landowners to indentured servants & slaves. During the period in Britain & her colonies, a woman's dress usually consisted of a gown & petticoat. The gown consisted of the bodice & skirt joined together, with the skirt open in the front to reveal the separate petticoat, which was an essential part of the dress & not an undergarment. The textiles used for the dress ranged from elegant to simple depending on the tasks of the wearer. As the New Republic of The United States of America was finding its way between the 1780s & 1800, a very noticeable change took place in the female British/American silhouette. The waistline climbed higher, until it reached the bust. The skirt was reduced in width & hoop petticoats were discarded except at very formal occasions.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

18C Women Shopkeepers in Boston as a Revolution was Rising

A Woman Shopkeeper of the 1790s, by an Unknown Scot Artist.


"As the sisters peered out their window on Boston’s Queen Street, they were too stricken by the horrid spectacle playing out on the night of October 28, 1769 to be able to fathom its significance. A controversial newspaper publisher was chased & nearly killed by “Skreeming” & enraged respectable gentlemen. On the heels of this narrow escape, a thousand-strong mob tarred & feathered a bloodied customs service employee “befor [the sisters’] Dorr.” The night’s events made clear that the women were no longer safe, even in their home.

"Violent street politics such as these would culminate with the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. In the wake of Parliament’s 1767 Townshend Acts, which levied customs duties on key imports to the colonies, explosive factionalism split Boston. Starting in March 1768, a new Committee of Merchants campaigned to halt the importation of British consumer goods.

"Caught up in the volatile politics of consumption were Elizabeth & Ame (pronounced “Amy”) Cuming, small-scale entrepreneurs in their mid-30s who imported fashionable wares from London. Their business of selling luxurious accessories was “very trifling,” as Elizabeth described it. In their own eyes, they were “two industrious Girls who ware Striving in an honest way to Git there Bread.” Unmarried & without an adult male guardian, they were financially independent. They would fight to retain that unusual status.

"The sisters were from nearby Concord. Their parents, natives of Scotland, had followed business opportunities in the wake of the increasing flow of trade between Great Britain & the colonies. These were not refugees starting over, but educated folk from Scotland’s upper ranks. Helen Cuming, Ame & Elizabeth’s mother, was the daughter of a baronet, a title that placed her family among the British aristocracy (though not the nobility). Their father died before the twentieth birthday of the elder Ame; their mother was gone soon thereafter. Their insufficient age may have prevented their brother John, a recent newlywed & on the path to a brilliant career in Concord, from securing them husbands. They did not wish to be wards of their brother. By 1765 they had relocated to Boston.

"In 18C colonial port communities, anywhere from 2–10% of shopkeepers were women. The ranks of Boston’s female entrepreneurs swelled with each passing decade. The number of newspaper advertisements for fashionable imported items sold by women increased. The Cuming sisters entered a network of Boston women in business. This network nourished their business acumen & provided them with credit, friendship, & social connections. They sold symbols of refinement to gentlewomen of means. They taught fine embroidery at their own school & boarded young ladies from the countryside in their home.

"Shopkeeping was an increasingly popular means of making a living for both men & women. Shopkeepers had begun to contract directly with London suppliers, flooding the port markets with an uncontrolled volume of consumer goods. A successful non-importation campaign would, as Massachusetts Royal Governor Francis Bernard observed, “affect middling & little Traders, many of whom must be ruined by it, whilst Men of Great Property & credit might be benefitted by it by becoming Monopolists.” The Cuming sisters were among the “little Traders;” a shipment of wares reaching them in late 1769 was 300 pounds sterling worth of wrought silk, sewing silk, & haberdashery. As Bernard knew, livelihoods dependent on constant cash flow & frequently changing fashions would not survive a long-term boycott of British consumer goods. Signing a non-importation agreement would put the sisters out of business.

"In mid-November, Ame & Elizabeth received a visit from the activist arm of the Merchants’ Committee. These men were aware that the sisters were selling the £300 shipment from London, “contrary to the aggremant of the Merchants.” The sisters defended themselves against these unwanted visitors with strong words, proclaiming that “[w]e have never antred into eney agreement not to import” & accusing the committeemen of “trying to inger” honest businesswomen. Either this group was reluctant to use violent tactics against women or they were messengers & not a street mob. They left with a threat that the young women “must tack the Conciquances” of their defiance.

"The “conciquances” entailed a very public outing on the front page of Boston’s newspaper of protest, the Boston Gazette. The Merchants’ Committee denounced the Cumings as “enemies to their country” who “preferred their own little private Advantage to the Welfare of America.” By Christmas, every Whig-leaning newspaper had added the Cummings to their list of heretics. On March 19, 1770 Boston’s Town Meeting voted that the sisters & nine others be “entred on the Records of this Town that POSTERITY may know who those Persons were that preferred their little private Advantage to the common Interest of all the Colonies […]; who not only deserted but opposed their Country in a struggle for the Rights of the Constitution.” The price to be paid for financial independence was too high. The Cuming sisters retreated to their small property in Concord.

"Though the Merchants’ Committee & those who enforced its aims never explicitly targeted Boston’s “she-merchants,” their niche position in that world of commerce guaranteed that women shopkeepers were vulnerable to the pressures of the boycott. Boston’s volatile politics drove the Cuming sisters from the port city. Elizabeth & Ame were among the over 1,000 Loyalist refugees who departed besieged Boston with the Regular Army troops in March 1776. As they watched Boston disappear from view, the ten years they had invested in attaining their own version of independence must have appeared wasted. Though the sisters did not understand themselves as political Loyalists, their insistence on their right to chart their fate as individuals had landed them irrevocably in the Loyalist camp. They settled in another port town: Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, again with the support of their friends, they made a new beginning. By 1780, “the Miss Cumings [were] well & doing well, by being thrown hither they [had] fallen on their feet & [were] more prosperous than ever they were in Boston.”

Sources & Further Reading:

T. H. Breen. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Patricia Cleary. Elizabeth Murray: A Woman’s Pursuit of Independence in Eighteenth Century America (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000).
Patricia Cleary. “’Who shall say we have not equal abilitys with the Men when Girls of 18 years of age discover such great capacitys?’: Women of Commerce in Boston, 1750-1776.” In: Conrad Edick Wright, Katheryn P. Viens, eds. Entrepreneurs: The Boston Business Community, 1700-1850. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997, pp. 38-61.
Elise Lemire. Black Walden: Slavery & Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).
Pamela Parmal. “Fashionable Accomplishments: Faith Trumbull Huntington.” In: Women’s Work: Embroidery in Colonial Boston (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2012), pp. 99-124.
John W. Tyler. Smugglers & Patriots: Boston Merchants & the Advent of the American Revolution (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986).

Monday, October 23, 2017

18C Portrait of an American Woman

Mrs. Jonathan Pinkney, Jr. (Elizabeth Munroe) 1798 by James Peale (American, Chestertown, Maryland 1749–1831 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) The Metropolitan Museum of Art tells us that she lived in Annapolis, Maryland.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

18C Women Across the Globe

1797 Jacques Grasset of Saint-Sauveur (France, 1757-1810), Costumes of Different Countries, Los Angeles County Art Museum 

Across the 18C globe, women's dress varied widely. In the early 1700s, British & British American colonial women dressed similarly, but they could get an idea how women in far away places also might dress from clothing & costume drawings, which were becoming more popular & more widely available at the time.

The clothing worn by 18C British American women was characterized by great diversity, as one would expect in a society ranging from royal governors & wealthy landowners to indentured servants & slaves. During the period in Britain & her colonies, a woman's dress usually consisted of a gown & petticoat. The gown consisted of the bodice & skirt joined together, with the skirt open in the front to reveal the separate petticoat, which was an essential part of the dress & not an undergarment. The textiles used for the dress ranged from elegant to simple depending on the tasks of the wearer. As the New Republic of The United States of America was finding its way between the 1780s & 1800, a very noticeable change took place in the female British/American silhouette. The waistline climbed higher, until it reached the bust. The skirt was reduced in width & hoop petticoats were discarded except at very formal occasions.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Baltimore Postmistress & Publisher Mary Katherine Goddard 1738-1816 & Her Rude Dismissal by George Washington

Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816) was the only daughter of Sarah Updike (1700-1770) & Dr. Giles Goddard (1703-1757), postmaster & physician in Groton & New London, Connecticut. Sarah taught her daughter & her younger son William (1740-1817) to write and read Shakespeare, Pope, & Swift among others.


After serving as a printer’s apprentice in Connecticut, William Goddard decided to try his hand at publishing a newspaper with the help of his sister & mother. Their father had died in 1757, leaving an estate of 780 pounds sterling. In 1762, William began his publishing career in Rhode Island, creating the Providence Gazette and Country Journal by using 300 pounds given him by his mother to set up a printing press in Providence. Expecting to print lots of newspapers, in 1764, Goddard entered a partnership with 3 other gentlemen and used more of his father's estate to help establish & operate the 1st paper mill in Rhode Island on the Woonasquatucket River.

A year later, William Goddard became frustrated at his lack of financial success & gave up editorship of the Rhode Island newspaper. He claimed that 2 New York gentlemen "who wished to see me employed on a more extensive theatre" enticed him to leave Rhode Island. His practical mother & sister Mary Katherine kept publishing the Providence newspaper from 1765 through 1768; after all, they owned the printing press.

Before the Revolution, Goddard, who now had moved from New York to Philadelphia "to find a more adventageous situation," had to use private carriers to get news past the prying eyes of the English Crown post. After joining others to publish the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser —a paper sympathetic to the revolutionary cause, the local Crown postmaster kept out-of-town newspapers from the press, depriving the publisher of critical news & information.

His mother, who had stayed in Providence operating the business she had paid for; finally sold the Providence press & followed him to Philadelphia with Mary Katherine. In Philadelphia, Sarah Goddard ran a bookstore until 1768, she died in 1770.

Mary Katherine published the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser alone under her brother's name for the last year of its existence. Her erratic brother was too busy with politics to help in the everyday production. William was frequently jailed for public outbursts and rabble-rousing articles in the paper.

The Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser was driven out of business, when the Crown post refused to accept it for distribution in the mails. William Goddard retaliated politically by designing an American postal system founded upon the principles of open communication, no governmental interference, and free exchange of ideas.

Goddard presented his plan to the Continental Congress on October 5, 1774. The representatives were intrigued but tabled Goddard's plan; until the startling battles of Lexington & Concord in 1775. Soon after, on July 16, 1775, the new "Constitutional Post" was implemented by the Congress, ensuring communication between patriots & keeping the readers informed of events during the American Revolution. The new revolutionary post system forced the Crown post out of business in America on Christmas day, 1775, becoming the foundation of the United States' postal system. Once again pulling up roots, Willliam Goddard decided to attempt a new printing venture in Baltimore. By early 1774, Mary Katherine, who had been helping her brother & mother with their bookstore, newspaper, almanac, and printing ventures, moved south to help her brother; as he began to publish a newspaper in Baltimore.

The Maryland Journal was established by William Goddard August 20, 1773, the first newspaper to be printed in Baltimore. Goddard published the paper with the help of his sister until May 10, 1775, when Mary Katherine Goddard, became the editor & publisher. Until 1784, the newspaper appeared solely under her name.

Because of the new postal system, newpapers could now flow between the colonies without censorship; but new problems arose, as the Revolutionary War created a paper shortage for publishers. The war also sparked inflation leaving subscribers with little cash. To keep her newspaper publishing regularly, Mary Katherine accepted barter in beef, pork, animal food, butter, hog’s lard, tallow, beeswax, flour, wheat, rye, Indian corn, beans and other goods she could either use or sell in her shop.

In 1775, Mary Katherine took an additional job at the Baltimore Post Office. She became the first woman postmistress in the colonies.
The First Post Office in Baltimore. Photo from the Maryland Historical Society, also located in Baltimore, Maryland.

Under Mary Katherine Goddard, the Maryland Journal openly expressed the colonials' thirst for freedom from the crown, although she was willing to take a risk and publish a variety of political perspectives. Mary Katherine published reports of Massachusetts of April 19, 1775, triggering the Battles of Concord and Lexington. Her editorial of June 14, 1775, proclaimed, "The ever memorable 19th of April gave a conclusive answer to the questions of American freedom. What think ye of Congress now? That day. . . evidenced that Americans would rather die than live slaves!"
During the lean years of the Revolution, Postmistress Mary Katherine Goddard opened a book & stationary store in Baltimore, and kept her printing press busy publishing books & almanacs as well as her newspaper.

In January 1777, she printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the signers' names, before any other newspaper in the United States. In the summer of 1776, the signers were aware that they were committing treason and submitting to an overabundance of caution, omitted their names from the original publication of the document. Six months later, finally garnering the courage to publicly stand by their professed ideals, the Continental Congress authorized Goddard’s Maryland Journal to publish the Declaration with its signers’ names.

Mary Katherine Goddard's almanacs were also popular in the Chesapeake. In her 1782 Maryland and Virginia Almanack, Mary Katherine wrote, "From the extensive sale of this Almanack last year, the publisher would presume to think that her endeavors, in some measure, met with the approbation of the Public. Nothing can be more flattering than this idea, which cannot fail to excite in her the highest sense of gratitude, attended with future diligence and perseverance."

After he married, her mercurial brother decided that he wanted to return to the Baltimore publishing business and to run the newspaper and the press himself in 1784. He had never been successful at any occupation and was jealous of his sister's success. Wrenching control of the press was not without turmoil. Mary Katherine Goddard filed 5 lawsuits against her brother before severing her interest in the printing enterprise, which she had successfully managed for 10 years. After all, she still had her position as Baltimore's postmistress to rely on for income.

However, in September 1789, Samuel Osgood, the newly appointed national Postmaster General, decided that inexperienced political appointee John White of Baltimore should replace Goddard. The Assistant Postmaster General Jonathan Burrall was dispatched to Baltimore to give Mary Katherine Goddard the news; but unable to face her in person, he sent a note to her office. She was ordered to turn over her office to White, and told, "a younger person able to ride a horse" was needed.

Over 200 merchants & residents in Baltimore sent a petition and letters objecting to her removal to the Postmaster General. They received no reply. Believing she was still capable at age 51; just before Christmas, she wrote to President George Washington to have the order reversed. She wrote the letter in the 3rd person.

Baltimore, Decemr 23d 1789.
Dear Sir,


The Representation of Mary Katherine Goddard, Humbly sheweth--That She hath kept the Post Office at Baltimore for upwards of fourteen years; but with what degree of Satisfaction to all those concerned, She begs leave to refer to the number & respectability of the Persons who have publickly addressed the Post Master General & his Assistant, on the Subject of her late removal from Office; And as Mr Osgood has not yet favoured between two and three hundred of the principal Merchants & Inhabitants of Baltimore with an answer to their last application, transmitted to him by Post on the last Day of November ultimo,
nor with any Answer to sundry private Letters, accompanying the transcript of a like application, made to Mr Burrell when at Baltimore: She therefore, at the instance of the Gentlemen thus pleased to interest themselves on her behalf, lays before your Excellency, Superintendant of that department, as briefly as possible, the nature & circumstances, of what is conceived to be an extraordinary Act of oppression towards her.


That upon the dissolution of the old Government, when from the non importation Agreement and other causes incident to the Revolution, the Revenue of the Post-Office was inadequate to its disbursements, She accepted of the same, and at her own risque, advanced hard money to defray the Charges of Post Riders for many years, when they were not to be procured on any other terms; and that during this period, the whole of her Labour & Industry in establishing the Office was necessarily unrewarded; the Emoluments of which being by no means equal to the then high Rent of an Office, or to the Attention required both to receive & forward the Mails, as will evidently appear by the Schedule, here unto annexed,
and therefore, whoever thus established & continued the Office, at the gloomy period when it was worth no Person's Acceptance, ought surely to be thought worthy of it, when it became more valuable. And as it had been universally understood, that no Person would be removed from Office, under the present Government, unless manifest misconduct appeared, and as no such Charge could possibly be made against her, with the least colour of Justice, She was happy in the Idea of being secured both in her Office, and the Protection of all those who wished well to the prosperity of the Post Office, & the new Government in general.

That She has sustained many heavy losses, well known to the Gentlemen of Baltimore, which swallowed up the Fruits of her Industry, without even extricating her from embarrassment to this day, although her Accounts with the Post Office were always considered, as amongst the most punctual & regular of any upon the Continent; notwithstanding which She has been discharged from her Office, without any imputation of the least fault, and without any previous official notice: The first intimation on that head being an Order from Mr Burrell,
whilst at Baltimore, to deliver up the Office to the Bearer of his Note; and altho' he had been there several days, yet he did not think proper to indulge her with a personal Interview, thus far treating her in the Stile of an unfriendly delinquent, unworthy of common Civility, as well as common Justice. And although Mr White, who succeeded her, might doubtless have been meritorious in the different Offices he sustained, yet, She humbly conceives, he was not more deserving of public notice & protection in his Station, than She has uniformly been in hers: It must therefore become a matter of serious Importance & of peculiar distress to her, if Government can find no means of rewarding this Gentleman's Services, but at the Expence of all that She had to rely on, for her future dependence & subsistence.


That it has been alledged as a Plea for her removal, that the Deputy Post Master of Baltimore will hereafter be obliged to ride & regulate the Offices to the Southward but that She conceives, with great deference to the Post Master General, this is impracticable, & morally impossible; because the business of the Baltimore Office will require his constant Attendance, & he alone could give satisfaction to the people, if therefore the duties of the Assistant, Mr Burrells' Office are to be performed by any other than himself, surely it cannot well be attempted by those who are fully occupied with their own; and as two Persons must be employed, according to this new Plan, She apprehends, that She is more adequate to give Instructions to the Riding Post Master, how to act than any other Person possibly could, heretofore unexperienced in such business.She, therefore, most humbly hopes from your Excellency's Philanthropy and wonted Humanity, You will take her Situation into Consideration; and as the Grievance complained of, has happened whilst the Post Office Department was put under your auspicious Protection, by a Resolve of Congress, that Your Excellency will be graciously pleased to order, that She may be restored to her former Office, and as in duty bound, She will ever pray &c.
Mary K: Goddard


George Washington promply responded.

New York January 6th.1790
Madam,

In reply to your memorial of the 10th of December, which has been received, I can only observe, that I have uniformly avoided interfering with any appointments which do not require my official agency: and the Resolutions and Ordinances establishing the Post Office under the former Congress, and which have been recognized by the present Government, giving power to the Post-Master General to appoint his own Deputies, and making him accountable for their conduct, is an insuperable objection to my taking any part in this matter.

I have directed your Memorial to be laid before the Post-Master General who will take such measures thereon as his Judgment may direct.

I am, Madam. Your Most Obedt. Servt. Go: Washington


Puffing himself up, Postmaster Samuel Osgood responded the next day giving no reason for the appointment of White except the following: "From mature Consideration, I am fully convinced that I shall be more benefitted from the Services of Mr White than I could be from those of Mrs Goddard."

After receiving Washington's dismissive letter, she pressed her appeal for reinstatement & for payment of a claim against the United States in both the Senate and House of Representatives. She was unsuccessful in obtaining either compensation or reinstatment.

The 1790 Maryland Census reported she owned four slaves and had one other free person living in her household. From 1790 to 1802, she operated a bookstore in Baltimore.

By the canvass of the 1810 Maryland Census, Mary Katherine Goddard was living with just one female slave in her household. Mary Katherine died in Baltimore in August of 1816, at the age of 78, leaving all her personal possessions & real property to her African American servant Belinda Starling & releasing her from slavery.