J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, January 04, 2016

“He shall not be tho’t disagreeable by any Lady”

In Customs and Fashions in Old New England (1894), Alice Morse Earle wrote that this advertisement appeared in the Boston Evening-Post on 23 Feb 1759:

To the LADIES.

ANY young Lady, between the Age of Eighteen and Twenty-three of a middling Stature; brown Hair; regular Features, and with a lively brisk Eye: of good Morals, and not tinctur’d with any Thing that may sully so distinguishable a Form; possessed of 3 or 400l. entirely at her own Disposal, and where there will be no necessity of going thro’ the tiresome Talk of addressing Parents or Guardians for their Consent: such an one, by leaving a Line directed for A. W. at the British Coffee House in Kingstreet, appointing where an Interview may be had, will meet with a Person who flatters himself he shall not be tho’t disagreeable by any Lady answering the above description.

N. B. Profound Secrecy will be observ’d. No trifling Answers will be regarded.
Boston, Feb. 23, 1759.
Since then, the text of the ad has been requoted in many books, often said to be an example of an early singles ad. Unfortunately, Earle’s reference was erroneous.

Though the advertisement is dated “Feb. 23” at the bottom, it actually appeared in the issue of the Boston Evening-Post published on February 26.

We’re happy to clear up that confusion. (We also corrected the capitals and punctuation.)

This newspaper item has a literary pedigree as well. Nathaniel Hawthorne alluded to it in his essay “Old News,” published in the New-England Magazine in 1835. He posited that the author was “a threadbare lieutenant of foot.”

I wonder if the ad was placed to tease an “A. W.” who frequented the British Coffee-House, lampooning his expressed tastes.

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