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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Friday, January 04, 2019

“Mary makes and sells Tea-Kettles and Coffee pots”

As recounted in yesterday’s posting, by the end of 1735 Mary Jackson had reopened her husband James’s braziery shop a few weeks after he died at sea.

Mary Jackson had two sons under age five to provide for, and, according to accounts she later filed to the probate court, a staff of seven dependent on the shop. Plus her husband left well over a thousand pounds in inventory, and well over two thousand pounds in debt. So there were many reasons to make the most of the business.

Given that amount of stock at the Sign of the Brazen Head and the shop’s location near the center of Boston, Jackson immediately became one of the town’s most visible businesswomen.

The best documented “she-merchant” in pre-Revolutionary Boston was Elizabeth Murray, subject of Patricia Cleary’s 2000 biography. Murray opened a millinery shop after arriving from Scotland as a young woman in 1751. She imported the latest dress fashions, cloth, ribbons, and other dry goods, and she gave lessons in genteel embroidery and other skills for girls.

Murray married three times, gaining a great deal of wealth with her second marriage to Isaac Smith, but she was always able to support herself. She used prenuptial agreements to ensure she controlled her own wealth. And she acted as mentor to younger single women in Boston business, such as Janette Day and the Cumings sisters.

Jackson, in contrast, appears to have become a businesswoman by default because of her husband’s death. Furthermore, manufacturing brass hardware was not a traditionally female profession like millinery.

On 11 Oct 1736 Jackson published this advertisement in the Boston Gazette:
MARY JACKSON, at the Brazen-Head, in Cornhill, makes and sells all sorts of Brass and Founders Ware, as Hearths, Fenders, Shovels and Tongs, Hand-Irons, Candlesticks, Brasses for Chaises and Saddles, of the newest Fashion; all sorts of Mill Brasses; Mortars, Cocks, large and small; all sorts of polish’d Brazier’s Ware, at reasonable Rates.

A Quantity of large brown Paper fit for sheathing Ships, to be sold: Likewise buys old Copper, Brass, Pewter, Lead and Iron.
I’ve found a couple of other ads in which Jackson stated in some way that she actually produced the metal goods she sold, such as this line in the 21 June 1750 Boston News-Letter:
Said Mary makes and sells Tea-Kettles and Coffee pots; copper Drinking-pots, brass and copper Sauce-pans, Stew-pans, and Baking-pans; Kettle-pots, and Fish-Kettles.
However, in many more advertisements over the course of twenty years, Mary Jackson emphasized that she sold the hardware and other goods at the Brazen Head. So I’m not sure how hands-on she was in the production of brassware, as opposed to supervising employees’ work, managing imports from Britain, and running the retail shop. Because she was definitely the boss of the enterprise.

TOMORROW: The men who worked for Mary Jackson.

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