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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Saturday, January 05, 2019

“The late Company of Jackson and Charles”

As proprietor of the brazier’s shop at the Sign of the Brazen Head, Mary Jackson managed a largely male staff of colleagues, journeymen, and apprentices.

The probate file for Jackson’s late husband James listed five males questioned about goods in the shop when he died: William Coffin, Benjamin Simons, George Reston, Abraham Bennet, and Isaac Beal (as near I can read the handwriting). The clear implication is that those were employees.

I looked for all five names in my usual places and could find only one, but he was a brazier. Late in the winter of 1737, Coffin took out ads in the Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post to state:
WILLIAM COFFIN, at the Ostrich, near the Draw-Bridge Makes & Sells Mill Brasses, Chambers for Pumps, Brass Cocks of all Sizes, Knockers for Doors, Brasses for Chaises and Sadlers. Brass Doggs of all sorts, Candlesticks, Shovels and Tongs, Small Bells, and all other Sorts of Founders Ware.

Also all sorts of Braziers and Pewterers Ware, Small Stills and Wormes, and all sorts of Plumbers Work; likewise Buys old Copper, Brass, Pewter and Lead.
Coffin had thus gone into business for himself after working for the Jacksons. But he did so up near the border of the North End.

The 29 Nov 1736 Boston Gazette named another expert working in the Jackson shop:
If any Persons desire to know the true Value of Ores, Minerals, or Metals, of what kind soever, may have them justly Essay’s on reasonable Terms, by Robert Baden, at Mrs. Jackson’s Founder, at the Brazen Head in Cornhill, Boston.
Obviously Baden’s expertise as an assayer of metals was helpful for Jackson as well.

Mary Jackson’s most important coworker—legally her partner in the early 1740s—was a man named Robert Charles. I don’t know if he was from New England or Britain. He was in Boston by 1740 when he was initiated into the St. John’s Lodge of Freemasons.

Records shows at least two Massachusetts craftsmen doing business with the firm of Mary Jackson and Robert Charles (with Jackson always listed first as the senior partner). The clockmaker Benjamin Bagnall bought “wire, brass plates, hinges, locks, and escutcheons, as well as ‘Dolphins for Clock,’” between 1739 and 1743, according to Charles L. Venable’s American Furniture in the Bybee Collection. The Dallas Museum of Art has a Bagnall clock featuring just such dolphin ornaments, shown above.

Helen Schatvet Ullmann’s The Pierponts of Roxbury, Massachusetts says that housewright Robert Pierpont bought £14.6.7 worth of “pew hinges, roundhead nails, a hand saw, a penknife, and other items, including a candlestick and a brass skillet.”

We know about the Pierpont purchases because Jackson and Charles took the housewright to court as they settled accounts to split up their business. The Boston Evening-Post for 9 Apr 1744 ran this notice:
Robert Charles, in Copartnership with Mrs. Mary Jackson, being obliged speedily to go for England, hereby desires all Persons that have any Accounts open with the said Copartnership, to come and settle them before he goes, to prevent further Trouble.

N.B. the said Jackson and Charles have a likely Negro Girl about fourteen Years old to dispose of.
That enslaved girl probably worked in the Jackson household. At the time, Mary’s two sons were a little younger than that girl.

It’s not clear if Robert Charles ever made it to England. On 6 Nov 1745, the same probate judge who oversaw the settlement of James Jackson’s estate appointed Mary Jackson an administrator of Charles’s estate. The last reference to the partnership that I’ve found is an announcement in the 6 Oct 1746 Boston Evening-Post:
All Persons that have any Demands on the late Company of Jackson and Charles, are desir’d to bring in their Accounts to Mrs. Mary Jackson, Administratrix, in order to a Settlement; and all those indebted to said Company are desir’d to pay their respective Dues, as they would avoid being sued.
Ten years after her husband’s death, Mary Jackson was once again on her own.

COMING UP: What was on sale at the Brazen Head.

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