This introduction places six articles in the context of three overlapping issues in the economic history of women's lives before 1820. Considered together, the authors have situated their case studies within the long-term development of a domestic North American and wider Atlantic world economy growing enormously during this era. Secondly, the introduction elaborates on how the six essays situate women's economic lives in the dramas of consumer, transportation, and market revolutions transforming the colonies and nation. Thirdly, the introduction reviews the wider historiographical insights that have governed our perspectives about women's economic lives and points to ways that these six case studies help extend and change long-standing views.
Ideologies of gender and ideologies of exchange came together in complex and contradictory ways to construct the Anglo-American marketplace. Poor and wealthy women alike had access to New York City markets, yet their trading activities exposed them to markedly different dangers. Court records, both civil and criminal, demonstrate the extent to which poor and enslaved women traded in an "informal economy". The business papers of three middling and elite white women reveal a different world in which women traded both locally and internationally. In both social strata, however, women's legal and economic practices both overrode and were constrained by the common-law fiction of coverture. Examining women's trading networks within and beyond the limits of the family shows many ways that female status helped and hindered their trading activities.
Using court civil records and business documents, this paper argues that women in the urban ports of Charleston, South Carolina and Newport, Rhode Island, were central to an Atlantic service economy. The work of white and black women, who performed similar tasks for a wide range of customers, was driven by the people and goods circulating around the Atlantic Ocean in the late eighteenth and early nineteeth centuries. The Atlantic world's distinctive patterns created new possibilities and new vulnerabilities for women in the urban economy.
This article explores connections between female consumer activity, male household authority, and concerns regarding the survival of the republic in late eighteenth, early nineteenth-century New England. Newspaper essays warning of the dire individual and national consequences of excessive female consumerism and husbands' newspaper advertisements accusing their wives of excessive spending reveal a contest within New England households over control of economic resources, the extent and meaning of women's consumer activities, and the implications of these activities for the nation. Wives' consumer spending challenged their husbands' authority and could threaten the men's position as economically independent citizens. Many New Englanders feared that women's spending would disrupt male household authority and undermine the success of the new republic.
In 1845, after almost a dozen years in business as a Boston mantuamaker, Rebecca Goodwin Major closed up shop. Of the thousands of women who had made clothing for women over the city's two-hundred-year history, she was the very last to call herself a mantuamaker in the pages of the city directory, as the term dressmaker took hold. That semantic event offers a point of departure from which to explore both continuity and change among urban artisans; Ithis study considers some 640 Boston women who identified themselves as mantuamakers or dressmakers in the pages of the city directory between 1789 (the first year a directory appeared) and 1845 (the last year the term mantuamaker appears in that source), as well as a handful of other women known mainly from newspapers, tax records, and indentures. Using this date to explore relationships among aspiring and practicing craftswomen; networks grounded in family; geographies large and small; and the larger world of women active in commercial Boston, the study sketches the changing shape of this trade among Boston women.
The court records of Albemerle, North Carolina during the years of proprietorship from 1663-1729, reveal subtle examples of Carolina women participation in early ecolonial economic affairs. Debt suits and the accompanying surviving accounts show varied economic relationships forged by ordinary keeps and merchants wives in the community and speaks to the diversity of experience in colonial women's lives. The relatively strong presence of women in local economic affairs during the late seventeenth century reinforces the existence of a greater degree of fluidity in gender roles than generally attributed to colonial women in the eighteenth century and places women more centrally in the local economic, legal, and political affairs in the colonies.
This study analyzes gender and headship in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake using data from a unique census gathered in Maryland in 1776. The data are organized around individual planter-households and permit us to address important evidence related to female headship and the status of planter wives. In the eighteenth century, the household served as the center of production and reproduction. Control over household labor and resources translated into status and power or it signaled the very real risk of poverty. In this study, we examine four types of female headship and the economic status of their households in eighteenth-century Chesapeake. The first group is white adult women. Analyzing the household demographic structure of both white female and male headed-household provided clues to the circumstances surrounding their headship and the independence headship brought to a limited number of white females. Comparing patterns of wealth holding in the form of land and slaves helped to assess the extent to which white female heads faced a high risk of poverty. The second group of interest is free black female heads and their experience revealed the role that race played in eighteenth-century headship. To what extent did the experiences of free blacks mirror or differ from those of white householders? A further section discusses headship among never-married males and females who controlled twenty-two percent of the plantations in Harford County, Maryland. The final group that deserves our attention is the planter wives. Studying the productive and reproductive experiences of the planter wife will shed light on the extent they, as "co-heads," shared an informal equality with their husbands in plantation management.
A significant fraction of New York City burned in the early morning hours of September 21, 1776, six days after the British army had occupied the city during the Revolutionary War. This paper examines the evidence to determine the cause of the fire, and argues that Patriots were responsible. Loyalists and British military men were almost unanimous in their conviction that American rebels had torched the city on their way out, but the rebels insisted that the fire had been an accident. Before the fire, General Nathanael Greene argued that destroying the city was strategically essential, but the Continental Congress was unwilling to risk the new nation's reputation, and ordered General George Washington to leave the city intact. Since the war, American historians have accepted these denials (and subsequent Patriot propaganda) and avoided attributing the fire to Patriot spies or civilian sympathizers. Rather than admit to burning towns, the Patriots concealed their actions to contemporaries and for posterity.
Manhood in early America was not always about competition; it could also be complementary, especially in the case of brothers. This article examines the correspondence of Washington's Secretary of War, Timothy Pickering, and his brother John. Through their letters, the two men demonstrated manhood in radically different ways, seeking each other's approval of their performance of self-mastery, public service, economic independence, and care of family.