Every now and then, I reach the dammit! point of my research, where I am forced to realize that Everything I Assumed Was Wrong. I try to make those moments a cause for celebration, even though they’re often deeply frustrating. Do not pass GO, Do not collect $200, Go directly to the Library.
Well… Boston ain’t London. And the North American colonies ain’t Great Britain. The business structure, the size of the cities, is different. Distribution of goods is different, thanks to tariffs and non-import/export laws. Which means?
Peddling. It’s not a thing. Or it’s a very difficult thing to document.
Which means that all the things I’d thought about doing for the Massacre (day or night) are probably wrong. (Remember, this is when we celebrate!)
Hey, I’m not the only one rethinking my approach.
But there it is: I’ve looked in the Boston Selectmen’s Minutes for 1768-1771, and while there is plenty of small pox (yay!) and many lemons being imported (yay! punch!) and there are licenses being granted for selling strong drink in inns and houses, there are no peddlers licenses. There are no licenses for street vendors of any kind. Hmmmm….
I’ve also read the Dublin Seminar publications Itinerancy in New England and New York (1984) and Life on the Streets and Commons, 1600 to the Present (2005). Not looking good here for street vendors and hawkers pre-1800.
While I never particularly trust early 20th century monographs and articles without footnotes, the somewhat entertaining Hawkers & walkers in early America : strolling peddlers, preachers, lawyers, doctors, players, and others, from the beginning to the Civil War informed me that street vending was not common in North American British Colonies, and in fact, was not commonly seen until after 1800.
What the ever-loving heckers?
I found peddlers’ licenses in Philadelphia for 1770: all men. But so far, nothing in Providence, Boston, or Newport (or Connecticut). The theory is that itinerant sales people didn’t pay taxes the way merchants did, and that merchants therefore lobbied against them. In Providence, the earliest mention I’ve found thus far is a lobster and fish man at the Great Bridge in 1818.
Just as the watch of Boston differed from the watch in London, so too, it seems, did the petty retailers. I still can’t quite believe there were no street peddlers and hawkers in colonial cities, but I’ll need a new way to approach this question.
Donah Zack Beale said:
I agree with you that there probably were peddlers…maybe court records trying folks for doing so without permit?
Possibly: searching the Boston and Massachusetts records, and Rhode Island, too (since I work between both states sometimes). The things I consistently find are mentions of licenses and sales of strong drink, and mentions of dealing with the indigent– mostly by sending them out of town, frequently to Philadelphia from Boston.
I dare put forth that many of the smaller towns and market had people without stalls, ie: street peddling. Perhaps many crossroads markets have have been too small for a stringent licensing structure?
Context, as always, is everything, isn’t it? I think in towns like Providence and Boston, where structures exist like the Market House and Faneuil Hall, we may see a very different structure than might exist in smaller places like East Greenwich or Natick, Mass. So there are probably many questions to be asked, and the answers are location- and time-specific.
Tyler Putman said:
Thanks for an interesting post! This got me to rethink my assumptions about New England peddlers, which was based, I think, on articles like David Jaffee’s “Peddlers of Progress.” and his book, A New Nation of Goods. Indeed, most of his evidence and that of others comes from the later, “early republic” period.
But I also got curious and punched in some keywords to the “America’s Historical Newspapers” database (sadly a subscription one) and the results were interesting: very few for “peddler,” some for “hawker,” but lots for “pedlar.” I thought I would share some particularly interesting examples:
“The Laws in New-Jersey, relating to Pedlars, have for a long Time been neglected, or little regarded, in Consequence whereof, the Number of that sort of People are greatly increased in the Province…” printed as “Mr. Parker,” The New-York Gazette, 10-8-1750, page 1.
“And whereas some Persons import Goods contrary to Agreement, and vend the same throughout this Province by Means of Pedlars. 4thly. Voted, that we will not buy of any Pedlar…” Resolution of citizens Taunton, MA printed as “Extract of a Letter…” Supplement to the Boston-Gazette, &c. 6-4-1770, page 4.
“Broke out of the gaol in York-Town, on Saturday evening the 8th of this instant December, a certain Mark McCasline, a Pedlar…” printed as “Three Pounds Reward,” The Pennsylvania Gazette, 12-20-1770, page 4.
“We hear from Montague, that one of the inhabitants inadvertently purchased a small quantity of tea of a pedlar…” printed as “Saturday,” The Massachusetts Spy, 2-17-1770, page 2.
“A News Hawker will meet with great Encouragement by applying to the Printer of this Paper,” The Pennsylvania Evening Post, 4-25-1775, page 162.
References increase in the mid-1770s with various resolutions against buying English goods, especially tea, from peddlers.
I don’t think this really helps your particular case. After all, these references (and most of the others I found) were for places other than Boston (and notably more rural areas), in years other than 1770, and none referenced female peddlers. But I think they do demonstrate that peddling was pretty common in the colonies in the years before the Revolution. The interesting question is whether peddlers were more often the way goods made it to rural areas rather than the sort of urban, itinerant street sellers we all know and love from Cries of London etc.
Looking forward to hearing about the Massacre event,
Thanks, Tyler! I recently lost my subscription to America’s Historical Newspapers, and it’s rather hampering. I think your point here is key:
The interesting question is whether peddlers were more often the way goods made it to rural areas rather than the sort of urban, itinerant street sellers we all know and love from Cries of London etc.
The model “Yankee peddler” we’ve come to associate with New England in the early 19th century is the means of distributing goods in rural communities. So it’s a dispersal of goods, rather than selling in the concentrated areas. I still get hung up on egg selling, say, and how that worked, but knowing that urban (Providence) inventories included cows another livestock makes me believe that food was easier to come by in the American colonial and early federal urban centers than in, say, London or other English urban centers.
I’ve started reading the Boston Town Records and have come upon a man chosen by the town as “scavinger,” and wonder very much if that’s the equivalent to our trash men. It doesn’t help my peddling question, except that it suggests a possible alternative to the rag and bone men of London. So much to wonder about, so many details!
Nicole Belolan said:
As always, a compelling read! Perhaps this is a tangent, but your comment about food accessibility brought to mind a recent article. Perhaps you’re already familiar with it. If not, you may be interested in Emma Hart’s article in the new William & Mary Quarterly: “From Field to Plate: The Colonial Livestock Trade and the Development of an American Economic Culture.” You can find an abstract here: http://oieahc.wm.edu/wmq/Jan16/abstracts.html#hart She compares the English and American contexts for the trade in cows in particular.
Thank you so much for the link! We actually get William and Mary Quarterly at work, though I never have time to read it. (The librarians do point out anything on pestilence to me, of course….)
Food is a tangent, but a worthwhile one, I think, having just read through the Boston records about forestalling goods at Faneuil Hall Market in 1769/1770. It’s an entirely new dimension to the urban landscape, and really exciting for me to think about, as we work to connect the JBHM more closely to the landscape of RI and Providence.
hallie larkin said:
Don’t give up yet. I actually found references to peddlers,hawkers and petty chapman in the Connecticut Currant, Sept 1770, in the negative proscription against buying from instead of the positive such as a license. This article is rallying support for non importation of goods “that they labour to convince every inhabitant of this Colony of the Inexpediency and Danger in purchasing Goods of Hawkers, Pedlars, or petty Chapman”. New York in an effort to discourage unlicensed peddlers etc actually published a list of names for public shaming. June 7 1771, New York Gazette, Treasurers’ Office . “Whereas complaint has been made to me that many persons go from place to place in this colony, and trade as pedlars, hawkers and petty chapman, without license for that purpose.”
Oh, I never give up! It’s more a matter of looking in more places, and trying to stay focused. (What time did selling begin and end? Was that regulated? By whom? What differences existed between CT/RI/MA?)
Thanks very much for the tips, they’re very useful– negative proscriptions sometimes more so than positive ones.
Mackenzie Sholtz said:
May want to look further south, say Charleston, SC or Wilmington, NC…southern customs do differ from New England ones; and alas, not much research is on the internet about this.
Nor is there a satisfactory amount of published research on this– at least not to the level of detail I’d like! And, sadly, those southern customs are different from the habits of New England, especially when you factor in race *and* gender. Much to ponder!
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