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Lady Anne Stewart. oil on canvas by Ann Forbes, 1774. National Gallery of Scotland, NG 2036

Part two of a series

A newspaper ad can be a rickety thing on which to build a persona when it’s not a runaway ad. Those will give you what the person is wearing, who is advertising for them, and sometimes the skills they have. To better understand Elizabeth Weed, I turned to genealogical and contextual research.

George Weed’s estate was settled by Elijah Weed, his son by his first wife, Esther. Altogether, it was worth £1268.19.7, a considerable sum in 1777. Granted, £775 was book debt, but that cash could be called in. The remainder consisted of £132.15.2 in Medicines etc.,£100 cash, and £261.3.9 in Goods and Chattels. Of this estate, widow Elizabeth kept £55.8.3 in Goods and Chattels, all of the Medicines etc. and £50 in cash. That’s all of the medicines, 20% of the value of the “Goods and Chattels,” and half the liquid cash of the estate. This would certainly provide the supplies and capital necessary to continue the pharmacy business.

Morris, Margaret Hill, 1737?-1816., Margaret Morris / Morris Smith, pinx’t ; eng. by J.M. Butler. Library Company of Philadelphia.

But what was life like as a woman in business? How many women were in business in Philadelphia in the last quarter of the 18th century? More than you would think– mostly as shopkeepers selling dry goods, some as tavern keepers, and others as nurses, midwives, and healers, including women acting as pharmacists and “doctresses.” Patricia Cleary’s article “‘She Will Be in the Shop’: Women’s Sphere of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia and New York” published in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography Vol.CXIX,No. 3 (July 1995) was particularly helpful in understanding women in trade.

Another useful resource was Susan Brandt’s “‘Getting into a Little Business’: Margaret Hill Morris and Women’s Medical Entrepreneurship during the American Revolution,” published in Early American Studies, Vol. 13, Number 4 (Fall 2015). Margaret Hill Morris practiced as a pharmacist and healer in Burlington, New Jersey, worried lest she “spunge” off her relatives, and anxious to support herself as a widow with a son. (Morris was the sixth daughter of Dr. Richard Hill of Philadelphia, and presumably learned some of her trade from him. Quaker women were well-educated, and participated in the scientific and philosophical life of the city. )

Brandt’s article raised helpful questions to ponder: would Elizabeth Weed have taken food and firewood in barter for medicines? During the Occupation of Philadelphia, food was scarce and exorbitantly priced, and she was feeding not just herself but also her son George, born in 1774. How difficult was it to obtain medicinal supplies when the harbor remained closed (in part because of chevaux des frises built by Thomas Nevell)? When patriots fled the city ahead of the British, did Weed’s trade suffer? Did she conduct business with the British, and how did her friends and neighbors react if she did? Only some of those questions can ever be answered. For the rest– about Weed’s particular business– we can only make inferences based on other accounts.