Personal Ads, 1800s style
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we are sharing an amusing broadside from the library’s Ephemera Collection.
If the undated document was, as a previous archivist at the DRT Library estimated, printed in the 1870s, preliminary research indicates several broad historical contexts in which the document was written. First, sources demonstrate that men have made public appeals for wives for at least the last three centuries. Specifically, personal ads began appearing as soon as newspapers became common around 1700 and became regular features in the mid-nineteenth century. (Research conducted for this article has not determined the extent to which potential suitors printed independent broadsides like the one above.) Second, courtship rituals and behavior changed during the middle of the nineteenth century for a variety of reasons, including the Civil War. The war and its aftermath affected romantic relationships between men and women in myriad ways.
Determining the particular circumstances surrounding the broadside remain unknown and more substantial research is needed. For example, were the advertisement’s authors entirely serious or were they writing at least partly in jest? How and to what extent did the general contexts described above manifest themselves in Calhoun and Jackson Counties? What other circumstances unique to the area may have affected courtship rituals at the time? Were personal ads printed as broadsides commonplace in southeast Texas following the Civil War or was the broadside above a unique occurrence?
Despite lacking answers to these questions, an examination of the 1880 census for Jackson County reveals some biographical information about men who appear to be many of the broadside’s authors. This data also seems to confirm that the advertisement was printed prior to around 1874.
- Texas native and farmer Leander E. Ward, thirty-one years old, had married a woman named Minnie. In 1880 they had a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. Also living with the family was a boarder, two black servants, and Minnie Ward’s mother and sister.
- George F. Horton, age thirty-nine, was living with his mother and sister and working as a general merchant. Based on a search of the Texas State Archives’ online database of Confederate pensions, Horton may have been a Confederate veteran.
- Kentucky native Abram (possibly Abraham) Owen, age thirty-three, was working as a physician and living with his wife Augusta, their six-year-old son and eight-month-old daughter, and two black servants.
- Frances M. White Jr., age thirty, was a farmer and a native of Texas. He and his wife, whose name was possibly Tabitha or Lalitha, had four children under five years old. A boarder also resided with the family.
- Thirty-four-year-old George S. Gayle was residing in Jackson County with his wife, thirty-three-year-old Regina S. Gayle, and his three children (ages three, two, and one). A boarder, a hired hand, and a black servant also lived with the family. A native of Texas, Gayle was a farmer and possibly a Confederate veteran.
- Thirty-four-year-old Lucky F. Wells, his wife Frances, and their four small children (all under the age of five) were living in the home of Wells’s father-in-law, Thomas S. Sutherland. The household also included six of Frances’s siblings, one employee, and three black servants. Wells was a farmer and a Texas native.
It appears the above broadside had the desired effect for almost all of its authors!