Tuesday, April 9, 2019

In Business - Boston Shopkeeper Mrs. James Smith (Elizabeth Murray)

Mrs. James Smith (Elizabeth Murray) Boston, 1769, by John Singleton Copley (American artist, Boston, 1738–1815)

Elizabeth Murray was born in & spent the 1st 12 years of her life in Unthank, Scotland, until her older brother James, an up-&-coming merchant, brought her to his new North Carolina home to be his housekeeper. In this capacity, Murray learned the attendant responsibilities, such as "keeping accounts with local merchants & vendors, selecting & purchasing the items needed for household consumption, overseeing the work of any servants, & performing numerous chores associated with housecleaning & preparing food & clothing" 

At 17, she moved with James & his new bride to London, where Murray saw the city bustling with shop-owning women who sold wide arrays of cloth & other popular goods from all over the world. Also, London, offered her a chance to see the latest fashions in ladies' clothing. Sailing back to America, the Murrays stopped in Boston, where Elizabeth Murray, now 23, decided to stay in the bustling commercial hub to open her own shop. Because many urban women were running taverns & small schools, it was considered an appropriate extension of women's acceptable domestic duties to support themselves through businesses they ran out of their homes.

Backed by her brother's mercantile connections in Great Britain, Elizabeth established credit in the commercial world & was able to sell the latest fashions from London in her Boston shop. She advertised in local newspapers, such as the Boston Gazette & the Boston Evening-Post, showcasing both her world-class ladies' apparel & her talents as a teacher of "Needle Works." Additionally, Elizabeth allowed her female students to board with her, to supplement her income. After a trip to London to make more business connections, Elizabeth returned to Boston & sent for James' daughter Dolly, wanting to give her the chance to pursue the "superior educational opportunities" in the northern city. Dolly worked under both Elizabeth & other local women to gain an education in arithmetic, shop-keeping, reading, & sewing.

In 1755, Elizabeth married trader & ship's captain, Thomas Campbell, thereby trading in her status as an independent single woman for the protection (& legal limitations) of couverture. Their union signified a business partnership, in which Thomas handled the larger commercial transactions, while Elizabeth only ran the shop. Additionally, she became part of a female network of shop-owners & teachers in Boston with whom she interacted & traded services with daily. However, by the age of 32, Elizabeth became widowed, when Thomas unexpectedly died of the measles in 1759.

By 1760, Elizabeth married for a 2nd time to a wealthy, elderly widower named James Smith, who would change her financial status for the rest of her life. Under an unusual 18C prenuptial agreement, James stipulated that she would not be rendered personally, legally, or financial dependent under couverture. This meant that Elizabeth would be allowed to keep all of her own money that she had earned as a shopkeeper, & would be entitled to 1/3 of his considerable estate, if he died before her. Because of their wealth, both Elizabeth & James stopped working & enjoyed a leisurely life in Brush Hill, outside of Boston. She did, however, continue to teach women the ways of shop-keeping & other business ventures, financially helping out young women like her nieces Dolly, Betsy, & Anne, as well as local up-&-coming merchants like Ame & Elizabeth Cumings. 

In the summer of 1769, Elizabeth Murray cared for her aging, infirm husband, James Smith, who died in early August. Shortly thereafter, the new widow began to make plans for a trip to England & Scotland. During these preparations, she sat for the above portrait by the renowned Boston-born artist John Singleton Copley. One of the colonies' most talented artists, Copley left America permanently in 1774, & settled in England.

For the rest of the story, see See: Patricia Cleary's Elizabeth Murray: A Woman's Pursuit of Independence in Eighteenth-Century America, 2000