Date of Award

Spring 1998

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

W Jeffrey Bolster


The Hudson-Mohawk frontier of eighteenth-century New York made both a boundary and a meeting place for several cultures. The shops and retail spaces of this borderland provided a common space for the convergence of women and their work with the more visible male-dominated economy. As recorded in local account books, black, white, and Indian women took part in many aspects of local commerce. As retailers, as producers, and as consumers, women participated in the world of business and accounts.

Settled in the seventeenth-century by the Dutch, this part of New York had long been occupied by Iroquoian tribes. Trade between these groups was the backbone of the frontier economy and remained so well into the eighteenth century, even after the influx of Anglo-Americans had begun to dilute the local Dutch culture. Among the black and white people who lived in Albany, Schenectady, and the Mohawk Valley between 1740 and 1780, Indians remained a familiar, though always potentially dangerous, presence. Despite tensions between the various cultures, the commercial economy of borderland New York included the work of both men and women of white, black, and Indian peoples. The character of this work conformed to the specific conditions of the economy, drawing from a commerce based on an evolving trade with the backcountry. Family conditions and life-cycle interacted with changing mercantile conditions to determine the work experiences of individual women.

The world outside the retail stores was not a placid one. Instead, wars, demographic upheaval, and economic change rocked local society. Women living through these conditions needed to regularly make corrections in their work and their social habits, in order to maintain any sort of economic equilibrium. As the term "silent partners" implies, women played an important and largely overlooked role in the functioning of the New York economy. The elasticity of roles required to deal with changes of the moment drew from the traditions of women's work. This was true not only for the women of Dutch and English backgrounds, but for those of African-American and Native-American heritage as well. The women of frontier New York coped with the difficulties of war and a transfigured commerce, by applying customary work to address new economic concerns.