A Philadelphia Milliner

The bones of Ann Pearson’s story are few: she advertised as a milliner in Philadelphia between 1765 and 1772; she married James Sparks in 1772; she owned property on 2nd Street between High Street and Chestnut Street, for which she bought fire insurance between 1769 and 1772. She shared the millinery business with her sister, Mary until her marriage to William Symonds in 1765, when they split the business, and Mary began advertising as Mary Symonds.

Ann Pearson Sparks

Mary was born in 1732 and married at the age of 33. If Ann married at a similar or even later age, she was born sometime between 1733 and 1739. A few more clues can be found in the abstract of Mary Symond’s will: the family included brothers Henry and James Pearson, and sisters Ann Pearson, Catherine Pearson, and Elizabeth Reynolds, and brother [sic] James Reynolds. Reynolds was a carver and gilder working in Philadelphia, originally from London, who arrived in Philadelphia around 1765. Reynolds traveled between the two cities on the Mary & Elizabeth, a 180-ton brig owned by a Quaker partnership and captained by James Sparks.  Mary and Ann Pearson also sailed on the Mary & Elizabeth, which was known for her speedy voyages and genteel table. From 1765 to 1772, Ann probably sailed alone, which allowed her to know James Sparks without a sister present– and she lived next door to a property he owned. How did she decide to marry him? What servant did she employ? We know that Sparks employed a servant, Jacob Fress, who arrived in Philadelphia from Rotterdam on December 31, 1772, just weeks after the couple married. 

What was it like when Ann lived alone at [22] Second Street, in the three-story house with a wooden piazza and kitchen behind? What were her days like, where did she go, who came to call, was her home more workspace or salesroom? 

It is likely that her ground floor was a workspace, with a front room for display and work with a parlor behind, while the second floor held bedrooms (chambers) for family and visitors, with the third floor housing garrets for servants and storage. James Reynolds’ estate inventory of 1794 hints at the spacial arrangement and furnishings Ann Pearson might have had, given that the inventory proceeds room by room, a spacial and material reckoning of Reynolds’ life and work. The first room on his inventory is the Ware Room, entered from the street, home to 297 looking glasses and “different Sizes  fram’d.”