Historians have long recognized the prominent role women played in vending food and fuel on the streets of early modern towns, but huckstering was a profitable part-time trade that attracted men as well as women. Indeed, there were probably more male than female hucksters operating in Southampton and other towns. While many scholars have been skeptical of the commercial opportunities open to street traders, hucksters, far from being under the thumb of exploitive suppliers, were sharp and independent, and adept at using their status as wholesale buyers to obtain goods at discount and sell them for profit. As an analysis of the presentments of Southampton’s court leet shows, not only was huckstering a difficult commerce to constrain, but town authorities were loath to deny wives and widows one of the few trades they could practice in order to support themselves and their families.
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