GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Wants a Place, A Young Woman that is capable to attend Children.”
A woman looking for placement was not an uncommon thing in early American newspapers. Young women usually would look to be a housekeeper or cook, to care for children, or assist the women of the house. This young woman described her skills as “capable to attend Children, make up small Clothes,” and be all around helpful to the family. Our generation would describe her as a nanny.
In the American colonies, the number of servants a family had often depended on their economic status. Like the size and grandeur of a family’s house, the number of servants could be a status symbol. Not much has changed today.
For me, this advertisement was also an interesting find because normally the New-York Gazette published on Mondays. This week they published both a Monday (February 17) and a Tuesday (February 18) edition, which is were I found this advertisement. Normally for the Adverts 250 Project I would have had to go back to a Monday edition, but for this week I did not have to.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
“Not much has changed today.” Indeed, conspicuous consumption was not an invention of the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. It existed before the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century and genteel colonists engaged in it as a means of further differentiating themselves from each other as the middling and lower sorts gained greater access to consumer goods throughout the 1700s.
I believe that Elizabeth is the first guest curator to comment explicitly on the methodology used in selecting the featured advertisement for each day. She notes the same methods that I have described elsewhere in extended commentary about the project’s methodology and how it shapes the scope of the project.
As an instructor, this is an important behind-the-scenes element of students’ work. Each guest curator has compiled a census of newspapers published during his or her week based on the calendars generated by Early American Newspapers. As a result of supplements and extraordinary (“extra”) issues as well as publications starting or stopping in response to the Stamp Act or other reasons, the list of newspapers published in one week often differs from the list for the next week.
As Elizabeth indicates, many colonial American newspapers were published at the beginning of the week, on Mondays, but in most weeks no newspapers were printed on Tuesdays. As we examined this more closely, we discovered that William Weyman actually published the New-York Gazette three times during this week in 1766: the regular issue on Monday, February 17; a broadside (one-page) “Extraordinary” issue on Tuesday, February 18; and a two-page “2d Extra” on Friday, February 21.
This was not immediately apparent, however, due to a coding error in the metadata. The two extraordinary issues were treated as one in Early American Newspapers. As I have noted elsewhere, researchers need to be aware of faulty metadata (background information or “data that provides information about other data”) that may lead them to incorrect conclusions about digitized sources.
Elizabeth’s advertisement was actually published in the “2d Extra” on February 21. The February 18 Extraordinary did not include any advertisements. That means that today’s featured advertisement technically departs from the established methodology for this project.
I asked Elizabeth not to edit her original submission when we discovered this. Together we have fast forwarded three days to February 21, but this allows us to make a valuable point about the shortcomings that sometimes emerge when relying on digitized sources.
(Besides, February 18 is my birthday. I’m glad that we found a way to incorporate at least a masthead from a newspaper published 250 years ago on February 18, 1766, into the project.)