What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“BOYS and GIRLS to be bound out in Town or Country … as Apprentices.”
In today’s advertisement the Overseers of the Poor issued a call for provisions at the “WORK HOUSE,” an establishment also known as the almshouse, the poorhouse, or, sometimes, the bettering house. The men, women, and children who resided there were known as inmates.
Towns in New England and elsewhere throughout the American colonies devised various methods of dealing with poor residents. Sometimes they provided “outdoor relief” via officials known as the Overseers of the Poor, funded by taxes. Under that system, the Overseers of the Poor gave money, food, clothing, or other goods directly to impoverished residents. In contrast, “indoor relief” took an institutional approach, requiring recipients of aid to enter a workhouse. Several historians, including Billy G. Smith, have noted that the proportion of colonists who relied on public relief increased in the 1760s, especially in urban centers, due in part to the disruptions of the Seven Years War. A feminization of poverty occurred as the war made wives into widows who could not support themselves and their children.
Many colonists who paid taxes preferred workhouses over outdoor relief, considering them less expensive to maintain. Towns also became more stringent in their residency requirements for receiving aid, choosing instead to “warn off” indigents.
The advertisement concludes with a nota bene informing readers that children in the workhouse could be “bound out in Town or Country … as Apprentices.” The Overseers of the Poor hoped that this might decrease their expenses while also helping boys and girls develop skills that would later allow them to pursue occupations and support themselves in adulthood rather than relying on additional public aid.
Perhaps some of the goods advertised elsewhere in the newspaper were among the “Provisions of any Kind” that residents of Portsmouth were encouraged to either donate to the workhouse or turn over in lieu of taxes.