What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“AN OVERSEER … will meet with good encouragement by applying to JOHN SIMPSON.”
When John Simpson needed to hire an overseer he placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to alert potential employees that the position was available. Though brief, a mere five lines, the advertisement demonstrates both continuity and change over time when compared to modern hiring practices.
Simpson listed three necessary qualifications. A qualified overseer “understands his business” and could demonstrate both “fidelity and industry.” In other words, Simpson wanted to hire somebody who possessed expertise (likely gained through experience), who was dependable, and who worked hard. Although the advertisement did not specify, the overseer was probably expected to oversee enslaved laborers as well as other operations on Simpson’s property. To “understand his business” likely included previous experience managing (including disciplining) slaves. To demonstrate their qualifications, applicants needed to “bring proper vouchers” that stated they fulfilled these qualifications. Letters of introduction in eighteenth-century America played a similar role to letters of recommendation today.
Simpson also included an additional preference, though it was not a requirement for obtaining the position. It would be “more agreeable” for prospective overseers to be single men. Simpson did not explain why he considered this “more agreeable,” but it may have been linked to the “fidelity and industry” that could be expected of the overseer. Perhaps Simpson assumed (or had learned by experience) that single men devoted more time, energy, and attention to their work in the absence of distractions caused by wives and families. In addition, if an overseer was expected to live on the property, Simpson may have been concerned about incorporating any dependents the operations.
Whatever Simpson’s reason for finding it “more agreeable” to hire an unmarried man, that he specified any preferred marital status at all makes this notice incongruous with modern employment advertisements that make no reference at all to various personal attributes that have no bearing on an individual’s ability to do the job.