What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Wanted immediately, A CAREFUL MAN as an OVERSEER. … A married man will be most agreeable.”
A week ago I examined another employment advertisement from the Georgia Gazette, noting that while some aspects had not much changed since the colonial period the specification that a single man would make a “more agreeable” candidate for the job than a married applicant would not pass muster today.
Clement Martin also sought to hire an overseer, but, unlike John Simpson, he preferred a married man for the job, indicating that “a married man will be most agreeable, on account of raising poultry, &c.” Martin listed several requirements and responsibilities. In general, he expected his overseer “to settle a plantation” near Savannah. That included managing enslaved laborers, “erecting rough buildings,” “keep[ing] the saws in proper order,” and teaching the enslaved laborers the necessary skills for using the saws.
Clement Martin probably did not expect his overseer to be “raising poultry, &c.” Most likely, he envisioned that such tasks would be undertaken by the wife of the married man that Martin considered “most agreeable.” In effect, he was looking to acquire two employees who would see to the various tasks on his plantation, though he only advertised for an overseer. The unpaid labor that an overseer’s wife provided, such as caring for small livestock or gardening, would be an added bonus to Martin.
Women’s contributions to household economies in the colonial era have sometimes been overlooked or downplayed, especially when they did not earn specific wages or other compensation for their efforts. Today’s advertisement pulls back the curtain just a little, suggesting that sometimes men’s employment was contingent, at least partially, on the mostly unseen and unpaid labor that their wives could provide.