GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To be sold at publick vendue … PART of a TOWN LOT … WILLIAM EWEN, Vendue-master.”
I found this advertisement interesting because of William Ewen, the “Vendue-master,” which means that auctioned the house and lot. Before he became an auctioneer he had done other significant things in Georgia. He was probably born in England, but moved to Georgia as an indentured servant around the age of fourteen. The Board of Trustees of the colony purchased his indenture and had him work in the store the chief magistrate ran. After his indentured ended, he was awarded land and wanted to try out farming. He failed at farming, causing him to lose his land. Afterwards he worked with settlers in Georgia called Malcontents, who were against the trustees. He became the voice and leader of the Malcontents, paving the way for a successful future.
William Ewen became a “commissioner for the town of Ebenezer, superintendent for Savannah, and later vendue master, or auctioneer for the colony” of Georgia. Last but not least, one of his most significant achievements was being a patriotic leader during the American Revolution. “[N]ews of the Stamp Act (1765) reached the colony and ignited a revolutionary movement, with Ewen at the forefront.” Ewen later served as the first president of the Georgia Council of Safety. It’s really interesting to know that a name from a small advertisement leads to a person who had a major impact on his colony.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Yesterday I expressed frustration that an employment advertisement teased modern readers by offering just enough information to reveal some aspects of household management and gender roles in colonial South Carolina yet not enough information to answer some of the questions it raised. The advertiser had not even signed the notice, inserting “Apply to the Printer” instead, eliminating other means of investigating the particular circumstances of the family who sought a young woman to work as housekeeper, wait on young ladies, and oversee slaves.
Today’s advertisement, on the other hand, carried the signature of “WILLIAM EWEN, Vendue-master.” In his research, Patrick discovered that the local auctioneer was actually a prominent local official who, within the next ten years, would be at the forefront of the Georgia’s patriots at the beginning of the American Revolution.
As the project manager for the Adverts 250 Project during the time that my students serve as guest curators I do not choose which aspects of the advertisements they will research. I discuss possibilities with them. I point them to sources that might be helpful, especially when they identify a particular interest. In many cases, however, I do not find out how they have approached an advertisement until they submit the first draft of their entry for it.
That being the case, I did not know that Patrick intended to do a biographical sketch of William Ewen until he submitted a draft. I was not previously familiar with Ewen, but I considered his story interesting and important. (This happens when I work with newspapers from cities and towns that are less familiar to me than Philadelphia, the focus of much of my earlier research. I am grateful, for instance, whenever J.L. Bell, who knows eighteenth-century Boston as if he lived there himself, provides additional information of the people who appeared in advertisements from that city.) I suggested to Patrick that he eliminate some other material and expand his treatment of Ewen.
I appreciate Patrick’s approach to the advertisement. Given the nature of my research, I tend to focus on the appeals in advertisements more than the biographies of the people. Like every other student who has worked on this project, Patrick has applied his own creativity and curiosity to ask other sorts of questions. Having my students work as guest curators on the Adverts 250 Project is intended to be a learning experience for them. I’m fortunate that they also make it a learning experience for me.