January 21

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Georgia Gazette (January 21, 1767).

“He will undertake to fair-copy and engross any deeds.”

Patrick Poulson turned to the advertising section of the Georgia Gazette in his attempts to attract clients in early 1767. He assured readers that he possessed all the necessary skills of a clerk, copyist, and bookkeeper. He could “fair-copy and engross any deeds or instruments whatsoever” and “post and settle merchants books of accompt” as well as “any other business in the way of a scrivener.” In making his pitch, he adapted familiar appeals concerning quality to fit his own profession: he promised “exactness” in the work he did and the documents he created. Attending to legal and financial matters demanded a special attention to detail.

Poulson gave “Publick Notice” to all readers of the Georgia Gazette, seeking clients among local merchants as well as shopkeepers and artisans in Savannah and farmers in the countryside. Considering literacy rates of the period, some among the lower sorts in particular may have possessed special need of his services when it came to producing copies of legal documents. Regardless of their status or occupation, colonists who read Poulson’s advertisement may not have been able to write. The two skills were taught separately in colonial schools, with greater numbers of people learning how to read than to write or do calculations. Schoolmasters often listed the familiar triad of reading, writing, and arithmetic together when they described their curricula in newspaper advertisements, but that did not result in each student developing all three skills to the same extent.

Even colonists who possessed basic writing skills may have turned to Poulson to draft copies of particularly important documents, including various sorts of contracts or deeds that secured their property. His ability to “fair-copy and engross” documents meant that he created formal records in clear, attractive, and possibly large script for clients and witnesses to affix their signatures and, when appropriate, any necessary seals. When he promised prospective customers that “their business shall be dispatched with exactness,” Poulson did not refer to accuracy alone. He also meant the attractiveness and readability of the documents he produced.

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