What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Would be much obliged to any merchant or others for employment.”
Employment advertisements regularly appeared among advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, and other advertisements in early American newspapers. Colonizers placed notices seeking work while prospective employers alerted readers about opportunities. On November 11, 1772, for instance, the Pennsylvania Journal carried both sorts of notices.
One had a headline that proclaimed “WANTED” in larger font. The anonymous advertiser sought a “Single man, that understands driving a carriage and taking care of horses.” Any candidate “must be well recommended for his honesty and sobriety, as none other need apply.” To learn more, including the identity of the potential employer, the advertisement instructed readers to “enquire of the Printers” of the Pennsylvania Journal or “at the Bar of the London Coffee-House.” Both places served as clearinghouses for information that did not appear in the public prints.
A notice placed by a “YOUNG MAN” who “WANTS EMPLOYMENT” advised that the advertiser considered himself qualified for various positions, including “an assistant in a store, bar-keeper, or steward of a ship.” He boasted that he was “well acquainted with Arithmetick” and “can be well recommended for his honesty and sobriety.” The young man requested that anyone interested in hiring him contact “Mr. Allen Moore, tavern-keeper, Mr. Fegan, store-keeper, store-keeper in Water-Street, Mr. John Cunningham, at the Center-House, on the Commons, or the Printers of this paper.” In so doing, he did the eighteenth-century equivalent of listing his references.
The most extensive of the employment advertisements attempted to play on the sympathy of prospective employers. An anonymous “PERSON residing in this city” reported that he “lately met with real and unavoidable misfortunes.” Furthermore, he had “a large family to support,” compounding his difficulties. To meet his responsibilities, he would be willing to “travel to any part of the continent, or even to the West-Indies, to settle accompts, collect money, &c. &c. for the sake of his family.” The advertiser claimed that he had experience “serv[ing]a respectable body of merchants” in Philadelphia “as their clerk” for several years. He also offered to provide references, declaring that he could “bring sufficient testimonials for his integrity and abilities from some of the first merchants in the city.” He demonstrated his familiarity with how merchants conducted business by instructing prospective employers to “Enquire at the bar of the Coffee-House.” His advertisement, longer than the others, reflected his experience and, likely, his anxiety to secure a position in order to provide for his family.