April 12

GUEST CURATOR:  Sean Sullivan

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

Apr 12 - 4:12:1768 Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote
“An apprentice is needed for this well and fin occupation. Those interested should inquire of the publisher of this paper.” Wochenlichte Philadelphische Staatsbote (April 12, 1768).

“Es Verlangt Jemand Einen Lehrburschen.”

In contemporary America where all those of European descent are typically simply labeled under the moniker of ‘white,’ we can forget that the diversity of European cultures present during the colonial period was often a defining aspect of people’s lives. Settlers from different places in Europe brought their own traditions, aesthetics, Christian denominations, and, most importantly, languages to the colonies they considered a new world. In Pennsylvania, Germans left an indelible mark on colonial culture. Such was the scope of German immigration to the British colonies that newspapers such as the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote sprung up to cater to the large German-speaking population.

The advertisement shown above asked for an apprentice, likely one for the paper itself. The very act of putting out such an advertisement indicates that there was a large enough German-speaking population (of youths in particular, as apprentices would themselves be in their teenage years) that an advertisement in this newspaper would be worth the cost and would likely ensure a response. This advertisement also implies that business was good enough between the newspaper and job printing that the printer needed more assistance, a likely case given the sheer magnitude of the number of Germans in Pennsylvania in this period.

For more information, see “German Settlement in Pennsylvania:  An Overview” from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania with the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Today Sean introduces the first advertisement from a German-language newspaper featured on the Adverts 250 Project, noting that a substantial population of German migrants to Pennsylvania established their its own newspapers and participated in shaping colonial culture and commerce.  The Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbotewas not the only German-language newspaper that served that community in 1768.  The Germantowner Zeitungalso disseminated news and advertising to colonists who spoke German rather than English.

Yet those titles represent only a fraction of the more than two dozen German-language newspapers published in Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century.  See the list below, compiled from Clarence Brigham’s monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, for a complete census of known German-language newspapers founded prior to 1800.  Nine were founded prior to the American Revolution, another four during the years of the war, and the remaining thirteen after independence had been achieved. The Harrisburger Morgenröthe Zeitung continued publication well into the nineteenth century, demonstrating that German migrants and their descendants continued to maintain their own language and some aspects of their culture even as they participated in creating a distinctive American identity in the era of the early republic.  This series of newspapers testifies to the presence of German migrants in colonial America.  German settlers in Pennsylvania were among the many ethnic groups other than the English that made a home in England’s North American colonies.

  • Philadelphische Zeitung, 1732
  • [Germantown] Hoch-Deutsch Pensylvanische Geschicht-Schreiber, 1739-1746
  • [Germantown] Pensylvanische Berichte, 1746-1762
  • Philadelphier Teutsche Fama, 1749-1751
  • Lancastersche Zeitung, 1752-1753
  • [Philadelphia] Hoch Teutsche und Englische Zeitung, 1751-1752
  • Germantowner Zeitung, 1762-1777
  • [Philadelphia] Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, 1762-1779
  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche, 1766
  • [Philadelphia] Pennsylvanische Staats-Courier, 1777-1778
  • [Lancaster] Pennsylvanische Zeitungs-Blat, 1778
  • Philadelphisches Staatsregister, 1779-1781
  • [Philadelphia] Gemeinnützige Philadelphische Correspondenz, 1781-1790
  • Germantauner Zeitung, 1785-1799
  • [Lancaster] Neue Unpartheyische Lancaster Zeitung, 1787-1797
  • [Reading] Neue Unpartheyische Readinger Zeitung, 1789-1802
  • [Philadelphia] General-Postbothe, 1790
  • [Chestnut Hill] Chesnuthiller Wochenschrift, 1790-1796
  • [Philadelphia] Neue Philadelphische Correspondenz, 1790-1812
  • [Easton] Neuer Unpartheyischer Eastoner Bothe, 1793-1805
  • [York] Unpartheyische York Gazette, 1796-1804
  • [Philadelphia] Pensylvaniche Correspondenz, 1797-1800
  • [Lancaster] Deutsche Porcupein, 1798-1799
  • Lancaster Wochenblatt, 1799
  • [York] Volks-Bericher, 1799-1803
  • Harrisburger Morgenröthe Zeitung, 1799-1820+

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:20:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1767).

“He keeps neither negroes nor apprentices, but hires white journeymen.”

Donald Harper, a tailor, made a rather unique appeal to prospective customers in an advertisement in the November 20, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Unlike most of his competitors, he mentioned the assistants who worked for him, acknowledging that he was not solely responsible for all the garments produced in his shop. In the process, he underscored that “he keeps neither negroes nor apprentices, but hires white journeymen.”

What was Harper attempting to communicate to potential clients? From the distance of a quarter millennium, the racial aspect of this appeal may seem most prominent. It might be tempting to assume that since being fitted for clothing could be a rather intimate experience that required close personal contact that Harper suspected some customers would prefer not to interact with enslaved assistants. Yet other newspaper advertisements, as well as all kinds of other sources from the period, indicate that colonists had little objection to sharing spaces, even close quarters, with enslaved men, women, and children, provided that contact was temporary and that everyone behaved according to the expectations of prevailing social and racial hierarchies. The same issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, included advertisements for enslaved domestic servants, including seamstresses, cooks, and other “house wenches.” In serving white colonists, slaves became invisible and unremarkable, which would have made Harper’s marketing strategy out of place had his intention been exclusively to promote a workshop free of enslaved workers.

The advertisement might better be understood by noting that Harper relied on the labor of “neither negroes nor apprentices.” Instead, he “hires white journeymen,” an aspect of his business that he connected to clients “being served to their satisfaction” because the journeymen did their work “with the greatest dispatch and in the genteelest manner.” Seen through the eyes of eighteenth-century readers, Harper made an appeal to quality. He did not resort to untrained or barely trained workers, whether enslaved or apprenticed, but instead hired artisans who had demonstrated some level of skill and competence in order to achieve journeyman status. As a result, customers could depend on a certain level of quality when they chose to acquire garments from Harper’s workshop.

January 26

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jan 26 - 1:24:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 24, 1766)

“A Boy 12 or 14 Years old, that can be well Recommended, is wanted as an Apprentice in this Town.  Enquire of the Printer.”

Employment advertisements regularly appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Men and women regularly sought to buy and sell their services and labor or the services, assistance, and labor of others.  In that regard, employment advertisements could be considered variations on advertisements for enslaved people or indentured servants, which also marketed labor.  They are also variations on advertisements that promote the skills and services offered by artisans.  All of these kinds of advertisements often rely on similar language and appeals.

This advertisement seeking an apprentice, though brief, includes one of the standard phrases in notices arranging for an exchange of services:  “well Recommended.”  A person’s reputation in and of itself was an increasingly valuable commodity in the eighteenth century, an attribute that facilitated all kinds of social interactions in addition to commercial exchanges.

I also chose this advertisement because it raises an interesting question.  What kind of trade would the prospective apprentice learn?  “Enquire of the Printer” suggests that he might have learned that trade.  However, it was not uncommon for advertisers to remain anonymous and simply instruct that anybody interested in responding to their notices should “Enquire of the Printer.”

Given its ambiguity, who would have responded to this advertisement?  Some job seekers in the twenty-first century are sometimes willing to try their hand at anything that will give them a chance to gain some experience and make a living.  Perhaps a young man — or his family — adopted a similar approach in New London in the eighteenth century upon seeing an advertisement like this one.

Once again, I find myself intrigued by the partial stories told in the advertisements, wondering about the lives of those who placed and responded to such notices.