June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:20:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 20, 1766).

“RUN away … an apprentice boy named RAINES TUCKER.”

It was easy to spot the advertisements for runaway slaves in the Virginia Gazette. Most had a woodcut of a slave in the upper left corner, announcing the content of the advertisement before subscribers even read a single word.

Advertisements for other sorts of runaways were much less likely to be adorned with a woodcut, yet slaves were not the only people who ran away from their masters in eighteenth-century America. An assortment of unfree labor statuses existed in colonial America, including slaves, indentured servants, and apprentices.

The life of an apprentice could be difficult. Although part of his master’s household during the years that he learned his trade, an apprentice was not necessarily treated as part of the family. Sometimes apprentices were not provided the same quality of food, clothing, or shelter as the master’s wife, children, and other members of the household. Masters often set strict rules for their apprentices and monitored their activities during what little free time they were allowed. Some masters also used corporal punishment to discipline apprentices. On occasion, apprentices accused masters of exploiting them for their labor but not teaching them all the aspects of their craft. Such masters, they claimed, kept apprentices dependent and subservient by withholding the complete education they were supposed to provide.

What was the relationship like between Robert Jones and his runaway apprentice, Raines Tucker? What prompted Tucker to run away? Today’s advertisement does not reveal those answers, but it does tell us that for some reason Tucker chose to depart before he completed his apprenticeship. It also tells us that unfree laborers of various sorts resorted to running away.

June 13

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

Jun 13 - 6:13:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 13, 1766).

“BOYS and GIRLS to be bound out in Town or Country … as Apprentices.”

In today’s advertisement the Overseers of the Poor issued a call for provisions at the “WORK HOUSE,” an establishment also known as the almshouse, the poorhouse, or, sometimes, the bettering house. The men, women, and children who resided there were known as inmates.

Towns in New England and elsewhere throughout the American colonies devised various methods of dealing with poor residents. Sometimes they provided “outdoor relief” via officials known as the Overseers of the Poor, funded by taxes. Under that system, the Overseers of the Poor gave money, food, clothing, or other goods directly to impoverished residents. In contrast, “indoor relief” took an institutional approach, requiring recipients of aid to enter a workhouse. Several historians, including Billy G. Smith, have noted that the proportion of colonists who relied on public relief increased in the 1760s, especially in urban centers, due in part to the disruptions of the Seven Years War. A feminization of poverty occurred as the war made wives into widows who could not support themselves and their children.

Many colonists who paid taxes preferred workhouses over outdoor relief, considering them less expensive to maintain. Towns also became more stringent in their residency requirements for receiving aid, choosing instead to “warn off” indigents.

The advertisement concludes with a nota bene informing readers that children in the workhouse could be “bound out in Town or Country … as Apprentices.” The Overseers of the Poor hoped that this might decrease their expenses while also helping boys and girls develop skills that would later allow them to pursue occupations and support themselves in adulthood rather than relying on additional public aid.

Perhaps some of the goods advertised elsewhere in the newspaper were among the “Provisions of any Kind” that residents of Portsmouth were encouraged to either donate to the workhouse or turn over in lieu of taxes.