May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1767).

“He served his apprenticeship in London, of which city he is a freeman.”

As a standard part of their advertisements, merchants and shopkeepers noted that they sold goods imported from faraway places, especially London. In so doing, they established themselves as conduits who connected their customers to both the quality and fashions associated with goods produced and popularly consumed in the largest city in the British empire. Artisans who made the items they sold in local workshops, however, could not make quite the same claim. Instead, those who had migrated across the Atlantic proudly proclaimed their origins, announcing that they were “FROM LONDON,” as Whiting the saddler did in today’s advertisement.

On occasion, artisans elaborated on the training they had received in workshops in London, demonstrating to potential customers why they should take notice of their origins. Whiting asserted that he was capable of “execut[ing] all the branches of that business in the compleatest manner” precisely because “he served his apprenticeship in London, of which city he is a freeman.” This meant that Whiting belonged to the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, one of the city’s livery companies that originated as trade guilds. These companies oversaw members who practiced their trade; they kept standards high, an early modern version of quality control. To become a member, known as a freeman, an artisan had to serve an apprenticeship under a master of the trade who was already a freeman. Alternately, some joined by patrimony if a parent ad been a freeman or by redemption upon paying a fee. Working within the walls of the City of London required achieving freeman status. This conferred some level of prestige on the artisans, a certain cachet that Whiting suggested could be transferred to those who hired him. Whiting wanted prospective customers to know that he had earned the rank of freeman via servitude rather than patrimony or redemption, that he had honed his skills through an apprenticeship to a master saddler.

Although he was an ocean away from the livery companies that oversaw artisans in the City of London, Whiting called on their privileged position and his membership in their order to advance his own workshop in Charleston. He expected that this would resonate with local residents.

October 25


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

Providence Gazette (October 25, 1766).

“Tin-Plate-Worker, Nearly opposite the Great Bridge, Providence.”

This advertisement was for a very specific service, tin smithing, done by “ARTHUR FENNER, jun. Tin-Plate-Worker.” This advertisement caught my eye because it was not advertising mass-produced goods; it advertised specific services done by an expert craftsman. Fenner announced that “he makes and mends all Sorts of Tin Ware” and that “the Public may depend that his Work shall be well executed.” The advertisement focused on the quality of the work.

This advertisement reminds modern readers that there was a different culture related to the creation of products in the eighteenth century. There were no factories in the 1700s. Everything pertaining to the manufacture of a good had to be passed down through the generations. Skilled craftsmen sold their wares to make a living. In order to be successful at a trade there was a prescribed course of training that started with an apprenticeship and ended with becoming a master craftsman. This process gave young men the opportunity to become experts in a trade. The idea of apprenticeship is foreign to most modern Americans; it does not have the same place in today’s society. However, it was a cultural norm and an important step in ensuring the continuity of trades in the eighteenth century. The practice of widespread apprenticeship in the colonies was an effect of British influence: “apprenticeship practices and associated legal arrangements were imported from Britain into the American colonies.”[1] Apprenticeship was a significant component of trade in America and that idea is reflected in this advertisement.



Megan notes the training that colonial craftsmen received before they established their own shops, contrasting the eighteenth-century system of apprenticeship to modern practices. Some occupations continue to refer to junior colleagues – those who have not yet completed their training or passed exams to become licensed or certified – as apprentices while they gain experience and learn from others who have already mastered a trade. Despite the name, however, today’s apprentices have very different experiences than those of the eighteenth century.

During the colonial era, apprenticeship usually began when a young man was in his early teens and lasted for several years. During that time the apprentice usually became a member of his master’s household: working and living with the man who assumed the responsibility of training him in a specific trade. Master and apprentice signed a contract that specified the obligations each had to the other. In addition to training an apprentice, the master provided room and board. As a member of the master’s household, an apprentice was subject to discipline (including corporal punishment) both in the workshop and in the home. Masters set curfews and oversaw apprentices’ activities during their free time. Modern systems for training young people in various trades differ quite significantly from eighteenth-century methods, despite the continued use of the word “apprentice” to denote someone in the process of learning a trade.

Arthur Fenner did not explicitly mention his training in this advertisement. Instead, he emphasized the quality and price of his work, leaving it to potential customers to draw their own conclusions about how he obtained his skills. Other colonial artisans and tradesmen, however, sometimes noted that they had completed an apprenticeship as a means of reassuring clients that they possessed the necessary skills. Fenner addressed “his old Customers and Friends in particular,” suggesting that he had worked in Providence for some time. Perhaps if he had been new to town he would have been more likely to promote his training as part of his marketing.


[1] Bernard Elbaum, “Why Apprenticeship Persisted in Britain But Not in the United States” Journal of Economic History 49, no. 2 (June 1989): 338.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (June 23, 1766).

“Having served a regular Apprenticeship to the Business, he flatters himself he cannot fail of giving general Satisfaction.”

“DALLAS, Silk Dyer and Scourer, from London” had a lot going for him and he wanted potential customers to know it. Being a “Silk Dyer and Scourer” required particular skills; novices or pretenders might end up ruining any garments turned over to their care, but Dallas had “served a regular Apprenticeship to the Business.” He had received the training necessary for his occupation. As a result, clients could trust the other claims he made in his advertisement. Dallas did not just market the services he provided or the products he sold. He also marketed himself, especially his expertise and training, much as many modern advertisers list their qualifications, certifications, or degrees when promoting their businesses.

Dallas “clean’d or dyed” a variety of textiles, sometimes seeming to work magic on them. No matter how damaged they happened to be when delivered to his shop “at the Sign of the Dove and Rainbow,” Dallas was able to remove spots and otherwise clean fabrics so “they shall look equal to any new imported.” He pledged that he did this work “to the greatest Perfection.” He was able to accomplish this in part because of his specialized training, but also because he learned during his apprenticeship that it was necessary to have the proper supplies and equipment. Accordingly, “he hath every necessary Dye-Stuff, and proper Utensils superior to any ever erected in America.”

Apparently Dallas was so skilled as a “Silk Dyer and Scourer,” a celebrity in his occupation, that he needed only one name!