October 3

GUEST CURATOR:  Katerina Barbas

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

New-York Journal (October 3, 1771).

“A Woman of good character … may hear of a place by inquiring of the Printer hereof.”

This advertisement highlights traditional gender roles for European colonists in colonial America. European gender roles constituted that the ideal family was led by a man who was in charge of his family and represented it beyond the home, while a woman performed domestic work and ran the household. These European gender roles were brought to the colonies in the new world. According to an article on National Geographic’s website, white women in colonial America had responsibilities within the household such as cooking, cleaning, sewing, making soap and candles, and caring for and educating children, which was their primary role. Seeking a “woman of a good character” required that the woman be an exceptional role model, because she would be supporting the emotional and moral development of the children and prepare them for adulthood. A woman who responded to this advertisement would have been responsible for teaching young girls in the family how to perform household tasks in order to prepare them for the traditional role as wife and mother.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Among the many legal notices and advertisements for consumer goods and services that colonists paid to insert in the New-York Journal, a variety of employment advertisements appeared as well.  Many of them featured labor undertaken by women.  In the advertisement Katerina chose to feature today, an unnamed advertiser sought a woman willing to move fourteen miles from the busy port to serve as a “nursery maid” for a family in the countryside.  In another advertisement in the October 3, 1771, edition, another anonymous advertiser offered work for a “Careful woman who understands washing, cooking … and is willing to do all work in a middling family.”  That advertisement concluded with a nota bene proclaiming that “None need apply without being able to produce a good character from reputable people.”  In other words, candidates needed to produce references before entering the household.  The family in the countryside seeking a nursery maid also likely requested similar assurances.

In both instances, the prospective employers relied on John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, to act as a broker.  The family in the countryside informed prospective nursery maids that they “may hear of a place by inquiring of the Printer hereof.”  Similarly, the “middling family” instructed women with appropriate references that they “may hear of employment by applying to the printer.”  Holt disseminated some information in print, but, at the request of advertisers, reserved some details only for readers who contacted the printing office.  That was also the case for a “likely healthy Negro” woman offered for sale.  An unnamed enslaver described the woman as “an excellent thorough Cook” who could “pickle and preserve.”  The advertisement did not say much else about the woman except that she was “about 24 Years of Age.”  Like so many other advertisements, it declared, “for Particulars, inquire of the Printer.”  In this instance, Holt became not only an information broker but also a broker of enslaved labor.  He actively facilitated the slave trade, first by running the advertisement in his newspaper and then by collaborating with enslavers who bought and sold the “likely healthy Negro” woman.

Colonists turned to the public prints as a clearinghouse for acquiring workers, female as well as male.  Advertisements offering employment to women maintained expectations about the roles they fulfilled within families, like cooking, cleaning, and caring for children.  Some of those advertisements offered women new opportunities with employers of their choosing, but others merely perpetuated the enslavement of Black women.  Gender played an important part in shaping the experiences of women who applied to the advertisement Katerina selected for today, but it was not the only factor that defined their role in New York and other colonies.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:12:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 12, 1770).

“Hear of good Encouragement, by applying to the Printer at the Exchange.”

By the late 1760s, entrepreneurial colonists established and advertised “intelligence offices” in Boston and New York.  The brokers who operated those establishments provided a variety of services for their clients.  They introduced merchants and traders seeking to buy and sell commodities.  They conducted real estate transactions.  They also facilitated sales of indentured servants and enslaved people in addition to aiding employers seeking workers.  Brokers made matches in the marketplace.

Yet their occupation was not unique in that regard.  Printing offices served as intelligence offices by another name.  Throughout the eighteenth century, advertisements often concluded with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.  Consider some of the advertisements that appeared in the July 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  One short notice offered a young enslaved woman for sale, but offered little detail beyond her age and a promise that she “can be well recommended.”  The advertisement did not identify the enslaver; instead, it concluded with the familiar refrain, “Enquire of the Printer.”  Another advertisement offered employment opportunities for men willing to migrate to Virginia.  The anonymous advertiser sought a “Sober single Man, of a good Character, who understand the Smith’s Business” and “a single Man of like Character, who understands the tending and Management of a Merchant’s Mill.” Candidates could learn more “by applying to the Printer at the Exchange.”  According to the colophon, John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, ran his office “near the Exchange, in Broad-Street.”

Printing offices were hubs for collecting and circulating information in eighteenth-century America.  Printers disseminated some information via newspapers, but advertisements in those publications often hinted at far more information that did not appear in print.  By visiting or sending notes to printers, readers could learn more about job opportunities and commodities, real estate, indentured servants, and enslaved people for sale.  Newspaper advertisements reveal how frequently printers acted as brokers as one of the many facets of their occupation.

September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 23, 1769).

“A DILIGENT Journeyman PRINTER.”

After he became sole proprietor of the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s, John Carter concluded every issue with a colophon that he ran the “PRINTING-OFFICE, [at] the Sign of Shakespear’s Head… where all Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed.”  Carter did not operate the printing office alone, as a notice in the September 23, 1769, edition makes clear.  “A DILIGENT Journeyman PRINTER,” Carter announced, “to work both at Case and Press, will meet with constant Employ, and good Wages.”  The colophon indicated other qualities that Carter sought in a new employee; the journeyman had to do his work “in a neat and correct Manner, with Fidelity and Expedition” in order to maintain the reputations of both the printing office and Carter himself.

In asserting that he sought a journeyman printer “to work both at Case and Press,” Carter offered a job description of sorts.  Candidates needed to possess several skills, including knowledge of how to operate a manual press as well as how to set type from individual pieces stored in the case. (Capital letters were typically stored in a case above the one that housed smaller letters; hence the terms uppercase and lowercase to describe them.)  The advertisement itself suggested some at the skills the journeyman printer would need as a compositor.  It interspersed uppercase and lowercase type, some in italics, of various sizes.  It had a “neat and correct” appearance, even though set in mirror image on the compositing stick. That meant that compositors had to be especially careful when setting type since some letters looked like the mirror image of another letter, as was the case for the letter “p” and the letter “q.” (This gave rise to the maxim that instructs, “Mind your Ps and Qs.”  The lowercase versions of these letters could be easily confused, especially when setting type quickly.)  Beyond the employment notice and the colophon, the rest of the issue also testified to the skills a journeyman printer should possess before contacting Carter about the position.  Only those who could set type “in a neat and correct Manner” and operate a manual press “with Fidelity and Expedition” need apply!

August 16

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

Aug 16 - 8:16:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 16, 1769).

“Would be glad to be employed in keeping of books.”

Elizabeth Bedon’s advertisement proposing to open a boarding school in Savannah “for the education of young ladies” ran for the third and final time in the August 16, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Immediately below it appeared an employment advertisement inserted by George Bedon: “The subscriber being regularly bred to the mercantile business, would be glad to be employed in keeping of books, drawing out accounts, &c. Those who are pleased to employ him may depend upon the greatest correctness and dispatch.” That advertisement also made its third and final appearance on August 16, each time running in combination with Elizabeth’s advertisement.

George’s notice did not indicate where prospective employers could contact him. Given that Savannah was a small port, he may have considered listing such information unnecessary. After all, other advertisers did not always list their locations. In the same issue, Thomas Hamilton offered a “SMALL NEAT TENEMENT” for rent and Inglis and Hall hawked “superfine Philadelphia Flour.” Neither notice included a location, the advertisers expecting that they were familiar enough figures that interested parties would know where to find them.

That Elizabeth and George simultaneously placed advertisements seeking employment, however, suggests that they may have been new to Savannah and intended for the advertisements to serve as a form of introduction to their new neighbors. In that case, George likely meant for his advertisement to piggyback on Elizabeth’s, which concluded by advising “those who intend to intrust their children under her care to favour her with a line, directed to be left at Capt. Langford’s.” She apparently considered the captain a prominent enough figure in the community not to require additional information about his place of residence. George likely anticipated that subscribers and others engaged in sufficiently close reading of the advertisements that prospective employers would be able to deduce his location.

Even when they ran for multiple weeks, the order of advertisements in colonial newspapers shifted from issue to issue. Compositors moved them according to length in order to make all of the contents fit on the page. At only four lines, George’s advertisement would have been relatively easy to insert anywhere that a column fell just shy of being complete. That it consistently remained with Elizabeth’s advertisement suggests both that they purchased the two as a package and that the compositor exercised special care in making sure that they were not separated during the duration of their run in the Georgia Gazette.

March 20

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Boston Chronicle (March 20, 1769).

“Wants Employment.”

This advertisement caught my eye because of the “Wants Employment” part. Someone was looking for a job that involved “Writing, either in Merchants Books or any otherwise, consisting in Penmanship” or “tak[ing] Charge of a Store.” The advertiser claimed that he was good at writing. According to E. Jennifer Monaghan in Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, students first learned “round hand,” which took several years, and “during this time the student might well be exposed to, without being expected to be fully master of, italic print and roman print.”[1] Since he mentions “Penmanship” this advertiser may have learned more than one “script.” It was difficult to learn how to write because students had so many different scripts to learn.

The end of the advertisement was in a different language. It says, “Ubi est Charitas?—Not in Town.—Honi soit qui mal y pense.” The first part is Latin for “Where is the love?” The second part is French for “Shame to him who thinks evil of it.” By inserting these quotations in other languages, the advertiser demonstrated that he was indeed well educated, the sort of person that a merchant would want handling accounts and letters. There is another aspect concerning how this advertiser tries to find a job. He says that anyone who sends him a message “shall be immediately waited on.” He is letting prospective employers know that he is punctual and eager to work.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Rather than elaborating on the advertisement that Zach has selected for today, I am devoting this entry to some comments on incorporating the Adverts 250 Project into my classes, collaborating with undergraduate guest curators, and how their work shapes the project. This is the fifth semester that I have invited students to contribute to the project to fulfill some of their course requirements. This work began in a Public History class (Spring 2016) and has continued in Colonial America (Fall 2016), Revolutionary America (Spring 2017), Public History (Spring 2018), and Revolutionary America (Spring 2019).

I ask each student to serve as guest curator for a week. They are responsible for creating an archive of all the newspapers for their week that have been digitized by Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg, and Readex. Then they select an advertisement to feature each day of the week. I specify that one of those advertisements must concern the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, giving the students an opportunity to enhance the work they simultaneously undertake as guest curators of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. The other advertisements must focus on commodities or consumer goods and services. That allows us to continue examinations of the consumer revolution that constitute a major component of readings and discussions from class. However, advertisements that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers were many and varied. Many of them had purposes other than promoting the buying and selling of goods. So I allow each guest curator to select one “exception to the consumer goods and services” rule (in addition to an advertisement concerning enslaved people) that allows them to explore other aspects of life in colonial and revolutionary America. Today Zach has chosen an employment advertisement. Recently, guest curator Olivia Burke examined a “runaway wife” advertisement. In both cases, the guest curators learned more about early American history and culture.

Undergraduate guest curators often choose advertisements that I would not have selected on my own. Sometimes this can be frustrating, especially when they pass over advertisements that I find more interesting and want to examine in more detail. Yet that is also the purpose of engaging my students as junior colleagues. They exercise the authority to determine the direction of the project during their time as guest curators. They determine their own assignments in that they choose the content that they want to include and research in greater detail. They also determine an assignment for me. Most of the time I provide further analysis of some aspect of the advertisements they examine; this entry is a rare exception in that it discusses pedagogy and methodology rather than additional aspects of early American print culture and consumer culture. When I provide additional commentary about advertisements chosen by guest curators, this allows us to continue our conversations about the advertisements they found engaging. It helps us to work together as a team, as a mentor with junior colleagues, because the students have selected the content that we all address together.

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[1] E. Jennifer Monaghan, Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 287.

November 15

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

Nov 15 - 11:15:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 15, 1768).

“WANTS a Place in a Store, either in Town or Country, a YOUNG MAN who can be well recommended.”

Advertisements for consumer goods and services, along with paid notices inserted for other purposes, filled the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers. Some colonists who placed advertisements did so in hopes of finding employment with the purveyors of consumer goods and services, seeking places to earn their own livelihoods in an expanding marketplace. At the same time that the consumer revolution presented many opportunities for entrepreneurship for shopkeepers, merchants, artisans, and other producers of goods, it also created employment opportunities for men and women who assisted retailers in making their wares available to customers.

Consider, for example, an advertisement that ran in the November 15, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Quite briefly, it announced, “WANTS a Place in a Store, either in Town or Country, a YOUNG MAN who can be well recommended. Enquire of the Printer.” The previous day a similar advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette: “A Young Woman that understands keeping a Shop of English Goods, wants such an Employ. Any Person having Occasion for such a one, may know further by enquiring of Edes and Gill.” Both advertisements were published in newspapers that ran numerous advertisements for vast arrays of consumer goods for sale at local shops and stores.

In each instance the prospective employee requested that interested parties “Enquire of the Printer.” They provided little information about themselves beyond initial assurances that they were suited for the positions they sought. The young man asserted that he “can be well recommended” for the job. While this may have referred to endorsements from others, it may also have meant that he could make a case for himself based on his character and experience. The young woman stated that she “understands keeping a Shop of English Goods,” suggesting that she had previous experience.

Not surprisingly, both placed short advertisements, minimizing their expenses as they sought work. Both depended on a local printing office as a place of exchanging information. Printers did more than disseminate newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides; they also served as information brokers beyond the printed page. In that capacity, they facilitated not only the sale of consumer goods but also the hiring of men and women who waited on customers and otherwise assisted in the operation of shops and stores.

December 3

Guest Curator: Nicholas Sears

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

dec-3-1231766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 3, 1766).

“A YOUNG MAN that can write a good hand.”

This employment advertisement sought an assistant or clerk to “copy distinctly” in the “Secretary’s-Office” in Georgia. When I saw this advertisement I was curious to know exactly where a young man would have received the education necessary to know how to write. According to Robert A. Peterson in “Education in Colonial America, children could learn this skill at home or in schools. Before public schools, parents taught their children how to read and write, but only if they knew how.

Peterson also discusses other ways colonists were educated: at church, from voluntary associations such as library companies and philosophical societies, circulating libraries, apprenticeships. Many colonists turned to their church where they could learn through sermons. Pastors would at times speak for hours on end. Families followed sermons closely, took mental notes, and discussed the sermon together on a Sunday afternoon. Adults had the advantage of going to a library or a philosophical society. For example, Peterson discusses the society called “The Literary Republic.” This society, where artisans, tradesmen, and common laborers met to discuss “logic, jurisprudence, religion, science, and moral philosophy,” opened in 1764 in Philadelphia.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

This employment advertisement stands in stark contrast to the ten advertisements for slaves that appeared in the same issue of the Georgia Gazette. A young man with sufficient education to “write a good hand” and “copy distinctly” had an opportunity to work for the colonial government in the “Secretary’s-Office.” Even for a youth of humble origins, this might have been a stepping stone that enhanced his possibilities for social mobility through meeting and working under the direction of the better sorts in colonial Georgia.

The slaves advertised in the Georgia Gazette did not have the same opportunities for social mobility, thought they were certainly mobile in other ways. Of the ten advertisements featuring slaves in that issue, four described runaway slaves and five announced captured slaves who had been “Brought to the Workhouse” until such time that their masters could retrieve them. The final advertisement promoted the sale of “A FAMILY of NEGROES, consisting of a valuable house wench and five well grown boys and girls, country born.” Almost certainly none of them had been taught to read or “write a good hand” or “copy distinctly.”

Indeed, none of those advertisements indicated that any of the slaves possessed even basic literacy, though several pointed out that one runaway or another “speaks very little English” or could not speak English well enough “so as to be understood.” On occasions when advertisements did associate literacy with slaves they usually attributed nefarious purposes to slaves’ ability to read or write, such as warning against passes that had been altered.

The employment advertisement offering employment in the “Secretary’s-Office” to a qualified young man opened up a variety of possibilities and opportunities for at least one colonist. A great many more advertisements, however, thwarted opportunities that slaves had seized for themselves. Masters used the power of print in attempts to return slaves to situations in which their opportunities would be further circumscribed. Side by side, the employment advertisement and the slavery advertisement demonstrate two very different sets of possibilities open to colonists in Georgia in the decade before the American Revolution.

November 25

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-25-11251766-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 25, 1766).

“WANTED: A Young Woman industriously brought up … carefully to mind a House.”

I liked this advertisement, especially after curating the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, as this has to do with slavery. However, the advertisement did not talk directly about the slaves. Instead, the advertiser was looking for a woman willing to work in the house and watch the master’s slaves. Only women skilled enough to do the job were asked to apply for it: “none need apply that is not qualified as above-mentioned.” The advertiser specifically wanted a woman because during the colonial period woman were expected to do the housework.

One summary of Ruth Cowan Schwartz’s More Work For Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave, explains that a “division of labor kept a man and a woman together or joined them in a household in some way.” Other than watching the slaves, the woman in this advertisement would do all of the housework as well, including kitchen work, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

This employment advertisement simultaneously offers a wealth of details concerning domestic life in one South Carolina household and provides frustratingly few specifics. As Patrick indicates, the advertiser sought a young woman who would be responsible for all sorts of housework as well as overseeing slaves. In addition, the young woman was expected to be a servant to an unspecified number of “young Ladies.”

This advertisement reveals quite a bit about women’s responsibilities in early American households. Given traditional gendered divisions of domestic labor that have continued to the present, it comes as little surprise that an eighteenth-century employment advertisement positioned housework as women’s domain. Looking after a house, however, included more than cooking and cleaning, especially in a household with servants or slaves. The work of a housekeeper also included household management intended to keep everything running smoothly.

Who were “the Negroes” mentioned in this advertisement? How many slaves lived and worked in this household? What were their responsibilities? How much of the domestic labor did they perform? Was the successful applicant expected to do any cooking or cleaning herself? Or was she an overseer within the household, someone who delegated tasks and confirmed they were completed?

The advertisement also reveals little about the family that wanted to hire a young woman to join their household. Apparently it was a family of some affluence. Not only did they own slaves and intended to hire a servant, they also, according to a nota bene appended to the advertisement, wished to lease (but not buy) a harpsichord. Perhaps the young ladies of the house took lessons and entertained guests as a means of demonstrating their manners and refinement.

Despite the various details about the prospective housekeeper’s responsibilities, the advertisement does not indicate whether a mistress of the household was present. Did a wife and mother reside in this household? Did the family seek to demonstrate their wealth and status by hiring a servant to take on the tasks that the mistress of the household would have pursued in other homes? Or was the wife and mother deceased or otherwise absent, making it imperative to bring in an outsider to assume those responsibilities?

Answering those questions required applicants to “Apply to the Printer.” Unfortunately, that is not an option for modern readers. I appreciate how Patrick used this advertisement to explore women’s work in colonial America, but I remain puzzled about some of the household dynamics raised in this particular employment notice.

September 17

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

sep-17-9171766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 17, 1766).

“Wanted immediately, A CAREFUL MAN as an OVERSEER. … A married man will be most agreeable.”

A week ago I examined another employment advertisement from the Georgia Gazette, noting that while some aspects had not much changed since the colonial period the specification that a single man would make a “more agreeable” candidate for the job than a married applicant would not pass muster today.

Clement Martin also sought to hire an overseer, but, unlike John Simpson, he preferred a married man for the job, indicating that “a married man will be most agreeable, on account of raising poultry, &c.” Martin listed several requirements and responsibilities. In general, he expected his overseer “to settle a plantation” near Savannah. That included managing enslaved laborers, “erecting rough buildings,” “keep[ing] the saws in proper order,” and teaching the enslaved laborers the necessary skills for using the saws.

Clement Martin probably did not expect his overseer to be “raising poultry, &c.” Most likely, he envisioned that such tasks would be undertaken by the wife of the married man that Martin considered “most agreeable.” In effect, he was looking to acquire two employees who would see to the various tasks on his plantation, though he only advertised for an overseer. The unpaid labor that an overseer’s wife provided, such as caring for small livestock or gardening, would be an added bonus to Martin.

Women’s contributions to household economies in the colonial era have sometimes been overlooked or downplayed, especially when they did not earn specific wages or other compensation for their efforts. Today’s advertisement pulls back the curtain just a little, suggesting that sometimes men’s employment was contingent, at least partially, on the mostly unseen and unpaid labor that their wives could provide.

September 10

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

Sep 10 - 9:10:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 10, 1766).

“AN OVERSEER … will meet with good encouragement by applying to JOHN SIMPSON.”

When John Simpson needed to hire an overseer he placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to alert potential employees that the position was available. Though brief, a mere five lines, the advertisement demonstrates both continuity and change over time when compared to modern hiring practices.

Simpson listed three necessary qualifications. A qualified overseer “understands his business” and could demonstrate both “fidelity and industry.” In other words, Simpson wanted to hire somebody who possessed expertise (likely gained through experience), who was dependable, and who worked hard. Although the advertisement did not specify, the overseer was probably expected to oversee enslaved laborers as well as other operations on Simpson’s property. To “understand his business” likely included previous experience managing (including disciplining) slaves. To demonstrate their qualifications, applicants needed to “bring proper vouchers” that stated they fulfilled these qualifications. Letters of introduction in eighteenth-century America played a similar role to letters of recommendation today.

Simpson also included an additional preference, though it was not a requirement for obtaining the position. It would be “more agreeable” for prospective overseers to be single men. Simpson did not explain why he considered this “more agreeable,” but it may have been linked to the “fidelity and industry” that could be expected of the overseer. Perhaps Simpson assumed (or had learned by experience) that single men devoted more time, energy, and attention to their work in the absence of distractions caused by wives and families. In addition, if an overseer was expected to live on the property, Simpson may have been concerned about incorporating any dependents the operations.

Whatever Simpson’s reason for finding it “more agreeable” to hire an unmarried man, that he specified any preferred marital status at all makes this notice incongruous with modern employment advertisements that make no reference at all to various personal attributes that have no bearing on an individual’s ability to do the job.