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.

July 12

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

Jul 12 - 7:11:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 12, 1766).

“WANTED, A YOUNG man qualified to act as BAR-KEEPER.”

Today we rely on a variety of media to connect employers and prospective employees. Many jobseekers identify potential positions via announcements or listings in online forums. Increasingly, they submit all or most of their application materials electronically. Qualified candidates may be invited for in-person interviews or those conversations might take place over the telephone or internet. The job search apparatus has changed significantly within living memory.

Today’s advertisement provides a glimpse of how some positions were filled in eighteenth-century America. When Joseph Pullett needed to hire a barkeeper, he placed a notice in the Virginia Gazette. His announcement included a series of qualifications, not unlike today’s employment listings.

Pullett expected candidates to have at least minimal education, but probably assumed that they would learn experience as well. For instance, he suggested that applicants should understand “something of accounts.” In other words, it was not necessary to know all the ins and outs of advanced bookkeeping, but Pullett wanted a barkeeper familiar enough with ledgers that (with a little eighteenth-century on-the-job training) he could assist with those responsibilities. To that end, he also needed to be able to write “a tolerable good hand” in order to effectively keep the accounts.

Reputation and recommendations also played a role in successful job searches in the eighteenth century. It was not enough to demonstrate that he possessed these skills and knowledge; any young many that applied needed recommendations testifying to his skill and his character. Many employment advertisements sought “sober” applicants, though this most likely referred to an appropriate temperament and comportment rather than abstaining from alcohol.

Although some of the methods for filling jobs have changed in the past two centuries other aspects continue to look very familiar.

February 18

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Feb 18 - 2:18:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (February 21, 1766).

“Wants a Place, A Young Woman that is capable to attend Children.”

A woman looking for placement was not an uncommon thing in early American newspapers. Young women usually would look to be a housekeeper or cook, to care for children, or assist the women of the house. This young woman described her skills as “capable to attend Children, make up small Clothes,” and be all around helpful to the family. Our generation would describe her as a nanny.

In the American colonies, the number of servants a family had often depended on their economic status. Like the size and grandeur of a family’s house, the number of servants could be a status symbol. Not much has changed today.

Feb 18 - Masthead New-York Gazette 2:17:1766
Masthead for New-York Gazette (February 17, 1766).

For me, this advertisement was also an interesting find because normally the New-York Gazette published on Mondays. This week they published both a Monday (February 17) and a Tuesday (February 18) edition, which is were I found this advertisement. Normally for the Adverts 250 Project I would have had to go back to a Monday edition, but for this week I did not have to.

Feb 18 - Masthead New-York Gazette 2:18:1766
Masthead for New-York Gazette Extraordinary (February 18, 1766).

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

“Not much has changed today.” Indeed, conspicuous consumption was not an invention of the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. It existed before the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century and genteel colonists engaged in it as a means of further differentiating themselves from each other as the middling and lower sorts gained greater access to consumer goods throughout the 1700s.

I believe that Elizabeth is the first guest curator to comment explicitly on the methodology used in selecting the featured advertisement for each day. She notes the same methods that I have described elsewhere in extended commentary about the project’s methodology and how it shapes the scope of the project.

As an instructor, this is an important behind-the-scenes element of students’ work. Each guest curator has compiled a census of newspapers published during his or her week based on the calendars generated by Early American Newspapers. As a result of supplements and extraordinary (“extra”) issues as well as publications starting or stopping in response to the Stamp Act or other reasons, the list of newspapers published in one week often differs from the list for the next week.

As Elizabeth indicates, many colonial American newspapers were published at the beginning of the week, on Mondays, but in most weeks no newspapers were printed on Tuesdays. As we examined this more closely, we discovered that William Weyman actually published the New-York Gazette three times during this week in 1766: the regular issue on Monday, February 17; a broadside (one-page) “Extraordinary” issue on Tuesday, February 18; and a two-page “2d Extra” on Friday, February 21.

Feb 18 - Masthead New-York Gazette 2:21:1766
Masthead for New-York Gazette 2d Extra (February 21, 1766).

This was not immediately apparent, however, due to a coding error in the metadata. The two extraordinary issues were treated as one in Early American Newspapers. As I have noted elsewhere, researchers need to be aware of faulty metadata (background information or “data that provides information about other data”) that may lead them to incorrect conclusions about digitized sources.

Feb 18 - Readex Calendar
Note that the calendar of issues generated by Early American Newspapers does not indicate that the New-York Gazette was published on February 21, 1766.  That “2d Extraordinary” has been conflated with the Extraordinary issue of February 18, 1766.

Elizabeth’s advertisement was actually published in the “2d Extra” on February 21. The February 18 Extraordinary did not include any advertisements. That means that today’s featured advertisement technically departs from the established methodology for this project.

I asked Elizabeth not to edit her original submission when we discovered this. Together we have fast forwarded three days to February 21, but this allows us to make a valuable point about the shortcomings that sometimes emerge when relying on digitized sources.

(Besides, February 18 is my birthday. I’m glad that we found a way to incorporate at least a masthead from a newspaper published 250 years ago on February 18, 1766, into the project.)

February 5

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Feb 5 - 2:3:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (February 3, 1766).

Wants a Place, a Young Woman who chuses to recemmend herself, as understanding Cooking for a small family.”

This advertisement does not sell a good, per se, but a young woman is “selling” her services. I found it interesting that this sort of advertisement would be included in a colonial newspaper. To me, it is an example of a woman having a level of freedom in the colonial area. This woman was able to put herself out there to do work for others. Now, she is still doing work associated with women and the household during the colonial period, but she now has the freedom to choose who she wants to employ her. Also, she has already chosen what work she will do for whoever hires her. She has, in a sense, laid out a contract for herself.

I do not usually associate the colonial period with women having the freedom to choose any sort of work that they will do, which is why I found this advertisement to be interesting.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Several scholars have demonstrated that advertisements help us to glimpse women’s work and the role of women in the marketplace in colonial America. I first began examining advertising in early America after reading Frances Manges’ “Women Shopkeepers, Tavernkeepers, and Artisans in Colonial Philadelphia” (a Ph.D. dissertation completed at the University of Philadelphia in 1958). Manges scoured newspapers published in colonial Philadelphia to find evidence of women pursuing a variety of occupations, culling a significant amount of her evidence from advertisements for goods and services. (Other sorts of advertisements, including legal notices and announcements by executors, also fleshed out women’s visible participation in commerce in colonial Philadelphia.)

Manges focused primarily on women identified by name in their advertisements and other parts of the newspaper. This anonymous “Young Woman,” however, certainly would not have been alone among the many job seekers, female and male, throughout the colonial period who placed advertisements seeking employment, listing their skills and qualifications, and giving directions for how to contact them.

Like so many other advertisements, this one hints at a story that will likely never be fully recovered. Compiling similar advertisements can produce a general sense of what some young women experienced and the labor they performed in colonial America, but broad patterns are not the same as individual stories. What kind of circumstances led this particular “Young Woman” to seek employment in someone else’s household?