June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:4:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 4, 1767).

“He will draw any French or Spanish Writing, Contracts, Letters, or Accounts.”

William Fooks of Philadelphia was quite chatty in an advertisement offering his services as “NOTARY and TABELLION PUBLICK, for the French and Spanish Languages” to the “Gentleman Traders of this City.” To counter the effusiveness of his advertisement, he assured potential clients that of the “Secrecy, Prudence, and Intelligence” that defined his character and how he pursued his occupation. Those qualities, he asserted, “render him worthy of the Confidence of those who please to employ him.”

Although the term “tabellion” has declined in use today, residents of England and its colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would have readily recognized this description of the scrivener’s vocation, an occupation closely associated with (and sometimes overlapping) the duties performed by notaries. In taking on both titles – “NOTARY and TABELLION PUBLICK” – to describe his work Fooks underscored the level of expertise he possessed. This was particularly important given both his line of work and, especially, the differences in language and legal customs inherent in doing business in French and Spanish colonies. That may explain why he composed such an extensive advertisement. Special circumstances required that he underscore and reiterate his skill and experience as a means of convincing potential clients, those “Gentleman Traders,” that they could trust and depend on his work.

To that end, Fooks stated that “he will draw any French or Spanish Writing, Contracts, Letters, or Accounts, and state them in the most proper Methods and Uses of those Countries, and in the most mercantile and accurate Manner.” He repeated this promise later in the advertisement, again noting that he drew up documents “according to the Laws, Uses, and Customs, of those Nations.” He was particularly qualified to do so as a result of the experience gained through “his long Residence in those Colonies” (though the otherwise verbose Fooks did not elaborate on which colonies or the length of his residence).

Fooks provided very specialized services that could have had significant ramifications in the lives and fortunes of his clients. He may have believed that his turgid prose was necessary to convince prospective clients to entrust him with sensitive and substantial matters. They may not have viewed his notice as chatty but instead as reassuring about the professionalism Fooks brought to his occupation.

January 21

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

Georgia Gazette (January 21, 1767).

“He will undertake to fair-copy and engross any deeds.”

Patrick Poulson turned to the advertising section of the Georgia Gazette in his attempts to attract clients in early 1767. He assured readers that he possessed all the necessary skills of a clerk, copyist, and bookkeeper. He could “fair-copy and engross any deeds or instruments whatsoever” and “post and settle merchants books of accompt” as well as “any other business in the way of a scrivener.” In making his pitch, he adapted familiar appeals concerning quality to fit his own profession: he promised “exactness” in the work he did and the documents he created. Attending to legal and financial matters demanded a special attention to detail.

Poulson gave “Publick Notice” to all readers of the Georgia Gazette, seeking clients among local merchants as well as shopkeepers and artisans in Savannah and farmers in the countryside. Considering literacy rates of the period, some among the lower sorts in particular may have possessed special need of his services when it came to producing copies of legal documents. Regardless of their status or occupation, colonists who read Poulson’s advertisement may not have been able to write. The two skills were taught separately in colonial schools, with greater numbers of people learning how to read than to write or do calculations. Schoolmasters often listed the familiar triad of reading, writing, and arithmetic together when they described their curricula in newspaper advertisements, but that did not result in each student developing all three skills to the same extent.

Even colonists who possessed basic writing skills may have turned to Poulson to draft copies of particularly important documents, including various sorts of contracts or deeds that secured their property. His ability to “fair-copy and engross” documents meant that he created formal records in clear, attractive, and possibly large script for clients and witnesses to affix their signatures and, when appropriate, any necessary seals. When he promised prospective customers that “their business shall be dispatched with exactness,” Poulson did not refer to accuracy alone. He also meant the attractiveness and readability of the documents he produced.