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