September 17

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

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.