Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He came on redemption, and was disappointed in meeting his expected friend.”
James Gordon found himself in an unanticipated situation when he migrated from Londonderry to Philadelphia in the summer of 1772. The “WRITING-MASTER AND ACCOMPTANT” declared that he “came on redemption, and was disappointed in meeting his expected friend.” In other words, he did not pay his passage in advance, nor did he sign an indenture and agree to work for a set number of years in exchange for transportation across the Atlantic. Instead, Gordon became a redemptioner. Compared to indentured servants who signed contracts that outlined their commitments in advance of departing European ports, redemptioners were “redeemed” by colonizers who paid their passage upon arrival. Many redemptioners arranged in advance for family and friends to redeem them. Others, however, sailed without knowing who might redeem them, sold into indentured servitude after crossing the Atlantic. That system was especially popular with German-speaking migrants. Newspapers published in Philadelphia ran the greatest numbers of advertisements offering redemptioners for sale.
Gordon apparently thought that a friend would redeem him when he arrived in Philadelphia, though the friend may not have been aware of that arrangement. Whatever the circumstances, he placed an advertisement seeking a patron to redeem him by paying for his passage and hiring him “as a Clerk or Schoolmaster.” Gordon expressed his willingness to work for “any Gentleman, Merchant, Farmer, or other, in any part of the province of Pennsylvania, or New-Jersey.” If no one who wanted to hire him as a clerk or schoolmaster were to “pay his redemption,” he could be redeemed by someone who had him do other kinds of work that Gordon likely would have found much less agreeable.
To avoid that possibility, Gordon added a nota bene in which he attempted to promote the qualities that made him a good schoolmaster and clerk while simultaneously not scaring off prospective employers by overselling himself. Perhaps most importantly, he wanted to impress them with his honesty. “As the generality of advertisers are pleased to embellish their abilities with the most exalted encomiums,” he declared, “the above Gordon, as to that point inclines to be silent, only, that by his behaviour, method of teaching, (or clerkmanship) and assiduity, flatters himself of meriting the kind approbation of any employer.” Gordon hoped that his advertisement would convince someone would hire him as a schoolmaster or clerk. Otherwise, he faced the prospects of the owner or captain of the vessel that carried him across the ocean would allow others to “pay his redemption” and employ him as they saw fit. Gordon may have thought that he had a deal in place when he left Londonderry, but redemption turned out to be a gamble for the writing master and clerk.