April 25

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

Apr 25 - 4:25:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 25, 1767).

“He now performs all Sorts of Writing and Scrivening Business as usual.”

Silas Downer, a scrivener, went out of town on business for some time, making it necessary to place an advertisement announcing his return once he was again in Providence. Downer did not give too many particulars, though he indicated that he was “returned from one of the Southern Colonies, where he hath been a few Weeks transacting some Business of Consequence.” This may have disrupted the services he usually provided to the residents of Providence; he explained that the business that called him out of town “unexpectedly demanded his Presence.” Whatever the cause of his absence, Downer was back in town, open for business, and ready to work with clients.

As a scrivener, he penned a variety of documents, including legal documents. He promised to do so “with Secrecy, Fidelity, and Dispatch.” Perhaps he intended for the first portion of his advertisement to testify to the “Secrecy” that was part of his profession. After all, he offered a substantial explanation for his departure without revealing any specific information. He demonstrated his ability to discuss his own affairs without disclosing any of the other parties involved, the nature of the business that called him away from Providence, or even his destination in “one of the Southern Colonies.” In so doing, he exhibited both “Fidelity” to his clients and “Dispatch” in handling matters so quickly. He also brought his work to a successful conclusion, having “executed his Commission,” whatever it may have been. Without explicitly stating the quality of his own character, Downer provided evidence for potential customers to assess whether he possessed the virtues that made for an effective and trustworthy scrivener.

To supplement that appeal, Downer also acknowledged his “Old Customers” while inviting them and new clients “to favor him with their Business.” Anyone uncertain about hiring the scrivener could put stock in the fact that others had previously trusted his “Secrecy, Fidelity, and Dispatch.”

An unexpected departure may have disrupted and damaged Downer’s services in Providence, but the scrivener crafted an advertisement that transformed his temporary absence into an opportunity to demonstrate the various virtues he brought to his occupation. He conducted “Business of Consequence” and clients could depend on him to do the same when it came to the documents he composed for them as well.

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.