February 24

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 24 - 2:24:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 24, 1766).

“A Servant who writes a good Hand … may hear of a Place.”

Having a servant “who writes a good Hand” would be most valuable to his master, along with the other duties that he would perform: shaving, dressing a wig, helping with the accounts, and “the Business of a Butler.” Having a servant doing these tasks would have freed up his master to pursue other activities and would have provided standing among his peers. The emphasis on writing implies that the person who placed the advertisement was keen to find a servant that would possibly assist in managing his household by doing his writing for him as well as keeping track of his accounts.


This person that the advertiser was going to hire could not be just anyone; he needed to be well recommended. Recommendations in some cases had more weight than experience, especially in a busy port city like Boston with people coming and going.

In this case, it seems like the man looking for a servant did not want to deal directly with those responding to the advertisement but instead went though the newspaper printers, Green and Russell.



When I decided to combine my own research with my teaching duties by inviting students in my Public History course to take on responsibilities as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project I hoped that their relative unfamiliarity with eighteenth-century print and consumer culture would uncover elements of various advertisements that I take for granted.

I have appreciated, for instance, how some of the guest curators have interrogated the language used in the advertisements they selected, demonstrating how usage has changed over time. Similarly, for today’s featured advertisement Mary suggested in her first draft that Green and Russell were an employment agency of some sort, not realizing that “enquiring of GREEN & RUSSELL” was a variant of “Enquire of the Printers.” Other guest curators have reached similar conclusions when working with advertisements that directed readers to printers when those men were identified by name rather than occupation. Given the modern process for matching applicants with jobs through agencies, this seems like a natural assumption.

In turn, it opens the door for productive conversations about the role of printers in eighteenth-century America. Their print shops were hubs of activity – commercial and political. Many printers also served as postmasters in addition to publishing their newspapers, which meant that people visited their offices to send and pick up letters. Information, including employment possibilities, circulated through printing offices. Local residents, unlike twenty-first-century readers, would have recognized the printers by name and would have been familiar with the practice of instructing interested parties to gain more information at the local print shop.

In this regard, today’s advertisement is a nice companion to the two advertisements concerning wet nurses featured yesterday. In each of them printers played a role as intermediaries after the advertisements were published.

“May hear of a Place by enquiring of GREEN & RUSSELL.”

“Enquire of the Printers.”

“Inquire of W. Weyman.”

January 26

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

Jan 26 - 1:24:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 24, 1766)

“A Boy 12 or 14 Years old, that can be well Recommended, is wanted as an Apprentice in this Town.  Enquire of the Printer.”

Employment advertisements regularly appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Men and women regularly sought to buy and sell their services and labor or the services, assistance, and labor of others.  In that regard, employment advertisements could be considered variations on advertisements for enslaved people or indentured servants, which also marketed labor.  They are also variations on advertisements that promote the skills and services offered by artisans.  All of these kinds of advertisements often rely on similar language and appeals.

This advertisement seeking an apprentice, though brief, includes one of the standard phrases in notices arranging for an exchange of services:  “well Recommended.”  A person’s reputation in and of itself was an increasingly valuable commodity in the eighteenth century, an attribute that facilitated all kinds of social interactions in addition to commercial exchanges.

I also chose this advertisement because it raises an interesting question.  What kind of trade would the prospective apprentice learn?  “Enquire of the Printer” suggests that he might have learned that trade.  However, it was not uncommon for advertisers to remain anonymous and simply instruct that anybody interested in responding to their notices should “Enquire of the Printer.”

Given its ambiguity, who would have responded to this advertisement?  Some job seekers in the twenty-first century are sometimes willing to try their hand at anything that will give them a chance to gain some experience and make a living.  Perhaps a young man — or his family — adopted a similar approach in New London in the eighteenth century upon seeing an advertisement like this one.

Once again, I find myself intrigued by the partial stories told in the advertisements, wondering about the lives of those who placed and responded to such notices.