What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He has lately employed a Workman from England.”
As winter approached in 1771, William Hill, a clothier who operated a fulling mill, took to the pages of the New-London Gazette to promote new services available at his shop. Hill informed readers that he recently hired “a Workman from England” who provided assistance maintaining garments of various sorts. According to the clothier, his employee “revives scarlets and other Colours when defaced,” restoring textiles after they experienced fading or other damage. The workman also “takes Spots out of all Kinds of Silks” to make them presentable once again. In addition, he “colours and presses Silk Gowns, as also all Kinds of Men’s Apparel in the best Manner.” Hill was not content solely with treating fabrics in advance of making them into clothing; he also sought to generate revenues by offering them options for caring for their garments. He did not possess the skills to deliver those ancillary services on his own, so he hired someone to work in his shop.
Whether artisans or shopkeepers, most advertisers did not mention those who labored in their shops, though wives, sons, daughters, apprentices, assistants, employees, and enslaved men and women made many and various contributions in all sorts of workplaces in eighteenth-century America. Advertisements depicted bustling sites of production and commerce, but only testified to a fraction of the workers who interacted with customers or labored behind the scenes. In most cases, newspaper notices mentioned only the proprietor, often in a larger font that served as a headline. Such was the case for Joseph Gale, whose advertisement listed an assortment of textiles, housewares, and hardware in stock at his shop in Norwich, but did not mention any family members, employees, or others who served customers. Those advertisers who did acknowledge others who worked in their shops usually sought to enhance their reputations by calling attention to supplementary services as they expanded their businesses. Hill made sure that the public knew about the various skills his new employee possessed, but did not mention the contributions of anyone else who might have worked in his clothier’s shop.