October 19

The New York printer, Hugh Gaine, advertised in the pages of The New York Mercury, dated this day in 1772: “Wanted an Apprentice to the Printing Business and a Journey Man Printer, that is a good Press Man, at which Branch he will only be employed. Such a Person will meet with employ for a considerable Time by applying to the Printer hereof.”

Printer Gaine’s various advertisements constitute a record of the problems of the employing printer during the 18th century and indirectly of the problems of the employees. In 1762 he inserted the following notice in his newspaper columns: “Runaway from the Subscriber about 12 o’clock Yesterday, an Apprentice Lad, named Daniel Narraway: He is about 5 feet 6 Inches high, well made, pretty much pitted with the SmallPox, wears his own Hair and is very much bloated by Drinking, to which he is most uncommonly addicted: Had on when he went away, a brown Coat, Jacket and Breeches, Shoes and Stockings, but no Buckles in his shoes, having lately sold them, and spent the Money: He is supposed to be lying drunk in some petty Tavern in the Out Ward of the City, or gone up to New-England. Whoever takes up the said lad, so that he may be lodged in the Work-House, shall receive a Reward of Five Dollars, paid by H. Gaine. N. B. All Masters of Vessels are forbid to carry him off at their Peril; and whoever harbours him after the Date of this Advertisement, shall be prosecuted as the Law directs in such Cases. This is the second time he has run away in a month.”

Twenty years later, Gaine was still having problems in keeping his apprentices from roving. In 1783 he was complaining once more, in an advertisement in Rivington’s Royal Gazette: “Absented himself from the Subscriber last Sunday, the 5th instant, An Apprentice Boy, named John Nullaan, Between 19 and 20 year old; about 5 feet 9 inches high; a well looking lad, with black hair: Had on when he went away, a dark colored coat, and it is supposed is gone on board a privateer, or merchant ship, as he is very fond of a seafaring life; therefore, all Masters of vessels and others, are forbid to carry him off, or entertain him on any account, as they will answer the same at their peril.”

Contending with runaway apprentices was one of the common problems of the colonial printer, brought about by the terms of indenture, which sometimes bound a lad for ten years of arduous labor under conditions which not infrequently were scarcely less burdensome than actual serfdom. Throughout the period there existed a labor shortage, which printers attempted to alleviate with the hiring of apprentices, only to find themselves over-staffed during the seasonal lulls in the trade. And of course, printers were always well-endowed with an itching foot which kept urging them to seek out mysteries beyond the horizon.

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