May 26, 2012


As I've been researching and fleshing out my persona, I've been wondering about his education.  Being a bookbinder, and possibly a printer or bookseller as well, I'm assuming that he would, at the very least, be literate.  In addition to reading, I would guess that he also has basic writing and math skills.

Yesterday I spent some time looking into writing in the time period.  It would appear that a style of what is now considered calligraphy, Copperplate Round, or Round Hand, was a popular handwriting of the time.  I did some general internet searches and reading, but nothing really exciting enough to write about.

While I was reading, I did, however, come across something interesting on a blog called Slightly Obsessed.  In particular, the post Run like the Devil from the Excise Man got my attention.  First, the main image is of a nicely bound journal.  More importantly, though, is the mention of taxes and accounting for businesses.  These are two topics that I immediately added to my research list, as they would definitely affect my bookbinder.  This is also the point where I decided that Eli Davis was definitely an educated man.  He would, at the very least, have to be educated enough to run his own business.

Sufficiently sidetracked in my research now, I began looking for accounting books of the time.  My good friend Google Books turned up a few things, including Book-keeping Methodised by John Mair, printed in 1772, and An Essay on Book-Keeping by William Webster, which was mentioned in the Slightly Obsessed post.

While I was looking through these books, I began to wonder about how Eli might have learned arithmetic.  I remembered hearing the term "Learning his cyphers" one time in regards to learning math.  I typed "Cyphers" into the Google Books search box, filtered by dates between 1735 and 1776, and found Arithmetic Made Familiar and easy to Young Gentlemen and Ladies, printed during 1748 in London.

The preface of the book begins by stating that fractions will not be covered in the text as "most common Business may be carried on with the Knowledge of Whole Numbers only..."[1]

"Okay, good," I thought with a chuckle, "Everything I need to know about business, I can learn from this book."

I read more of the preface.  After a long history of the origin of arithmetic, the author writes something interesting about how various cultures do calculations.  Some calculated on their fingers, without using a pen and paper. Some used grain.  The Chinese, he states "do not much regard Rules in their Calculations, instead of which (Father le Comte tells us) they use an Instrument made of a Plate a Foot and a half long, across which are fitted ten or twelve Iron Wires, whereon are strung little round Balls: By drawing these together, and dispersing them again one after another, they calculate with great Ease and Expedition."[2]

The author had just described an abacus.  Since they were known in 1748, I wondered if they may have been used by New England business owners in 1776.  Something else to add to the research list.

After finishing the preface, I continued reading, covering a few chapters of the book, including notation, addition, and subtraction.  I think I'll cover that reading in another post.

One final thought from the author that I thought was interesting. In the introduction, the author explains how learning arithmetic is useful to those who would go into business, or to those who would like to improve their station in life.  He ends by stating: "Even the Ladies themselves, who have generally the Care of the domestic Expense of a Family ought therefore to have a proper Share of this useful Accomplishment."[3]

That one statement gives an interesting glimpse into the social world of the 18th century.

[1] Arithmetic Made familiar and easy to Young Gentlemen and Ladies, Being the Second Volume of the Circle of the Sciences, &c., (London: John Newbery, 1748) (accessed May 25, 2012), A2.

[2] Ibid. A6.

[3] Ibid. 2.

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