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I recently encountered this tweet, claiming that an ad was placed by a man "Looking for a wife in 1865." (Click image to enlarge.)

CHANCE FOR A SPINSTER. -- A young man in Aroostook County, Maine, advertising for a wife, speaks of himself as follows: "I am eighteen years old, have a good set of teeth, and believe in Andy Johnson, the star-spangled banner, and the 4th of July. I have taken up a State lot, cleared up eighteen acres last year, and seeded ten of it down. My buckwheat looks first-rate, and the oats and potatoes are bully. I have got nine sheep, a two-year-old bull, and two heifers, besides a house and barn. I want to get married. I want to buy bread-and-butter, hoop-skirts, and waterfalls for some person of the female persuasion during life. That's what's the matter with me. But I don't know how to do it."

The tweet has, at this time, more than 2,000 retweets, so I hope it meets Skeptic's notability standards. (I also found a similar claim on reddit by searching Google for the first few lines of the article.)

I requested more information from the tweeter, but we'll see what happens. (I am not very hopeful of a response; with over 200 replies, I doubt mine will garner any special attention.) Google Image search was not very helpful.

So, my questions are:

  1. Was this a real newspaper ad that ran in 1865?
  2. If the ad did run, is there any indication whether there actually was an eighteen-year-old man seeking a wife behind them (as the pictured article claims), or was this just a joke?
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    Yeah, we just had an ELU question about it. – Laurel Jun 20 '17 at 3:58
  • Thanks for the title edit, @user5. When I asked this, I wasn't sure how to concisely specify the contents of the ad; you did a perfect job. Thank you :) – Shokhet Jul 2 '17 at 16:10
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As Samuel said, the particular version shown in the OP is from 02 September 1865 Harpers.

However, the story had been circulating and distorting for at least a month by this time.

The earliest version that I see so far is in the Wheeling daily intelligencer, July 27, 1865

This version instead begins:

A fellow in Aroostook County, Me., answered a New York advertisement, representing that he could furnish any person with a wife. The advertiser replied, directing the writer to a neighboring asylum for idiots! The same youth not at all abashed, whose name is John Morris, speaks of himself as follows: "I am eighteen years old, have a good set of teeth, and believe in Andy Johnson...

So in the earlier version of the story, the man was answering an advertisement, not himself advertising.

A History of Lumbering in Maine says:

Portland Eastern Argus, July 20, 1865 carried the following letter from a young man in Aroostook County. I am eighteen years old, have a good set of teeth, and believe in Andy Johnson, the star-spangled banner, and the Fourth of July...

So someone would need to find that issue of Portland Eastern Argus to better answer.

(A 9 August 1865 article in The South-western of Shreveport, Louisiana instead cites to the Houlton Times as the paper where the man originally published his letter)

  • Thank you for your answer, Dave. It is interesting to see that the story morphed slightly through various retellings. I'm curious, though, if you found any more concrete indication on whether "John Morris" was real, and meant this statement seriously. – Shokhet Jun 30 '17 at 17:50
  • @Shokhet we need a copy of the July 20, 1865 "Eastern Argus" of Portland, Maine. – DavePhD Jun 30 '17 at 18:39
  • @Shokhet The article is in this database: genealogybank.com/explore/newspapers/all/usa/maine/portland/… – DavePhD Jun 30 '17 at 18:44
  • ...and that database requires a "risk-free 30-day trial membership" to actually access. – Ben Barden Jun 30 '17 at 20:39
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    Thanks for the new info, @DavePhD! I have access to some newspaper databases through my university; I'll see if I can find a copy of either the Argus or the Houlton Times, and post back here if I find something worthwhile. – Shokhet Jul 2 '17 at 15:44
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The 'ad' is obviously a joke. "Humors of the Day" is to Harper's Weekly what "Laughter is the Best Medicine" is to Reader's Digest.

To be absolutely sure, just look up from the ad on this page from that issue of Harper's Weekly.

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1

Not long ago the rector of the parish in ---shire was surprised by a request from an old woman in his village, that he would give her a seat in the church quite close to the pulpit. "Why, Molly," said he, "you're not deaf; surely you can hear my sermons quite well from where you now sit." "Yes sir," said the old woman, "that be true enough; but you see there be Betty Stubbs, and Bill Jones, and Mary Walker sitting right in front of me with their mouths all wide open, and taking it all in, and by the time it reaches Oi [Of?] it's werry poor stuff indeed.

Granted, the joke has not aged particularly well (nor has the rest of the column), but it obviously is not meant to be taken seriously. It was intended as a joke, which also explains why it changed upon retelling as mentioned in DavePhD's answer.

Also, from another page from Harper's Weekly (another obvious joke in a section titled "Humors of the Day:

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    In Harpers the letter was printed because it was humorous, but that was after circulating virally around the country for weeks. But what was the original intent of the letter? Did it start as humor or was it a serious letter? – DavePhD Jul 1 '17 at 12:47
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    I suspect "Oi" is correct, as an accented "I", similar to "werry". – Bobson Jul 7 '17 at 14:12
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  1. So I put the words into Google search, and I found that it's from Harper's Weekly, Volume IX, Issue 453, Page 551, in the section called "Humors of the Day."

    You can see an image of the page here (on the bottom right corner, right next to the picture).

  2. I assume that it's real if Harper's printed it; I don't think there's any reason to assume it was just a joke.

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    That section is called 'Humors of the day'. As you say, you are only assuming it is real. – Jan Doggen Jun 20 '17 at 8:01
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    Hmm. I'm not sure whether to upvote this answer. It's true that the source of the image floating around is from a real 1865 publication (+1), but you don't really address (with sources, which is the point of Skeptics) whether the advertisement was seriously meant (-1?). Therefore, I won't vote on this answer unless you add some sources about the second half of the question. (But thank you for the answer to the first half of the question; that was useful :-)) – Shokhet Jun 20 '17 at 17:58

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