As with other technologies,
the written and printed word has changed through history. What was commonplace
two centuries ago may look strange to modern readers. When you read the
documents on this site, you will notice some puzzling practices. You will
also notice that writing styles varied, just as they do today.
In American and British English
in Martha's time...
- There were no typewriters
or computers, so personal writing was handwritten. Commercial writing
was handwritten or typeset on a press.
- Uppercase letters began
nouns as well as sentences.
- The lower case s
was written in elongated form, resembling an f:
- at the beginnings of
words, as in several.
- in the middle of words,
as in estate.
- when written twice together,
as in dress
can resemble a p.
- Writers used superscript--small,
elevated letters--to indicate abbreviations, as in Colo.
North. Some writers underlined
the superscript, as in Mrs Foster.
Some writers gave no indication at all when they shortened words, as
in Esq North.
- Spelling was not standardized
and often varied even within a document. If spelling appears erratic
or confusing, try reading out loud. Often writers spelled words the
way they sounded.
- Some writers spelled "the"
they pronounced the word as we do today. This spelling derived from
the Old English rune for the "th" sound.
- In some hands, the following
letters can be mistaken for each other:
- K, P,
- J and
- L and
- Documents with many pages
often printed the first word of each page at the bottom of the previous
- Writing with a quill pen
yielded a varied line width that depended on the writer's skill, the
quality of the ink and quill, and the degree of wear on the quill point.
It was not uncommon for ink to blotch, run, and blur.
- Over time, ink fades and
paper yellows, affecting a document's legibility. For this reason, the
quality of the documents on this site will vary.
When deciphering a handwritten
document, it is useful to create a reference sheet of the way the writer
formed each letter in the alphabet.
For a more detailed discussion
of eighteenth-century writing, see How
to Read Eighteenth-Century Writing in the History