September 7

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Sep 7 - 9:7:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 7, 1766).

“The Business of BUTCHERING … is carried on, by BENAJAH LEWIS, and Company.”

Benajah Lewis and Company’s advertisement for “their Slaughter House … in the Main-Street PROVIDENCE” reminds us how much the spatial geography of cities has changed since the colonial era. Livestock would have been a fairly common sight in many areas of busy port cities, though cattle and hogs are absent from the urban landscape today. A slaughterhouse would have emitted both loud noises and unpleasant smells, but those have been replaced with loud noises and unpleasant smells of completely other sorts in the wake of urban development, expansion, and industrialization. Today, Armando and Sons Meat Market, Central Meat Market, Joe’s Meat Market, and Plainfield Meat Market each provide specialized butcher services and an enticing array of products to residents of Providence, but none of their websites indicate that live animals are slaughtered on site. That work seems to take place elsewhere (and may even be mandated by health codes and other regulations), distancing most carnivorous consumers from the ultimate source of their meals, much more so than colonists and the animals they ate.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that two days ago I identified continuity between a newspaper advertisement published in 1766 and current “going out of business” promotions, but today’s advertisement included something that I sincerely doubt would be seen today. Lewis and Company ended their advertisement with a nota bene informing potential customers that “Said Lewis, keeps a good Stable, well provided, for Horses.” Given modern American sensibilities, it seems unlikely that any butchers would mention horses, even just the stabling of horses, in an advertisement promoting the meat sold at their shops or slaughterhouses. To do so would cast suspicion on the quality and the origins of the products they sell.

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