What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Good horses and chairs, which he will hire out by the day.”
Personal transportation was a major investment in eighteenth-century America, just as it continues to be today. Not all colonists could afford to own horses, considering the costs of stabling, feeding, and caring for them. Even for those with horses, coaches and carriages were another significant expense, one often incurred only by the most affluent colonists who wished to demonstrate their gentility and wealth through conspicuous displays of consumption.
The costs, however, did not put the use of horse and carriage completely beyond the means of colonists who did not rank among the elite. Those who did not have either cause or the means to own horses or carriages of their own could rent them from entrepreneurs who took advantage of that void in the marketplace. Thomas Eustace, for instance, advertised that he had “purchased some good horses and chairs, which he will hire out by the day.” (Colonists used the term “chair” generically to denote all sorts of carriages.) In choosing the device to identify his location, Eustace positioned such rentals as a central component of his business: he could be found “at the sign of the Horse and Chair.” There he also stabled horses and “proposes taking in wagons” for the night. In effect, he provided parking in the bustling port of Charleston.
Eustace’s approach to providing personal transportation for other colonists anticipated practices commonly associated with the age of automobiles, but he was not the only innovative entrepreneur who pioneered what may otherwise seem to be particularly modern practices. The day before Eustace advertised in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Adino Paddock informed readers of the Boston-Gazette that in addition to making new coaches he also had to sell “a second-hand Phaeton, two Curricles, several Chaises and Chairs.” In addition he “will take old Chaises in part Pay for new.” Paddock had been offering used vehicles and trade ins for at least the better part of a year. Two days after Eustace’s advertisement, John Mercereau and John Barnhill inserted a notice in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy to promote their “Stage-Waggons” that ran between Philadelphia and New York, complete with a woodcut of horses pulling a covered wagon. They ran a shuttle service not unlike buses that connect major urban centers today.
Thomas Eustace’s plan to “hire out” horses and carriages “by the day” was part of a larger network of services that made personal transportation accessible to greater numbers of people in eighteenth-century America. Some of the practices easily associated with the age of automobiles had precursors in the colonial era.