What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The following Advertisement from the London Gazetteer … is inserted as a Curiosity.”
Colonial printers generated content for their newspapers by liberally reprinting items that previously appeared in other newspapers. Much of the news came from newspapers printed in other colonies, but some it also came directly from newspapers printed in London. In making their editorial decisions, printers sometimes chose items intended to inform or to educate, but other times selected items intended solely to entertain. The latter included anecdotes, poems, and even advertisements.
For instance, John Holt reprinted news from London in the Supplement to the New-York Journal distributed on June 4, 1768. He complemented the news from the Public Advertiser and Public Ledger with items intended to edify and to amuse, namely a poem “On JOHN WILKES, Esq; offering himself a Candidate for the County of Middlesex” and an “Advertisement from the London Gazetteer of the 31st of March last.” Holt explained that the advertisement “is inserted as a Curiosity” for his readers.
The advertisement offered colonists a glimpse of popular culture and entertainments available in England. It announced a spectacle that occurred every night (except Sundays) throughout the summer: “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON, at St. George’s Spaw, at the Dog and Duck in St. George’s Fields Southwark.” The notice listed ten tricks performed by Wolton, including riding “two horses on full speed, standing upright with one foot on each saddle” and making “a flying leap over the bar with two horses, sitting on both saddles.” For added interest, Wolton beat a drum during some of his tricks and fired a pistol during others. To make the event even more spectacular, the proprietors supplied “Proper musick” to set the tone throughout the series of stunts.
Unless they planned a trip across the Atlantic, the readers of the New-York Journal did not have opportunities to witness Wolton’s show of horsemanship during the summer of 1768, but Holt suspected that the advertisement on its own provided some of level of entertainment. Its inclusion in the New-York Journal demonstrates how carefully the printer scoured other newspapers for content he imagined his readers would enjoy. Some colonists likely paid similar attention to the advertisements in their local newspapers, not because they were responsible for filling out the pages but instead because they sought entertainment, either by attending events like fireworks shows and musical performances or simply by reading advertisements that included curious or amusing content.