What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Large or small Entertainments provided, in the most genteel Manner.”
As summer arrived in New York in 1768, Josiah Davenport continued placing advertisements in newspapers published in that city to inform colonists planning to visit Philadelphia that he had recently opened a new inn and tavern “called the BUNCH of GRAPES.” This was not merely a way station for food and lodging but instead “a genteel HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT, for travelers and others.”
Yet New Yorkers did not need to travel to Philadelphia to enjoy the sorts of amenities Davenport advertised. Starting with the June 16 edition of the New-York Gazette (number 1328), Samuel Francis (more commonly known today as Samuel Fraunces) announced that his summer resort at the edge of the city, “VAUX-HALL GARDEN,” was open for business. Naming his pleasure garden after Vauxhall Gardens of London, Fraunces opened “VAUX-HALL GARDEN” at Spring Hill, a villa located on the Hudson River, in 1767. The establishment competed with nearby Ranelagh Gardens, the site of several fireworks exhibitions in the spring of 1768. Fraunces countered the series of advertisements for the fireworks shows with his own notices, slated to appear in the New-York Gazette for at least four weeks (according to the issue numbers – “28 31” – that the compositor inserted at the end of the advertisement).
Visitors to his “House and Gardens” could experience “Large or small Entertainments … in the most genteel Manner” as they selected among “neat Wines, and other Liquors.” In addition to evening amusements, patrons could also enjoy “Breakfasting” complete with tea and coffee as well as “Cakes, Tarts, Jellies, [and] Sillibubs.” In addition, Fraunces offered catering services – “Dinners, Suppers, &c. dressed at Gentlemen’s own Houses” – for those who wished to entertain in their own homes.
In the second half of the eighteenth century an emerging leisure and hospitality industry served “such Ladies, Gentlemen, and others, who may be pleased to favour” establishments like Vauxhall Garden, Ranelagh Gardens, and the Bunch of Grapes “with their Company.” Colonists participated in a transatlantic consumer revolution that involved more than acquiring goods. Those with the time and resources also enjoyed a variety of services and entertainments presented for their amusement. For some early Americans, the culture of consumption extended to consuming experiences as well as the myriad of housewares and apparel advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers.