What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“George Spriggs, Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.”
As spring approached in 1770, the appropriately named George Spriggs took to the pages of the Boston-Gazette to advertise a “Large Assortment of English Fruit Trees” as well as “flowering Shrubs,” bushes, and other plants that he sold “at a reasonable price.” Price and quality were not the only appeals that Spriggs incorporated into his advertisement. He devised a headline to introduce himself to prospective customers as “Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.” In so doing, he attempted to leverage his relationship with an existing client to incite demand among other consumers. Readers of the Boston-Gazette may not have known Spriggs, but they were certainly familiar with prominent merchant and patriot leader John Hancock. The gardener hoped to capitalize on the cachet of being associated with such an eminent member of the community. He invited prospective customers to imagine that they could possess something in common with Hancock, a marker of their own taste.
Spriggs deployed a strategy not often used in the late 1760s and early 1770s. Doctors and artisans who recently arrived in the colonies sometimes listed notable patients or clients they previously served in Europe before migrating across the Atlantic. Doing so helped newcomers establish their reputation, but advertisers rarely invoked the names of local customers. They did make more general statements of appreciation to those who had previously employed them, simultaneously seeking to maintain their clientele while demonstrating to prospective new customers that others made purchases from them or hired their services. Yet they did not tend to name specific clients.
Spriggs did not publish an endorsement nor a testimonial from Hancock, yet he did seek to benefit from his association with one of the most prominent men in Massachusetts. Describing himself as “Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.” suggested that the merchant was satisfied with his services, even if it fell short of an outright recommendation. Spriggs pursued the eighteenth-century version of promoting his celebrity clientele as a means of attracting new customers for his business.