What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Will be READ, The Beggar’s OPERA.”
An itinerant performer toured New England in the fall of 1769, placing newspaper advertisements to promote his performances in each town he visited before disappearing from view in the public prints for several months. He first advertised in Providence Gazette on September 16, then in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28, followed by the Essex Gazette on October 10, and, finally, the New-Hampshire Gazette on November 3. Near the end of March 1770, he reappeared in Boston for a performance advertised in an extraordinary issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. The performer never gave his name in any of his newspaper notices, instead describing himself as “a Person who has Read and Sung in most of the great Towns in America.”
He updated his repertoire as he moved from town to town, though the Beggar’s Opera was one of his favorites to adapt into a one-man show. He had previously performed it in Boston, so he may have expected to attract interest in an encore performance rather than present new material. For those unaware of how one performer could stage the entire Beggar’s Opera, he explained that he “personates all the Charatcers, and enters into the different Humours, or Passions, as they change from one to another throughout the Opera.” He enticed his prospective audience by promising to sing sixty-nine songs throughout the course of the evening. This was a spectacle to be seen!
In addition to newspaper advertisements, the unnamed performer likely relied on others means of publicizing his shows. He may have posted broadsides around town or distributed handbills, though such items were even more ephemeral than newspapers and thus less likely to survive for later generations to examine. Consider that his advertisement for a performance on Friday, March 23 appeared in an extraordinary issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter published that very day. Richard Draper did not usually distribute his newspaper on Fridays, but happened to publish a two-page supplement on March 23. Without it, notice of the itinerant performer’s show that evening would not have been presented to prospective audiences in any of Boston’s several newspapers, suggesting that he made other arrangements to promote it in advance. The newspaper notice instructed that “TICKETS for admissions [were] to be had at Green & Russell’s Printing Office, and at the Bunch of Grapes in King-Street.” At the very least, he may have posted broadsides at those two busy hubs for exchanging information.