What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“His Clocks with both Hands gives the Lye,
His Tongue ne’er speaks the Truth.”
After placing an advertisement in which he compared his rival to a rat, watchmaker John Simnet did not bother to wait for a response from Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith before escalating their feud once again. In the June 15, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Simnet placed an advertisement with two parts. The first portion included the rat metaphor and the second portion a copy of a bill that Griffith issued to one of his customers. Simnet called on “Judges” to insect the watch and assess whether the bill was reasonable before Griffith’s customer paid for the repairs and reclaimed his watch.
In the next edition, Simnet once again placed an advertisement in two parts. The first reiterated the rat metaphor and a reference to Griffith as a “rough Clockmaker.” The second portion was new; Simnet found new ways to denigrate Griffith in a short poem:
Near Portsmouth Stocks SHEEP G—ffi—h lives
(A Turkey legged Youth,)
His Clocks with both Hands gives the Lye,
His Tongue ne’er speaks the Truth,
Stand off, ye Pettyfogging Knaves;
This can you all out do,
Long NAT, can Filch us of our Time;
And of our Money too.
Although the poem was no great work of literature, it did include a couple of clever turns of phrase that simultaneously invoked measuring time and deficiencies in both Griffith’s character and skills as a watchmaker. According to Simnet, Griffith’s clocks did not keep accurate time, yet another way that the supposed liar deceived his clients; nobody could expect Griffith to deliver the truth via any means, not in conversation nor on the dial of his clocks. Simnet also accused Griffith of stealing from his clients in multiple ways. He stole their money when demanding payment for inferior work. He also stole their time in more than one fashion, through depriving them of knowing the correct time and also through wasting their time in dealing with him at all.
For his part, Griffith had not yet submitted a new advertisement for publication in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Instead, his notice that called Simnet a mountebank and a novice who “cruely butchered” watches ran once again. Throughout their feud in the public prints, Griffith had been the more measured in his approach.
In the era of the imperial crisis that ultimately became the American Revolution, some colonists expressed their political views in advertisements that promoted their business endeavors. By paying to insert their notices in newspapers, they gained some level of editorial authority. Simnet and Griffith, however, did not leverage that authority to address current events. Instead, they used it to engage in a dispute that repeatedly unfolded before the eyes of readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Purchasing advertising space allowed colonists to express their views and have conversations … or engage in arguments … seemingly with little editorial intervention from the printers.