What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The first Person that ever set up, and regularly maintain’d a Stage Carriage in New-England.”
John Stavers was not pleased when a competitor set up stagecoach service between Boston and Portsmouth in 1771. In July, he placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to promote his “Stage-Coach, Number One,” proclaiming that “several Years” experience of transporting passengers, mail, and newspapers meant that his drivers provided superior service. Stavers also suggested that the “Difficulty, Expence, Discouragements, and very little, if any profit” associated with operating the stagecoach for so many years meant that the public should “give his Coach the Preference” over a newcomer “big with Importance” yet lacking experience.
He placed a similar advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, hoping to draw the attention of prospective passengers at the other end of the line. Stavers declared that he “was the first Person that ever set up, and regularly maintain’d a Stage Carriage in New-England.” Regardless of the weather and other conditions, operations continued “at all Seasons” for a decade. In recognition of both the “Marks of Approbation” he received from prior clients and the “Utility” of the service he provided, he stated that he “therefore humbly hopes that his Carriages will still continue to be prefer’d to any other, that may set up in Opposition to them.” For those who needed more convincing, Stavers asserted that “his Carriages are universally allow’d to be as convenient, genteel, and easy, and his Horses as good (if not better) than any that have as yet travelled the Road.” In addition, he promised that “the greatest Care will be taken of all Bundles and Packages.” For passengers who needed food and lodging upon arriving in Portsmouth, Stavers offered “Good Entertainment at the Earl of Halifax Tavern … equal to any on the Continent,” including any in Boston. Stavers also listed prices for transporting passengers “in the most genteel and expeditious Manner” from Boston to Portsmouth and Boston to Newburyport so prospective customers could compare rates if they wished.
Stavers never named his competitor in either advertisement, but he did make it clear that he believed his experience resulted in better service for passengers traveling between Boston and Portsmouth. In addition, he apparently felt that the investment he made operating a stagecoach along that route entitled him to the patronage of travelers who might otherwise choose his rival. He deployed a carrot-and-stick approach in his marketing efforts, alternating between the describing the benefits associated with his coaches and constructing a sense of obligation for selecting his services.