What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“If any person will take the trouble to call upon me … I shall fully satisfy him of what I have here asserted.”
Among the many advertisements in the July 30, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, one consisted entirely of a testimonial submitted to the printing office by Bartly Clarke. He lauded a cure for “that terrible distemper the cancer” he experienced under the care of “that famous doctor Kemmena, now living in Maiden-Lane, in the city of New-York.” Clarke explained that he had suffered with cancer “in my lip” for fifteen years. He spent “a large sum of money” in seeking treatment from “several eminent physicians,” but none restored him to health. Clarke sought out Kemmena upon the recommendation of “Capt. Charles Chadwick, of New-London, who was cured of the like distemper by him, almost three years ago.”
According to Clarke, Kemmena “effectually cured” him “in the space of four weeks, by the application of his famous plaster.” During that time, Clare observed “three different persons cured of the cancer” by Kemmena. He provided their names, enlisted them in bolstering his testimonial. Daniel Davis, for instance, “had his whole under lip taken away, and in the space of a fortnight closed it up with sound flesh, so that it scarcely left a scar.” Davis resided on Long Island, as did Nancy Curshow. The third patient, Captain Rite, hailed from Bermuda, making it difficult for readers to consult any of the “three different persons” that Clarke claimed Kemmena also cured.
They could, however, speak to Clarke to learn more and assess his trustworthiness in person … but only for a limited time. He offered that “if any person will take the trouble to call upon me at the house of doctor Kemmena, (during my stay, which will be until Sunday the second day of August) I shall fully satisfy him of what I have here asserted.” Clarke intended to depart for his plantation in South Carolina just days after inserting the testimonial, dated July 30, in the newspaper. That did not give other colonizers much time to consult him. The notations at the end, however, alerted the compositor that the advertisement should run for four weeks from issue 1543 to issue 1546, circulating for some time after Clarke left the city.
Whether or not Clarke worked with Kemmena in composing and publishing this testimonial, he likely believed that its appearance independent of additional advertising by the doctor would enhance its veracity. On occasion, other doctors ran advertisements that incorporated testimonials after they described their services, so a testimonial appearing alone amounted to a novel approach. Clarke framed his missive as so important that he needed to share his good fortune before leaving town. Savvy readers, on the other hand, would have questioned the timing as well as the other claims, especially since Clarke indicated that “some malicious person” spread false rumors that the doctor’s cures were not effective. For some, none of the particulars in the testimonial may have mattered. This advertisement, like so many others for medicines and medical treatment, leveraged hope as its primary marketing strategy.