What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Mr. SAUNDERS has been honoured with the greatest Applause,, by all the Nobility that have seen his Great Performances.”
Newspaper advertisements allow for tracing the travels of itinerant performers who entertained colonizers as they moved from town to town in the eighteenth century. Those same advertisements also provide a glimpse of some of the popular culture options available audiences in early America. Just in time for the new year, the “New Advertisements” in the December 31, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included a notice that “THE CELEBRATED Mr. SAUNDERS Will exhibit his DEXTERITY and GRAND DECEPTION.”
Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, already established a reputation for his “Variety of new, astonishing, and entertaining Performances, by Dexterity of Hand, surpassing every Thing of the Kind that has hitherto been seen, or attempted, on this Side [of] the Atlantic” in New York and Pennsylvania. Since arriving in the colonies from Europe just over two years earlier, he had moved back and forth between New York and Philadelphia, placing advertisements in the New-York Journal, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and the Pennsylvania Journal.
To incite interest in his performances, Saunders suggested that colonizers would gain access and enjoy the same entertainments as the better sorts on both sides of the Atlantic. He trumpeted that he “has been honoured with the greatest Applause, by all the Nobility that have seen his Great Performances in Europe, America, and the West-Indies.” The illusionist made sure to list prominent colonial officials who had seen his performances, including the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Audiences who came to his show in “STOTHERD’s Long Room” in Charleston or hired him for “private Performances at their own Houses” would join the ranks of “the Nobility and Gentry in Great-Britain, Ireland, and America, and in particular in the capital Cities.” Residents of Charleston, one of the largest urban ports in the colonies, wanted their town to rank among those “capital Cities.” Saunders offered them an opportunity to partake in the same entertainments previously enjoyed by their counterparts in other “capital Cities” in the colonies and throughout the British Empire.
Like other itinerant performers, Saunders resorted to newspaper advertisements to announce his arrival in hopes of inciting interest in his performances. He gave a preview of the wonders that audiences would witness, noting that he earned “the greatest Applause” from audiences that included “the Nobility and Gentry … in capital Cities.” Upon purchasing tickets “at ONE DOLLAR each,” colonizers from various backgrounds could experience the same entertainments, but the better sort concerned about the prospects of rubbing elbows with the masses could also schedule private performances that enhanced their own status and Saunders’s acclaim as well.