What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A large Quantity of Ordure, supposed to have been taken from some Privy-House Vault.”
Samuel Young and William Tyler were not happy. Who could blame them? Who, that is, except for “some evil-minded Person or Persons” who had befouled their well? Upon making an unpleasant discovery, Tyler and Young took to the pages of the Providence Gazette with an advertisement describing how the perpetrators had, “in a most filthy Manner, bedaub[ed] the Stones, Curb and Bucket, of Tyler and Young’s Well, with a large Quantity of Ordure.” The victims of such a disgusting act of vandalism suspected that the miscreants had taken the excrement “from some Privy-House Vault.” What explained such an assault? Tyler and Young attributed it to “the Instigation of the Devil.”
The aggrieved colonizers did not exclude any possible suspects, describing the “Party or Parties concerned” as “he, she, or they.” Whoever was responsible for carrying out the devil’s work, Tyler and Young wanted them held accountable. They had not published their advertisement to advise the public about what had happened to their well but rather to enlist the aid of anyone with information that would allow them to identify or “discover” the perpetrators that they “may be brought to Justice.” Tyler and Young offered a reward, conditional on the conviction of the “Offender or Offenders.”
As was often the case, an advertisement supplied readers with a combination of local news and gossip … and perhaps even a bit of amusement, depending on their predilections for scatological humor or how they felt about Tyler and Young. Other advertisements in the August 28, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette also delivered news, gossip, or a combination of the two. Uzal Green, for instance, advised others not to extend credit to his wife, Martha, because he would not pay any of her bills since she “hath eloped from me, and refuses to return to my Bed and Board.” Another advertisement recounted how “the Shop of Robert Leonard, Taylor, was feloniously broke open … and robbed.” That notice offered rewards for recovering the stolen goods and capturing the thief. In an estate notice, the executors of Dr. Samuel Carew encouraged “all those who have unsettled Accounts” to “pay their respective Debts” or face legal action. In yet another advertisement, Nehemiah Underwood promised a reward for the capture and return of his sixteen-year-old runaway apprentice, Daniel Sanders. None of those advertisements may have been as remarkable as Tyler and Young’s effort to identify the villain or villains who defiled their well, but each of them did incorporate local news that did not appear elsewhere in the newspaper.