What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A PAMPHLET, Intitled, BATES and his HORSES weighed in the Balance.”
Mr. Bates did not receive a universally warm welcome when he performed his feats of horsemanship in Boston in the fall of 1773. Bates advertised in several newspapers in the city, announcing his presence and informing prospective audiences of his considerable experience performing at courts in Europe. On September 27, his advertisement for an exhibition scheduled for the next day ran in all three newspapers published in the city that day. Although it appeared on its own in the Boston Evening-Post, another advertisement concerning Bates ran in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. That notice offered a brief critique of Bates and promised a more extensive treatment in a pamphlet. The cheeky compositors conveniently placed the advertisements next to each other in the Boston-Gazette and at the top and bottom of the same column in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.
The new notice announced the anticipated publication of a pamphlet, “BATES and his HORSES weighed in the Balance” in a few days. The pamphlet would demonstrate that “his Exhibitions in Boston are impoverishing, disgraceful to human Nature, and down-right Breaches of the Sixth Commandment.” The advertisement concluded with an admonition, “Oh be a Man,” from Edward Young’s The Complaint: Or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality. The line from the poem may have been intended to mock Bates and demean the sense of masculinity that defined him and supposedly made it possible for him alone to perform “a Variety of manly Exercises” never before seen in Boston. Alternately, it may have condemned the pride that he exhibited, both in person and in newspaper advertisements and handbills. For his part, Bates may have welcomed the additional attention for his act instead of experiencing embarrassment over the attack in the public prints and the imminent publication of the pamphlet.
Whatever Bates’s reaction might have been, the pamphlet may not have gone to press. The advertisement stated that it “will be Printed, and Sold at the Printing-Office in Hanover-Street.” Joseph Greenleaf ran that printing office. The pamphlet is not among his known imprints, nor among those produced by other printers in Boston. If Greenleaf or another printer did print “Bates and His Horses,” the pamphlet proved even more ephemeral than the handbills that the performer distributed in the city. On the other hand, whoever wished to critique Bates may have considered it sufficient to run disparaging newspaper advertisements without investing additional time, money, and resources into the endeavor. Bates did not remain in Boston much longer. Before long, he took his act to Newport, Rhode Island. At least one colonizer there did not welcome his arrival, according to manuscript additions to a newspaper advertisement that the Adverts 250 Project will feature in the coming weeks.