October 7

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 7, 1773).

“Positively the last Time here.”

Mr. Bates’s brief time in Boston would soon come to an end.  In advance of his last exhibition of his feats of horsemanship, the itinerant performer placed an advertisement in the October 7, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Three days later, on the eve of what Bates billed as “Positively the last Time here,” he placed the same advertisement in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  By this time, he did not need to describe his act.  He assumed that prospective audiences in Boston had already seen, heard about, or read about his daring exhibitions.

The performer certainly made his presence known while he was in the city.  He arrived in Boston after spending a couple of months in New York.  He ran his first newspaper notices in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Post-Boy on September 6, deploying much of the same copy he used in his advertisements in New York.  Some sort of disruption apparently occurred at his first performance in Boston on September 8, prompting him to apologize “that the Ladies and Gentlemen were so much disturbed by a Number of unruly People” in an advertisement in Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter the next day.  That did not prevent him from simultaneously marketing his next show and announcing that he reduced the prices for tickets.    Bates also distributed at least one handbill for his show on September 28, though he may have commissioned broadsides and other handbills that have not survived.  He continued placing advertisements in various local newspapers, including in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on September 20.  He advertised in all three of those newspapers again a week later, though this time two of those publications carried an advertisement that denigrated the performer.  Bates did not encounter universal accolades.  Instead, a forthcoming pamphlet would demonstrate “that his Exhibitions in Boston are impoverishing, disgraceful to human Nature, and down-right Breaches of the Sixth Commandment.”

Did such critiques prompt Bates to finish up his performances in Boston?  Or did he already have plans to move along to another town?  Either way, he did not shy away from promoting his performances in the public prints, proclaiming “Positively the last Time here.”  That may have been welcome news to his detractors, yet that was not Bates’s intention.  Instead, he aimed to incite demand among prospective audiences by making clear that they had one last opportunity to witness the spectacle responsible for so much chatter around town.  He previously used a similar “limited time only” strategy in New York in his efforts to turn out audiences for his final performances there.  Whatever his shortcomings, the itinerant performer was a savvy marketer.  Bates repeatedly proclaimed himself an unexcelled master of horsemanship, harnessing the power of the press with both newspaper notices and handbills to reach the public.

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