What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Positively the last Time here. MR. BATES Will perform To-Morrow.”
On the eve of his final performance in Boston, Mr. Bates once again published newspaper advertisements in hopes of drawing crowds for his feats of horsemanship. His performances spanned about five weeks in September and October, only a limited time for audiences to witness his exhibitions of what he described as a “MANLY ART” in newspaper notices and as “Manly Exercises never seen here” on a handbill. The performance on October 12 would be their last chance to see the spectacle or see it again, “Positively the last Time here.” Like other itinerant performers, Bates attempted to harness the power of the press for his advantage, advertising widely in several newspapers during his time in Boston. Both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy carried his notice on the day before his last performance.
Perhaps to Bates’s chagrin … or perhaps to his delight, if he considered any sort of publicity good publicity likely to turn out the curious … the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy also featured an advertisement for a pamphlet, “Mr. Bates and his Horses, WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE.” The notice promised that the pamphlet would demonstrate “that his Exhibitions in Boston, are impoverishing, disgraceful to human Nature, and downright Breaches of the Sixth Commandment.” Unlike an earlier advertisement that stated that the pamphlet would be printed “In a few Days,” this one declared that it was “THIS DAY PUBLISHED, And to be SOLD at the New Printing-Office” on Hanover Street. Whatever the sales and circulation of the pamphlet may have been in October 1773, it proved more ephemeral than the handbill that the daredevil distributed to promote his show. No known copy survives in a research library, historical society, or private collection.
The performer did not acknowledge any sort of controversy in his advertisements. Instead, he offered his appreciation to his audiences, proclaiming that he “is extremely obliged to the Gentlemen of Boston, who have countenanced him in his Performances.” He had gained enough celebrity (or perhaps notoriety) that he merely advised “TICKETS to be had at the usual Places,” without listing his local agents for readers. Short of the authorities shutting down his show, Bates may have welcomed any sort of attention that raised the visibility of his show among prospective audiences.