What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“I think it my Duty to acquaint the Publick, that I met with a Doctor … [who] made a sound Cure of me.”
One brief advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the January 21, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazetteconsisted entirely of a testimonial by Eleanor Cooley about the medical services provided by Charles Stephen Letester of Braintree. Physicians and purveyors of patent medicines sometimes published testimonials as portions of their newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, but rarely did they confine their advertising solely to testimonials. Assuming that Letester and Cooley collaborated on the advertisement and Letester paid to insert it in the newspaper, he must have believed that Cooley’s testimonial was sufficient recommendation to convince prospective clients to avail themselves of his services.
“WHEREAS I Eleanor Cooley,” the grateful patient declared, “have had a Burst in the Side of my Belly for Twelve Years, with a Dropsey and several other Disorders: I think it my Duty to acquaint the Publick, that I met with a Doctor in the Town of Braintree, that with the Help of God, has made a sound Cure of me: His Name is CHARLES STEPHEN LETESTER.” This testimonial put Letester in competition with others who provided medical care of various sorts, including Oliver Smith. In an advertisement almost immediately to the left of Cooley’s testimonial, Smith informed readers that he carried a “compleat Assortment of DRUGGS & MEDICINES, Imported in the last Ships from London, and warranted genuine.” Especially for colonists who had attempted to find relief via various remedies sold by apothecaries, Cooley’s testimonial about Letester may have provided new hope sufficient to incite them to consult with the doctor.
In this instance, Letester did not recite his credentials, his training, his extensive experience, or his prominent clients, strategies often deployed by other doctors in their newspaper advertisements. Instead, he relied on a firsthand account of his care for a single patient, one who was not famous but perhaps more relatable to prospective clients as a result.