April 3

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

Providence Gazette (April 3, 1773).

“Not having lost more than six or eight Patients, out of Hundreds whom he has attended in a great Variety of Disease.”

In the spring of 1773, Ebenezer Richmond took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to inform readers that he “proposes to attend to the Practice of Physic and Surgery in this Town.”  When they advertised in colonial newspapers, physicians often included an overview of their training and credentials as a means of demonstrating their competence and expertise to prospective patients.  Richmond did so, yet did not provide many details.  “Respecting his Qualifications,” Richmond declared, “he will only observe, that the Cultivation of medical Knowledge, and of the Languages and Sciences, preparatory to, or connected therewith, has been the Business of his Life.”

Rather than offer further clarification, Richmond emphasized his experience as a physician.  He asserted that “for several Years past [he] practised with uncommon Success, not having lost more than six or eight Patients, out of Hundred whom he attended in a great Variety of Disease.”  With that record, prospective patients could trust that they were in good hands when they sought treatment from Richmond.  Once again, however, he glossed over details that may have been important to prospective patients, such as where he practiced during those “several Years” and whether anyone in Providence, especially colleagues or former patients, could vouch for him.  When Thomas Truman advertised that he planned to “continue the Practice of Physic and Surgery” in Providence the previous December, he positioned himself as the successor to Dr. Samuel Carew, recently deceased, and reminded residents of the city, especially Carew’s former patients, that he served an apprenticeship with the doctor.  Richmond, on the other hand, did not invoke any such connections.

Richmond apparently hoped that his description of his medical knowledge and record of success during several years of experience would be enough to convince prospective patients to seek his services.  For those who needed more, he also stated that he charged “very moderate Fees.”  In addition, he pledged to given them the care and attention they expected, promising that his patients “may depend upon his attending his Business with utmost Assiduity.”  Some readers may have assumed that quality contributed to the record of “uncommon Success” that Richmond reported in his advertisement.

December 19

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

Providence Gazette (December 19, 1772).

“He proposes to tarry in Providence, and continue the Practice of Physic and Surgery.”

Thomas Truman was an obvious choice for assisting the executors of the estate of Samuel Carew in December 1772. Truman placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette “to give Notice to all Persons who have Accounts unsettled with Doctor SAMUEL CAREW … that his Books are put into my Hands, by the Executors.”  Truman had previously served an apprenticeship with Carew, making him familiar with the doctor’s business and, likely, some of the patients and others who had outstanding accounts.  The former apprentice stated that anyone wishing to settle accounts could find him “at the House and Shop lately occupied by Doctor CAREW.”

Truman used this notice in the Providence Gazette for more than assisting the executors in finalizing Carew’s estate.  He also informed readers that he planned to remain in town and “continue the Practice of Physic and Surgery” at the same location where Carew previously saw patients.  That made it all the more important that Truman remind the community of “his Apprenticeship with Doctor CAREW” and that many “Gentlemen and Ladies” were already familiar with him because they “kindly favoured him in the Way of his Business” during that apprenticeship.

Truman adroitly positioned himself as Carew’s successor, hoping to acquire and expand that clientele.  He had learned “the Practice of Physic and Surgery” from Carew, knew many of his patients, and now provided services at the same location, “the well known Shop, lately improved by Dr. CAREW.”  In this endeavor, patients could expect him to “giv[e] the closest Attention” and that “his Bills will be reasonable.”  All of this meant that Carew’s patients did not need to experience any sort of disruption in the services he formerly provided if they opted to treat Truman as the doctor’s successor.  Simultaneously, the advertisement also advised readers who had not been Carew’s patients that a new doctor provided care and sold “an Assortment of genuine Medicines” in Providence.

December 30

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

Pennsylvania Packet (December 30, 1771).

“I am so rejoiced at my own good fortune, that I had almost forgot to thank you for curing my wife of hardness of hearing.”

When Dr. Graham, an “oculist and auralist,” arrived in Philadelphia in the fall of 1771, he placed an advertisement in the November 11, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet to inform “the inhabitants of British America in general, that he may be consulted … in all the disorders of the eyes, and in every species of deafness.”  Like many other physicians who migrated across the Atlantic, he presented his credentials, stating that “after several years study at the justly celebrated University of Edinburgh, he has travelled and attended upon the Hospitals and Infirmaries in London, Edinburgh, [and] Dublin.”  He acknowledged that many “practitioners in physic and surgery, gentlemen eminent in their profession,” already provided their services in Philadelphia, but nonetheless asserted that he “had more experience as an oculist and auralist, than, perhaps, any other Physician and Surgeon on this vast Continent.”  At the end of his advertisements, Graham inserted five short testimonials from patients in towns in New Jersey.

By the end of the year, his advertising strategy consisted almost entirely of publishing testimonials in the Pennsylvania Packet.  The December 30 edition included a “(COPY)” of a letter that the doctor received from John Thomas, a resident of Race Street in Philadelphia.  Thomas explained that he had been “afflicted with the unspeakable misfortune of total deafness in both ears” for thirty years.  He sometimes resorted to “a large trumpet, which assisted my hearing considerably in one ear.”  Upon seeing Graham’s advertisement “in this useful paper,” Thomas sought his services.  As a result of the doctor’s care, he no longer had “the least occasion for the trumpet” because he could “hear ordinary conversation” and could “conduct my business with a satisfaction, that for 30 years past I have been an utter stranger to.” In a postscript, Thomas also revealed that Graham cured his wife of “hardness of hearing, which she had been afflicted with for above fourteen years.”

An editorial note appeared at the end of the advertisement, almost certainly inserted by Graham rather than by the printer.  “As it is impossible for us to insert the great number of cures Dr. Graham has performed since his arrival in this city,” the note declared, “we must therefore refer the public for further information to the Doctor, at his apartments.”  This note seemed to give another third-party recommendation of Graham’s abilities to treat “all the disorders of the eye or its appendages; and in every species of deafness, [and] hardness of hearing,” but John Dunlap, the printer of the Pennsylvania Packet did not sign it.  Rather than a referral from the printer, Graham devised the note to bolster an advertising campaign centered on endorsements from others.  Having introduced himself in previous notices, he disseminated testimonials from local residents to bolster his reputation among prospective patients.

January 30

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (January 28, 1771).

“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.

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1768 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (July 21, 1768).
“I shall … give relief in all sicknesses, even the most desperate.”

When De Lacoudre, a “FRENCH Doctor,” settled in Norfolk in the summer of 1768, he placed an advertisement in Rind’s Virginia Gazette to inform readers of the services he provided. “I possess the most efficacious remedy,” he boasted, “to cure some sicknesses with which the country appears to be much afflicted,” especially “scurvy distempers.” In addition, he claimed that he could “cure distempers of the eyes, ears, and deafness, couching or taking away cataracts, though the person may have been deprived of sight or hearing for many years.” Furthermore, De Lacoudre promoted his “infallible remedy for all sorts of wounds, and scorbutick, schirrous, and scrophulous ulcers of all sorts.” To top it all off, he was qualified to perform “all sorts of operations in surgery and man midwifery,” including when women were “in imminent danger of life.” The doctor could even make diagnoses and recommend treatments from afar. He instructed those who lived “too great a distance” from Norfolk to send their urine. In turn, “they shall have proper advice.”

De Lacoudre did not merely announce that he possessed these various abilities. Considering that he was new to the colony and the community of readers and prospective patients did not know him or have previous experience seeking his advice and remedies, the doctor first listed his credentials. He began with his education, indicating that he bad been a “pupil of Doctors Guerin and Morant, both members of the Royal Academy of Paris and Montpelier, Physicians and Surgeons to the King of France.” Upon receiving that training, he performed operations in several countries, “authorized by certificates, from Princes, Generals, Governors, and City Corporations.” De Lacoudre expected one certificate in particular to impress the residents of Virginia, the one issued “from his Britannick Majesty, King George III.” Developing relationships of trust with patients required time. Until he had time to interact with patients and establish a reputation among Virginians, De Lacoudre expected his credentials would offer reassurance about his skills as a physician. This was a common strategy among advertisers who provided medical services, especially those who recently migrated from Europe. They sought to impress prospective patients by providing extensive descriptions of their training, experience, and approbation by nobles and other elites on the other side of the Atlantic.