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.