What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He has set up a STAGE between this Town and Boston.”
As the new year arrived, Theodore Davis launched a new enterprise, informing the public that he established stage service between Portsmouth and Boston. He first advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette on December 25, 1772, and then continued placing notices in January 1773. He had at least one competitor. John Stavers had been operating a stage along that route for more than a decade, sometimes in partnership with others.
Realizing that he was a newcomer on the scene, Davis advised prospective passengers that he “served his Apprenticeship in the Business,” though he did not give more details. Perhaps he had previously worked on a route that connected other towns or perhaps he had been involved with one of the competitors that periodically challenged Stavers or perhaps he had even worked with Stavers and now challenged him for business. Whatever his background, Davis claimed that he was “well acquainted with the best Houses of Entertainment” and other amenities on the route between Portsmouth and Boston. His advertisement suggested that some prospective clients did know him from one of the stages that plied that route; he requested “the Continuance of their Favours, as he now sets out on his own Account.”
One aspect of Davis’s service certainly distinguished it from the stage operated by Stavers. Davis departed on Mondays, a day before Stavers made the journey. When Stavers answered Davis’s advertisement with a notice of his own in the January 15, 1773, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, he expressed some exasperation with that ploy. As he had done on other occasions, he underscored that he established the first route between Portsmouth and Boston, declaring himself “the first Promoter of a Stage Coach in this Province.” Accordingly, he felt a sense of entitlement, this time adding that “the Public will think he ought to have the Preference, and not countenance others in taking Passengers the beginning of the Week.” Besides, he lamented, he had a history of accommodating his passengers and “has always been ready to serve them on Monday, as well as Tuesdays, if their Business required it.” To make that possible, Stavers “expended a large sum of Money.” The veteran stage operator did more than emphasize his long experience. He attempted to leverage a sense of obligation on the part of prospective passengers.
That may have been an effective strategy for Stavers, at least in the past. After all, other competitors had not managed to put him out of business. Still, he believed that Davis’s new service infringed on a clientele that rightfully should have belonged to him and could have an impact on his livelihood. He called on his “old Customers and others” to engage his services rather than choosing an upstart who was relatively new to route connecting Portsmouth and Boston.