What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He has had long Experience in the Practice of Physic and Surgery.”
Shortly after Ebenezer Richmond informed readers of the Providence Gazette that he “proposes to attend to the Practice of Physic and Surgery in this Town” and Thomas Truman renewed his call for “all those who have hitherto neglected to bring in their Accounts against the Estate of Doctor SAMUEL CAREW” and reminded the public that he sold “an Assortment of choice Medicines,” another physician placed an advertisement offering his services. Daniel Hewes went into much more detail about his “long Experience in the Practice of Physic and Surgery.”
First, he declared that he had a “long Acquaintance with the best of Books, and with the most renowned and worthy People of the same Business.” Hewes claimed that those colleagues bestowed on him “public Recommendations, and Testimony of Esteem.” He had the most experience with “curing of Cancers, Falling Sickness, all Kinds of Convulsion, Hysteric and Hypochondriacal Fits, setting of Bones, [and] Midwifery.” Furthermore, he stated that his “highest Ambition … is to do all the Good he can to his fellow Creatures, and on the most reasonable Terms.” In other words, he offered medical care at the lowest prices.
Although he claimed extensive experience with midwifery, Hewes stated that he “does not advertise any Design of practising that Branch of Business” because so many “male and female Midwives” already provided those services in the area. That did not prevent him, however, from offering “to assist all that are engaged therein, who demand his Assistance,” and inserting commentary that promoted his own skill and experience while simultaneously critiquing the practitioners he offered to assist. Hewes proclaimed that he “has the Vanity to think he can save Multitudes of Lives, by unfolding some plain, safe and easy Methods, which will make the most the most dangerous Case free from all Danger, and prevent almost any Case from becoming dangerous, if seasonably used.” He asserted that the “Want of Acquaintance with” or ignorance of “the Methods, he fears has occasioned those Deaths and Desolations that have attended Midwifery of late.” Immediately after alleging that he did not wish to compete with the many practitioners of midwifery in Providence and nearby towns, Hewes presented himself as possessing superior skill and knowledge while playing on anxieties about “Deaths and Desolations” potentially caused by others.
Hewes also shared a gruesome tale from the “early Day of his Practice” when the colonial government in Massachusetts “present[ed] him with the Body of a Negro Malefactor, who was executed for murdering the Wife of Deacon Sanford of Mendon.” Hewes wired together the bones, “vulgarly called an Anatomy,” and then, he boasted, had a “superior Advantage” in providing medical care, especially “in Bone-setting.” He advised others “who pretend to set Bones” as well as prospective patients “to learn, by a proper Frame of Bones, how each bone ought to be.” As an ancillary service, Hewes invited “all those concerned, who have not a Frame of Bones handier, to take a View of his, from Time to Time, Cost-free, except a small Gratuity, to pay the Trouble of Attendance.” Both his medical practice and this means of generating additional revenue benefited from scrutinizing the remains of a Black man who almost certainly did not consent to having his body put to such use.
As Richmond and Truman competed for patients with their advertisements in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1773, Hewes placed his own notice that went into even greater detail about his knowledge, skill, and experience “in the Practice of Physic and Surgery.” The level of detail suggested that he believed prospective patients would be more likely to choose a practitioner who included a significant amount of information in the public prints, not unlike the merchants and shopkeepers who placed lengthy advertisements in their efforts to demonstrate all the different kinds of merchandise and bargains at their stores and shops. This also gave him an opportunity to undermine his competitors, critiquing both midwives and surgeons “who pretend to set bones,” as well as boast about “the best of Books” and the “Frame of Bones” he consulted to learn how to care for patients.