May 12

GUEST CURATOR:  Thomas Ross

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

Essex Gazette (May 12, 1772).

“The handsomest Horse in America.”

This advertisement describes “The famous Bellsize Arabian,” a horse considered “the handsomest Horse in America.” During the eighteenth century, horse racing was a popular sport throughout the colonies. According to Mehmet Samuk, “horse racing was separated by strong lines of class and race.”  In 1674, a court in Virginia fined a tailor who planned a race because horse racing was supposed to be “exclusive to only rich gentlemen.”  Even though that was the official position of the court, horse racing became popular among the general public in almost every colony by the time of the American Revolution.

Rich gentlemen were not the only people who participated in the races. It was not uncommon for the owners of the horses to employ enslaved people, free black people, and poor white people as jockeys. Samuk states that “African Americans eventually emerged as some of the most talented and experienced trainers of racing horses,” another contribution to American commerce and culture beyond working on plantations.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to the prestige associated with racing horses, some colonizers also sought to earn money by breeding horses with notable pedigrees.  They placed newspaper advertisements offering stallions to “cover” mares.  Such was the case with Amos Mansfield of Danvers, Massachusetts, and an Arabian horse named Bellsize Arabian (or Belsize Arabian, according to the list of “Historic Sires” compiled by Thoroughbred Heritage).  Mansfield placed an advertisement in the May 12, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette to inform readers that the horse “will cover this Season.”

To incite interest, Mansfield detailed Belsize Arabian’s pedigree.  “He is a Son of the famous Horse called Moresah,” Mansfield declared, “and his Mother is of the best Race that the great Sultan or Emperor Muley Abalah ever had.”  He further explained that Belsize Arabian was “both by Sire and Mother of the best Blood and true Araback Race in all Barbary.”  By 1772, the horse already had a reputation for “covering” mares, first in England and then in New England.  Even if prospective clients were not familiar with all the details in the horse’s pedigree, Mansfield likely expected that the connection to the Sultan of Morocco would resonate with them.  For just “a Guinea a Colt,” colonizers could have Belsize Arabian “cover” their mares.

Mansfield attempted to increase the chances that readers would take note of his advertisement by including an image of a horse.  The woodcut did not depict Belsize Arabian in particular.  Instead, the printer provided a generic image that could have adorned any advertisement about horses.  Nonetheless, it was the only image that accompanied an advertisement in that issue of the Essex Gazette, almost certainly drawing eyes to the pedigree that Mansfield considered so important.  Some customers who engaged the services of Belsize Arabian might have been interested in racing horses, but other may have been content with displaying the offspring of “the handsomest Horse in America.”

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette 3rd page
Third page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766).

Two weeks the Adverts 250 Project featured the entire first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to examine the extent of advertising that appeared in that newspaper when it commenced publication. Although Rind included a limited number of advertisements in that initial issue, he issued a call for prospective advertisers to submit announcements and commercial notices.

How did William Rind fare when it came to generating advertisements, an important source of revenue for those who printed newspapers in the colonial period? Unfortunately, no copies of the second issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette have survived, but the third issue (published two weeks after the first) suggests that advertising picked up relatively quickly. The entire final page was covered with advertising, as well as an entire column on the third page. While not as extensive as advertising in some long-established newspapers in urban ports, the amount of space devoted to advertising in the third issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette was on par with other newspapers in smaller towns in the 1760s. In other words, Rind seems to have attracted a critical mass of advertisers fairly quickly.

This issue carried a variety of different kinds of advertisements: some for consumer goods and services, some legal announcements, some lost and found (including stray livestock), a horse “to cover,” a runaway apprentice (but not yet any runaway slaves, unlike the those that dominated the advertising section in the competing Virginia Gazette), and some placed by the printer himself to promote his own enterprises. A least one advertisement previously appeared in the pages of the local competitor. It appears that John Mercer wanted to cover all his bases when it came to the beer, porter, and ale from his Marlborough Brewery.

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Final Page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766)

April 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Apr 2 - 3:31:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 31, 1766).

 

“To COVER, … The fine BAY HORSE, called OLD ENGLAND.”

This advertisement is for the stud services of a “fine BAY HORSE, called OLD ENGLAND” with a lineage traced back to the great Godolphin Arabian and Flying Childers. Even as early as 1766 the Godolphin Arabian was considered a horse central to the modern thoroughbred breed, having gained prestige in the 1730s. To have Old England mentioned as being the descendent of the Godolphin Arabian and Flying Childers, an undefeated horse of the 1720s, would have immediately tipped off potential horse breeders that Old England was from very good stock. I am sure many, if not all, of the other horses mentioned were notable in their own right as well. This was attested to by the fact that the advertiser listed the prizes that many of the horses in Old England’s pedigree won for their owners.

Apr 2 Godolphin Arabian by George Stubbs
Godolphin Arabian (George Stubbs, 1724-1806).

It is interesting that the advertiser signs the advertisement as “the Public’s Most Obedient Servant.” For the most part the majority of people used horses for work and would not be interested in a horse bred for racing. His audience would likely have been the people who had extra income to breed and racehorses. It is good to know as well that John Leary was “A Lover of the Turf.” That projected a sense of camaraderie among the potential horse breeders who wanted Old England to cover their mares.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Notices about horses “to cover” constituted their own genre of newspapers advertisements in the eighteenth century. They appeared frequently in the public prints, and they were easily spotted because they tended to include a woodcut of a horse. Usually these woodcuts would have been among the very few images that accompanied advertisements.

For instance, this issue of the New-York Mercury included approximately fifty advertisements. Only three had an image: Old England and another advertisement for a horse “to cover” as well as a notice that the Minerva would soon be sailing for Bristol. The first two featured different woodcuts of horses and the final one a woodcut of a ship.

Apr 2 - Hero 3:31:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 31, 1766).

As I have explained previously, such woodcuts belonged to the printer, who kept on hand a small collection of ships, houses, runaways (men and women; slaves, servants, and wives), and horses that could be used interchangeably in any advertisement about vessels arriving or departing, real estate to buy or lease, runaways, and horse breeding, respectively. That horses were included on this list suggests how common advertisements promoting their availability “to cover” mares were in eighteenth-century newspapers. In addition, several broadsides (what we would call posters today) for horses “to cover” also survive from the eighteenth century.

The woodcut in Old England’s advertisement does not do justice to the beauty of that horse, but it did help to distinguish that notice from the others that appeared on the same page.