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.”

September 20

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

sept-20-9201766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (September 20, 1766).

“To be RUN … by any Horse, Mare, or Gelding.”

Yesterday’s advertisement promoted a lottery for “SUNDRY Millinery Goods” at Joseph Calvert’s vendue house in Williamsburg. After weighing the risks and taking a chance, participants acquired an assortment of goods that they could keep for their own use or resell to others, further extending networks of commerce and distribution of goods in the colonies.

Today’s advertisement also invited readers to take a chance and perhaps win a prize, “a good pinchbeck WATCH, valued at Sixteen Dollars” awarded to the owner of “any Horse, Mare, or Gelding, in the County of Providence” that won a race to be held a little over a week later. Unlike the advertisement for Calvert’s lottery sale, this notice did not – and could not – indicate participants’ odds of winning the prize. It all depended on which horses (and how) many entered. The sponsors required that each entrant “pay one Dollar, upon entering his Horse,” presumably hoping to attract more than enough to balance the value of the watch to be given as the prize.

During the second half of the eighteenth century advertisements for goods and services increasingly placed consumption within a culture of entertainment, especially for those with sufficient wealth and leisure. Although this advertisement did not sell any particular merchandise or services, it did inform colonists of opportunities to be entertained. Those who owned fast horses could participate, but many others could also gather in Cranston to watch the run. The race and anticipation of which horse would win the prize for its owner offered the most excitement, but the entire event offered an entertaining experience, an opportunity to socialize with others and to see and be seen before and after the horses and riders competed. Anyone hoping to win the pinchbeck watch was most likely attired in the sorts of fashionable clothing and accouterments advertised elsewhere in the same issue of the newspaper. Gathering for this event allowed for consumption to become even more conspicuous.