July 6

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

Jul 6 - 7:6:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 6, 1769).

“DANIEL GRANT … HAS now opened a HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT.”

A nascent hospitality and tourism industry emerged in America in the late eighteenth century. Its expansion occurred, in part, as a result of advertisements that encouraged consumers to partake in a variety of leisure activities at venues in their own towns and in places located some distance away. On July 6, 1769, Samuel Francis (better known today as Samuel Fraunces) inserted advertisements in the New-York Chronicle and the New-York Journal to invite visitors to Vauxhall Gardens to enjoy coffee, tea, and pastries “at any Hour in the Day,” evening concerts, a ballroom for parties, “Dinners or Suppers dressed in the most elegant Manner,” and, of course, the gardens “fitted up in a very genteel, pleasing Manner.” Advertisements for Vauxhall Gardens became a familiar sight in New York’s newspapers in the late 1760s.

On the same day, Daniel Grant advertised his own “HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT, at the Sign of the Buck” in Moyamensing on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Grant first presented his credentials for opening his own establishment, asserting that he worked for seven years as “a Bar-keeper to Mr. John Biddle, at the Indian King.” He had gained the requisite experience to launch his own enterprise. Grant offered many of the same amenities at the Buck as Francis did at Vauxhall Gardens. The spacious house had three rooms on each floor as well as “a large hall in each story.” In addition to those accommodations, guests could also enjoy the gardens and “summer-houses” that, in particular, made the Buck “an agreeable place to resort in the summer season.” Grant served “the best tea, chocolate, [and] coffee” for breakfast and in the afternoon, but he also had on hand “the best liquors of all kinds.” He invited prospective customers to plan parties or “large entertainments” at his venue, assuring them that events could be arranged “by giving short notice.” As was the case for anyone working in hospitality, service was a cornerstone for Grant’s business. He pledged to “make it his constant endeavour to give the best attendance to those who please to favour him with their company.” Accommodations, amenities, and service: Grant offered a complete experience to guests at his “HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT.”

Today, many Americans are celebrating the Independence Day weekend with excursions to all sorts of venues that are part of the modern hospitality and tourism industry. Advertising plays a significant role in enticing guests to partake in leisure activities, encouraging them to purchase experiences rather than things. That strategy has origins that date back to a time before Americans declared independence. Entrepreneurs like Grant and Francis promoted themselves as purveyors of entertainment and leisure activities as they welcomed guests to venues like the Buck and Vauxhall Gardens in the eighteenth century.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 12, 1768).

“FIRE WORKS, PERFORMED by two Italian Brothers from Turin.”

In addition to purchasing an array of goods and services, colonial consumers also spent their money on assorted entertainments. Newspaper advertisements testify to both the popular culture and leisure activities of the period. The May 12, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, for instance, included several advertisements that encouraged readers to gather to socialize at a range of venues that provided entertainment. Some of these, such as an advertisement for a tavern, offered activities available to readers at practically any time, but others, especially an advertisement for a fireworks display, featured one-time-only spectacles.

John Taylor inserted an advertisement announcing that he had just opened “a Tavern and House of public Entertainment” known as “The GLASS-HOUSE” on the outskirts of the city. He invited both “Gentlemen and Ladies” to patronize his new enterprise, pledging to “regale them in the genteelest Manner, with the best Accommodations of every Kind.” In particular, he proclaimed, “Dinners will be provided at the shortest Notice.” Taylor attempted to distinguish his tavern from the many others operating in New York at the time by depicting it as an upscale alternative to the bawdy and boisterous atmosphere in other establishments.

Colonists could also enjoy theatrical productions in some, but not all, of the largest cities. Traveling troupes also entertained residents in towns and villages. In New York, the American Company regularly advertised plays staged “At the Theatre in John-Street.” The company placed two advertisements in the May 12 edition of the New-York Journal, one announcing the program for Friday, May 13 and the other Monday, May 16. On Friday evening viewers would be treated to “A TRAGEDY, call’d VENICE PRESERV’D, OR A PLOT DISCOVER’D” and “A FARCE (never perform’d in America) call’d LOVE A-LA-MODE.” To convince readers to purchase tickets, the company claimed that that the farce would only be performed only once during the season. To raise the stakes, the advertisement included a brief history its popularity: “The above Farce has been acted with more Success than any dramatic Piece in the Memory of Man, for since it was first presented to the Town, it has been presented to crowded Audiences One Hundred and Fifty Seven Nights, and is still constantly play’d at least once a Week, at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden.” The company implied that they anticipated crowds, but cautioned that “No Person on any Pretence whatsoever, can be admitted behind the Scenes.” Each element of the advertisement was designed to persuade potential patrons to attend the show or risk feeling left out of a major event. The American Company sold an experience that yielded a sense of community; not participating, however, resulted in a sense of exclusion and regret.

Two “Italian Brothers from Turin” offered other entertainments for the evening of Saturday, May 14: a fireworks show in three parts at Renelagh Gardens. The brothers described each portion of the show in detail, but their words merely suggested the spectacle that readers would experience if they attended the exhibition. To provide further encouragement, they listed their credentials, claiming that they were “(Engineers to the King of Sardinia) who have given very surprising Specimens of their Abilities before the Royal Family in Spain, and with great Applause before his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, and all the Nobility at Bath.” Even though New York was an imperial outpost on the far side of the Atlantic, the advertisement suggested that its residents could enjoy some of the best entertainments that had amused royals and nobles in England and other places in Europe, but only if they seized the opportunity and made their way to Renelagh Gardens for the exhibition on the only night it would be performed.

Each of these advertisements peddled popular culture to consumers, encouraging them to purchase experiences in addition to goods. The various entertainments cultivated a sense of community among those who witnessed them. Just as merchants and shopkeepers cautioned colonists not to be left behind when it came to the goods they sold, performers and others whose services emphasized leisure activities portrayed participating in the events they sponsored as a means of establishing bonds with other colonists through shared experiences.

November 16

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-16-11161766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 16, 1766).

Opened my House … for the Reception of such Gentlemen and Ladies who may travel this Way.”

In this advertisement from the Providence Gazette, Abijah Hunt wrote that he had just opened up his house to the public. He promised “every Thing suitable for their Accommodation” to any gentlemen and ladies who might stop by.

When I first read through this advertisement I was confused about what exactly Hunt was advertising to readers: an inn or a tavern. He promised to accommodate travelers, but he also mentioned entertainment. On the Colonial Williamsburg webpage, Ed Crews writes that taverns were also called “inns, ordinaries, and public houses” in colonial America. Traveling performers often provided the entertainment in these inns. A wide variety of performers put on acts at these inns, such as magicians, actors, and musicians. Some acts included the use of animals, such as trained pigs. The most common instruments musicians used in their performances were violins, flutes, and trumpets. On nights when there was no provided entertainment, customers often sang together in groups.

Hunt wrote that some of the public taverns in Providence were “not so agreeable as those (to be found in most other large Towns).” Taverns and inns could vary greatly in their atmospheres. Crews describes many inns as “male-domains” where men drank too much and used foul language. Furthermore, “Felons planned crimes, fenced goods, and passed counterfeit money in inns. Fights and murders were common.” Refined women avoided taverns, but prostitutes visited often. In this advertisement, Hunt offered an alternative place of shelter and entertainment for those colonists who wanted a more safe and refined experience.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Mary paints a vivid picture of some of the activities that took place in taverns in the eighteenth century. In addition to being places of entertainment where colonists socialized, Mary also indicates that taverns provided a venue for participating in consumer culture in various ways, including fencing stolen goods and passing counterfeit money.

Such activities were part of what Serena R. Zabin has described as the “informal economy” in colonial America. Not all colonists had the means to purchase new goods directly from merchants and shopkeepers, but that did not prevent them seeking out other ways to obtain the “English, India, and West-India GOODS” that Samuel Nightingale, Jr., marketed on the page after Abijah Hunt’s advertisement appeared. Zabin and others have demonstrated that a vibrant secondhand economy operated in eighteenth-century America; colonists bought and sold used clothing and other goods. Yet others turned to more nefarious means to get their hands on the goods they desired, either stealing or purchasing stolen items. In today’s advertisement Abijah Hunt announced that he opened a house of entertainment to be a place of refuge for visitors “to this Town, both on Business and Recreation,” patrons that he believed wished to avoid some of the more unsavory activities (including the exchange of stolen goods) that took place in some taverns.

While newspaper advertisements reveal a lot about the availability of goods during the consumer revolution, they do not tell the entire story. Occasionally shopkeepers and others placed advertisements lamenting thefts and announcing rewards upon the capture and conviction of the perpetrators, but those who stole the goods almost certainly did not turn to newspapers to offer them for sale. Piecing together the informal economy that included fencing stolen goods, as Zabin has done, requires consulting court records. Those documents provide insight into how some colonists – consumers themselves – used and thought about goods, while newspaper advertisements, for the most part, suggest how retailers, producers, and suppliers attempted to shape colonists’ attitudes and behaviors related to consumption.

 

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:21:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 21, 1766).

Mary Cowley was the subject of some gossip by “Envious or Prejudiced” residents of Newport. She placed this advertisement in part to promote her business enterprises and in part to set the record straight when it came to some false reports she had heard.

Cowley was a busy woman, which likely brought her under more scrutiny than some of her neighbors and made her a target of “Envious or Prejudiced” gossip. She pursued two occupations, proprietress of a house of entertainment and dancing instructor. Both of these may have made other colonists suspicious of her, especially if she was unmarried or widowed and without a male relative to oversee her activities and interactions with patrons who visited her at “the House near the Entrance of Mr. Dyer’s Grove” or her pupils for the dancing lessons she provided at her own house. Male dancing masters frequently inserted reassuring words in their advertisements to convince potential students and the general public of their propriety, which was especially important given the close physical contact with students inherent in dancing lessons. Cowley was also vulnerable to such suspicions, especially if she offered lessons in the absence of a patriarch to chaperone her. She did venture to address such concerns, but only pledged to “give Satisfaction in every Branch of my Undertaking.”

Entertaining “none but the genteeler Sort” (which may have entailed serving food and beverages and overseeing polite conversation) appears to have been a relatively new endeavor for Cowley. Some may have assumed that it would so distract her from teaching dancing that she would cease meeting with students, but she had “no Thoughts of giving up that Business.”

Unlike many other female advertisers who assured potential customers and the general public that they behaved in appropriately feminine fashion even though they operated businesses of their own and inserted their voice in the public prints to attract business, Mary Cowley took a much more assertive tone. She answered gossip that circulated beyond the newspaper and concluded by thanking “every Well wisher of their humble Servant” for the “due Encouragement” they would bestow upon her.

July 8

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

Jul 8 - 7:7:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (July 7, 1766).

“The better to entertain the Company, there will be two or three Songs sung during the Evening’s Amusement.”

Last month the Adverts 250 Project featured three advertisements for houses of entertainment. Daniel Ocain operated one in Savannah. Samuel Fraunces operated another “at the Sign of Queen Charlotte” in Philadelphia. On the outskirts of Philadelphia, in the Northern Liberties, William and Ann Johnson ran their own “AT the Sign of the Globe.” The two enterprises in Philadelphia offered much more extensive amenities and services than Ocain’s establishment in Savannah. Philadelphia was an older, wealthier, and much larger city. Fraunces and the Johnsons appeared to support themselves primarily by operating their houses of entertainment, while Ocain continued to work as a saddler on the side.

Not to be outdone by his counterparts in Philadelphia, John Jones offered a similar array of services and amenities to entertain guests at his establishment near New York City. His “rural Retreat” even had an impressive name to help advertise the amusements that took place there, Renelagh Gardens. Residents weary of the crowded streets in the city were sure to enjoy the gardens, “laid out … in a very genteel, pleasing Manner” and “judged … to be far the most rural Retreat.” In addition to the gardens, guests could enjoy music and dancing, “the very best of Wine, and other Liquors,” and an assortment of entrees and desserts.

With the Independence Day holiday falling at the beginning of this week, many Americans are in the midst of vacations and summer travel. In addition, others are likely taking advantage of longer summer evenings to make the most of their leisure time. Municipalities and various organizations also host festivals, outdoor concerts, fairs, and other events throughout the summer months, drawing crowds looking for entertainment. Today’s advertisement offers a glimpse of some of the amusements available in colonial America and the methods for promoting them to the public.

June 12

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

Jun 12 - 6:12:1766 Frauncis Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 12, 1766).
Jun 12 - 6:12:1766 Johnson Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 12, 1766).

“Gentlemen will be entertained in the most polite manner.”

“AT the Sign of the Globe, … is opened a convenient EATING-HOUSE.”

Compare yesterday’s advertisement for Daniel Ocain’s “house of entertainment” in Savannah to two advertisements for similar establishments that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette during the same week. Samuel Frauncis (more commonly Fraunces) and William and Ann Johnson offered more extensive and luxurious accommodations and promoted them in greater detail.

Fraunces devoted most of his advertisement to listing and describing the food from his “Cook Shop” and “Confectioner’s Shop,” variety of “Victuals,” baked goods, and condiments. Several related enterprises operated out of his location “at the Sign of Queen Charlotte.” His advertisement suggested that he catered to both male and female clients. “Ladies and Gentlemen may be supplied with Cakes and Pastries of all Sorts” at his large Confectioner’s Shop, but it appears that the “Ordinary,” a separate restaurant operated for three hours in the afternoon, was reserved for “the better Entertainment of Gentlemen” exclusively. Men often gathered in homosocial spaces like taverns and coffeehouses to conduct business, discuss politics, and gossip.

William and Ann Johnson did not indicate that their “EATING-HOUSE” had as extensive a menu, but they promoted other amenities instead, including a billiard table “where Gentlemen may divert themselves, by paying for their Games only.” (In other words, patrons were not required to purchase food or drink if they only wished to play billiards and socialize. The Johnsons likely assumed that visitors who came with the intention of only playing pool would eventually order something, but they didn’t want to put up any obstacles to getting customers through the door.) The house, located on the outskirts of Philadelphia in the Northern Liberties, was in an attractive setting away from the crowded port. It had pleasant Gardens and Walks, shaded with pleasant Groves of different Kinds of Apple Trees.” Guests could rent rooms by the week, month, or even the entire summer.

Jun 12 - Samuel Fraunces
Portrait of Samuel Fraunces (unknown artist, ca. 1770-1785).  Francis Tavern Museum.

Samuel Fraunces is still remembered today, best known for Fraunces Tavern in New York City, the site of George Washington’s farewell to his officers at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. He also served as the steward of Washington’s household throughout the president’s first term in office. Fraunces Tavern is still in operation at Pearl and Dock Streets in New York City. Visitors may eat, drink, and socialize on the first floor and tour a museum operated by the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York on the second and third floors.