May 8

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 6, 1771).

“Mr. SAUNDERS’s stay in this City will be but a few weeks.”

Like many other itinerant performers, Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, placed newspaper advertisements to inform the public when he arrived in town and to attract audiences throughout his stay.  In February 1771, he placed a notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that he planned to “CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights” longer in that city, presumably extending his stay.  Anyone who wished to see him perform had only a limited time to do so.

Saunders apparently exaggerated how quickly he would move to a new town.  Three months later he arrived in Philadelphia and ran an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, asserting that his “stay in this City will be but a few weeks.”  Once again, he attempted to attract audiences by proclaiming that they could see his show for a limited time only.  Local audiences had two options for seeing Saunder’s show, general admission at Josiah Davenport’s tavern or private functions.  He gave performances at the Bunch of Grapes on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings.  At other times, he “also performs in private to any select company, at any place they please to appoint.”

Describing his act helped Saunders incite interest among prospective audiences.  He declared that they would witness “a variety of new astonishing and entertaining performance, by dexterity of hand, surpassing any thing of the kind that has hitherto been seen or attempted on this side the Atlantic.”  Saunders promised a spectacle unlike anything audiences had ever seen.  Spread over three acts, his illusions would “deceive the eye of the nicest observer, and appear in a manner supernatural.”  Some of those previous observers included “his Excellency the Earl of DUNMORE, governor of New-York” as well as “nobility and gentry” on both sides of the Atlantic.  Saunders expected that performing before such dignitaries testified to the quality of the illusions he would soon present to audiences in Philadelphia.

In announcing his arrival and describing his act, Saunders relied on anticipation and exhilaration to entice audiences to catch a performance at the Bunch of Grapes or to hire him for a private exhibition.  He asked readers to imagine his show, building a sense of anticipation that would transform into exhilaration when they witnessed the spectacle of illusions unlike any others previously seen in the colonies.  Saunders also encouraged readers to anticipate his departure after a few weeks, warning them not to wait to attend his performance or risk not having an opportunity to see his “dexterity of hand” for themselves.

February 4

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 4, 1771).

“He intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights.”

When Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, arrived in New York from Europe in the fall of 1770, he placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal to introduce himself and invite colonists to attend performances “at the house of Mr. Hyer, on Hunter’s Quay” or schedule a “private exhibition.”  Saunders encouraged the curious to see his show as soon as possible or risk missing it because his “stay in this city will be but a few weeks.”  Itinerant performers often deployed that strategy for inciting interest in the spectacles they offered to prospective audiences.  They created a form of scarcity when they stated that they would remain in town for only a limited time.

Sometimes itinerant performers did move to the next town fairly quickly.  Consider, for instance, the series of advertisements placed by an unnamed performer “who has Read and Sung in most of the great Towns in America” in the Providence, Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth in less than two months in the fall of 1769.  He offered a few performances in each place before moving along to the next.  Other performers attempted to encourage interest by proclaiming that they would soon depart for other places, but then remained much longer.  Such was the case for Saunders.  On February 4, 1771, he inserted an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He no longer included his first name, perhaps believing that he achieved sufficient local celebrity in the three months he already spent in New York to dispense with such a detail.  He also eliminated the description of “variety of entertaining as well as surprising tricks” that appeared in earlier advertisements.  Instead, he simply announced that he “intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights … longer in NEW-YORK.”  That he remained in the city at that time was not by his own design but instead in response to the “PARTICIULAR DESIRE of several Ladies and Gentlemen,” or so he claimed.  Saunders sought to give the public what they wanted.  To that end, he also continued offering private shows “to any select Company,” suggesting another trajectory of demand for his “astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand.”

When they advertised, itinerant performers often emphasized that they would be in town for only a limited time so colonists needed to catch their shows before they were gone or else miss out on the popular culture experiences enjoyed by other members of their communities.  Performers often delayed their departures in order to offer additional shows.  Some, like Saunders who remained in New York for months, may not have planned to leave after a short time at all, but others did move along fairly quickly.  Even though he already remained in town for three months, Saunders attempted to leverage uncertainty about his departure in order to incite demand for his upcoming performances.

December 31

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 31, 1770).

“Exhibiting his Art of Dexterity of Hand.”

As 1770 came to an end and 1771 began, William Patridge, an itinerant performer, took to the pages of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to inform residents of the busy urban port that he provided entertainments for “every admirer of REAL CURIOSITIES.”  Patridge rented “a large and commodious room … fitted up in a genteel Manner” for giving performances on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

His show consisted of several acts, including “Dexterity of Hand,” “Mr. Punch and his merry Family,” and an “Italian Shade.”  Patridge included additional details about each in his efforts to entice audiences to attend his performances.  He described his “Italian Shade,” mostly likely some sort of illumination, as “so much admired in Europe.”  Audiences on the other side of the Atlantic had been impressed and delighted by this portion of his show, Patridge seemed to suggest, so residents of New York would not want to miss such an acclaimed exhibition.  The portion of the evening devoted to “Mr. Punch and his merry Family” presumably involved a puppet show.  Patridge incorporated “new Alterations every Evening,” making each performance different from any other.  Members of the audience who attended more than one performance would experience something new each time.  When it came to the “Art of Dexterity of Hand,” Patridge declared that he practiced “a new Method different from other Performers.”  Even if readers had seen Hymen Saunders perform when he spent several weeks in New York in November, they supposedly had not seen anything like Patridge’s sleight of hand.

Patridge also saw to the comfort of his audience.  In addition. To selecting a “commodious room … fitted up in a genteel Manner,” he also pledged that he had “taken proper Care to have the Room well aired” for those who saw his show.  He offered “all Accommodations,” though he did not go into greater detail.  He likely expected that residents of the city would already be familiar with “Mr. Mc. Dougall’s” establishment “at the sign of Lord John Murray, in Orange-street, Golden-Hill.”  For those “Gentlemen and Ladies” who did not wish to mix with crowd at one of Patridge’s performances at that location, he also gave private performances in their homes, provided that they gave “timely Notice.”  Patridge hinted at a higher level of refinement and status; rather than attending a performance, those “Gentlemen and Ladies” could have a performer attend on them.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements reveal a variety of entertainments and amusements available to colonial consumers, a range of popular culture options available to them.  Itinerant performers depended on those advertisements to make the public aware when they arrived in town and what kinds of diversions they offered.  Although Patridge did not do so, many also declared that they would be in town for only a short time, attempting to incite greater demand by making their performances scarce commodities.  Still, Patridge did not merely announce his presence in New York.  Instead, he resorted to other kinds of appeals to attract audiences for his shows.

November 1

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

New-York Journal (November 1, 1770).

“New and astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand.”

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements sometimes provide insight into the popular culture and entertainment of the day, including concerts and shows by itinerant performers.  In their advertisements, many performers exhibited their showmanship to prospective audiences as part of their efforts to incite interest and convince them to see their acts in person.  For instance, in an advertisement in the New-York Journal, one illusionist, the “celebrated HYMEN SAUNDERS” who had “Just arrived from EUROPE.” proclaimed that his show included “several new and astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand, different than what has been hitherto attempted, and such as was never seen in this province.”  Saunders expected the novelty of his act to attract the attention of curious colonists.  He further described his performance, whetting the appetite of the public.  “His dexterity of hand, or grand deception,” he trumpeted, “will consist of a variety of entertaining as well as surprising tricks.”  He had so much material to amuse and astound his audiences that “his performance will be divided into acts” with a “concert of music” between the acts.  He promised that the room where he performed would be “illuminated,” allowing spectators good views of his sleight of hand, as well as “well air’d” for their comfort.
Saunders’s advertisement was the first one that appeared after the news in the October 25, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, likely increasing the likelihood that local audiences would take note of it.  He announced that his first performance would take place on October 29, so by the time the advertisement ran again on November 1 and in subsequent issues, readers had already missed out on being among the first to attend the show.  The performer underscored that his “stay in this city will be but a few weeks,” further warning prospective audiences that they had only a limited time to see his “grand deception” for themselves before he departed for other towns.  In addition to his public performances, Saunders also offered a “private exhibition” to those who hired him at least a day in advance.  Like other itinerant performers, Saunders also relied on word of mouth to promote his act, especially after locals saw his “dexterity of hand” in person, but he did not rely on such reviews alone.  Even after his performances commenced, he continued to run advertisements to promote both the show and his persona, the “celebrated” performer who brought a novel act all the way from Europe to the colonies.

March 23

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

Mar 23 - 3:23:1770 Massachusaetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts-Gazette Extraordinary (March 23, 1770).

“Will be READ, The Beggar’s OPERA.”

An itinerant performer toured New England in the fall of 1769, placing newspaper advertisements to promote his performances in each town he visited before disappearing from view in the public prints for several months.  He first advertised in Providence Gazette on September 16, then in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28, followed by the Essex Gazette on October 10, and, finally, the New-Hampshire Gazette on November 3.  Near the end of March 1770, he reappeared in Boston for a performance advertised in an extraordinary issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The performer never gave his name in any of his newspaper notices, instead describing himself as “a Person who has Read and Sung in most of the great Towns in America.”

He updated his repertoire as he moved from town to town, though the Beggar’s Opera was one of his favorites to adapt into a one-man show.  He had previously performed it in Boston, so he may have expected to attract interest in an encore performance rather than present new material.  For those unaware of how one performer could stage the entire Beggar’s Opera, he explained that he “personates all the Charatcers, and enters into the different Humours, or Passions, as they change from one to another throughout the Opera.”  He enticed his prospective audience by promising to sing sixty-nine songs throughout the course of the evening.  This was a spectacle to be seen!

In addition to newspaper advertisements, the unnamed performer likely relied on others means of publicizing his shows.  He may have posted broadsides around town or distributed handbills, though such items were even more ephemeral than newspapers and thus less likely to survive for later generations to examine.  Consider that his advertisement for a performance on Friday, March 23 appeared in an extraordinary issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter published that very day.  Richard Draper did not usually distribute his newspaper on Fridays, but happened to publish a two-page supplement on March 23.  Without it, notice of the itinerant performer’s show that evening would not have been presented to prospective audiences in any of Boston’s several newspapers, suggesting that he made other arrangements to promote it in advance.  The newspaper notice instructed that “TICKETS for admissions [were] to be had at Green & Russell’s Printing Office, and at the Bunch of Grapes in King-Street.”  At the very least, he may have posted broadsides at those two busy hubs for exchanging information.

November 3

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

Nov 3 - 11:3:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 3, 1769).

“Tickets for Admission to be had … at the Printing-Office.”

The tour continued! In the fall of 1769 an itinerant performer traveled from city to city in New England, advertising in local newspapers at each stop along the way. His notices first appeared in the Providence Gazette on September 16, then in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28, and again in the Essex Gazette on October 10. To entice patrons, he announced that “His Stay will be short” when he arrived in Salem. An advertisement in the November 3 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette revealed that his stay had indeed been short. Just a few weeks later he was performing, in his own distinctive fashion of reading portions and singing others, “An OPERA, call’d Love in a Village” at “Mr. Stavers’s Long ROOM” in Portsmouth. As usual in his advertisements, he informed local audiences that he “personates all the Characters, and enters into the different Humours or Passions, as they change from one to another throughout the Opera.”

The performer also included another standard element of his advertisements, instructions for prospective patrons to obtain “Tickets for Admission” either at the venue or at the local printing office. Printers played an integral role in his tour “of the great Towns in America.” They not only published the advertisements that informed audiences about upcoming performances, they also took served as an auxiliary box office, selling tickets and collecting money on behalf of the performer. Printing offices were hubs of activity in eighteenth-century America, places where colonists exchanged information in print, in manuscript, and in conversation … yet they exchanged more than just information in those busy spaces when printers took on additional responsibilities for their clients. Sometimes they served as local agents when colleagues issued subscription notices for proposed books. Other times they sold tickets and collected money on behalf of itinerant performers. The services provided by printers extended beyond the publications that came off their printing presses. Colonists regularly had to “enquire of the printer” for purposes other than acquiring information.

October 10

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

Oct 10 - 10:10:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 10, 1769).

“Will be READ, A Ballad OPERA.”

Advertisements in colonial newspapers reveal aspects of popular culture in colonial America, everything from fireworks displays to stage performances. Some of them also allow us to trace the routes traveled by itinerant performers who moved from town to town. A series of advertisements inserted in several newspapers published in New England in the fall of 1769, for instance, reveal the itinerary of “a PERSON who has READ and SUNG in most of the great Towns in AMERICA.” In September, he performed a one-man rendition of The Beggar’s Opera in both Providence (advertised in the Providence Gazette) and Boston (advertised in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter). He soon moved on to Salem, where he advertised a different show in the Essex Gazette in October.

For this performance, he read “A Ballad OPERA, call’d Damon & Phillida.” The delivery remained the same: “He personates all the Characters, and enters into the different Humours or Passions as they change from one to another, throughout the Opera.” He supplemented the main attraction with “celebrated Songs in the OPERA of Artaxerxes” and “a celebrated CANTATA, called Neptune & Amymone.” Readers of the Essex Gazette, prospective audiences for the performance, may very well have seen advertisements for The Beggar’s Opera in the Boston newspapers, given their circulation beyond the busy urban port and the proximity to Salem. By switching to another opera during his stay in Salem, the unnamed performer presented prospective audiences with something new and novel. To further entice local audiences to attend this new program, the performer added a nota bene advising that “His Stay will be short.” In other words, anyone interested in seeing the performance needed to purchase tickets as quickly as possible or else risk not having a chance to observe this dramatic spectacle before the itinerant performer moved along to another of the “great Towns.” Part of the marketing strategy depended on scarcity, but rather than scarcity of goods it emphasized scarcity of performances and limited opportunities to see the show. The performer challenged readers not to miss an event that would have their friends and neighbors talking long after it was over.

September 28

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

Sep 28 - 9:28:1769 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (September 28, 1769).

Will be READ, THE BEGGARS OPERA.”

The itinerant performer who staged a one-man rendition of The Beggar’s Opera in Providence on the evening of September 18, 1769, did not linger long in that city to offer encore performances. Instead, he quickly moved on to new audiences in Boston, according to advertisements that ran in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28. Perhaps attendance at the Providence performance did not merit remaining for additional shows; alternately, the performer may have planned in advance to move from one city to the next fairly quickly, making arrangements for the venues ahead of his arrival. Whatever the explanation, he attempted to attract as large an audience as possible by inserting an advertisement in both newspapers published in Boston on Thursdays, a day before the performance “At a Large ROOM in BRATTLE STREET, formerly GREEN and WALKER’S Store.”

The performer was consistent in his messaging. Aside from the details about the location of performance and where to purchase tickets, the copy in the Boston newspapers replicated what ran in the Providence Gazette less than two weeks earlier (though the typography varied from newspaper to newspaper according to the discretion of the compositor). “Will be READ,” the notice proclaimed, “THE BEGGARS OPERA, By a Person who has READ & SUNG, IN MOST OF THE GREAT TOWNS IN AMERICA, All the SONGS will be SUNG.” The advertisement further described the performer’s delivery for the prospective audience: “He personates all the CHARACTERS, and enters into the different HUMOURS or PASSIONS, as they change from one to another throughout the OPERA.” When it came to the copy of the advertisements in the Boston newspapers, there was only one small variation. The version in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter advised, “No Person to be admitted without a Ticket.” The notice in the Providence Gazette included the same warning, a means of suggesting that the event would be so popular that readers risked missing out if they did not secure their tickets quickly. The version in the Boston Chronicle did not express the same urgency. Was the omission the fault of the performer or the compositor? The latter seems more likely considering how carefully the actor attended to marketing his performances.

These advertisements in the Providence Gazette and, later, newspapers published in Boston demonstrate some of the opportunities for colonists to participate in early American popular culture. They also suggest that even though some aspects of popular culture may have been local that others were shared throughout the colonies and beyond. The performer underscored that he had “READ & SUNG, IN MOST OF THE GREAT TOWNS IN AMERICA.” On his current tour, he presented a show already exceptionally popular in England, connecting colonists culturally to Britain even as they experienced political ruptures due to the Townshend Acts and other perceived abuses by Parliament. While the press offered one means of creating an imagined community among colonists, itinerant performers provided another way of cultivating a sense of community. This advertisement encouraged residents of Boston to participate in popular culture shared with colonists in other “GREAT TOWNS.”

September 16

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

Sep 16 - 9:16:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 16, 1769).

“Will be read, The BEGGAR’s OPERA.”

Many advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers encouraged colonists to participate in consumer culture, promoting an array of goods to acquire and services to obtain. Other advertisements invited colonists to participate in popular culture, promoting various kinds of spectacles and performances ranging from fireworks displays to viewing exotic animals when their proprietors arrived in town for limited time only. An advertisement in the September 16, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette announced a performance of The Beggar’s Opera “at Mr. Hacker’s Assembly-Room” two days later.

This was not, however, a full-scale production of the ballad opera. Instead, it featured a single performer, “a Person who has read and sung in most of the great Towns in America.” Even though the advertisement indicated that the opera “will be read” by an individual rather than performed by a larger cast, it also assured prospective viewers that “All the Songs will be sung.” The ballad opera lent itself well to such treatment. Originating in England in the early eighteenth-century, ballad opera intermixed spoken dialogue with music in the popular style. The Beggar’s Opera, written by John Gay in 1728, included music drawn from broadsheet ballads, church hymns, and folk tunes familiar to general audiences. Viewers in Providence and “the great Towns in America” may have hummed or even sang along with the itinerant performer who read the dialogue for their entertainment.

To draw an audience to Hacker’s Assembly Room, the advertisement promised a spectacle. The lone performer “personates all the Characters, “including Polly Peachum and Lucy Lockit, “and enters into the different Humours or Passions, as they change from one to another, throughout the Opera.” The advertisement invited prospective viewers to witness this extravaganza. Those who saw it would join the ranks of audiences in other “great Towns in America,” enjoying an experience that they could discuss with others for days after the performance concluded. If this rendition of The Beggar’s Opera became the talk of the town, readers of the Providence Gazette could not afford to miss it. To guarantee themselves a spot in Hacker’s Assembly Hall, they had to purchase a ticket in advance. After all, the advertisement made clear “No Person to be admitted without a Ticket.”