April 24

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

Providence Gazette (April 24, 1773).

“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.

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1768 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (July 21, 1768).
“I shall … give relief in all sicknesses, even the most desperate.”

When De Lacoudre, a “FRENCH Doctor,” settled in Norfolk in the summer of 1768, he placed an advertisement in Rind’s Virginia Gazette to inform readers of the services he provided. “I possess the most efficacious remedy,” he boasted, “to cure some sicknesses with which the country appears to be much afflicted,” especially “scurvy distempers.” In addition, he claimed that he could “cure distempers of the eyes, ears, and deafness, couching or taking away cataracts, though the person may have been deprived of sight or hearing for many years.” Furthermore, De Lacoudre promoted his “infallible remedy for all sorts of wounds, and scorbutick, schirrous, and scrophulous ulcers of all sorts.” To top it all off, he was qualified to perform “all sorts of operations in surgery and man midwifery,” including when women were “in imminent danger of life.” The doctor could even make diagnoses and recommend treatments from afar. He instructed those who lived “too great a distance” from Norfolk to send their urine. In turn, “they shall have proper advice.”

De Lacoudre did not merely announce that he possessed these various abilities. Considering that he was new to the colony and the community of readers and prospective patients did not know him or have previous experience seeking his advice and remedies, the doctor first listed his credentials. He began with his education, indicating that he bad been a “pupil of Doctors Guerin and Morant, both members of the Royal Academy of Paris and Montpelier, Physicians and Surgeons to the King of France.” Upon receiving that training, he performed operations in several countries, “authorized by certificates, from Princes, Generals, Governors, and City Corporations.” De Lacoudre expected one certificate in particular to impress the residents of Virginia, the one issued “from his Britannick Majesty, King George III.” Developing relationships of trust with patients required time. Until he had time to interact with patients and establish a reputation among Virginians, De Lacoudre expected his credentials would offer reassurance about his skills as a physician. This was a common strategy among advertisers who provided medical services, especially those who recently migrated from Europe. They sought to impress prospective patients by providing extensive descriptions of their training, experience, and approbation by nobles and other elites on the other side of the Atlantic.

January 7

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

Jan 7 - 1:7:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 7, 1768).

“I … have been cured of the Rheumatick Pains, by the above Person.”

In late 1767 and early 1768, the enigmatic “T.F.” placed a series of advertisements in the New-York Journal and other local newspapers. T.F. announced that he had “just arriv’d” from London, where he “had the Honour of curing some of the Nobility and Gentry” of their “Rheumatick Pains.” Some of his patients had been confined to hospital for nearly a year without experiencing relief until T.F. “restored [them] to their former Health.” T.F. now offered his services to the residents of New York.

The brief account of his successes in London sounded too good to be true, so T.F. attempted to assure prospective clients that he was not a quack. To that end, he inserted two testimonials in his advertisement to serve as confirmation of his claims. In the first, the more elaborate of the two, Thomas Johnson described his ailment: “My Pains being in my Knees, Ancles, &c. attended with very great Swellings, in such a Manner as deprived me of the Power of stirring about.” T.F. assisted Johnson in overcoming these debilitating symptoms. The patient proclaimed that he “had been cured of the Rheumatick Pains, by the above Person.” To increase the credibility of his testimonial, Johnson listed his occupation (“School-master”) and address (“in Broad-Street, near the Old City-Hall, New-York”). The second testimonial, signed jointly by three patients, was much shorter. It simply stated, “We have been cured of the same Disorder, by the same Person, in a short Time.” The lack of additional identification beyond the names of these patients made this endorsement more suspect. Still, readers could have been persuaded that a short note concurring with Johnson’s account was more credible than a solitary testimonial. Simply listing the names of three other patients satisfied with his services gave the impression of broader approbation for the accuracy of his claims to cure “Rheumatick Pains … so that no Persons need despair.”

Advertisers frequently incorporated testimonials into their marketing campaigns in the nineteenth century and beyond, but that strategy originated earlier. In the eighteenth century, providers of goods and services experimented with endorsements from satisfied customers to convince others to purchase their products or hire their services.

December 7

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

Dec 7 - 12:7:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (December 7, 1767).


An advertisement in the December 7, 1767, issue of the Boston-Gazette announced “LABRADORE TEA, by the Hundred, Dozen, or less Quantity, to be Sold at Edes and Gill’s Printing-Office.” The bulk of the advertisement consisted of a testimonial that first outlined the medical and dietary benefits of drinking Labrador tea and then focused on the taste, acknowledging that the flavor differed from other popular teas but “a little Perseverance will render it very acceptable.”

By the time this advertisement appeared in early December, readers of Boston’s several newspapers had already been exposed to commentary about Labrador tea on multiple occasions, though in news items and editorial pieces rather than commercial notices. In the wake of a Boston town meeting that resolved to encourage consumption of domestic products rather than imported goods, several colonists noted the political benefits of Labrador tea. On November 2, Edes and Gill published a list of local manufactures in the Boston-Gazette. In addition to “Thirty thousand Yards of Cloth … Manufactured in one small Country Town in this Province” and “upwards of Forty Thousand Pair of Womens Shoes” made in Lynn, Massachusetts, in the past year, they described “a certain Herb, lately found in this Province, which begins already to take place in the Room of Green and Bohea Tea, which is said to be of a very salutary Nature, as well as a more agreeable Flavour – It is called Labrador.”

Two weeks later, both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy inserted a letter addressed to “My Dear Countrymen” that outlined a strategy for depending less on imported goods. The prescription included Labrador tea: “we think it our duty to add, the most sincere recommendation of the disuse of the most luxurious and enervating article of BOHEA TEA, in which so large a sum is annually expended by the American colonists, altho’ it may be well supplied by the Teas of our own country, especially by that called Labrador, lately discovered to be a common growth of the more northern colonies, and esteemed very wholesome to the human species, as well as agreeable.”

A poem, “Address to the LADIES,” from the November 16 edition of the Boston Post-Boy and reprinted in other newspapers in the city discouraged purchasing and wearing imported textiles and adornments and also advised women to “Throw aside your Bohea and your Green Hyson Tea, / And all things with a new fashion duty; / Procure a good store of the choice Labradore, / For there’ll soon be enough here to suit ye.”

By the time the advertisement for “LABRADORE TEA” appeared in the Boston-Gazette in early December, colonists had already been encouraged to consume it as part of a political strategy intended to address both an imbalance of trade between the colonies and England and Parliament’s imposition of new duties in the Townshend Act. A series of news items and editorials primed consumer interest in Labrador tea, but some colonists may have been skeptical that they would enjoy the local alternative as much as their favorite imported varieties. This new advertisement assumed readers were already aware of the political ramifications of purchasing Labrador tea, so instead addressed any concerns about health and taste in order to convince consumers who may have been wavering in their commitment to adopt this new product.