June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 17, 1769).

“The Art of curing, with God’s Assistance, all curable Disorders.”

Isaac Calcott, a healer, inserted an advertisement in the June 17, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette to announce his presence in the city as soon as he arrived from London, even though he was not yet ready to see patients. He aimed to stoke anticipation among residents, especially prospective patients who might benefit from the “Art of curing” that he had obtained during “several Years travelling abroad.” Calcott did not indicate where he had traveled, leaving it to others to imagine the faraway places where this “SEVENTH SON of a SEVENTH SON” had learned secrets for healing a variety of maladies, from “Rheumatism” to “Pleurisy,” “Venereal Disorder” to “Scurvy,” and “Dropsy” to “Consumption.” Calcott informed colonists who suffered from any of these that they could soon consult with him at Elizabeth Thurston’s house starting on the following Tuesday.

Many medical practitioners from London and other places in Europe tended to assert their credentials when they advertised upon their arrival in the colonies. They detailed their professional training at universities and the hospitals where they had worked alongside prominent physicians. Many reported that they had served members of the aristocracy, suggesting that having earned the trust of prominent clients demonstrated their competency. Calcott, however, was a different sort of healer. He did not trumpet his prior successes. Instead, he implied that those who adopted that strategy often reported on “Cures never performed.”

Calcott expected his work to provide sufficient testimonial over time: “let my Medicines and Practice merit your Applause.” This strategy did depend on attracting patients who could then speak favorably of the care they received. Prospective clients had little to lose, except for the shilling they paid for the consultation. Calcott promised that even “if he can do no Good” at least “he will do no Hurt.” Perhaps more significantly, Calcott repeatedly invoked the role that faith played in the care he provided to patients. His ability to cure all sorts of disorders flowed from “God’s assistance.” For colonists who had exhausted other options or could not afford to visit physicians who proclaimed their specialized training, this may have been an attractive alternative.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:25:1769 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 25, 1769).

Family Physician, or Primitive Physic, just published.”

The supplement that accompanied the May 25, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal concluded with an advertisement for a handy reference manual, “THE Family Physician, or Primitive Physic.” Prospective customers could acquire copies “at the Printing-Office, at the Exchange.” In other words, John Holt, the printer and publisher of the New-York Journal, sold this book to supplement his income. In so doing, he competed with druggist Thomas Bridgen Atwood, who advertised elsewhere on the same page of the supplement. Atwood and Holt, however, provided different goods and services.

Atwood, who advertised regularly, sold a “general Assortment of Drugs and Medecines.” In addition to selling patent medicines and other remedies prepared in advance by others, he also compounded new prescriptions. Holt, on the other hand, offered a means for prospective customers to avoid consulting (and paying) “a Physician or Surgeon” or an apothecary. The book he peddled would allow buyers to act as doctor and pharmacist in treating “most kinds of common Diseases” since it contained “Receipts [recipes] for preparing and applying a great Number of Medicines.” Prospective customers did not need to worry about any lack of expertise or access to the necessary materials. Holt pledged that most of the “Receipts” were “simple” to prepare and their elements “easily procured.”

To underscore the utility of the book as a substitute for consulting physicians and apothecaries, Holt noted that consumers considered it “so generally useful and acceptable to the Public” that it had been reprinted thirteen times in the course of just a few years. For his final pitch, he proclaimed that “every Family, especially in the Country, ought certainly to be furnished with one of these Books.” In promoting this reference manual to prospective customers who lived outside of the city, he suggested that procuring a copy was not merely a means of saving money on consultations with physicians and druggists. The book provided greater access to the world of medicine, especially the most common and basic remedies, for those who did not have doctors and apothecaries residing in close proximity.

August 14

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

Aug 14 - 8:14:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 14, 1767).

“Now open’d for Sale, at the Sign of the LION and MORTER.”

Little and Jackson sold “A large and fresh Assortment of genuine Medicines” at their apothecary shop near the Crown Coffee House in Portsmouth. The sign the druggists displayed made it easier for residents and visitors to the port to locate their shop. Its device, the “LION and MORTER,” testified to the type of merchandise they carried, including popular patent medicines imported from England as well as ingredients for compounding remedies on the spot.

The mortar alone, a symbol widely recognized among potential customers, would have sufficiently described Little and Jackson’s business. Adding the lion, a regal symbol, imbued their business with more prestige, but that was not all it accomplished. It also replicated a shop sign already in use by one of their counterparts in Salem, Massachusetts. As early as January 1764, Philip Godfrid Kast advertised in the Boston Post-Boy that he imported and sold “a very large Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES” at his shop “at the Sign of the Lyon and Mortar.” In 1774, Kast even distributed a trade card that featured his sign, a rare visual image of what would have been a ubiquitous sight in colonial cities.

In choosing to pair a lion with a mortar, had Little and Jackson infringed on Kast’s efforts to brand his business? Not by the standards of the eighteenth century. The devices depicted on many shop signs had long been in use in England, first appearing in an earlier period with lower literacy rates. Just as the mortar and pestle were associated with druggists, other symbols denoted specific occupations. For instance, a sign showing a dog with its head in a bucket indicated that a smith practiced his trade at that location. Leather dressers who made all sorts of clothing, including James and Matthew Haslett, did so at the “Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE.”

Throughout London and the provinces and, eventually, the colonies, the consistent use of these and other easily recognized symbols conveniently marked where shopkeepers and artisans carried on specific activities. To some extent they could be deployed as branding in a certain area, but they did not tend to be the sole domain of entrepreneurs and advertisers beyond their local markets.

October 27


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

Boston-Gazette (October 27, 1766).

“DRUGS and Medicines of the very best Kinds.”

This advertisement caught my attention because it is unique. In reading colonial newspapers I have not seen many advertisements for medical supplies. This one includes “Syringes of all kinds” and “Bateman’s Drops,” among other things.

The advertisement made me wonder about the realities of health in the 1700s. Colonists tried to do what we still strive for now, to live a healthy life. However, that was much more difficult to do in the 1700s. Fewer medical discoveries, poor hygiene practices, and contamination of water sources contributed to an unfavorable health environment. In eighteenth-century America a mild illness could turn into a fatal ailment. Diseases, like yellow fever, were always a threat and could cause epidemics.

One example of a disease causing havoc happened in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. As Simon Finger notes, “At the end of the eighteenth century, Philadelphia found itself in the grip of an implacable horror, wracked by ‘the hurricane of the human frame.’ Yellow fever loomed like the storm.”[1] The spread of illnesses wreaked havoc on the population. Not only were residents dying from illnesses, but the economy was also affected. Finger further states that: “yellow fever returned to terrorize Philadelphia six more times, taking thousands of lives, paralyzing the port economy, and sowing the seeds of a panic.”[2]

Americans now have access to properly educated doctors, hygiene education, and clean water sources. In 2016, not many people are worried about a lethal cough or a yellow fever epidemic occurring. However, it is important to recognize the unhealthy environment colonists lived in and the health threats they faced, as it was one of the characteristics of the 1700s.



Peter Roberts offered a variety of conveniences for customers who purchased his “DRUGS and Medicines of the very best Kinds.” Like many other druggists (as well as some shopkeepers), he provided mail order service for those who were unable to visit his shop “opposite the West Door of the Court-House Boston.” In a nota bene he announced that “Orders by Letters from Practitioners and others, in Town or Country, will be as faithfully complied with as if they were present.”

Roberts offered another convenience less commonly promoted in eighteenth-century advertisements. Before listing the various remedies and medical equipment he stocked, the druggist stated that he “carefully prepares and puts up in the best Manner, DOCTOR’s BOXES of all sizes, with proper Directions, for Ships or private Families.” In other words, Roberts produced and sold the early modern equivalent of the first aid kit. Given that customers could choose boxes of “all sizes,” Roberts most likely allowed them to choose specific items they wished included. On the other hand, some customers probably preferred readymade boxes that included the most popular and commonly used items, leaving it to the druggist to make the selections based on his experience and expertise.

While these “DOCTOR’s BOXES” represented a convenience for his customers, they presented an opportunity for Roberts, an opportunity to increase sales and move inventory more quickly. Customers purchased individual items from Roberts and other druggists as they needed them or in anticipation of need. When Roberts assembled one these boxes, however, he could include various products that customers were less likely to select on their own or that they were less likely to imagine that they might need at some point. He could include items that customers were much less likely to purchase separately but that they would accept as part of a larger package. He bundled his products in order to distribute them in greater numbers.

Note that Roberts also sold “DOCTOR’s BOXES” for vessels going to sea as well as to “private Families.” He recognized that the local market was comprised of more than the “Practitioners” who lived in Boston and its hinterland. The city was a busy port. Potential customers were arriving and departing by ship all the time. When they were in port, they needed a variety of supplies, including the “DRUGS and Medicines” that Roberts sold.


[1] Simon Finger, The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Early Philadelphia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 120.

[2] Finger, Contagious City, 120.

September 26

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 26, 1766).

An Assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES.”

Stephen Little’s advertisement displaying “An Assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES” did not waste much space.” Not only did Little’s advertisement offer a diverse selection of common goods and medicines, he also claimed they were indeed the best and the cheapest around. Accepting cash only, Little offered everything from a variety of seasonings, like cinnamon, pepper, and allspice, to beverages, like wine, brandy, “French Hungary Water in Bottles,” and tea.

Little’s shop seems like a modern day drug store, advertising an array of different remedies and other products. Included were “Casteel Soap” and “Turlington’s Balsom of LIFE,” along with “Stoughton’s Elixer – Lockyer’s Pills – Dr. Ward’s Essence for Head-Ach.” T.H. Breen has discussed how advertisements like this one were able to “inflame customer desire” by offering so many goods to potential customers.[1]

After researching some of these products, I learned that “Lockyer’s Pills” were one of the most well, widely sold across London and the colonies. The pills have been described as “cure-alls.” They especially worked to relieve intestinal issues and kidney stones. In addition, this hopefully decreased doctor visits over the year.[2]



When Nick decided to investigate “Lockyer’s Pills” in greater detail, I decided to do the same, but our research took us in different directions. I visited another digital humanities project and one of my favorite research blog: The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine, conducted by “an international group of scholars interested in the history of recipes, ranging from magical charms to veterinary remedies.”

In an entry devoted to “Medicinal Compounds, Efficacious in Every Case,” Lisa Smith concluded with a few words about Lockyer’s Pills, but she first offered insights that help to better understand Little’s advertisement. Little and his customers did not divide all of his wares between the categories of “MEDICINES” and “GROCERIES.” Instead, they believed that many of the grocery items possessed medicinal qualities, especially the mace, cloves, and nutmegs listed at the beginning of his current inventory. Consulting early modern herbals and pharmacopoeias, Smith states, “reveals that herbs like nutmegs, cloves, mace, aniseeds, lavender and rosemary (for example) had warming and drying properties.” This would have been important to doctors, apothecaries, and patients who believed that the hot, cold, wet, and dry properties of bodily humors needed to be balanced to achieve good health. Little offered several medicines already prepared for clients, but some likely bought what we would today consider grocery items to use in compounding their own remedies.

Smith concludes by noting that “not all cure-alls were created equal – and there were some weird ones out there,” especially the pills marketed by Lionel Lockyer. Those remedies supposedly contained an extract of the sun! For patients interested in medicines with warming and drying qualities, what could have been better?! To my delight, Smith also included an image of a broadsheet advertisement for Lockyer’s Pills.

L0002420 Broadsheet advertsing L.Lockyer's patent medicine
Broadsheet Advertising Lockyer’s Pills. Wellcome Library, London.


[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 476.

[2] Andrew Wear, Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine, 1550-1680 (Cambridge University Press, 2000): 425-436.

June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:26:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 26, 1766).

“He undertakes to cure Consumptions, and the Golden Vein.”

Today’s advertisement demonstrates the shifts in everyday language and medical terminology that have taken place between the eighteenth century and today. To most modern readers it is not readily apparent which affliction John Peter Steg, “Practitioner in Physick and Surgery,” promised to cure when he included “Consumptions, and the Golden Vein” in his advertisement. Though tuberculosis continued to be known as consumption throughout the nineteenth century and is still familiarly known by that term, it is possible that Steg had other symptoms or maladies in mind as well. What is more certain is that reference to “the Golden Vein” has passed out of our daily lexicon.

So what was the Golden Vein? This affliction was also known as the piles (another term we do not employ today), but is commonly called hemorrhoids today. (Given all the euphemisms deployed in marketing a variety of remedies to be administered at home for some of the most sensitive and delicate health issues, modern purveyors of a variety of ointments, creams, medicated pads, and other products should revive the use of “the Golden Vein” in their advertising, don’t you think?!)

Hemorrhoids may have earned the nickname “Golden Vein” in relationship to the medical theory of the humors, the most commonly held view of the human body among European and Anglo-American physicians until the nineteenth century. According to this system, each individual achieved good health by balancing the four humors, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. This helps to explain why bloodletting was a frequent treatment. Some scholars have suggested that hemorrhoids became known as the “Golden Vein” because they presented an opportunity to discharge excess or unhealthy blood and return balance to the body. Christopher E. Forth indicates that hemorrhoids “were sometimes praised as a cost-saving ‘golden vein’ because they were “an easy way to purge oneself of excess humours (thus obviating the need to pay a physician to do the honours).” Furthermore, Forth reports, “Many physicians even approved o haemorrhoidal bleeding as a healthy male counterpart to menstrual flux, perhaps as a sign that men could withstand losses of blood just as women did every month.”[1]

References to a medical problem called “the Golden Vein” do not register with modern readers, but John Peter Steg certainly used language that colonists would have understood. We continue to deploy euphemisms and code words when talking about the intersection of medicine and the body with consumer goods and services. The words may have changed, but the practice has endured.


[1] Christopher E. Forth, “Painful Paradoxes: Consumption, Sacrifice, and Man-Building in the Age of Nationalism,” in Medicine, Religion, and the Body, ed. Elizabeth Burns Coleman, and Kevin White (Brill, 2009).

March 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 26 - 3:24:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (March 24, 1766).

“A General Assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”

In this advertisement, Philip Godfrid Kast sold something a little different. Imported from the last ships from London (which is a way to guarantee their freshness), he sold “a general assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.” I have never seen a pharmaceutical advertisement when looking through colonial newspapers for the Adverts 250 Project, which is why I chose this advertisement for today.

Kast characterizes his drugs as “Chymical” (which is the historical spelling of “chemical”) and “Galenical” (which is a medicine made from natural ingredients – plant or animal components – rather than synthetic components). Most prescription medications made today are of the chemical sort, since over time they have been proven to help more, and can be developed further to help more people.

What else further interested me was that this was a “dual” advertisement almost. Philip Godfrid Kast advertised for himself in Salem as well as for Dr. Stephen Huse in Haverhill, Maassachusetts. This is interesting because those towns are around twenty miles apart. Is it possible that these were the only two shops on the North Shore of Massachusetts that sold pharmaceuticals other than the port of Boston? Also, I noticed that Huse had the label of “Dr.” whereas Kast did not. This makes me wonder if they could possibly have been business partners or maybe Kast was more like a pharmacist today and Huse was more like a doctor today. Or maybe colonial Americans did not care as much about getting their medicines from such an official.



I intended to feature this advertisement (from a previous issue of the Boston Post-Boy) last week before my Public History students resumed their guest curator duties, but when Elizabeth submitted her list of proposed advertisements for this week I held off for a bit. I figured it would be much more interesting to see what each of us thought was interesting and important about this advertisement.

What originally drew me to this advertisement? In early January I included another advertisement from Kast in my analysis of the featured advertisement of the day. The Kast advertisement I used, however, was a trade card rather than a newspaper advertisement. I posted it because the trade card included an image of Kast’s “Sign of the Lyon & Mortar.” Most colonial shop signs have been lost to time, but trade cards provide an alternate form of preservation of the image if not the material object.

Philip Godfrid Kast Trade Card
Philip Godfrid Kast’s trade card engraved by Nathaniel Hurd in Boston in 1774 (American Antiquarian Society).

All of the advertisements that Elizabeth examined this week have told us something about consumer culture and life in eighteenth-century America, but in at least one aspect some of her advertisers themselves were extraordinary. Recall that Mary Symonds, the milliner from Philadelphia, also issued a trade card for her business. (Elizabeth also included a trade card from William Breck, whose shop “at the Golden Key” was located near the shop promoted in the featured advertisement on another day.) Very few retailers, merchants, producers, or suppliers distributed trade cards in colonial America. Only a small fraction of newspaper advertisers experimented with advertising campaigns that utilized multiple media. I’ve been hoping that some of my students would have an opportunity to examine some of those advertisers, but I never would have guessed at the outset of this project that any of them in any single week would encounter two or more advertisers who used trade cards to supplement their newspapers advertisements.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (March 17, 1766).

“A Compleat Assortment of Druggs and Medicines; … a fine Assortment of Surgeon’s Instruments.”

Benjamin Church operated a shop that likely attracted many different kinds of customers.

Anderson’s Pills, Bateman’s Drops, Stoughton’s Bitters, and Turlington’s Balsam were all familiar patent medicines that colonists would have purchased both with or without consulting a physician. In some ways, they were the over the counter medications of their day. The first half of Church’s advertisement lists a “Compleat Assortment of Druggs and Medicines” and ingredients that customers from a variety of backgrounds would have purchased.

The second half, on the other hand, lists equipment, “a fine Assortment of Surgeon’s Instruments,” likely intended for specific occupational groups that practiced one form of medicine or another. Everyday consumers may have had some of these supplies in their homes, just as modern American households possess basic first aid materials, but “Midwifry Instruments” and “Surgeon’s Knives” were likely purchased almost exclusively by medical practitioners.

I’m curious to know which volumes were included among the “good Collection of modern Medical Authors.” Did they include any works of general reference? Who would have purchased them?

Overall, this advertisement offers an interesting glimpse of medicine in colonial America, but it also demonstrates how an eighteenth-century business operated. Once upon a time I worked for an independently owned retail pharmacy and home health care supply store. Although the two portions of the business shared a location, most employees were specifically affiliated with either one or the other. Pharmacy staff and home health care staff had distinct areas of expertise and experience and consulted with customers accordingly. In contrast, it is likely that Benjamin Church worked on both sides of the business at his shop in colonial Boston.

February 4

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Feb 4 - 2:3:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (February 3, 1766)

“A Large Assortment of Medicines, chymical and galenical.”

This advertisement brings a variety of goods to the table, but what caught my eye was the presence of medicine at the top of the list. Prior to this period in colonial America, the Scientific Revolution was set into motion after the medieval period, which on some levels lacked innovation. In medicine, there seemed to be a regressing, especially with the presence of the Black Plague. However, scientists in the 1600s and 1700s were ever experimenting to find new solutions to problems, including diseases. Not only were there artificial remedies created, but there were natural remedies used as well, distinguished in the advertisement as “chymical and galenical.” As the Europeans composed the bulk of innovators and inventors, their ideas and products were passed on to their colonies. Although the colonial era continued to have sicknesses, including the Yellow Fever, colonists had a knowledge of medicine that would continue to grow and eventually lessen the effects of epidemics.

The American Colonies were able to benefit from improved Western medicine and they continued to see medicine develop in their time.



I suspect that much of Maia’s analysis of this advertisement was inspired by the two-semester History of Western Civilization sequence taught by my colleagues, Lance Lazar in the fall and Winston Black this spring. I encourage students to look for connections among their courses, especially history courses, rather than treat different places and different eras as if they existed completely independently of each other. It’s certainly gratifying when students take content and ideas from one course and effectively apply them to the periods and places they are studying in other courses.

That being said, this advertisement offers another opportunity to challenge students to think about other perspectives, to continue to integrate new knowledge into their interpretation of the past. While Europeans were certainly influential in the development of Western medicine, this advertisement leaves out the possible contributions of indigenous peoples (just as the advertisement for Jamaican sugar earlier this week belied the labor of enslaved Africans). Consider, for instance, the work of Kathleen S. Murphy (History, California Polytechnic State University), including “Translating the Vernacular: Indigenous and African Knowledge in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic.”[1] Murphy demonstrates that Europeans were often assisted by non-Europeans in their quest for scientific and medical knowledge. In some cases, these so-called “others” acted as teachers to Europeans, instructing them in healing techniques and the qualities of previously unknown flora and fauna in the wake of the Columbian Exchange.

Medical knowledge did make significant advances in the eighteenth century, partly as a result of interactions and cooperation among Europeans, Africans, and indigenous Americans.  In turn, colonists could purchase “A Large Assortment of Medicines, chymical and galenical.”


[1] Kathleen S. Murphy, “Translating the Vernacular: Indigenous and African Knowledge in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic,” Atlantic Studies 8, no. 1 (2011): 29-48.