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