July 12

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

New-York Journal (July 9, 1772).


Readers of the New-York Journal encountered an advertisement for “DOCTOR HILL’s GENUINE AMERICAN BALSAM” in the June 9, 1772, edition.  Michael Hoffman informed them that he received a “fresh Supply” of the “truly excellent medicine” responsible for “great numbers of cures” of all sorts of maladies.  In another advertisement, however, readers learned of an alternative to the patent medicines hawked by so many apothecaries, merchants, and shopkeepers.  That notice announced that a “NEW and CONVENIENT BATH” had been “LATELY ERECTED, And now opened” in nearby Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

The advertisement described what visitors could expect to experience if they visited the bath.  They had access to a “Room properly constructed to undress and dress in, with a Stair-Case leading into the Bathing Room, where Persons of wither Sex may bathe in Salt-Water, in the Salt-Water, in the greatest Privacy.”  In addition, “a Door is so placed in the Bath” that “those that choose to swim off into deeper Water … can conveniently go out and return.”  The notice suggested that visitors also take advantage of a “Mineral Water, similar to the German Spaw” about two miles from the bath, declaring that “its proper Distance procuring moderate Exercise after bathing, has proved in many Instances very assistant to the Medicinal Quality of the Waters.”  Furthermore, “bathing in Sea Water” enhanced the efficacy of the mineral waters at the spa.  In case that description did not entice prospective visitors, the advertisement also reported that “several Physicians of Ability” examined the “Qualities of this Spaw” and “frequently recommended” partaking in the experience.  A nota bene indicated that visitors from New York and other places could procure “Genteel Lodgings” from any of “several private Families” in Perth Amboy.”

A nascent tourism industry emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century, sometimes connected to the medicinal benefits of visiting baths and spas.  In the decade before the American Revolution, the proprietors of “JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston,”  the “Bath and House” at Chalybeat Springs in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and the “BATH” near the “Mineral Water, similar to the German Spaw” in Perth Amboy all placed newspapers advertisements to encourage colonizers to visit their facilities and partake in the amenities they provided.

June 11

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

Jun 11 - 6:8:1769 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (June 8, 1769).

“Numbers of Disorders have been cured by them.”

When John Priestly and Charles Besronett advertised the “convenient Bath and House” they constructed at Chalybeat Springs in Bristol, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1769, they emphasized the medicinal qualities of the waters rather than promoting their establishment as a destination for tourists. Even though they claimed it was “needless to publish the Uses of these Waters,” Priestly and Besronett went into great detail about the benefits of partaking in a trip to Chalybeat Springs. The name itself came from the word “chalybeate” associated with mineral springs and medicines that contained salts of iron.

They proclaimed that “Numbers of Disorders … that had eluded the most powerful Medicines” had been cured as a result of visiting. Yet they did not ask prospective clients merely to take their word for it. To ward off suspicions of quackery, they reported that members of the Philosophical Society in Philadelphia (known today as the American Philosophical Society, one of the oldest learned societies in the nation) had conducted experiments and published the results the previous year. That “Analysis of these Waters” revealed that they contained “a Portion of Iron dissolved and suspended by a vitriolick Acid in Water, perhaps as pure as any hitherto discovered in any Part of the World.” Even if prospective clients did not understand all of the scientific terminology, the advertisers expected terms like “pure” to resonate. Priestly and Besronett directed prospective clients to consult with their own physicians who were more qualified to examine the analysis published by the Philosophical Society. Still, they presented opportunities for readers to reach their own preliminary conclusions. They anticipated that prospective clients would recognize, or at least be impressed by, allusions to “the celebrated GERMAN SPAW.”

In addition, Priestly and Besronett signaled that analysis of the beneficial results of taking the waters continued. “In Order more fully to ascertain the Virtue of these Waters,” they announced, “an exact Register is intended to be kept.” That register would included the names of clients, the maladies they sought to alleviate, and the effects of visiting Chalybeat Springs. Rather than entrust compilation of this register solely to patrons, Priestly and Besronett requested that they bring “a short Account of their Case, drawn up by the Doctor attending them.” Descriptions by physicians, especially when they invoked the specialized language of the profession, would imbue the register with greater authority, exactly the sort of legitimacy that Priestly and Besronett already demonstrated they valued when they trumpeted the analysis undertaken by the Philosophical Society.

Some advertisements from the period testify to a nascent hospitality and travel industry in early America, but Priestly and Besronett eschewed marketing strategies often adopted by advertisers who provided lodging, transportation, and entertainment. Instead, they focused almost exclusively on the efficacious effects of visiting Chalybeat Springs as a remedy for medical disorders.  In that regard, their advertisement adopted an approach similar to the one in advertisements for “Jackson‘s Mineral Well” in the Boston Evening-Post a couple of years earlier. They could have also promoted a trip to the springs as an enjoyable leisure activity, but they instead privileged their attention to scientific inquiry as the primary means of persuading prospective clients to experience Chalybeat Springs for themselves.