November 1

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

Nov 1 - 11:1:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 1
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 1, 1768).

“Offers his Attendance gratis, to every Person in Charles-Town, whose Circumstances or Situation demand it.”

When T. Lowder arrived in Charleston and established his own medical practice in 1768, he placed an advertisement to introduce himself to the residents of the city and its environs. Like many other physicians who placed newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, Lowder first provided his credentials to potential clients who might avail themselves of his services. He indicated that he had worked as “MIDWIFE and APOTHECARY, to St. Peter’s Hospital” in Bristol. Furthermore, he reported that “he has for some Years been largely engaged in” the “Practice of Midwifery.” Although he did not provide the particulars, Lowder stated that he had received “a regular, physical Education.” He hoped that prospective clients would consider it, in combination with “a considerable Degree of Experience,” as “sufficient Qualifications.” He also pledged to exert the “utmost Assiduity” in attending to his patients. As a newcomer to the city, Lowder did not enjoy a local reputation. Until he could establish that he was not “deficient” as a midwife and apothecary, he relied on his credentials to promote his services to prospective clients who otherwise knew little else about him.

To aid in establishing his reputation in the busy port, Lowder “offers his Attendance gratis, to every Person in Charles-Town, whose Circumstances or Situation demand it.” To that end, he reserved three hours each afternoon for consulting with “The Poor” at his office on Church Street. Offering “Advice in all Cases” provided an opportunity to work with local patients who could then testify to his skill and care. Lowder likely hoped that demonstrating his competence in cases that he attended without charge would yield additional clients from among the ranks of residents who could afford to pay his fees. Providing free medical advice to the poor also attested to his character, further enhancing the public relations campaign Lowder launched in an advertisement introducing himself to colonists in Charleston. In case his credentials were not enough to attract clients, his altruism might attract the attention necessary for the newcomer to sustain his practice.

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.

June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:11:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 11, 1767).

“He is so far from being a Quack Doctor, or Dealer in mysterious Receipts.”

Recently arrived in Philadelphia from Saint Domingue, surgeon-physician Louis Colin did not place an advertisement in search of patients, though that may have been his ultimate goal. For the moment, two obstacles prevented him from offering his services to the residents of Philadelphia. He did not speak English fluently, nor had he cultivated a reputation for skill and expertise in his profession. He placed a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette to set about overcoming both.

Colin realized that many readers were likely to be skeptical of any new medical practitioner who arrived in town. Too many itinerant doctors made promises and did not deliver. Too many peddlers sold patent medicines that had no effect. To allay suspicions of those sorts, he asserted that he was “so far from being a Quack Doctor, or Dealer in mysterious Receipts, that he utterly despises all Charlatanry.” He did not conjure preposterous diagnoses, prescribe ludicrous treatments, or hawk potions to desperate customers. Instead, his work with patients was grounded in years of training in Europe followed by years of experience in the Caribbean. He offered his credentials to make the point, noting that he studied “in one of the greatest Hospitals” in Paris for nine years before migrating to Saint Domingue. There, Count d’Estaing, the governor general of the colony, “had great Confidence in him, and placed him at the Head of the Hospital of Cape Francois.” Unfortunately for Colin, the climate did not agree with him, so he opted to migrate once again, this time to Philadelphia.

Readers did not need to merely trust that Colin accurately related his credentials. Rather than seeking patients, he placed his advertisement in hopes of making acquaintance with “the Gentlemen Physicians and Surgeons of this City,” provided that they could speak Latin or French. In the course of their conversations with Colin, other medical professionals could assess whether he truly possessed the knowledge and skills he claimed. If he had made false claims, surely local physicians and surgeons already known and trusted by the community would expose him as a fraud, the sort of “Quack Doctor” he disdained. In the course of socializing with his professional peers, Colin could also further develop his ability to speak English, though he assured readers he “assiduously applies himself” to studying the language.

As a newcomer to Philadelphia, Colin made an astute decision about what sort of advertisement to place in the local newspaper. He was not yet ready to solicit patients, but he realized that he would benefit in the long run by introducing himself to the community, especially fellow physicians and surgeons, as a means of gaining familiarity and building his reputation. This would only make recruiting patients that much easier when the time came.

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.

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[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).

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:26:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 26, 1766).

With the Help of divine Providence, and his Remedy, perfectly cured me.”

Mechell Lamy, physician and surgeon, was new to the town of Newport. He needed to inform local residents about the services he provided, but he did not have much to say on his own behalf. Instead, he crafted an advertisement that consisted almost entirely of testimonials from former patients. Why try to convince the public of his skills and expertise when the endorsements of others might have much more influence? Each former patient lauded Lamy’s skill. Most of them underscored that his treatments worked quickly, that they were cured in a short amount of time. Lamy, they suggested, did not offer false promises or attempt to extend his care over ever increasing amounts of time in order to continue charging fees. In short, Lamy was not a quack or a charlatan, at least not according to his former patients.

All of the testimonials came from the island of Martha’s Vineyard, most of them from the village of Edgarton. With one exception, each was dated within the past two months, indicating that Lamy had actively pursued his occupation on Martha’s Vineyard fairly recently. At most, Lamy had resided on the mainland for a month when this advertisement appeared. He could not depend on his reputation being spread via word-of-mouth and extended acquaintance. Instead, he had to jumpstart local assessments of his services, skill, and expertise.