September 9

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 9, 1773).

“Mr. BATES Is extremely sorry that the Ladies and Gentlemen were so much disturbed by a Number of unruly People.”

Mr. Bates’s first performance in Boston did not go as well as he hoped.  Some sort of fracas interrupted his exhibition of feats of horsemanship, something significant enough to merit an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter the day after that inaugural performance.  Bates declared that he was “extremely sorry that the Ladies and Gentlemen were so much disturbed by a Number of unruly People on Wednesday last when he performed.”  He also expressed dismay at “so much Mischief done to the Fence,” threatening “to prosecute to the full Extent of the Law, any Person that shall attempt any thing of the Kind” during subsequent performances.

Whatever disorder occurred at that performance may have worked to Bates’s advantage.  Residents of Boston likely gossiped about the disruption, spreading word about Bates’s show when they did so.  Some colonizers may have become more curious to attend the next performance, both to see Bates riding “One, Two, and Three HORSES,” as he promised in his previous advertisement, and to observe whether the crowd behaved or repeated the commotion from the first performance.  Watching the audience had the potential to provide as much entertainment as the show, a situation perhaps not lost on Bates.  After all, he collected revenue no matter what motivated Bostonians to purchase tickets.

To further encourage sales and attendance, Bates announced that he “lower’d the Price to Three Shillings each,” part of his commitment “to do every thing in his Power to oblige the Ladies and Gentlemen” of the town.  Just in case some readers had not yet heard of him and his reputation, either via newspaper advertisements or word of mouth, Bates concluded his advertisement with a summary of the introduction that he inserted in other newspapers earlier in the week.  He trumpeted, “Mr. BATES is allowed by the greatest Judges in the Manly Art he professes, to excel any HORSEMAN that ever attempted any Thing of the Kind.”  Like other itinerant performers, Bates resorted to superlatives to market his show, promising a spectacle that exceeded anything audiences could view in Boston or anywhere else.

September 6

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

Boston Evening-Post (September 6, 1773).


Not long after Mr. Bates concluded his performances in New York, he arrived in Boston and began advertising exhibitions of his feats of horsemanship in the newspapers there.  He commenced with notices in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on Monday, September 6, 1773, informing ladies and gentlemen of the city about his performance on Wednesday or, if the weather did not permit, on Friday.

As he had done in his advertisements in New York, he deployed “HORSEMANSHIP” as a headline for his notice and then introduced himself as “The ORIGINAL PERFORMER; Who has had the honor or performing” for a longlist of royalty in Europe.  He declared that he earned “the greatest APPLAUSE” from those regal audiences, but did not expect colonizers in New York to take his word for it.  Instead, he had “Certificates from the several Courts” that they could examine.  In addition, he asserted that the “greatest Judges in the MANLY ART” of horsemanship considered his skills “to excel any Horseman that ever attempted any Thing of the Kind.”  Bates hoped that the promises of such a spectacle would entice audiences in Boston to attend his show.

He had reason to feel confident in the effectiveness of this marketing strategy.  After all, he gave the same pitch in New York.  He may have delivered newspapers, clippings, or perhaps even handbills from that city to the printing offices in Boston or he may have copied out the advertisement from one of those sources.  Whatever method he deployed, he remained consistent in how he introduced himself and described his skills to prospective audiences, likely sticking with what worked.  He also repeated another technique that he used in New York, encouraging anyone interested in the performance to acquire tickets quickly because “No Money will be taken at the Doors, nor Admittance without Tickets.”  Rather than wait until the time and day of the show, Bates aimed to generate ticket sales in advance.  Through experience, he devised a system that he believed worked best for inciting interest and securing his livelihood.

August 5

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (August 5, 1773).

“It was intirely the Printer’s mistake in advertising last week that Mr. BATES would perform only once more.”

On Thursday, July 22, 1773, Mr. Bates ran an advertisement in the New-York Journal to promote his next performance showcasing feats of horsemanship, informing the public that it would take place on Tuesday, July 27.  In the same notice, he announced that he “proposes, but twice more, before he leaves this City, to exhibit his Performances in Horsemanship.”  He did not indicate the date of his final performance, but the same day he inserted a much shorter advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  “MR. BATES,” that notice proclaimed, “PROPOSES to perform on Tuesday next, and on Friday the 30th instant, and no more, before he leaves this City.”  The performer placed a longer advertisement, with nearly identical copy to the one in the New-York Journal, in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on July 26, the day before one of those final performances.  In it, he stated that “Mr. Bates’s stay in town will be very short, as he intends performing only twice.”  In each advertisement, Bates made it clear that he would remain in New York for a limited time only.  Audiences interested in attending his show needed to purchase tickets before it was too late.

The next advertisement that appeared in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer was consistent with Bates’s marketing over the prior week.  On Thursday, July 29, that notice encouraged readers to attend his final performance in the city: “MR. BATES PROPOSES to perform tomorrow at the usual place, for the last time.”  The New-York Journal did not happen to carry an advertisement from Bates on the day before that final performance.  On Monday, August 2, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury once again ran the advertisement from July 26, with one update.  It now stated, “TO-MORROW, being TUESDAY the 3d August, he will perform on One, Two, Three and Four HORSES, at the Bull’s-Head, in Bowery-Lane.”  Only the date changed, from “27th of July” to “3d August.”  A note at the end still asserted that “Mr. Bates’s stay on town will be very short, as he intends performing only twice.”  On August 5, he once again advertised in the New-York Journal.  The opening paragraph remained the same as what appeared in the previous two issues, but he updated information about his final performance and departure from New York.  “On TUESDAY next, the 10th of August, if the weather permits, if not on the Friday following, which positively will be the last time, as Mr. Bates intends to set out on a tour for Boston the next day,” the advertisement explained, “He will perform on one, two, three and four Horses, at the Bull’s-Head, in the Bowery Lane.”

That same day, August 5, Bates placed a new advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, the publication that announced a week earlier that he would give his final performance on Friday, July 30.  In this notice, Bates stated that he would perform the following Tuesday and allowed for the next Friday as the rain date.  He once again underscored that this was the last chance to attend his who, that audiences had a limited time to witness the spectacle for themselves before he left town.  He underscored that “the public may be assured this will be his last exhibition, and that he will leave this town on his way to Boston, the day after his finishing performance.”  He added that it “was intirely the Printer’s mistake in advertising last week that Mr. BATES would perform only once more.”  Was it?  The advertisement in the July 29 edition of Rivington’s New-York Gazette accurately reflected the dates from the advertisement that appeared in the previous issue as well as the appeals that Bates made in notices in other newspapers.  A savvy marketer like Bates may have intended all along to announce his imminent departure, creating demand for the final shows, and then “extend” his time in New York by a week in order to give two more performances.  Alternately, his plans might have changed and that allowed him to sell tickets for two more shows.

The discrepancy in the advertisements and the supposed “Printer’s mistake” in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer raises questions about how closely Bates coordinated his marketing efforts with each of the printing offices.  Given the revisions to the advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal, he apparently submitted new instructions.  Did he also send updated information to the other printing office only to have it inadvertently overlooked?  Or did Bates plan for that newspaper to carry the “Printer’s mistake” as a means of creating confusion to amplify the sense of urgency for purchasing tickets that he wanted audiences to experience?  The relief they felt after learning that they had another chance following the “Printer’s mistake” might have convinced some readers to buy tickets for what would actually be Bates’s final performance in New York … but that was not a ploy that the performer could use in more than one newspaper.  Bates carefully managed his marketing efforts while in New York.  He certainly sought to manipulate audiences into attending his shows after announcing they he would soon leave the city.  Was the “Printer’s mistake” an actual mistake or another manipulation intended to incite interest?

July 25

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (July 22, 1773).


“MR. BATES PROPOSES to perform on Tuesday next, and on Friday the 30th instant, and no more, before he leaves this City.”  That brief advertisement in the July 22 edition of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer put readers on notice that only limited opportunities remained to see Bates’s show.  From both his frequent advertisements in New York’s newspapers and the reputation that he cultivated in the city, most readers probably knew that Bates performed feats of horsemanship for the entertainment of his audiences.

New-York Journal (July 22, 1773).

A much longer advertisement in the New-York Journal on the same day deployed the usual headline, “HORSEMANSHIP,” and described him as “The ORIGINAL PERFORMER.”  Bates offered a spectacle of the “MANLY ARTS” that he previously performed for dignitaries that included “the Emperor of Germany, the Empress of Russia, the King of Great-Britain, the French King, the Kings of Prussia, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, and Poland, and the Prince of Orange.”  Bates confided that he “received the greatest applause” for those performances, “as can be made manifest by the CERTIFICATES from the several courts now in his possession.”  Readers did not have to take his word for it that he presented his feats of horsemanship to monarchs and aristocrats.  For a mere four shillings, colonizers in New York could gain access to the same exhibition enjoyed by royals and nobles, but they had to purchase tickets in advance because “No money will be taken at the Doors, nor Admittance without Tickets.”  Bates welcomed “Ladies and Gentlemen” and provided “proper” seating for their comfort, but requested that “Gentlemen will not suffer any dogs to come with them” for fear of scaring or distracting the horses.

A manicule drew attention to the same appeal that appeared in the other newspaper, though stated differently.  “Mr. Bates proposes, but twice more, before he leaves this City, to exhibit his Performances in Horsemanship,” the equestrian daredevil stated.  That being the case, he intended to sell “the Boards, Scantling, &c. at his riding Inclosure, together with the Benches, Rails, &c.”  Dismantling the venue underscored that audiences had only a limited time to witness Bates performing “on one, two, three and four Horses, at the Bulls-Head, in Bowery-Lane.”  They risked missing a performance that would “excel any Horseman that ever attempted any thing of the kind” if they hesitated and did not buy their tickets as soon as possible.

June 30

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

Pennsylvania Journal (June 30, 1773).

“A very grand and magnificent FIREWORK.”

Newspaper advertisements reveal some of the entertainments enjoyed by colonizers, including fireworks displays.  In the summer of 1773, for instance, John Laugeay organized and promoted a “very grand and magnificent FIREWORK, superior to any thing of the kind ever shewn here” for the “Ladies and Gentlemen” of Philadelphia who purchased tickets from him or at the London Coffee House.

His advertisement in the June 30 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal provided an extensive description of the different kinds of fireworks the audience would enjoy on July 14, including “one large Windmill, three large, and three small Wheels, six Pigeons, nine Serpentine Boxes, twelve Italian Candles, [and] six large, and six small Cherry Trees.”  In addition, he hoped to entice certain genteel gentlemen with a “superb Wheel of running fire, containing the arms of the antient and noble order of free and accepted Masons.”  Laugeay devised another spectacle that he expected would resonate with the entire audience, including those with concerns about the tense relationship between the colonies and Parliament.  He intended for them to experience a sense of patriotism and belonging within the empire when they watched “Two forts of twelve cannon each, one English and the other French, each firing at the other, wherein the English gains the victory.”  Beyond those displays, Laugeay promised a “great number of different changes too tedious to particularize.”  While the advertisement served as a preview, colonizers would have to see the entire exhibition to truly appreciate all that Laugeay had planned.

Although the fireworks were the primary draw, Laugeay described other elements of the experience he would create for his audience.  In a nota bene, he asked readers to take note of a “commodious Gallery built for the reception of company,” a comfortable place to socialize before the exhibition and then watch it once it began.  He also reported that “the band of music from the regiment will attend,” providing the eighteenth-century version of a soundtrack for the production.

“Ladies and Gentlemen who intend honouring the exhibition with their presence” had two weeks to acquire tickets.  Laugeay sketched for their imaginations an epic event that they would regret missing if they did not attend.  He likely hoped that his advertisement would do more than generate ticket sales.  After all, it had the potential to create a buzz among those who purchased tickets and conversed with friends and acquaintances about the upcoming event.  In turn, more people might get tickets of their own after hearing that so many others planned to attend.  Laugeay presented an opportunity not only to partake in the fireworks, the gallery, and the band, but also the sense of community that so many people, then and now, experience when attending concerts, sporting events, fireworks exhibitions, and other popular culture events.

December 31

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

South-Carolina Gazette (December 31, 1772).

“Mr. SAUNDERS has been honoured with the greatest Applause,, by all the Nobility that have seen his Great Performances.”

Newspaper advertisements allow for tracing the travels of itinerant performers who entertained colonizers as they moved from town to town in the eighteenth century.  Those same advertisements also provide a glimpse of some of the popular culture options available audiences in early America.  Just in time for the new year, the “New Advertisements” in the December 31, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included a notice that “THE CELEBRATED Mr. SAUNDERS Will exhibit his DEXTERITY and GRAND DECEPTION.”

Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, already established a reputation for his “Variety of new, astonishing, and entertaining Performances, by Dexterity of Hand, surpassing every Thing of the Kind that has hitherto been seen, or attempted, on this Side [of] the Atlantic” in New York and Pennsylvania.  Since arriving in the colonies from Europe just over two years earlier, he had moved back and forth between New York and Philadelphia, placing advertisements in the New-York Journal, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and the Pennsylvania Journal.

To incite interest in his performances, Saunders suggested that colonizers would gain access and enjoy the same entertainments as the better sorts on both sides of the Atlantic.  He trumpeted that he “has been honoured with the greatest Applause, by all the Nobility that have seen his Great Performances in Europe, America, and the West-Indies.”  The illusionist made sure to list prominent colonial officials who had seen his performances, including the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  Audiences who came to his show in “STOTHERD’s Long Room” in Charleston or hired him for “private Performances at their own Houses” would join the ranks of “the Nobility and Gentry in Great-Britain, Ireland, and America, and in particular in the capital Cities.”  Residents of Charleston, one of the largest urban ports in the colonies, wanted their town to rank among those “capital Cities.”  Saunders offered them an opportunity to partake in the same entertainments previously enjoyed by their counterparts in other “capital Cities” in the colonies and throughout the British Empire.

Like other itinerant performers, Saunders resorted to newspaper advertisements to announce his arrival in hopes of inciting interest in his performances.  He gave a preview of the wonders that audiences would witness, noting that he earned “the greatest Applause” from audiences that included “the Nobility and Gentry … in capital Cities.”  Upon purchasing tickets “at ONE DOLLAR each,” colonizers from various backgrounds could experience the same entertainments, but the better sort concerned about the prospects of rubbing elbows with the masses could also schedule private performances that enhanced their own status and Saunders’s acclaim as well.

October 23

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 23, 1772).

“He has been oblig’d to take away the upper Gallery intirely.”

As audiences in Philadelphia enjoyed “FEATS in HORSEMANSHIP” performed by Mr. Bates and illusions performed by Hyman Saunders and Abraham Benjamin in the fall of 1772, patrons in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, attended performances “at the ACADEMY ROOM in Pitt-Street.”  A brief advertisement in the October 16 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette reminded prospective members of the audience that the “Exhibitions will be perform’d as usual” that evening, though with some alterations or variation in the program.  A week later, a new advertisement provided a list of acts for an upcoming performance, demonstrating even to those who had recently attended that the theater offered something new for their amusement and entertainment.  The acts included “THE DEVIL and the DOCTOR, … A DRAMATIC SATIRE,” “A PANTOMINICAL ENTERTINMENT in Grotesque Characters, call’d WIN HER, and WEAR HER; or, HARLOQUIN SKELETON,” and an “Interlude of SINGING & DANCING, call’d NAVAL GLORY; or, the BRITISH TARS TRIUMPH.”

The advertisement advised that the doors would open at five o’clock and the performance would begin “Punctually” at six o’clock.  Patrons might wish to arrive early to claim their spots for viewing the various acts, especially following a reconfiguration of the Academy Room.  The notice acknowledged complaints “that the first Gallery was very In-commodious.”  To make the experience more comfortable and, in turn, more enjoyable for the audience, “Mr. MORGAN takes this opportunity of informing the TOWN, that has alter’d [the Academy Room}as much for the better as the House will allow.”  In order to do so, “he has been oblig’d to take away the upper Gallery intirely.”  That may explain why the advertisement gave the prices for tickets at “3, & 2 Pistereens each” compared to the “3, 2, and 1 Pistereen” in the previous notice.  Admission to the upper gallery, no longer available, had apparently cost one pistareen.  That portion of the advertisement demonstrates that performers promoted more than just the spectacles on the stage when they marketed their shows.  In this advertisement, the space in which the performances took place was just as important as the program of satires, pantomimes, and songs.  Those acts could have been performed in any tavern, but utilizing a space specifically adapted for the comfort and convenience of audiences enhanced the experience of attending the shows.

October 21

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

Pennsylvania Journal (October 21, 1772).


Newspaper advertisements help in revealing some of the entertainments enjoyed by colonizers in the eighteenth century.  For instance, two advertisements in the October 21, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal promoted upcoming performances and encouraged residents of Philadelphia to purchase tickets.  The first offered feats of “HORSEMANSHIP, BY Mr. BATES,” promising that he did tricks “On ONE, TWO, AND THREE HORSES.”  Bates and his act would have been familiar to regular readers at the time this advertisement appeared, so to entice anyone who had already seen the show to come again he proclaimed that he added “several NEW PERFORMANCES.”  Patrons needed to purchase tickets in advance since “No Money [would] be taken at the DOORS, nor Admittance without a TICKET,” yet they also received a discount for purchasing more than one.  The first ticket cost five shillings and the second only two shillings and six pence.  In other words, Bates advertised a “buy one, get one half off” promotion.

The other advertisement announced that “MR. SAUNDERS will exhibit his DEXTERITY and GRAND DECEPTION … at the Bunch of Grapes.”  Most likely, Hyman Saunders, the illusionist and itinerant performer who previously advertised in newspapers in both New York and Philadelphia, placed this notice.  He boasted that he “had the honour of performing before his Excellency the Earl of Dunmore, now Governor of Virginia … and most of the nobility and gentry in Great-Britain and America, and in particular in the capital cities.”  Saunders described his act as “dexterity by hand, surpassing everything of the kind that has hitherto been seen, or attempted, on this side of the Atlantic,” intending that such hyperbole would motivate readers to come to the show.  As a bonus, they would also see “Mr. ABRAHAM BENJAMIN … exhibit several curious BALANCES,” feats of “DEXTERITY, in a different manner from Mr. Saunders.”  Benjamin previously “had the honour of performing before the King of Denmark, and all the nobility of that kingdom.”  The pedigrees of both performers likely resonated with residents of Philadelphia who aspired to be as cosmopolitan as their counterparts in European cities.  Patrons could purchase tickets in advance at the Bunch of Grapes or “at Mr. Abraham Franks’s, Tobacconist.”  Saunders advised that performances would “continue [on] Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.”  Colonizers could also hire him for private performances in their own homes, entertaining themselves and guests fortunate enough to receive invitations.

Performers used newspaper advertisements to drum up interest in their performances in early America.  They likely resorted to handbills and broadsides as well, though those kinds of advertisements were more ephemeral.  Itinerant performers depended on publicity to draw audiences to their shows.  Even those who spent some time in town had to resort to promoting their acts to keep audiences coming or coming back for more.

October 16

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 16, 1772).

“The Exhibitions will be perform’d as usual.”

In the summer of 1772, an advertiser who went by “the Exhibitor” and “the Projector” sought to establish a series of performances of “several serious and comic pieces of Oratory” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  The Exhibitor proposed a subscription series as a means of determining whether sufficient interest existed to make the project viable, encouraging “those Ladies and Gentlemen who are inclined to favour” the proposal to subscribe quickly because “the Season advance, and he is obliged to go to the Southward in October next.”  Those ladies and gentlemen could purchase subscriptions at the printing office.  In addition, tickets for performances were available “at the Printing Office at Mr. Appleton’s Book-Store, and at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern.”

As was often the case with itinerant performers who advertised that they intended to remain in town for only a limited time, the Exhibitor decided to remain in Portsmouth longer than he originally indicated.  In the middle of October, he placed an advertisement to announce that “This Evening … The Exhibitions will be performed as usual, with Alterations.”  In other words, the show continued, but the Exhibitor varied the content to offer something new to prospective patrons who had recently been in the audience.  Readers could procure tickets “at the Printing-Office and the other usual Places.”

The Exhibitor seemed to get assistance in marketing the performance from Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  In the October 16 edition, they concluded the news from Portsmouth with a short blurb that reported, “The Actors at the Academy-House in this Town, give general Satisfaction to large and polite Audiences.  The usual Evenings proposed for this Entertainment are Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday Evenings.”  The Exhibitor’s new notice appeared immediately below that review; news content selected by the editor flowed seamlessly into an advertisement.  The Fowles may have done so as a service to the community if they recognized the benefits of having local productions inspired by “the Entertainments at Sadler’s Well’s,” a renowned theater that had been operating in London since 1683.  In addition, they may have received commissions on the tickets they sold, making the success of the Exhibitor’s venture worth promoting with a short puff piece embedded in the news.

September 27

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 21, 1772).

“As yet there has not appeared an American Edition of this valuable Piece, what few came over were soon snatch’d up.”

Thomas Nixon sold several books at “his Shop at the Fly-Market” in New York in the fall of 1772.  In an advertisement in the September 21, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury he promoted “THE celebrated Lecture on HEADS, by George Alexander Stevens” and “the Devil upon Crutches in England, or the Night Scenes in London, a satirical Work, written upon the Plan of the celebrated Diable Boiteua of Monsieur La Sage, by a Gentleman of Oxford.”  Both books had been published in Philadelphia, The Celebrated Lecture on Heads by Samuel Dellap, whose name appeared just as prominently in the advertisement as Nixon’s own, and The Devil upon Crutches by William Evitt. According to Isaiah Thomas, Dellap traveled frequently between Philadelphia and New York, transporting books from each location for sale in the other.

Nixon composed an advertisement that deployed the popularity of those works to market them to consumers in New York.  To entice readers to purchase Stevens’s satire on fashion and physiognomy, Nixon proclaimed, “These Lectures have been exhibited in London upwards of One Hundred successive Nights, to crowded Audiences, and met with the most universal Applause.”  Consumers could experience that sensation themselves, though tangentially, by acquiring their own copies of the “celebrated Lecture.”  The advertisement went into even greater detail about audience reception of The Devil upon Crutches.  “This Satyre,” Nixon explained, “is universally approved of by all Ranks of People in Europe, and all those Parts of America where it has made its Appearance.”  The bookseller attempted to use the strength of sales elsewhere to influence local consumers, reporting that “six large Impressions were struck off in London in one Year, besides several other Impressions printed in Dublin and Edinburgh.” A few copies found their way to the colonies, met with such demand that they “were soon snatch’d up, tho’ sold at no less Price than 5s.”  Rather than five shillings, Nixon offered the first American edition of only two shillings, surely a bargain for readers who wanted to partake in the phenomenon of The Devil upon Crutches.

Today, publishers regularly cite bestseller lists and the number of copies sold in their efforts to convince consumers to purchase books that have already achieved widespread popularity.  Nixon devised a version of that strategy when he marketed The Celebrated Lecture on Heads and The Devil upon Crutches in New York during the era of the American Revolution.