What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Subscriber proposes undertaking the Practice of the Law.”
In the fall of 1770, John Cole took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to advertise his services as an attorney. In introducing himself to prospective clients, Cole noted that “several Gentlemen of the LAW have lately removed from Providence.” Furthermore, there was “another Vacancy at the Bar” caused by the death of “the late worthy and ingenious Oliver Arnold, Esq.” As a result, residents of Providence and nearby towns and villages no longer had access to as many attorneys. Cole sought to fill that gap in the market.
When he informed the public that he “proposes undertaking the Practice of the Law,” Cole asserted that he had been “brought up” to the business, though he did not provide additional details about his training and credentials. Instead, he focused on his demeanor, assuring prospective clients that he would serve them “with the utmost Fidelity, Dispatch and Punctuality.” Advertisers of all sorts made such promises, whether attorneys or artisans, but an emphasis on fidelity had a different resonance when invoked by those practicing the law. It implied both confidentiality and consistently working in the best interests of clients, two aspects of the profession that some attorneys more explicitly highlighted in their advertisements. Cole made more general commitments that his clients would be satisfied with his services.
He also cast his net widely for clients, seeking them in Providence and “the neighbouring Towns or Governments.” The Providence Gazette served much of Rhode Island as well as portions of Massachusetts and Connecticut. For instance, Joseph Jewet and Darius Adams’s advertisement on the same page as Cole’s notice in the October 20, 1770, edition addressed readers in several towns in Connecticut who might wish to engage them as postriders to deliver their newspapers. Jewet and Adams also promised fidelity, but in their case they meant that patrons would receive their newspapers rather than have them go missing.
With the departure of several attorneys and the death of another, Cole sought to establish himself as an attorney in Providence. To attract clients, he not only announced that he opened an office but also suggested that he had some sort of training and offered assurances that he would be trustworthy and competent in delivering his services. Compared to modern advertising for legal services, Cole was considerably less bombastic. He aimed to earn the confidence of prospective clients, not attract them with spectacle.