April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Karpowich

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 14, 1768).

“Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivaled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in the laws of Great Britain and the true interest of the COLONIES.”

In the April 14, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette David Hall and William Sellers published an advertisement for a pamphlet containing a popular and widely read set of letters written by John Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator from Pennsylvania. They are titled “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.” According to the introductory notes in the “Online Library of Liberty” compiled by the Liberty Fund, Dickinson penned them under the name of “A Farmer” due to the fact that they were quite controversial. In these letters, he spoke out against the British Parliament and discussed the sovereignty of the thirteen colonies. The “Letters” famously helped unite the colonists against the Townshend Acts. These acts were passed largely in response to the failure of the Stamp Act. Dickinson argues in his letters that the taxes laid upon the people with these laws were for the sole purpose of gaining revenue from the colonies. Parliament was not trying to regulate trade or the market. This meant that they were illegal and should not have been passed. This pamphlet was meant to collect all of the “Letters” to help spread Dickinson’s arguments, showing that there was already growing discontent in the colonies in the late 1760s.



Hall and Sellers did not merely make an announcement that they had “Just published” a pamphlet that collected together all twelve of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.”  Not unlike modern publishers, their marketing efforts included a testimonial that described the significance of the title they offered for sale. Indeed, they devoted nearly half of the space in their advertisement to an endorsement reprinted from the Boston Chronicle.  In so doing, Hall and Sellers advised potential customers that “Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivalled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in thelawsof Great-Britain, and the true interest of the COLONIES.”  Colonists unfamiliar with the “Letters” were encouraged to purchase the pamphlet and read them.  Colonists who had already read them as they appeared in newspapers were encouraged to acquire the pamphlet and continue referring to the wisdom provided by “such an able adviser, and affectionate friend.”

The testimonial from the Boston Chronicle also indicated that the “Letters” “have been printed in every Colony, from Florida to Nova-Scotia.”  For several months in late 1767 and early 1768, printers up and down the Atlantic coast reprinted this series of twelve essays.  For some this meant an essay a week over the course of three months, but others published supplementary issues that sped up publication of the “Letters” as they simultaneously disseminated other news and advertising.  Not all newspapers had finished the project at the time Hall and Sellers published the pamphlet that collected all of the “Letters” together.  The day before their advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, James Johnston published “LETTER X” in the Georgia Gazette.  Once the pamphlet was ready for sale, printer-booksellers in several colonies began promoting it in their own newspapers.  A network of printers participated in distributing Dickinson’s “Letters” twice, first as editorial content in newspapers and then as pamphlets that conveniently collected the essays into a single volume.  As Zach notes, Dickinson’s reasoned arguments aided in uniting many colonists in opposition to abuses committed by Parliament, but the dissemination of his work depended on the active involvement of colonial printers.

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.

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.