Sunday, September 9, 2012

Early American Learned Pigs

The photograph at left shows the Black Bear Inn on Market Street in Philadelphia, where, in 1799, was shown "a curiosity in which the Public will not be disappointed, The Learned Pig. The extraordinary sagacity of this animal is too well known to need a vain, puffing allusive advertisement." This was, I believe, another appearance by William Pinchbeck and his Pig of Knowledge, who had exhibited the year before in Salem, Newburyport, Boston, and Providence, as the language  of the advertisement is quite similar.

And yet, remarkably enough, a newspaper account describing a Learned Pig's appearance at the Centre House in Philadelphia in 1803 mentions that "within the past four years, four learned pigs have been exhibited." This is a remarkable claim, and led me to look again through all the early colonial-era newspapers and histories of that city I could find. Pinchbeck's 1799 pig seems to have been the first of these "learned grunters," followed in 1801 by a second sapient swine that "astonished the visitors at the Rising Sun Hotel in Philadelphia, by telling the time of day, distinguishing colors, counting the company present." About the 1803 pig I have found nothing but the brief reference that started my search.

I have found one further candidate from the period, a southerly pig who went by the name of "Dick." Dick was unusual in that his advertisements were "penned" in the first person, as in this notice in the Charleston City Gazette:

The Learned Pig Returned. Dick begs leave to acquaint the Ladies and Gentlemen of Charleston, that he once more Intends (during the Races only, at his old Apartment, in Jessop's Hotel, Broad-Street) to contribute to their amusement, and hopes for a continuance of that Patronage his formerly so fully experienced. Dick flatters himself, that his merits are so fully known in Charleston, that any Eulogium on that subject would be perfectly unnecessary.
I haven't yet found any evidence of any earlier appearance by "Dick," but a pig is mentioned again in 1804, once more associated with the Washington Race Track (1792-1882), one of the earliest establishments for horse-racing in the United States:
The Learned Pig. To be seen at the Tent, on the Race Ground, every Day this week, and every evening at the City Hotel, Bay Street, Charleston. Admittance, 50 cents -- Children under 10 years, half-price.
It's not clear whether this was, in fact, the identical pig of previous years, nor is there any evidence that either was shown in other cities.  All the same, it's now clear that, within a year of when Pinchbeck's pig concluded its tour, at least four other pigs were making their claims to Sagacity in cities up and down the eastern seaboard!

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