What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took place.”
Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, included coverage of the “bloody massacre” and the funerals of the victims in the March 15, 1770, edition of his newspaper. In so doing, he adopted a method commonly used by printers throughout the colonies: he reprinted news that already appeared in another newspaper. In this case, he reprinted an article about the funeral procession that Benjamin Edes and John Gill originally printed in the March 12, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, though Draper included a brief addendum at the conclusion. “It is supposed,” he added, “that their must have been a greater Number of People from Town and Country at the Funeral of those who were massacred by the Soldiers, than were ever together on this Continent on any Occasion.” Draper even included an image depicting the coffins of Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks. Edes and Gill presumably loaned him the woodcut.
The article, along with the dramatic image that drew attention to it, aimed to disseminate information about the Boston Massacre to readers in the city and far beyond. The advertisements that appeared in close proximity may have received more notice – and more scrutiny – than under other circumstances. The two notices that ran immediately next to the article about the “bloody massacre,” both placed by female seed seller commencing their annual marketing campaigns as spring approached, addressed the politics of the period, though they did not comment explicitly on recent events in King Street or the funeral procession that followed. Susanna Renken listed the seeds she offered for sale, but also declared that she stocked “all sorts of English Goods.” She carefully noted that she imported those wares “before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.” Similarly, Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Nowell asserted that they imported their seeds from London and sold them “By Consent of the Committee of Merchants” who oversaw adherence to the nonimportation agreement and reported violators.
These advertisements demonstrate that readers did not experience a respite from politics and current events when they perused advertisements for consumer goods and services during the era of the American Revolution. Instead, advertisers increasingly inflected politics into their notices as they enticed prospective customers not only to make purchases but also to make principled decisions about which merchandise they did buy. Those advertisers assured the community that they had already made such principled decisions themselves.