What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Copper-Plate PRINT, containing a View of Part of the Town of Boston in New-England, and British Ships of War landing their Troops in the Year 1768.”
The simultaneous commemoration and commodification of the American Revolution began long before shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. Just three weeks after the Boston Massacre occurred, Paul Revere advertised an engraved print depicting the event in two of Boston’s newspapers. It did not take long for Revere to issue another print inspired by the imperial crisis. On April 16, 1770, he inserted an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette to promote “A Copper-Plate PRINT, containing a View of Part of the Town of Boston in New-England, and British Ships of War landing their Troops in the Year 1768.”
Catharina Slautterback asserts that the “citizens of Boston could not fail to make a connection between the two prints,” especially since the “relationship between the two events was underscored by the cartouche in the lower right-hand corner of A View of the Part of the Town of Boston.” Revere stated in the advertisement that the print was “Dedicated to the Earl of Hillsborough,” a sarcastic honor that received further elaboration in the cartouche. In addition to identifying Hillsborough as “HIS MAJEST[Y]’S Se[creta]ry of State for America,” the cartouche featured a Native American woman, bow and arrow firmly in hand, with her foot on the throat of a British soldier who had dropped his musket. The soldier’s helmet bore the number “XXIX” for the 29th Regiment that had fired on the crowd during the Boston Massacre. While the image of ships loaded with British soldiers arriving in Boston may have suggested imperial power, the personification of the American colonies readily dispatching one of those soldiers encouraged resistance and the possibility of overcoming abuse perpetrated by both soldiers and Parliament. Revere’s image depicted the threat and called for action.
Slautterback states that the success of the The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King-Street demonstrated that “the public was hungry for anti-British propaganda.” Revere was just as eager to provide it. Indeed, he previously created another version of the engraved print, a woodcut offering A Prospective View of the Town of BOSTON, the Capital of New-England; and of the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry. That woodcut accompanied Edes and Gill’s North-American Almanack and Massachusetts Register for the Year 1770, a publication that overflowed with propaganda favoring the patriot cause. Revere’s image of the threat represented by the arrival of those troops in Boston was the first item in the lengthy list of contents that appeared in newspaper advertisements for the almanac and register. Created before the Boston Massacre, it did not include the cartouche or the dedication, but the implication of the danger inherent in quartering British troops in the city was clear. Revere further elaborated on the theme from A Prospective View when he created A View of the Part of the Town in Boston. Compared to a woodcut, the copperplate engraving allowed for greater elaboration of details, including the addition of a Native American woman disarming a soldier from the 29th Regiment.
Revere promoted and sold the new print, as did Edes and Gill, publishers of the Boston-Gazette. They marketed a pivotal event in the imperial crisis years before the military conflict between the colonies and Britain commenced. Through their efforts, they attempted to leverage consumer culture and advertising to bolster support for the American cause among the broader public.