What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Trial of … Soldiers in His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot.”
On January 14, 1771, John Fleeming announced that he would publish a pamphlet documenting the trial of the soldiers prosecuted for “the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, & Patrick Carr, on the Evening of the 5th March 1770,” an event now known as the Boston Massacre. John Adams defended the soldiers in court, winning acquittals for six of them. The other two, convicted of manslaughter for deliberately firing into the crowd, received reduced sentences after pleading benefit of clergy. They avoided the death penalty in favor of branding on the thumbs in open court. When Fleeming, a Tory sympathizer and former partner in publishing the discontinued Boston Chronicle, announced his plan to publish an account of the trial, Thomas and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, placed their own advertisement for “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE” immediately below Fleeming’s notice. Perhaps suspicious of what might appear in Fleeming’s pamphlet, the Fleets offered an antidote.
In the next issue of the Boston Evening-Post, Fleeming inserted a more extensive advertisement to proclaim that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” an account of “The Trial of … Soldiers in His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot; For the MURDER of” the five men who died during and soon after the Boston Massacre. The printer noted that this account had been “Taken in short Hand by John Hodgdon” and furthermore it was “Published by Permission of the Court.” Perhaps to alleviate lingering suspicions about how much commentary he might insert or otherwise attempt to further shape the narrative in favor of the soldiers, Fleeming included a note near the conclusion of his advertisement. “In this Publication,” he declared, “great Care has been taken to render the Evidence as accurate as possible, by comparing Mr. Hodgdon’s Copy with other Minutes taken at the Trial.” Fleeming also listed the various contents of the pamphlet, from “The Indictments against the Prisoners” to “the Verdict returned by the Jury.” The pamphlet provided a complete account of events associated with the trial, Fleeming assured the public.
This advertisement met with different treatment by the Fleets compared to Fleeming’s previous advertisement. They placed it in the lower right corner of the first page, the only advertisement on that page. In addition, the advertisement listed both Fleeming and “the Printers hereof” as sellers of the pamphlet. Apparently the Fleets, who tended to favor the patriot cause, though not as vociferously as Benjamin Edes and John Gill in the Boston Gazette, found that the pamphlet accurately rendered the events of the trial. They even saw an opportunity to generate revenues at their own printing office by retailing copies. They already encouraged participation in the commodification of events related to the imperial crisis, having marketed “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE.” Even as they endorsed Fleeming’s new publication, they also continued to run advertisements for that earlier pamphlet elsewhere in the newspaper. Interest in Fleeming’s new pamphlet about the trial had the potential to reinvigorate demand for an account of the events that led to the trial.