What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”
Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a brief notice at the bottom of the final column on the second page of the January 25, 1771, edition. “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston,” the Fowles advised prospective buyers, “are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.” Readers did not require further explanation identifying “the SOLDIERS in Boston” to know that the Fowles referred to the men who fired into a crowd on the night of March 5, 1770, the perpetrators of an event now known as the Boston Massacre. The printers advertised a recently published account of the court proceedings in which six of the soldiers were acquitted and two found guilty of manslaughter. The latter pleaded benefit of clergy to have their sentences reduced to branding on the thumbs in open court.
Some readers may have already been aware of this pamphlet if they happened to read newspapers published in Boston that circulated far beyond that busy port. John Fleeming announced his intention to publish an account of the trial in the January 14 edition of the Boston Evening-Post, prompting Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of that newspaper, to once again advertise “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON.” A week later, in a much more extensive advertisement, Fleeming notified the public that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” the pamphlet and listed its various contents. In addition to purchasing the account of the trials directly from Fleeming, buyers could also acquire copies from the Fleets. They also continued to advertise the “short Narrative,” attempting to direct demand for one pamphlet into demand for both.
Both of these pamphlets served as auxiliary sources of information that supplemented coverage in the newspapers. They kept readers better informed of current and recent events. They also likely played a role in shaping the politics of many colonists, the one documenting a “horrid MASSACRE” and the other demonstrating that most of the soldiers involved in the incident were not at fault. In addition, these pamphlets were part of larger process of commodifying the American Revolution that began years before shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. Fleeming and the Fleets sold copies of an account of the trials to consumers in Boston and other towns in Massachusetts, but that was not the extent of the potential market. The Fowles gave consumers in New Hampshire an opportunity to participation in the commemoration of such a significant event by purchasing their own copies of the account of the trials.