What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE TRIAL … published by Permission of the Court.”
In January 1771, John Fleeming published an account of the trials of the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. His marketing campaign began in the January 14, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post with a brief notice that he would soon take the book to press. A week later, he published a much more extensive advertisement in the same newspaper, that one listing the various contents of the book from “The Indictments against the Prisoners” through “the Verdict returned by the Jury.” Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, joined Fleeming in selling copies in Boston.
The account of the trials was soon available in other towns as well. On January 25, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a short advertisement informing the public that “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston, are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.” The next day, Benjamin West published a longer advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Like Fleeming, he listed the names of the “Soldiers in his Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot” tried “for the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Grey, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr, on Monday Evening, the 5th of March, 1770.” West may not, however, have intentionally replicated that portion of Fleeming’s advertisement. Instead, he incorporated the lengthy title as it appeared on the title page of the book into his advertisement, a common practice when marketing all sorts of books in the eighteenth century. West did compose unique copy, making appeals that had not previously appeared in other newspaper notices, for his advertisement. “In this Book may be read,” he explained, “all the Evidence and Arguments on both Sides, which are contained in no less than 217 Pages.” In addition to the length suggesting that the account was complete, West also promoted its accuracy, commenting on “The Whole being taken in Short-hand, and published by Permission of the Court.” Fleeming made similar appeals, but he named the transcriber, John Hodgdon, and noted that his copy had been compared “with other Minutes taken at the Trial.”
Fleeming, West, and the Fowles adopted different approaches in their advertisements for an account of the trials for the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, but they all marketed memorabilia about a significant event with implications that reverberated throughout the colonies and across the Atlantic. They and their potential customers did not know that the Boston Massacre and other events part of the imperial crisis they were experiencing would eventually culminate in the American Revolution. Today, however, we look at the production and marketing of books and pamphlets about the Boston Massacre and prints depicting it and recognize that the commodification of the American Revolution began years before the first shots at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.