What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Sermons on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”
A little more than five months following George Whitefield’s death on September 30, 1770, the commodification of that event continued in the pages of the Essex Gazette. Printers, booksellers, and others produced and marketed a variety of commemorative items dedicated to the prominent minister in the weeks after his death. The advertising for such items tapered off by the end of the year, but some notices occasionally appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina in 1771. On March 5, Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, informed prospective customers of “Dr. Whitaker’s and Mr. Parsons’s Sermons on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD, with Mr. Jewet’s Exhortation at the Grave, annexed to the latter” available at his printing office in Salem.
This particular advertisement included thick black bands on both sides, a common symbol of mourning in early American print. Whitefield’s death, however, was not the reason that Hall included that symbol in the March 5 edition. The borders ran throughout the entire newspaper, enclosing every column on all four pages, to mark the first anniversary of “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston, N. England–1770. In which Five of his Majesty’s Subjects were slain, and Six wounded, By the Discharge of a Number of Muskets from a Party of Soldiers under the Command of Capt. Thomas Preston.” Hall devoted the entire front page to commemorating the Boston Massacre, first in a “solemn and perpetual MEMORIAL Of the Tyranny of the British Administration of Government” that extended across all three columns and filled half of the space below the masthead. A letter reprinted from the New-Hampshire Gazette accounted for the remainder of the page. In it, an anonymous author, “CONSIDERATION,” encouraged residents of every colony to designate a day to commemorate “the Massacre of 5 Americans” and, more generally, reflect on “the most important Events that have happened relative to the Government and Liberties of the Country.” Unless colonists set aside a day for “delivering Discourses upon Government, the fundamental Laws of the Land, [and] the Advantages of civil and religious Liberty,” Consideration feared that “People will grow inattentive to those Concerns” and tyrants would prevail. The black bands around Consideration’s essay underscored the gravity of the proposal. Consideration issued a call to action, one endorsed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette when they inserted it in their newspaper and endorsed once again by Hall when he reprinted it.
Two of the most momentous events of 1770, the Boston Massacre and the death of George Whitefield, converged in the March 5, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette. Both events fueled acts of commemoration, sometimes mediated through commodification. Vigilant printers played an important role in keeping those stories familiar among the general public, through news accounts, editorials, and advertisements.