April 29

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Boston-Gazette (April 29, 1771).

“INNOCENT BLOOD CRYING TO GOD FROM THE STREETS OF BOSTON.”

When ships from England arrived in American ports in the spring of 1771, they delivered news of reactions to George Whitefield’s death from the other side of the Atlantic.  The prominent minister died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  It took several weeks for news to reach England and even longer, given the difficulty and dangers of crossing the North Atlantic in winter, before colonists learned how that news was received.  In addition to newspaper accounts, colonists also received commemorative items produced in England, including sermons dedicated to the memory of the minister.  Yet that was not the only memorabilia associated with major news events that vessels from England carried to the colonies on the spring of 1771.  They also delivered items that commemorated the Boston Massacre.

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, received a London edition of “INNOCENT BLOOD CRYING TO GOD FROM THE STREETS OF BOSTON,” a sermon “Occasioned by the HORRID MURDER” of several colonists “by a Party of Troops under the Command of Captain [THOMAS] PRESTON” on March 5, 1770.  John Lathrop, “Pastor of the Second Church in BOSTON,” gave the sermon on the Sunday following the Boston Massacre.  Lathrop or an associate apparently sent a manuscript copy to London.  Printers there took the sermon to press.  The sermon then crossed the Atlantic in the other direction.  When Edes and Gill received it, they published an American edition of a sermon originally delivered in their own city, further disseminating it to consumers in Boston and beyond.  In so doing, they expanded the simultaneous commemoration and commodification of the Boston Massacre already underway in the colonies.

Edes and Gill intended to place copies of Lathrop’s sermon in the hands of as many readers as possible.  They offered discounts to buyers who purchased a dozen or more copies for retail sales, though they also sold single copies.  As entrepreneurs, they wished to generate revenues, but that did not comprise their sole motivation.  Edes and Gill were perhaps the most vocal of Boston’s printers when it came to supporting the patriot cause.  Their newspaper provided extensive coverage of current events, both news accounts and editorials with a patriot slant, during the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.  Both profits and their principles likely guided their decision to print and distribute Lathrop’s sermon on “INNOCENT BLOOD CRYING TO GOD FROM THE STREETS OF BOSTON.”  In so doing, they helped cultivate a culture of remembrance of significant events.  For several years, colonists had been marking the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.  In 1771, residents of Boston commenced a new tradition of commemorating the Massacre on or near its anniversary.  Edes and Gill participated, printing both James Lovell’s oration occasioned by the first anniversary and Lathrop’s sermon delivered just days after the Boston Massacre.

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