What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“AN ORATION … TO COMMEMORATE THE BLOODY TRAGEDY.”
Commemoration and commodification of the Boston Massacre commenced just weeks after British soldiers killed several colonizers when they fired into a crowd of protesters on March 5, 1770. Paul Revere advertised “A PRINT containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-Street” in the March 26, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette. He appropriated the image from a sketch done by Henry Pelham. A week later, Pelham advertised “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, An Original Print, representing the late horrid Massacre in King Street, taken from the Spot” in the April 2 edition of the Boston-Gazette. A year later, colonizers in Boston determined that public orations should mark the event. On April 2, 1771, James Lovell delivered “AN Oration … At the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston; To Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March, 1770.” Not long after that, an advertisement in the April 15 edition of the Boston-Gazette promoted copies for colonizers to purchase.
In subsequent years, the annual oration occurred on March 5. From 1771 through 1783, this commemorative event attracted more attention in Boston than Independence Day, but after the Treaty of Paris brought the Revolutionary War to an end July 4 became more widely recognized. On the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Joseph Warren gave “AN ORATION … At the REQUEST of the INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN OF BOSTON TO COMMEMORATE THE BLOODY TRAGEDY Of the FIFTH of March, 1770.” An advertisement quickly appeared in the March 23 edition of the Boston-Gazette, filling nearly two-thirds of a column. The advertisement occupied so much space because Benjamin Edes and John Gill, the patriot printers of both the Boston-Gazette and the oration, included an extensive excerpt about “the ruinous Consequences of standing Armies to free Communities.” The printers hoped that by giving prospective customers a taste of what Warren had to say about the “tyranny and oppression” of an “armed soldiery” who “frequently insulted and abused” the residents of Boston that would entice them to purchase the oration and read more. Doing so also gave them an opportunity to remember the “horrors of THAT DREADFUL NIGHT” and venerate “the mangled bodies of the dead” who perished as a result of the “barbarous caprice of the raging soldiery.”
At the end of the advertisement, Edes and Gill noted that they also stocked “A few of Mr. LOVELL’S ORATIONS Deliver’d last April, on the same Occasion.” They made it easy for patriotic consumers to collect memorabilia associated with the Boston Massacre. Commemoration and commodification of that event occurred simultaneously in the years before the colonies declared independence.