February 2

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

Essex Gazette (February 2, 1773).

“An ORATION on the Beauties of LIBERTY.”

For the third consecutive week, an advertisement for “An ORATION on the Beauties of LIBERTY, from Mic. vii. 3. Delivered at the Second Baptist Church in Boston, on the last Thanksgiving Day” ran in the February 2, 1773, edition of the Essex Gazette.  That notice also informed readers that the printers of the newspaper, Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, also sold “Fleeming’s REGISTER for New-England and Nova-Scotia, with an Almanack for 1773.”  Some of the contents of the almanac became obsolete with each passing day, but the principles expressed in the Oration endured long after John Allen, known as a “British Bostonian,” gave the address in December 1772.

John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark described the Oration as “one of the best-selling pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary crisis, passing through seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775.”[1]  In addition to printers producing the pamphlet in Boston, Hartford and New London in Connecticut, and Wilmington in Delaware, printers and booksellers advertised the Oration in other cities and towns.  The Halls encouraged the popularity and dissemination of the pamphlet by advertising it in Salem as soon David Kneeland and Nathaniel Davis, the printers, took it to press and made it available for purchase.  On January 14, Kneeland and Davis placed notices in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy to announce that the pamphlet was “Now in the press, and will be published in a few days.”  Just five days later, the Halls advertised that they sold the pamphlet.

The Halls almost certainly stocked and sold other books that they did not advertise in their newspaper.  They chose to devote space to promoting two items they considered timely, an almanac for 1773 and a pamphlet that critiqued the appointment of Commissioners of Inquiry concerning the Gaspee incident.  Advertisements in multiple newspapers published in multiple cities and distributed to even more cities and towns likely helped Allen’s Oration become such a popular pamphlet during the era of the American Revolution.


[1] John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine: John Allen and the Spirit of Liberty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 21, no. 4 (October 1964): 561.

Leave a Reply