February 8

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

Boston-Gazette (February 8, 1773).

“MRS. HALL is sensible that the Advertisement in Thursday’s Papers was intended to injure her in the Sale of her House.”

The feud between Patty Hall and her neighbors continued to move back and forth between newspapers.  It began when Hall inserted a notice in the February 1, 1773, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  She accused five of her neighbors of conspiring to drive her out of her house on Hanover Street by making spurious claims in court before dropping the matter and simultaneously vandalizing the house and even throwing stones at her as she passed through her year.  Hall did not give any reason that her neighbors felt such enmity, but she did declare that she could give “a good Title” to anyone who purchased the house.

Rather than waiting a week to respond in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette, Hall’s neighbors inserted a response in the February 4 editions of both the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy.  They described themselves as “THE PERSONS mentioned with so much Politeness by Mrs. HALL in her Advertisement” and directed readers to “See Edes and Gill’s last Gazette.”  They advised that the “Conduct of both Parties” would become apparent, “either to their Honor or Disgrace,” upon more extensive examination.  In other words, they cautioned readers not to believe everything that Hall put into print.  At the same time, they warned against trusting the title that Hall offered “until the same shall be determined in a due Course of Law,” clarifying that they had not dropped the case, as Hall indicated, but instead moved it to another court.

Hall had at least one thing in common with her neighbors.  She did not wait to respond in the same newspaper that carried their notice.  She did not allow them that much time to frame the narrative.  Instead, she once again published an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, this time in the February 8 edition.  Her neighbors apparently decided to insert their advertisement in that newspaper as well.  The compositor conveniently combined the two notices into a single advertisement that told a story for readers.  The format, a short line instead of a full line separating the two notices, allows the possibility that Hall reprinted the advertisement to provide context for her response, but her reference to suspending further advertisements because she had “no Money to trifle with” suggests that she would not have taken on the expense of reprinting an advertisement she found so objectionable.

She certainly meant to acknowledge that “the Advertisement in Thursday’s Papers was intended to injure her in the Sale of her House.”  She intentionally misunderstood the “Compliment to her Politeness,” stressing that she “least intended” any pleasantries because she “knew to whom she was speaking, and chose to address them in a Language they understood.”  She adamantly asserted that she had “no Notion of treating Persons politely” when she suspected them of perpetrating the “dirty Actions” she described in her first advertisements as well as “daubing her Yard and Doors with the most nauseous Filth, beating at her Shutters with Axes and Clubs, and disturbing her with repeated Noises at all Hours of the Night.”  She lamented that she gave her neighbors “no other Provocation” except her “Refusal to cut down Part of her House” until a court determined the true ownership of the land that portion of the dwelling occupied.  Hall claimed that she welcomed a court decision because she was confident that it “will do her Justice, and act without Partiality.”  Beyond the courts, she continued to use the public prints to excoriate her neighbors for their malicious behavior.

Both Hall and her neighbors expected that the public engaged with their version of events across multiple publications and through discussing what they read in one newspaper or another or what their acquaintances told them they had read or heard.  As the adversaries waited for a legal decision from the court, they pursued another sort of vindication in the court of public opinion.

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