What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE Persons who may incline to purchase PATTY HALL’s House … need not be afraid of the Neighbours.”
The feud between Patty Hall and her neighbors continued in the advertisements in the February 15, 1773, edition of the Boston-Gazette. The altercation first appeared in the public prints when Hall placed a notice offering her house for sale in the February 1 edition of the Boston-Gazette. She noted that her neighbors made “a great Bustle” in court about “a Piece of Land” associated with the property, but then “dropt the Matter.” That being the case, she assured “Any Person that inclines to Purchase, may depend that a good Title will be given.” Hall also accused her neighbors of various acts of vandalism and intimidation, including throwing stones at her.
Hall’s neighbors apparently read or heard about the advertisement. They did not wait a week to respond in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette. Instead, they placed notices in the next newspapers published in town, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy on February 4. Hall’s neighbors sarcastically mentioned the “Politeness” accorded to them before clarifying that the matter had moved to another court and requesting that public “suspend their Judgment” until “Evidences on both Sides are properly examined.” They also inserted their advertisement in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette on February 8, a week after Hall’s original notice. It ran immediately above a response from Hall. She described additional harassment she claimed that she experienced from her neighbors.
Having set the record straight once already, Hall’s neighbors did not feel the need to rush to publish a response to Hall’s latest advertisement. Instead, they waited for the next edition of the Boston-Gazette on February 15. In what they framed as a letter to the editors, Hall’s neighbors assured anyone “who may incline to purchase PATTY HALL’s House – with such a Title as she can give – need not be afraid of the Neighbours.” They asserted that knocking at all hours and other alleged torments “were never heard by the Neighbours” and concluded that “it was all done within Doors.” That being the case, they declared, Hall was in the best position to identify the real culprits. Her neighbors recommended that if anyone who purchased the house wished to avoid such intrusions that they “need not keep the same Company” as Hall.
Edes and Gill, the printers of the Boston-Gazette, may have enjoyed the argument between Hall and her neighbors. They almost certainly appreciated the revenue that their advertisements generated. In publishing those advertisements, Edes and Gill and the printers of other newspapers abdicated a small amount of editorial control to those who paid to purchase space in their publications. The advertisements carried news, of a sort, that would not have appeared among the articles and editorials that the printers selected to include elsewhere in their newspapers. Hall and her neighbors could have relied on rumors and gossip to malign each other, but they realized that advertisements gave them a much larger audience for presenting their grievances to the court of public opinion.