What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“An ORATION … to Commemorate the bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March 1770.”
In their first issues published after the commemorations of the third anniversary of the Boston Massacre, the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette reported that Dr. Benjamin Church delivered an oration “on the dangerous Tendency of Standing Armies being placed in free and populous cities.” According to that coverage, Church’s oration “was received with universal Applause: and his Fellow Citizens unanimously voted him their Thanks, and requested a Copy of his Oration for the Press.” The previous year, printers in Boston published and advertised the oration that Dr. Joseph Warren delivered on March 5, 1772, to commemorate the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre. They also hawked copies of the oration that James Lovell delivered following the first anniversary of “the Massacre in Boston.” Annual commemorations of the Boston Massacre quickly became a tradition, as did producing and promoting memorabilia associated with the commemorations.
Following coverage in the March 8 edition, the Boston-Gazette carried a short notice on March 15 to inform readers that “Dr. CHURCH’S ORATION will be Published by the Printers hereof as soon as possible.” Three days later, a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter announced the sale of the Oration by “T. & J. FLEET,” printers of the Boston Evening-Post, and “EDES & GILL,” printers of the Boston-Gazette. That advertisement indicated that Edes and Gill printed “The THIRD EDITION, corrected by the AUTHOR.” How did they go from promising to publish the address “as soon as possible” to issuing a corrected third edition three days later? It appears that Edes and Gill competed with Joseph Greenleaf and the editions that he produced “at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE, in HANOVER-STREET, near CONCERT HALL.” Seeking to beat the competition, Greenleaf likely rushed his edition to press. Apparently, he met sufficient demand to produce a second edition without advertising. Harbottle Dorr, the merchant now famous for annotating and indexing newspaper coverage of the imperial crisis that resulted in the American Revolution, for instance, purchased a copy of Church’s Oration printed by Greenleaf.
Printers in Boston recognized that demand existed for memorabilia associated with commemorating the Boston Massacre. They likewise believed that they could incite even more interest through advertising, keeping the events of “the bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March 1770” in the public discourse long after the anniversary passed. Publishing and promoting memorabilia, in turn, contributed to shaping perceptions of the relationship between Britain and the colonies.