July 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (July 26, 1773).

“Upon the whole, Justice and Equity, Law, Reason and Necessity urges me to draw the following Conclusion.”

A. Bowman defiantly advertised that he would sell a “Large Assortment of ENGLISH, SCOTCH and IRISH GOODS” at his “AUCTION-ROOM” on the “North Side of the Market” in Boston on August 6, 1773. He prefaced the details of the “PUBLIC VENDUE” with a lengthy address “To the PUBLIC” in the July 26 edition of the Boston Evening-Post, providing an overview of recent events involving the General Court and an Act for the Regulation and Limitation of Auctioneers.

Bowman explained that when the Court initially passed the act in February “Seven Persons officiated daily in that Business.”  However, “when the time came that this Act was to be in force, and the Select Men gave out Licences according to the Letter of the Law, Five were set aside.”  Bowman was among the auctioneers that did not receive a license, as he previously lamented in a series of advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston.  In May, those five auctioneers presented petitions to the Court in hopes that “we might be reinstated in our former Business.”  In turn, the Court exercised “Wisdom and Goodness” and passed a new act that permitted the selectmen to bestow six more licenses.  The intention of the Court, according to Bowman, had been to provide relief to the former auctioneers, but when the selectmen appointed six additional auctioneers Bowman learned that he was not among them.  “Cruel Fate!”

Bowman considered his options, “revolving and re-revolving the whole Matter in my Mind,” and decided to “go on with my Business in form as the Law directs,” though lacking a license.  In other words, he intended to obey every aspect of the law except for holding a license granted by the selectmen, asserting that it “is not my fault” and “no Reason has ever been assigned to me” why he did not receive a license.”  Bowman contented that “every Inhabitant of the Town of Boston” knew that the “additional Act was framed & enacted for the sole purpose of relieving me and my fellow Sufferers.”  He therefore upheld “the very Spirit of the Law” by resuming business as an auction, even if he did not adhere to the letter of the law.  He had been forced into that position when the selectmen neglected to act according to the intention of the legislature in passing the new act.

In addition, Bowman argued that he had a right to earn his livelihood, especially since the colony assessed taxes on him.  “Early after my Arrival in this Province,” he explained, “the Laws of it soon found me out and commanded me to contribute for their Support.”  He had paid his share “all along,” but a few weeks earlier “a large Demand was made upon me from that Quarter, and considering my hard Fate of late I was very unable to answer.”  To his chagrin, “this Creditor takes no denial, and tome made no Abatement.”  On the one hand, the law demanded that Bowman pay taxes, but, on the other, a law passed with the intention of allowing him to pursue his occupation instead prevented him from doing so.  Such injustice did not represent the “Genius of America.”

Instead, it demanded a response.  Bowman resolved to resume his business as an auctioneer, realizing that he risked prosecution “for a supposed Breach of a Law.”  In that case, he anticipated that a “Jury of my Peers” would hear his case and acknowledge what had actually happened.  He also encouraged the “Compassionate Legislative Body who have already exerted their Authority for my Relief” would once again address his predicament and “adhere to the same human Principles on which they founded the late Act.”

The community also had an opportunity to respond when Bowman once again “contend[ed] for my daily Bread” according to the “honour and fidelity with which I conducted my business in former times.”  With a flourish at the end of his lengthy account, Bowman declared that “Justice and Equity, Law, Reason and Necessity” prompted him to hold an auction at the end of the following week.  “A. BOWMAN, Auctioneer,” had no choice but to follow that path.  He knew it and so did the public, at least once he published an advertisement that framed the narrative to demonstrate how much he had been wronged throughout the entire ordeal.

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