April 6

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

Essex Gazette (April 6, 1773).


On the occasion of the third anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Dr. Benjamin Church delivered an address “upon the dangerous Tendency of Standing Armies, and in Commemoration of the horrid Massacre perpetrated by a Party of the 29th Regiment on the Fifth of March 1770.”  According to coverage in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on March 8 and reprinted in the Essex Gazette the next day, Church “had the universal Applause of his Audience; and his Fellow Citizens voted him their Thanks, and unanimously requested a Copy of his Oration for the Press.”  John Greenleaf quickly printed Church’s Oration, followed by Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, promoting a “THIRD EDITION, corrected by the AUTHOR.”  Commodification of the Boston Massacre occurred simultaneously with commemoration of it, as had been the case with the first and second anniversaries.

Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette in Salem, participated in both the commemoration and the commodification of the Boston Massacre.  In addition to reprinting coverage of the events that marked the anniversary in Boston, they ran an editorial from Marblehead in the March 23 edition.  “THE respectable metropolis of this province,” the anonymous author began, “has certainly acted worthy of itself in establishing, as a monument against ‘the foul oppression of quartering troops in populous cities, in times of peace,’ the MASSACRE ANNIVERSARY.  It must ever do it honour, and serve to convince relentless oppressors, that such measures will produce disgrace to themselves, as well as distress to an injured people.”  The author concluded with a call for colonizers beyond Boston to commemorate the Boston Massacre and remember its significance.  “And while the city solemnizes the fifth of Marchwith its yearly oration,” the author asserted, “may every town in the province observe it in some suitable way; and by keeping up a memento of measures the most cruel and oppressive, be ever guarding its inhabitants against the intriguing designs of Pensioners, Despots, and Tyrants.”

Elsewhere on the same page, the Halls presented an opportunity for consumers to do their part in guarding against “cruel and oppressive” measures by doing their part to commemorate the Boston Massacre through purchasing Church’s Oration.  They apparently sold the correct edition printed by Edes and Gill, declaring that “To-Morrow Morning will be published, and sold by the Printers hereof, An ORATION … to COMMEMORATE THE BLODDY TRAGEDY of the FIFTH of MARCH, 1770.  By DR. BENJAMIN CHURCH.”  The anonymous author from Marblehead gave an endorsement for Church’s Oration as well as the addresses delivered in 1771 and 1772 in the editorial.  “The Gentlemen who exhibited on the two first of these anniversaries,” the author noted, “gave great satisfaction to their hearers, as was evident from the applause they received; and the last performance [by Church] expresses so much true sense, and this conceived in such a delicate stile, that no one can read it without respect for the celebrated author.”  The editorialist from Marblehead likely had a copy of Church’s Oration printed by Greenleaf, allowing for extensive quotations and reflections on how they accurately described the crisis the colonies faced.

That editorial bolstered the advertisement for Church’s Oration that the Halls inserted in that issue and subsequent advertisements that appeared in the next three issues of the Essex Gazette.  More than a month after the anniversary, the Halls continued to hawk the pamphlet, extending the commemoration and helping to keep the dangers of quartering soldiers in Boston visible to their readers who resided outside that city.

March 22

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

Boston-Gazette (March 22, 1773).


Within a week of Benjamin Edes and John Gill announcing that “Dr. CHURCH’S ORATION will be Published by the Printers hereof as soon as possible,” advertisements for that pamphlet appeared in three of Boston’s newspapers.  Edes and Gill referred to the address that Dr. Benjamin Church delivered “At the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of BOSTON” on the third anniversary of the Boston Massacre “to COMMEMORATE the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”  Edes and Gill reported on the commemorations in their newspaper, the Boston-Gazette, on March 8, 1773, reporting that Church spoke about “the dangerous Tendency of Standing Armies” to the “universal Applause of his Audience.”  Furthermore, “his Fellow Citizens voted him their Thanks, and unanimously requested a Copy of his Oration for the Press.”  In the next weekly issue of the Boston-Gazette, Edes and Gill advised the public that they would soon publish Church’s Oration.

Boston Evening-Post (March 22, 1773).

Three days later, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter carried a notice that the “THIRD EDITION, corrected by the AUTHOR” was “Just Publish’d” and sold by Edes and Gill as well as Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post.  Apparently, Joseph Greenleaf was the first printer to take Church’s Oration to press, but Edes and Gill produced a superior edition.  In promoting the third edition, the printers gave their advertisement a privileged place in the Boston-Gazette.  It appeared as the first item in the first column on the first page of the March 22 issue, making it difficult for readers to overlook.  The same day, the Fleets ran the same notice in the Boston Evening-Post.  Although not as prominently displayed as in the Boston-Gazette, the placement likely received special attention.  Rather than nestled among the dozens of advertisements on the third and fourth pages, it ran as the sole advertisement on the second page.  As readers moved from “Proceedings of the Town of Westminster” to news from London that arrived in the colonies via New York, they encountered the advertisement for Church’s Oration.  In its own way, that notice served as news, continuing the coverage of current events and shaping how colonizers viewed their place within the empire.

March 18

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 18, 1773).

“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.

May 2

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

Postscript to the Censor (May 2, 1772).

“Just Arrived, The Cream of Goods.”

Gilbert DeBlois placed his advertisement for “The Cream of Goods” imported from England in several newspapers published in Boston in the spring of 1772, including the Censor.  Ezekiel Russell commenced publication of the Censor, more “a political magazine rather than a newspaper,” in November 1771.[1]  He eventually supplemented it with a half sheet Postscript that looked more like a newspaper.  Instead of carrying essays and editorials exclusively, it also featured news and advertising.  Those efforts to diversify the publication, however, did not broaden its appeal to readers in Boston.  As Isaiah Thomas, the ardent patriot who published the Massachusetts Spy and wrote The History of Printing in America (1810), noted, “the circulation of the paper was confined to a few of their own party,” Tories who sympathized with the British government.[2]  Given his politics, DeBlois numbered among that party.  He eventually left Boston as part of the British evacuation in 1776.  He was among the advertisers in the final issue of the Censordistributed by Russell.

Thomas made his contempt for the Censor clear, demeaning it for being “discontinued before the revolution of a year from its first publication.”  In a footnote, Thomas also provided details about a notorious contributor to the Censor.  “Dr. Benjamin Church, a reputed whig, who when the Revolutionary war commenced was appointed surgeon general of the American army, but was soon after arrested and confined, being detected in a traitorous correspondence with the British army in Boston, I have been informed by a very respectable person whom I have long known, was a writer for the Censor.”  Thomas did not reveal his source, but he did state that “[t]his person, then an apprentice to Russell, was employed to convey, in a secret manner, the doctor’s manuscripts to the press, and proof sheets from the press to the doctor.”  Thomas asserted that Church engaged in skullduggery long before his infamous letter to General Thomas Gage was intercepted and decoded in October 1775.  Some historians have suggested that Church’s case was more nuanced than Thomas allowed, as did Church at the time.  Thomas apparently had little use for Church’s rationalizations that he deliberately sent misinformation to the British to ward off attacks against patriots who lacked ammunition, just as he had little use for the Censor.  For a few months, the Postscript to the Censor increased the number of publications that disseminated advertising in Boston, but Russell did not attract enough subscribers or advertisers to continue producing the weekly political magazine and its supplement.


[1] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 275.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 285.

January 6

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

Newport Mercury (January 6, 1772).

“Subscriptions are taken in by the Priner hereof, and a Number of Gentlemen in different Parts of the Country.”

In December 1771 and continuing into 1772, Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, ran subscription notices for “Col. Church’s HISTORY OF K. Philip’s Indian WAR, Which began in the Month of June, 1675.”  The project did not originate with Southwick; instead, he indicated “A Number of Gentlemen [were] desirous of having Reprinted” an account by Benjamin Church previously published in Boston in 1716.  Neither Southwick nor the “Number of Gentlemen” assumed the risk for publishing this new edition without first gauging broader interest in the book.

Such was the purpose of a subscription notice.  Subscribers reserved copies in advance, giving printers and publishers an idea of how many copies to print.  If they did not acquire a sufficient number of subscribers to make a project viable, they could abandon it rather than lose money on the venture.  In some cases, printers and publishers required subscribers to make payments in advance to help defray the costs of production, but in this instance Southwick specified that subscribers would pay three shilling “on Delivery of the Books.”  To entice prospective subscribers, especially booksellers and other retailers who might purchase multiple copies to sell, Southwick stated, “Those who subscribe for Six Books, to have a Seventh Gratis.”

Southwick accepted subscriptions, but he also relied on a network of associates to assist in the endeavor.  He informed readers that “a Number of Gentlemen in different Parts of the Country, to whom Subscription Papers have been sent,” also accepted orders for the book.  Those subscription papers included the proposal and conditions for subscribing as well as space for subscribers to sign their names and indicate how many copies they wanted.  Subsequent subscribers could peruse the list to see the company they kept, a factor that may have helped convince some potential subscribers that they indeed desired a copy … or at least desired seeing their names listed among those who supported the project.

Not all subscription proposals that ran in early American newspapers generated enough interest to proceed, but in this case Southwick garnered sufficient support to reprint The Entertaining History of King Philip’s WarThis edition included portraits of Benjamin Church and King Philip (Metacom, a Wampanoag leader) engraved by Paul Revere.  Southwick did not mention the images that would accompany the book as a means of promoting interest in the subscription notice.  Other subscription notices highlighted images, but perhaps Southwick had not yet made arrangements for that particular aspect of the publication.  Even without promising portraits of Church and Metacom, the subscription notices helped generate interest in the new edition.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (March 17, 1766).

“A Compleat Assortment of Druggs and Medicines; … a fine Assortment of Surgeon’s Instruments.”

Benjamin Church operated a shop that likely attracted many different kinds of customers.

Anderson’s Pills, Bateman’s Drops, Stoughton’s Bitters, and Turlington’s Balsam were all familiar patent medicines that colonists would have purchased both with or without consulting a physician. In some ways, they were the over the counter medications of their day. The first half of Church’s advertisement lists a “Compleat Assortment of Druggs and Medicines” and ingredients that customers from a variety of backgrounds would have purchased.

The second half, on the other hand, lists equipment, “a fine Assortment of Surgeon’s Instruments,” likely intended for specific occupational groups that practiced one form of medicine or another. Everyday consumers may have had some of these supplies in their homes, just as modern American households possess basic first aid materials, but “Midwifry Instruments” and “Surgeon’s Knives” were likely purchased almost exclusively by medical practitioners.

I’m curious to know which volumes were included among the “good Collection of modern Medical Authors.” Did they include any works of general reference? Who would have purchased them?

Overall, this advertisement offers an interesting glimpse of medicine in colonial America, but it also demonstrates how an eighteenth-century business operated. Once upon a time I worked for an independently owned retail pharmacy and home health care supply store. Although the two portions of the business shared a location, most employees were specifically affiliated with either one or the other. Pharmacy staff and home health care staff had distinct areas of expertise and experience and consulted with customers accordingly. In contrast, it is likely that Benjamin Church worked on both sides of the business at his shop in colonial Boston.