What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”
In the April 12, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted a short notice informing prospective customers that “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston, are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.” Readers knew that the Fowles referred to an account of the trial of the soldiers involved in the Bloody Massacre or Preston’s Massacre, as the Boston Massacre was known at the time. John Fleeming, the printer of the volume, began advertising it in the Boston Evening-Post in the middle of January. It did not take long for advertisements to appear in other newspapers in New England and as far away as South Carolina as a network of printers and booksellers received copies to sell in their local markets. Indeed, the Fowles alerted readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that they carried the book at their printing office in Portsmouth on January 25.
Nearly three months later, they still had “A few of the TRIALS” available. They ran the advertisement once again, though regular readers knew that the Fowles’ copies had not “just come to Hand.” The placement of the advertisement suggests one of the reasons the printers decided to promote the book once again. It appeared at the bottom of the final column on the last page. Immediately to the left ran another notice inserted by the printers: “BLANKS of most sorts, &c. With a Number of Books, Sold at the Printing Office.” In addition to inviting consumers to acquire goods from the Fowles, these advertisements also completed two of the three columns on the final page of the April 12 edition. One of them extended three lines and the other only two, making them a convenient sort of filler that did not require the compositor to set additional type. Creating columns of the same length played a role in the Fowles’ decision to advertise an account of the “TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.” The printers sought to inform consumers about recent events, commemorate the Bloody Massacre, and generate revenues, but those were not the only factors that explained the timing of this advertisement. The mundane details of setting type to complete a page contributed as well.