March 26

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

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 26, 1770).

“A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street.”

Only three weeks after the Boston Massacre colonial consumers could purchase engravings depicting the event.  On March 26, 1770, the first advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  Both announced “A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street” available for sale by Edes and Gill, the patriot printers of the Boston-Gazette.  Engraved by Paul Revere, this print has become the most iconic image of the Boston Massacre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (though more colonists likely encountered woodcuts depicting the coffins of the victims that accompanied newspaper coverage of the event and the funeral procession than purchased or even glimpsed Revere’s Bloody Massacre in the eighteenth century).

Widely considered a piece of propaganda rather than an accurate depiction of the event that transpired on the evening of March 5, Revere’s engraving was the first to hit the consumer market in 1770.  Controversy at the time focused less on any liberties taken with the facts and more on Revere basing his work on an engraving by Henry Pelham and then issuing his own version so quickly that he edged out Pelham.  As the Massachusetts Historical Society explains, “Although Pelham created his image, The Fruits of Arbitrary Power first, somehow Revere, working from Pelham’s rendition of the scene, created, advertised, and issued his own version, The Bloody Massacre, ahead of Pelham’s.”  Although the advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette did not name Revere as the engraver, they certainly promoted sales of his depiction of the event.

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 26, 1770).

Pelham considered this an injustice.  He wrote to Revere shortly after the advertisements first appeared.  “When I heard that you was cutting a plate of the late Murder,” Pelham lamented, “I thought it impossible as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you coppied it from mine and I thought I had intrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you.”  For his part, Revere may have been more concerned with disseminating as quickly as possible an incriminating image of the 29th Regiment firing on colonists.  After all, just as printers liberally reprinted news, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another, eighteenth-century engravers frequently copied images that came into their possession, though usually after they had been published.

Did Revere weigh the “dictates of Honour and Justice” against serving the patriot cause and determine that the latter mattered more?  To what extent did the sirens of fame and fortune play a role in his decision to copy Pelham’s engraving and make his own version the first available for public consumption?  Can these questions be separated, or must they each inform the other?  Like printers and booksellers who profited from publishing and selling political treatises and accounts of current events during the era of the American Revolution, Revere also reaped rewards for his engraving even as he educated the public and shaped popular opinion.

March 15

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

Mar 15 - 3:15:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 15, 1770).

“All sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took place.”

Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, included coverage of the “bloody massacre” and the funerals of the victims in the March 15, 1770, edition of his newspaper.  In so doing, he adopted a method commonly used by printers throughout the colonies:  he reprinted news that already appeared in another newspaper.  In this case, he reprinted an article about the funeral procession that Benjamin Edes and John Gill originally printed in the March 12, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, though Draper included a brief addendum at the conclusion.  “It is supposed,” he added, “that their must have been a greater Number of People from Town and Country at the Funeral of those who were massacred by the Soldiers, than were ever together on this Continent on any Occasion.”  Draper even included an image depicting the coffins of Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks.  Edes and Gill presumably loaned him the woodcut.

The article, along with the dramatic image that drew attention to it, aimed to disseminate information about the Boston Massacre to readers in the city and far beyond.  The advertisements that appeared in close proximity may have received more notice – and more scrutiny – than under other circumstances.  The two notices that ran immediately next to the article about the “bloody massacre,” both placed by female seed seller commencing their annual marketing campaigns as spring approached, addressed the politics of the period, though they did not comment explicitly on recent events in King Street or the funeral procession that followed.  Susanna Renken listed the seeds she offered for sale, but also declared that she stocked “all sorts of English Goods.”  She carefully noted that she imported those wares “before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.”  Similarly, Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Nowell asserted that they imported their seeds from London and sold them “By Consent of the Committee of Merchants” who oversaw adherence to the nonimportation agreement and reported violators.

These advertisements demonstrate that readers did not experience a respite from politics and current events when they perused advertisements for consumer goods and services during the era of the American Revolution.  Instead, advertisers increasingly inflected politics into their notices as they enticed prospective customers not only to make purchases but also to make principled decisions about which merchandise they did buy.  Those advertisers assured the community that they had already made such principled decisions themselves.

March 8

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

Mar 8 - 3:8:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
MassachusettsGazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 8, 1770).

“The Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768.”

At the time of the Boston Massacre, more newspapers were published in that city than any other in the colonies.  The Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy all came out on Mondays.  Later in the week, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and another edition of the Boston Chronicle both came out on Thursdays.  The Boston Massacre occurred on a Monday evening, by which time the newspapers usually published on that day had already been distributed to subscribers.  That meant that the News-Letter and the Chronicle were the first newspapers to appear after the “BLOODY MASSACRE perpetrated in King-Street, BOSTON on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th REG[IMEN]T” (as Paul Revere described the event).

Both carried limited coverage of the Boston Massacre.  The Chronicle, notorious for its pro-British sympathies, stated, “We decline at present, giving a particular account of this unhappy affair, as we hear the trial of the unfortunate prisoners [Captain Thomas Preston and eight soldiers] is to come on next week.”  The News-Letter issued a Postscript supplement that acknowledged the event but provided only a brief overview.  Its publisher, Richard Draper, also tended to support the British perspective, though usually not as vociferously as the publishers of the Chronicle.  Draper indicated that “A Number of Gentlemen are collecting Evidences of the whole Transactions, as soon as these are done, an Account will be drawn up and Published in the Papers.”  Four days later, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, vocal patriots, published an account of the Boston Massacre and the funeral procession for its victims in the Boston-Gazette, complete with a woodcut depicting the coffins and heavy black borders to denote mourning.

In the aftermath of the Boston Massacre, Edes and Gill ran an advertisement for their “North-American ALMANACK, AND Massachusetts REGISTER” in the March 8, 1770, edition of the News-Letter.  The list of contents made it clear that the publishers placed far more emphasis on the patriotic propaganda in the register than the astronomical calculations in the almanack, especially more than two months into the new year.  Edes and Gill had previously placed the same advertisement for their almanac and register in the News-Letter, but it did not run in the issue of that newspaper that came out immediately before the Boston Massacre.  It did reappear in the first edition published after the “tragical Affair,” as Draper described it.  Edes and Gill led the list of contents with a description of an illustration of “a Prospective View of the Town of Boston … and the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768.”  Those troops eventually fired on the residents of Boston, killing and wounding many of them in the “Bloody Massacre.”  Although coverage of the “Proceedings of that Evening” was tentative and abbreviated in the first issue of the News-Letter after the Boston Massacre, the patriotic tenor of the advertisements for Edes and Gill’s almanack and register took on new urgency in the wake of recent events on King Street.

March 5

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

Mar 5 - 3:5:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 5, 1770).

“Large Marrowfats, early Charlston.”

Susanna Renken and Abigail Davidson were the first in 1770.  Spring was on the way.  Newspaper advertisements for garden seeds were among the many signs of the changing seasons that greeted colonists in Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution.  Every year a cohort of women took to the pages of the several newspapers published in Boston to promote the seeds they offered for sale.  Renken and Davidson both placed advertisements in the March 5, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, conveniently placed one after the other.  Readers could expect that soon advertisements placed by other female entrepreneurs would join them.  Although printers and compositors usually did not impose any sort of classification system on newspaper notices, they did tend to cluster advertisements by women selling seeds together, a nod toward the possibility of organizing the information in advertisements for the convenience of subscribers and other readers.  Renken, usually one of the most prolific and aggressive of the female seed sellers when it came to advertising, also placed a notice (with identical copy) in the March 5 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

Renken concluded her advertisement with a brief note about other merchandise available at her shop, “all sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.”  That brief reference to a commercial strategy for protesting the duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts belied how the imperial crisis would intensify by the end of the day.  That evening a crowd outside the Boston Custom House on King Street (now State Street), harassing British soldiers.  The encounter culminated in the Boston Massacre or what Paul Revere termed the “BLOODY MASSACRE” in an engraving intended to stoke patriotic sentiment among the colonists.  Three men died instantly; two others who were wounded died soon after.  Collectively, they have been considered the first casualties of the American Revolution, along with Christopher Seider who had died less than two weeks earlier.  A week after Renken and Davidson placed their first advertisements of the season, other women joined them in advertising seeds in the Boston-Gazette.  Their advertisements, however, were enclosed in thick borders that denoted mourning.  Many of them appeared on the same page as coverage of the Boston Massacre.