April 29

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

Boston-Gazette (April 29, 1771).

“INNOCENT BLOOD CRYING TO GOD FROM THE STREETS OF BOSTON.”

When ships from England arrived in American ports in the spring of 1771, they delivered news of reactions to George Whitefield’s death from the other side of the Atlantic.  The prominent minister died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  It took several weeks for news to reach England and even longer, given the difficulty and dangers of crossing the North Atlantic in winter, before colonists learned how that news was received.  In addition to newspaper accounts, colonists also received commemorative items produced in England, including sermons dedicated to the memory of the minister.  Yet that was not the only memorabilia associated with major news events that vessels from England carried to the colonies on the spring of 1771.  They also delivered items that commemorated the Boston Massacre.

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, received a London edition of “INNOCENT BLOOD CRYING TO GOD FROM THE STREETS OF BOSTON,” a sermon “Occasioned by the HORRID MURDER” of several colonists “by a Party of Troops under the Command of Captain [THOMAS] PRESTON” on March 5, 1770.  John Lathrop, “Pastor of the Second Church in BOSTON,” gave the sermon on the Sunday following the Boston Massacre.  Lathrop or an associate apparently sent a manuscript copy to London.  Printers there took the sermon to press.  The sermon then crossed the Atlantic in the other direction.  When Edes and Gill received it, they published an American edition of a sermon originally delivered in their own city, further disseminating it to consumers in Boston and beyond.  In so doing, they expanded the simultaneous commemoration and commodification of the Boston Massacre already underway in the colonies.

Edes and Gill intended to place copies of Lathrop’s sermon in the hands of as many readers as possible.  They offered discounts to buyers who purchased a dozen or more copies for retail sales, though they also sold single copies.  As entrepreneurs, they wished to generate revenues, but that did not comprise their sole motivation.  Edes and Gill were perhaps the most vocal of Boston’s printers when it came to supporting the patriot cause.  Their newspaper provided extensive coverage of current events, both news accounts and editorials with a patriot slant, during the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.  Both profits and their principles likely guided their decision to print and distribute Lathrop’s sermon on “INNOCENT BLOOD CRYING TO GOD FROM THE STREETS OF BOSTON.”  In so doing, they helped cultivate a culture of remembrance of significant events.  For several years, colonists had been marking the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.  In 1771, residents of Boston commenced a new tradition of commemorating the Massacre on or near its anniversary.  Edes and Gill participated, printing both James Lovell’s oration occasioned by the first anniversary and Lathrop’s sermon delivered just days after the Boston Massacre.

March 11

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

Boston-Gazette (March 11, 1771).

“The Feast of ST. PATRICK is to be celebrated, together with the Repeal of the STAMP-ACT.”

According to advertisements in the New-York Journal in February and March 1771, colonists began planning an event to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act several weeks in advance of March 18.  The organizers invited “all the Friends of LIBERTY” to Hampden Hall to mark the occasion “with proper Festivity.”  In early March, advertisements about a similar gathering appeared in the Boston-Gazette.  In that case, however, the organizers combined commemorations of the repeal of the Stamp Act with celebrating the “Feast of ST. PATRICK” at the Green Dragon tavern.

The advertisement ran twice in the Boston-Gazette, first on March 4 and a week later in the last issue prior to the important anniversary.  In neither issue was it the only act of commemoration of events that ultimately led to the American Revolution.  Several years before declaring independence, colonists marked anniversaries of significant events.  In the March 4 edition, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted an editorial about the Boston Massacre.  “To-morrow will be the anniversary of the fatal fifth of March 1770,” they proclaimed, “when Mess. Gray, Maverick, Caldwell, Car and Attucks, were slain by the Hands of Eight Soldiers, of the 29th Regiment, then posted in this Town.”  Edes and Gill acknowledged that not all colonists agreed about why the soldiers were quartered in Boston, though they made their position clear.  “[S]ome ridiculously alledge” the soldiers were present “to preserve the Peace, but others say to inforce the Revenue Acts, and the arbitrary unconstitutional Measures of a corrupt and wicked Administration.”  The editorial further lamented the outcome of a trial during which “it was adjudg’d to be excuseable Homicide in six of the Soldiers, and in two of them Manslaughter!”  Despite the verdict, Edes and Gill declared that “By far the greater Part” of the residents of Boston “still think it was a barbarous Murder.”

When the advertisement for the gathering at the Green Dragon ran a second time a week later, Edes and Gill devoted the entire front page of the Boston-Gazette to reprinting the “solemn and perpetual MEMORIAL” about “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street” that originally ran in the Essex Gazette on the day of the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  Thick black borders, a symbol of mourning in the wake of a significant loss, enclosed the entire memorial.  Before they encountered the invitation to the event commemorating the repeal of the Stamp Act at the Green Dragon tavern among the advertisements, readers already contemplated other abuses perpetrated by the British.

Dual commemorations thus appeared in the Boston-Gazette, spanning the sections devoted to news and advertising, in the first weeks of March 1771.  Edes and Gill marked the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre with editorials, one original and the other reprinted from another newspaper, while organizers of an event on the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act published advertisements inviting colonists to the Green Dragon tavern to celebrate.  Advertising contributed to a culture of invoking memories of important events as part of the political culture of the period.

March 5

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

Essex Gazette (March 5, 1771).

“Sermons on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”

A little more than five months following George Whitefield’s death on September 30, 1770, the commodification of that event continued in the pages of the Essex Gazette.  Printers, booksellers, and others produced and marketed a variety of commemorative items dedicated to the prominent minister in the weeks after his death.  The advertising for such items tapered off by the end of the year, but some notices occasionally appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina in 1771.  On March 5, Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, informed prospective customers of “Dr. Whitaker’s and Mr. Parsons’s Sermons on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD, with Mr. Jewet’s Exhortation at the Grave, annexed to the latter” available at his printing office in Salem.

This particular advertisement included thick black bands on both sides, a common symbol of mourning in early American print.  Whitefield’s death, however, was not the reason that Hall included that symbol in the March 5 edition.  The borders ran throughout the entire newspaper, enclosing every column on all four pages, to mark the first anniversary of “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston, N. England–1770.  In which Five of his Majesty’s Subjects were slain, and Six wounded, By the Discharge of a Number of Muskets from a Party of Soldiers under the Command of Capt. Thomas Preston.”  Hall devoted the entire front page to commemorating the Boston Massacre, first in a “solemn and perpetual MEMORIAL Of the Tyranny of the British Administration of Government” that extended across all three columns and filled half of the space below the masthead.  A letter reprinted from the New-Hampshire Gazette accounted for the remainder of the page.  In it, an anonymous author, “CONSIDERATION,” encouraged residents of every colony to designate a day to commemorate “the Massacre of 5 Americans” and, more generally, reflect on “the most important Events that have happened relative to the Government and Liberties of the Country.”  Unless colonists set aside a day for “delivering Discourses upon Government, the fundamental Laws of the Land, [and] the Advantages of civil and religious Liberty,” Consideration feared that “People will grow inattentive to those Concerns” and tyrants would prevail.  The black bands around Consideration’s essay underscored the gravity of the proposal.  Consideration issued a call to action, one endorsed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette when they inserted it in their newspaper and endorsed once again by Hall when he reprinted it.

Two of the most momentous events of 1770, the Boston Massacre and the death of George Whitefield, converged in the March 5, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Both events fueled acts of commemoration, sometimes mediated through commodification.  Vigilant printers played an important role in keeping those stories familiar among the general public, through news accounts, editorials, and advertisements.

Essex Gazette (March 5, 1771).

February 24

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

New-York Journal (February 21, 1771).

“Celebrating the Repeal of the oppressive Stamp-Act.”

Just as Americans participated in the commodification of events associated with the American Revolution several years before the skirmishes at Concord and Lexington, they also staged commemorations of those events long before declaring independence.  After the repeal of the Stamp Act in March 1766, for instance, colonists marked the anniversary the following year and continued to do so.  They celebrated not only the repeal of that odious measure but also the successful organizing and resistance strategies that convinced Parliament to repeal it.  Many among the gentry engaged in legislative resistance, including the House of Burgesses passing the Virginia Resolves and representatives from several colonies signing petitions at the Stamp Act Congress.  Merchants pursued economic resistance, leveraging commercial pressure on their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic by refusing to import goods while the Stamp Act remained in effect.  Popular protests erupted throughout the colonies, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Savannah, Georgia.  In newspapers, circular letters, pamphlets, broadsides, and handbills, the colonial press covered all of these actions.

As the fifth anniversary of the repeal approached, an advertisement addressed to “all the Friends of LIBERTY” appeared in the February 24, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal.  “THIS early Notice is given,” the advertisement proclaimed,” that for celebrating the Repeal of the oppressive Stamp-Act, ample Provision will be made on the 18th March next, at HAMPDEN-HALL, that the Anniversary may be kept, with proper Festivity and Decency.”  Celebrating such anniversaries was important.  Doing so helped to keep colonists vigilant when it came to other abuses.  In the time since the repeal of the Stamp Act, the colonies experienced another round of objectionable taxation in the form of duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts.  Widespread resistance, including another round of nonimportation agreements, eventually resulted in the repeal of most of those duties, but the tax on tea remained.  In addition, British soldiers were quartered in Boston, a factor that contributed to the Boston Massacre in March 1770.  Newspapers throughout the colonies covered that event and the subsequent trials, many of them also carrying advertisements for pamphlets and prints related to the murders in Boston.  When colonists in New York gathered to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act, “so general and important a Cause,” they likely recollected other events that occurred since, each of them as “oppressive” as the Stamp Act.  The anniversary of that first major victory against Parliament provided an opportunity for reflection on other challenges the colonies experienced and continued to face.

February 19

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 19, 1771).

A few Copies of The TRIAL … of the SOLDIERS … for the Murders at Boston.”

In January 1771, John Fleeming, a printer in Boston, published an account of the trial of the soldiers involved in the “horrid MASSACRE” on March 5, 1770.  He advertised in the Boston Evening-Post in advance of taking the book to press and then continued advertising once copies were available.  Additional advertisements of various length and detail soon appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Providence Gazette.  Printers and booksellers in New England believed that a market existed for this volume, but they also sought to enlarge that market by inciting more demand.

Commemoration and commodification of the events that culminated in the colonies declaring independence began long before fighting commenced at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.  Writing to Thomas Jefferson in 1815, John Adams reflected on the American Revolution as a process or a series of experiences rather than a military conflict.  “What do we mean by the Revolution?  The war?  That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it.  The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760-1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.”  In other words, the American Revolution took place in the hearts and minds of colonists prior to declaring independence.

The commodification of events like the Boston Massacre contributed to those transformations.  Advertisements for Fleeming’s book found their way into newspapers published in towns beyond New England, including the February 19, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  “A few Copies,” printer and bookseller Robert Wells announced, “of the TRIAL at large of the SOLDIERS of the 29th Regiment, for the Murders at Boston, March 5th, 1770 … may be had at the Great Stationary and Book Store.”  Far away from Boston, residents of Charleston did not experience the “horrid MASSACRE” in the same way as the inhabitants of the town where it happened.  It did not have an immediate impact on their daily lives.  Yet newspaper coverage and opportunities to purchase commemorative items kept them informed and allowed them to feel as though they also participated in events that unfolded in the wake of the Boston Massacre.  They could not attend the trials, but they could read about them and then discuss politics with friends and neighbors, their views shaped in part by what they learned from newspapers and commemorative items, including books and prints depicting the event.  Printers like Robert Wells helped shaped colonists’ understanding of politics and current events not only through publishing news but also through selling commemorative items.

January 26

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

Providence Gazette (January 26, 1771).

“THE TRIAL … published by Permission of the Court.”

In January 1771, John Fleeming published an account of the trials of the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.  His marketing campaign began in the January 14, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post with a brief notice that he would soon take the book to press.  A week later, he published a much more extensive advertisement in the same newspaper, that one listing the various contents of the book from “The Indictments against the Prisoners” through “the Verdict returned by the Jury.”  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, joined Fleeming in selling copies in Boston.

The account of the trials was soon available in other towns as well.  On January 25, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a short advertisement informing the public that “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston, are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.”  The next day, Benjamin West published a longer advertisement in the Providence Gazette.  Like Fleeming, he listed the names of the “Soldiers in his Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot” tried “for the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Grey, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr, on Monday Evening, the 5th of March, 1770.”  West may not, however, have intentionally replicated that portion of Fleeming’s advertisement.  Instead, he incorporated the lengthy title as it appeared on the title page of the book into his advertisement, a common practice when marketing all sorts of books in the eighteenth century.  West did compose unique copy, making appeals that had not previously appeared in other newspaper notices, for his advertisement.  “In this Book may be read,” he explained, “all the Evidence and Arguments on both Sides, which are contained in no less than 217 Pages.”  In addition to the length suggesting that the account was complete, West also promoted its accuracy, commenting on “The Whole being taken in Short-hand, and published by Permission of the Court.”  Fleeming made similar appeals, but he named the transcriber, John Hodgdon, and noted that his copy had been compared “with other Minutes taken at the Trial.”

Fleeming, West, and the Fowles adopted different approaches in their advertisements for an account of the trials for the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, but they all marketed memorabilia about a significant event with implications that reverberated throughout the colonies and across the Atlantic.  They and their potential customers did not know that the Boston Massacre and other events part of the imperial crisis they were experiencing would eventually culminate in the American Revolution.  Today, however, we look at the production and marketing of books and pamphlets about the Boston Massacre and prints depicting it and recognize that the commodification of the American Revolution began years before the first shots at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.

January 25

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 25, 1771).

“A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a brief notice at the bottom of the final column on the second page of the January 25, 1771, edition.  “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston,” the Fowles advised prospective buyers, “are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.”  Readers did not require further explanation identifying “the SOLDIERS in Boston” to know that the Fowles referred to the men who fired into a crowd on the night of March 5, 1770, the perpetrators of an event now known as the Boston Massacre.  The printers advertised a recently published account of the court proceedings in which six of the soldiers were acquitted and two found guilty of manslaughter.  The latter pleaded benefit of clergy to have their sentences reduced to branding on the thumbs in open court.

Some readers may have already been aware of this pamphlet if they happened to read newspapers published in Boston that circulated far beyond that busy port.  John Fleeming announced his intention to publish an account of the trial in the January 14 edition of the Boston Evening-Post, prompting Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of that newspaper, to once again advertise “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON.”  A week later, in a much more extensive advertisement, Fleeming notified the public that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” the pamphlet and listed its various contents.  In addition to purchasing the account of the trials directly from Fleeming, buyers could also acquire copies from the Fleets.  They also continued to advertise the “short Narrative,” attempting to direct demand for one pamphlet into demand for both.

Both of these pamphlets served as auxiliary sources of information that supplemented coverage in the newspapers.  They kept readers better informed of current and recent events.  They also likely played a role in shaping the politics of many colonists, the one documenting a “horrid MASSACRE” and the other demonstrating that most of the soldiers involved in the incident were not at fault.  In addition, these pamphlets were part of larger process of commodifying the American Revolution that began years before shots were fired at Lexington and Concord.  Fleeming and the Fleets sold copies of an account of the trials to consumers in Boston and other towns in Massachusetts, but that was not the extent of the potential market.  The Fowles gave consumers in New Hampshire an opportunity to participation in the commemoration of such a significant event by purchasing their own copies of the account of the trials.

January 21

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 21, 1771).

“The Trial of … Soldiers in His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot.”

On January 14, 1771, John Fleeming announced that he would publish a pamphlet documenting the trial of the soldiers prosecuted for “the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, & Patrick Carr, on the Evening of the 5th March 1770,” an event now known as the Boston Massacre.  John Adams defended the soldiers in court, winning acquittals for six of them.  The other two, convicted of manslaughter for deliberately firing into the crowd, received reduced sentences after pleading benefit of clergy.  They avoided the death penalty in favor of branding on the thumbs in open court.  When Fleeming, a Tory sympathizer and former partner in publishing the discontinued Boston Chronicle, announced his plan to publish an account of the trial, Thomas and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, placed their own advertisement for “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE” immediately below Fleeming’s notice.  Perhaps suspicious of what might appear in Fleeming’s pamphlet, the Fleets offered an antidote.

In the next issue of the Boston Evening-Post, Fleeming inserted a more extensive advertisement to proclaim that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” an account of “The Trial of … Soldiers in His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot; For the MURDER of” the five men who died during and soon after the Boston Massacre.  The printer noted that this account had been “Taken in short Hand by John Hodgdon” and furthermore it was “Published by Permission of the Court.”  Perhaps to alleviate lingering suspicions about how much commentary he might insert or otherwise attempt to further shape the narrative in favor of the soldiers, Fleeming included a note near the conclusion of his advertisement.  “In this Publication,” he declared, “great Care has been taken to render the Evidence as accurate as possible, by comparing Mr. Hodgdon’s Copy with other Minutes taken at the Trial.”  Fleeming also listed the various contents of the pamphlet, from “The Indictments against the Prisoners” to “the Verdict returned by the Jury.”  The pamphlet provided a complete account of events associated with the trial, Fleeming assured the public.

This advertisement met with different treatment by the Fleets compared to Fleeming’s previous advertisement.  They placed it in the lower right corner of the first page, the only advertisement on that page.  In addition, the advertisement listed both Fleeming and “the Printers hereof” as sellers of the pamphlet.  Apparently the Fleets, who tended to favor the patriot cause, though not as vociferously as Benjamin Edes and John Gill in the Boston Gazette, found that the pamphlet accurately rendered the events of the trial.  They even saw an opportunity to generate revenues at their own printing office by retailing copies.  They already encouraged participation in the commodification of events related to the imperial crisis, having marketed “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE.”  Even as they endorsed Fleeming’s new publication, they also continued to run advertisements for that earlier pamphlet elsewhere in the newspaper.  Interest in Fleeming’s new pamphlet about the trial had the potential to reinvigorate demand for an account of the events that led to the trial.

January 14

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 14, 1771).

“A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON.”

Commemoration and commodification of the American Revolution occurred simultaneously, the process beginning years before the first shots were fired at Concord and Lexington on April 19, 1775.  The Boston Massacre took place on March 5, 1770.  A week later, the town meeting appointed James Bowdoin, Samuel Pemberton, and Samuel Warren to a committee charged with preparing an account of that infamous event.  The committee quickly prepared A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston and presented it to the town meeting on March 19.  The town meeting accepted the account and ordered it printed immediately.  The Short Narrative quickly became available to consumers, its imprint declaring that it was “Printed by Order of the Town of Boston, and Sold by Edes and Gill, in Queen-Street, and T. & J. Fleet, in Cornhill.”  Other commemorative items quickly hit the market as well.  On March 26, Paul Revere advertised his “PRINT containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-Street.”  A week later, Henry Pelham announced a similar print, “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power,” available for purchase at local printing offices.

Months later, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, occasionally advertised the Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre.  On January 14, 1771, they reminded readers of one of the most significant events of the previous year when they once again ran advertisement for the Short Narrative.  An advertisement for another book likely prompted them to market the Short Narrative approved by the town meeting once again.  They inserted their advertisement immediately below John Fleeming’s notice that he would soon publish “The Trial of William Wemmes, James Hartegan, William McCauley, Hugh White, Matthew Killroy, William Warren, John Carrol, and Hugh Montgomery, for the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, & Patrick Carr, on the Evening of the 5th March 1770.”  Following a vigorous defense by John Adams, a jury acquitted six of those soldiers and found the other two guilty of manslaughter.  The latter managed to reduce their sentences from death to having their thumbs branded by pleading benefit of clergy.  Fleeming, the printer who offered an account of the trial to the public, had formerly published the Boston Chronicle, noted for its Tory sympathies, in partnership with John Mein.  That newspaper ceased publication in 1770, shortly after angry colonists chased Mein out of town.

The account of the trial and its outcome ran counter to the version of events depicted in the Short Narrative and the prints produced by Pelham and Revere.  It became another entry in the propaganda battle of competing stories presented in newspapers, prints, and pamphlets, published in both Boston and London, following the Boston Massacre.  It could hardly be considered a coincidence that the Fleets just happened to advertise the Short Narrative once again just as Fleeming announced publication of a pamphlet about the trial of the soldiers, especially since their advertisement appeared immediately after Fleeming’s notice.  The Fleets did not censor Fleeming from advertising in their newspaper, but they did insist on having the last word in hopes of shaping the narrative for the public.