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 3

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

New-York Journal (February 21, 1771).

“To all the Friends of LIBERTY … 61 71.”

Last week the Adverts 250 Project featured this advertisement calling on “all the Friends of LIBERTY” to mark the fifth anniversary of “the Repeal of the oppressive Stamp-Act.”  That initial examination of the advertisement focused on the importance that colonists placed on commemorating the events the culminated in the American Revolution even before the skirmishes took place at Lexington and Concord or the Continental Congress declared independence.  Another aspect of this advertisement, however, caught my attention when I first selected it for the Adverts 250 Project.

The notation on the final line – “61 71” – presented a mystery.  Similar notations appeared on the final lines of most advertisements in the New-York Journal.  Either the printer, John Holt, or the compositor inserted these numbers to indicate the first and last issues in which an advertisement should appear.  They replicated the last two digits of the issue numbers of those newspapers.  For example, the February 28, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal was “NUMB. 1469,” so any advertisements with “69” as the first number in the notation ran for the first time in that issue and any advertisements with “69” as the second number in the notation ran for the last time.  The notations, therefore, were intended for those who worked in the printing office rather than for readers.

I noticed the “61 71” notation for a couple of reasons.  First, it indicated that the advertisement ran for eleven weeks, an odd number in general, made even more odd by the fact that Holt’s pricing structure of “Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after” (listed in the colophon every week) resulted in most advertisements running for four weeks because advertisers incurred the lowest possible cost.  Eleven weeks seemed like a long time to run the advertisement, but it had interesting implications.  Issue 1461 happened to be the first issue of the new year, published on January 3, 1771.  Had those who planned the commemorations of the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act considered the event worthy of notice so far in advance?

While possible, that did not seem right.  After all, I previously examined every issue of the New-York Journal published in January and February 1771 to identify advertisements to feature on the Adverts 250 Project and advertisements about enslaved people for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  I did not recall seeing this particular advertisement in any of those issues before selecting it from the February 21 edition.  I doubted that I had managed to skip over it in seven consecutive issues of the New-York Journal.  When I examined each edition in search of this particular advertisement, I discovered that it did not appear prior to February 21.  It ran in four consecutive issues, starting on February 21 and concluding on March 14, in issue 1471.  The advertisement appeared in the last edition of the New-York Journal before the commemoration of the repeal and the celebration of “so general and important a Cause.”

It turned out that the advertisement first appeared in issue 1468, not 1461.  The notation contained an error, probably the result of the compositor substituting the last digit of the second issue for the last issue of the first.  Few if any readers of the New-York Journal likely noticed this error.  After all, such notations in any advertisements were not intended for them.  For this historian of advertising and early American newspapers more than two centuries later, however, the notation contained a lot of potential meaning, especially in terms of how extensively those who planned the commemoration of the repeal of the Stamp Act advertised the upcoming fifth anniversary.  Although the advertisement did not as many times or for as long as the notation suggested, it still signaled an important act of remembering on the part of many colonists.

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 15

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

Feb 15 - 2:15:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 15, 1770).

“The Sons of Liberty in general, might there commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.”

As the fourth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act approached, the Sons of Liberty in New York prepared to commemorate the occasion. They encountered some obstacles, however, in planning their celebration. Newspaper advertisements first announced one plan, then later clarified a different one.

The first public notice appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy on Monday, February 5.   Advertisements in both newspapers extended a brief invitation: “THE sons of LIBERTY, are desired to meet at the house of Mr. De La Montanye’s, on Monday the 19th day of March next, to celebrate the repeal of the detestable and inglorious STAMP-ACT.” A slightly longer version appeared in the New-York Journal three days later. It advised that the “friends to Liberty and Trade, who formerly associated together at Barden’s, Jones’s and Smith’s to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Are requested to meet for that purpose on Monday the 19th of March next, at the house of Mr. Abraham De La Montagnie.”

Plans for a celebration were off to a good start, except that apparently no one had consulted with de la Montaigne about gathering at his house. He inserted his own advertisement in the February 8 edition of the New-York Journal in response to “AN Advertisement having appeared in last Monday’s papers, inviting the Sons of Liberty to dine at my house … to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.” De la Montaigne did indeed plan to host a celebration, but not for those who had placed an advertisement without his knowledge. He asserted that his establishment had already been booked “by a great number of other gentlemen” and, as a result, he “shall not be able to entertain any other company than those gentlemen and their connections who engaged my house for that day.” The compositor thoughtfully positioned the two advertisements, with their conflicting information about an upcoming gather of the Sons of Liberty, one after the other.

A week later the organizers announced a new plan to “commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.” When they discovered that de la Montaigne’s house was not available, a “Number of the Sons of Liberty in this City” set about “purchasing a proper House for the Accommodation of all Lovers of freedom on that Day, and for their Use on future Occasions, in the Promotion of the Common Cause.” They acquired a “Corner House in the Broad-Way,” appropriately located “near “Liberty-Pole.” In contrast to the event slated for de la Montaigne’s house, the celebration at this corner house was open “without Discrimination” to “all the Sons of Liberty … who choose to commemorate that Glorious Day.” In addition, the advertisement extended an invitation to “Sons of Liberty” to meet at the house on Tuesday evening as well, presumably to continue organizing against abuses inflicted on the colonies by Parliament.

This series of advertisements in New York’s newspapers demonstrates some disorder when it came to marking the anniversary of such an important event at a time when colonists in that city and elsewhere worked for the repeal of the Townshend Acts that infringed on their liberty much like the Stamp Act had done. One cohort of celebrants confined their event to a small number of gentlemen, while organizers of another event emphasized that all were welcome to participate in the “Promotion of the Common Cause.” Who participated in these two commemorative events? Was the one at de la Montaigne’s house limited only to the better sorts who claimed leadership of the Sons of Liberty? Did patriots from humble backgrounds plan and participate in the commemoration at the corner house “near Liberty-Pole”? Did participants in the two events share a vision of what they hoped to accomplish in their struggle against Parliament? These advertisements suggest that New Yorkers may have attached different meanings to the repeal of the Stamp Act and what they hoped to accomplish as they pursued further resistance efforts in the early 1770s.