July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (July 16, 1770).

“A NARRATIVE of the late horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON.”

The commemoration and commodification of the events of the American Revolution began years before shots were fired at Concord and Lexington.  Beginning in 1767, colonists marked the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act with celebrations and toasts.  Within weeks of the Boston Massacre in 1770, Paul Revere advertised and sold prints depicting the event, followed soon after by Henry Pelham.  A few months later, John Kneeland and Seth Adams announced the imminent publication of “A NARRATIVE of the late horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON, perpetrated in the Evening of the 5th of March 1770, by Soldiers of the 29th Regiment; which with the 14th Regiment were then Quartered there.”  The volume also included “some OBSERVATIONS on the STATE OF THINGS prior to that CATASTROPHE.”

This reprint “from the London Edition” was a departure for Kneeland and Adams.  In his monumental History of Printing in America, Isaiah Thomas remarked that the “principal work of Kneeland & Adams was psalters, spelling books, and psalm books, for booksellers.”[1]  What prompted Kneeland and Adams to reprint this particular book?  Were their motivations primarily pecuniary or political or both?  Thomas, often quick to comment of the politics of his fellow printers, did not note that either printer was known for promoting the patriot cause, but that did not necessarily mean that politics did not play a role in their decision to produce and market this “NARRATIVE of the late horrid MASSACRE.”  Financial interests almost certainly influenced them as well.  If Thomas did not recognize their press as one that advanced the patriot cause, then it seems unlikely that they would have printed the “NARRATIVE” solely as an act of commemoration and instruction for their fellow colonists.  Kneeland and Adams spotted an opportunity to make money in the commercial marketplace.  Regardless of their motivations, publishing this volume contributed to the discourse in the marketplace of ideas.  As printers, they helped shape public sentiment.

Thomas Fleet, Jr., and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, also played a role in making the “NARRATIVE” available to the public.  Their newspaper not only carried Kneeland and Adams’s advertisement but also gave it a prominent place.  The advertisements for the July 16 edition commenced with a notice calling on “All Persons indebted for this Paper” to settle accounts followed immediately by the advertisement for the “NARRATIVE.”  Such placement increased the likelihood that readers would take note of the advertisement if they read through the news and then opted to skip the paid notices.  A note that “Advertisements omitted shall be on our next” indicates that the Fleets made choices about which advertisements to include.  Maybe they selected this advertisement because it was timely, with publication scheduled for “Next WEDNESDAY,” or as a courtesy to fellow printers, but their own feelings about the Boston Massacre may have part of their decision.  Thomas described the Fleets as “good citizens” and lauded the “impartiality with which the paper was conducted, in those most critical times, the authenticity of its news, and the judicious selections of its publishers.”[2]  Even if they were not explicitly promoting the patriot cause, the Fleets likely saw the dissemination of additional information about the Boston Massacre as an important service.

Historians debate whether eighteenth-century printers intentionally sought to shape public opinion in the era of the American Revolution or whether they aimed to earn their living by printing political tracts, prints, and other items.  One does not necessarily exclude the other.  Regardless of the motivations of the printers, the publication of these materials and the advertisements that promoted them contributed to the debates of the period.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America:  With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 148.

[2] Thomas, History of Printing, 143.

April 16

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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (April 16, 1770).

“A Copper-Plate PRINT, containing a View of Part of the Town of Boston in New-England, and British Ships of War landing their Troops in the Year 1768.”

The simultaneous commemoration and commodification of the American Revolution began long before shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.  Just three weeks after the Boston Massacre occurred, Paul Revere advertised an engraved print depicting the event in two of Boston’s newspapers.  It did not take long for Revere to issue another print inspired by the imperial crisis.  On April 16, 1770, he inserted an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette to promote “A Copper-Plate PRINT, containing a View of Part of the Town of Boston in New-England, and British Ships of War landing their Troops in the Year 1768.”

Catharina Slautterback asserts that the “citizens of Boston could not fail to make a connection between the two prints,” especially since the “relationship between the two events was underscored by the cartouche in the lower right-hand corner of A View of the Part of the Town of Boston.”  Revere stated in the advertisement that the print was “Dedicated to the Earl of Hillsborough,” a sarcastic honor that received further elaboration in the cartouche.  In addition to identifying Hillsborough as “HIS MAJEST[Y]’S Se[creta]ry of State for America,” the cartouche featured a Native American woman, bow and arrow firmly in hand, with her foot on the throat of a British soldier who had dropped his musket.  The soldier’s helmet bore the number “XXIX” for the 29th Regiment that had fired on the crowd during the Boston Massacre.  While the image of ships loaded with British soldiers arriving in Boston may have suggested imperial power, the personification of the American colonies readily dispatching one of those soldiers encouraged resistance and the possibility of overcoming abuse perpetrated by both soldiers and Parliament.  Revere’s image depicted the threat and called for action.

Apr 16 - Cartouche from Revere Engraving
Detail from A View of the Part of the Town of Boston (Paul Revere, 1770). Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Slautterback states that the success of the The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King-Street demonstrated that “the public was hungry for anti-British propaganda.”  Revere was just as eager to provide it.  Indeed, he previously created another version of the engraved print, a woodcut offering A Prospective View of the Town of BOSTON, the Capital of New-England; and of the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry.  That woodcut accompanied Edes and Gill’s North-American Almanack and Massachusetts Register for the Year 1770, a publication that overflowed with propaganda favoring the patriot cause.  Revere’s image of the threat represented by the arrival of those troops in Boston was the first item in the lengthy list of contents that appeared in newspaper advertisements for the almanac and register.  Created before the Boston Massacre, it did not include the cartouche or the dedication, but the implication of the danger inherent in quartering British troops in the city was clear.   Revere further elaborated on the theme from A Prospective View when he created A View of the Part of the Town in Boston.  Compared to a woodcut, the copperplate engraving allowed for greater elaboration of details, including the addition of a Native American woman disarming a soldier from the 29th Regiment.

Revere promoted and sold the new print, as did Edes and Gill, publishers of the Boston-Gazette.  They marketed a pivotal event in the imperial crisis years before the military conflict between the colonies and Britain commenced.  Through their efforts, they attempted to leverage consumer culture and advertising to bolster support for the American cause among the broader public.

April 2

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

Apr 2 - 4:2:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (April 2, 1770).

“An Original Print, representing the late horrid Massacre in King Street.”

Although Paul Revere’s engraving is more famous, Henry Pelham also produced a print depicting the Boston Massacre shortly after the event took place.  He marketed his engraving, The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, in the April 2, 1770, editions of the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, a week after Revere promoted his Bloody Massacre in those same newspapers.  The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, so both men moved quickly to make a visual representation of the event available for public consumption.  Revere offered his print for sale just three weeks after soldiers from the 29th Regiment shot into a crowd, wounding several colonists.  Some died of their wounds on the spot; others died soon after.  By the time Revere and Pelham marketed their prints, five colonists had died.

Many consumers may have thought that Pelham’s Fruits of Arbitrary Power closely resembled Revere’s Bloody Massacre, but the opposite was actually the case.  Pelham shared his drawing with Revere, then expressed dismay that his fellow engraver moved forward with his own print based on the drawing and beat Pelham to market by a week.  Their advertisements also resembled each other, neither of them particularly flashy considering the products they presented to consumers.  Pelham’s advertisement simply stated, “To be Sold by EDES and GILL and T. and J. FLEET, (Price Eight Pence) The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, an Original Print, representing the late horrid Massacre in King Street, taken from the Spot.”  (The version in the Boston Evening-Post switched the order of the printers who sold the print.  Each partnership gave itself top billing.). In stating that Fruits of Arbitrary Power was “an Original Print,” Pelham took a swipe at Revere and attempted to set the record straight.

Perhaps neither Revere nor Pelham considered it necessary to devise flashy advertisements for their competing prints.  After all, the Boston Massacre occurred only weeks earlier.  It received extensive newspaper coverage, including descriptions of the funeral procession honoring the victims.  Coverage continued as Boston prepared for a trial of Captain Thomas Preston and soldiers from the 29th Regiment.  Beyond the several newspapers printed in the busy port, the Boston Massacre was surely the talk of the town.  Neither the engravers who produced the prints nor the printers who sold them needed to explain their significance beyond noting that they depicted the “horrid Massacre” and offering brief commentary.  The title of Pelham’s engraving, The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, summed up the political calculus of the event.  He apparently considered that sufficient to convince consumers that they needed to acquire his memento of the Boston Massacre.  Consumption played a vital role in commemoration.

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 20

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

Mar 20 - 3:20:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 20, 1770).

“A faithful Account of the Proceedings of the Subscribers and Non-Subscribers.”

The commodification of the American Revolution began several years before the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord.  As the imperial crisis unfolded, printers marketed a variety of books, pamphlets, and engravings that commemorated current events while simultaneously informing consumers of the rift between the colonies and Britain.

Consider, for instance, an advertisement that appeared in the March 20, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  It announced a “Compilation” of documents related to the colony’s nonimportation agreement was “In the PRESS, and speedily will be published.”  That compilation contained “ALL the LETTERS which have been written FOR and AGAINST the RESOLUTIONS” along with “Copies of the different Resolutions proposed to be signed.”  It also included various lists, including “the Names of the Gentlemen who compose the Committee” that enforced the agreement and “a List of the Non-Subscribers” so readers would know which members of the community worked against the interests of the colony.  To that end, the collection featured “Remarks on the Conduct and Writings” of the “Non-Subscribers.”  The compiler of these documents wished to educate readers about the debates over the boycott, inserting “a Translation of the Latin Verses, Phrases, &c. made Use of in the said Letters.”  Not everyone possessed a classical education, but all colonists could participate in the debates and make decisions about their own conduct.  Nonimportation was not restricted to highbrow households.  In addition to all that, the compilation included “several other interesting Particulars relative to the above Resolutions.”  Through a series of documents and commentaries, it provided a history of recent events, a “faithful Account of the Proceedings of the Subscribers and Non-Subscribers.”

Purchasing this compilation gave colonists another means of participating in protests against the duties on imported goods imposed by Parliament in the Townshend Acts.  Doing so enhanced feelings of connection to others who supported nonimportation agreements in South Carolina and, more generally, throughout the colonies.  Colonists envisioned a time when importation would resume after Parliament relented and repealed the unpopular duties.  When that happened, the compilation would become a memento that reminded those who purchased it of the events they had witnessed, the history they had played a part in shaping.  Owning a copy gave colonists yet another way to express their support for the American cause.