April 23

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

Essex Gazette (April 23, 1771).

“A few of Mr. Lovell’s ORATIONS on the Massacre in Boston.”

In the spring of 1771 colonial printers advertised a variety of items commemorating the death of George Whitefield the previous fall.  At the same time that John Dunlap in Philadelphia, John Fleeming in Boston, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle in New Hampshire, and John Holt in New York advertised Whitefield memorabilia, Samuel Hall informed residents of Salem that he carried an item that commemorated the other major news story of the previous year.  “A few of Mr. Lovell’s ORATIONS on the Massacre in Boston, to be sold by the Printer hereof,” Hall noted in an advertisement in the April 23 edition of the Essex Gazette.

Hall referred to “An Oration Delivered April 2d, 1771. At the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston; To Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March, 1770.”  James Lovell delivered this oration on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  As the Massachusetts Historical Society explains, “From 1771 until 1783, when the commemoration of the Massacre was superseded by the celebration of independence on the Fourth of July, a leader of the patriot movement gave an address each year on or near the date of the anniversary.”  On the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre, local leaders determined that “there needed to be a public oration to remember the event.”  Lovell gave the first official oration sanctioned by the town, but, as Samuel A. Forman notes, Thomas Young “delivered a speech … on the same theme a few weeks prior and closer to the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre.”  No copy of Young’s address survives, but Lovell’s oration was “Printed by Edes and Gill, By Order of the Town of Boston.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette and vocal supporters of the patriot cause, quickly took Lovell’s oration to press.  They made it available to consumers in Boston and beyond, disseminating copies to fellow printers and booksellers in other towns.  Hall, Edes and Gill, and patriot leaders in Boston all encouraged a culture of commemoration around the Boston Massacre, participating in rituals of remembrance and the commodification of those rituals in order to make a lasting impression well before the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord.  They cultivated reverence for this significant event considered one of the causes of the American Revolution in the years prior to the colonies declaring independence.  Marketing items like Lovell’s “Oration” and prints of the “Bloody Massacre” likely contributed to the cultivation of patriotic sentiment as many colonists shifted their attitudes from resistance to revolution.

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The Massachusetts Historical Society provides access to a digitized copy of Lovell’s “Oration.”

February 27

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 27, 1771).

“THE TRIAL of the SOLDIERS of His Majesty’s Twenty-Ninth Regiment of Foot.”

“A FUNERAL SERMON … on the Death of the Rev. Mr. Whitefield.”

In a single advertisement in the February 27, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, Robert Wells marketed commemorative items associated with the two of the most important events that occurred in the colonies in 1770, the Boston Massacre on March 5 and the death of George Whitefield on September 30.  Both events were covered widely in newspapers throughout the colonies, articles reprinted from one newspaper to another.  Both also spurred commodification of the events within days or weeks.  Advertisements for prints depicting the “late horrid Massacre in King-Street” appeared soon after soldiers fired into the crowd.  Advertisements for funeral sermons, poems, and other items memorializing the prominent minister found their way into newspapers within days of his death.

Printers, booksellers, and others continued hawking commemorative items many months later.  John Fleeming, a printer in Boston, announced publication of “THE TRIAL of the SOLDIERS of His Majesty’s Twenty-ninth Regiment of Foot” in January 1771, a few months after the trials concluded and coverage appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Several newspapers in New England carried advertisements for Fleeming’s volume by the end of January.  A month later, advertisements also ran in newspapers as far away as South Carolina.  On February 19, Wells inserted a brief notice that “A few Copies of The TRIAL at large of the SOLDIERS … for the Murders at Bostonmay be had at the Great Stationary and Book Store.”  In the next issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he promoted the book at greater length.  The new advertisement included the lengthy title as well as a list of the contents. Overall, it featured only slight variations from an advertisement Fleeming placed in the Boston Evening-Post on January 21.  When the bookseller in Boston sent copies to his associate in Charleston, he may have included a copy of the advertisement.  Alternately, Wells may have received the Boston Evening-Post directly from its printers as part of an exchange network that facilitated reprinting news and other items of interest.

Wells listed other items available at “the Great Stationary and Book-Shop,” concluding with a short paragraph about “A FUNERAL SERMON preached in Georgia on the Death of the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD wherein his Character is IMPARTIALLY drawn. By the Rev. Mr. ZUBLY.”  Wells advertised Zubly’s sermon three weeks earlier in a lengthier notice.  In contrast to most commemorative items in memory of Whitefield, that sermon was neither delivered nor printed in New England.  Zubly preached it in Savannah, the same town where James Johnston printed it and then disseminated copies to both Wells and John Edwards, a merchant in Charleston.  The production and marketing of commemorative items was not confined to New England.

Wells, like many other printers and booksellers, sought to generate revenues through the commodification of significant events that captured the public’s interest and attention.  Most purveyors of these items promoted only one at a time.  Their many advertisements testify to the extent of commodification of major events in the colonies in the 1770s.  Wells’s advertisement for both an account of the trials of the soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre and a funeral sermon memorializing one of the most prominent ministers of the era underscores the extent of the commodification of current events.

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.

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.