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 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 19

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

Feb 19 - 2:19:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 19, 1770).

“List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”

In the third week of February 1770, many printers continued to advertise almanacs, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that counted against any profits they might earn on the venture.  In contrast, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, advertised that they had plans within the next few days to publish their “North-AmericanALMANACK, AND Massachusetts REGISTER, For the Year 1770.”  They either identified demand, even that far into February of the new year, or believed that they could incite sufficient demand to merit the expense of pursuing the project.

In presenting this edition of their almanac to the public, Edes and Gill focused on the contents of the “REGISTER.”  They listed the contents, including useful reference material from tables of colonial currencies to descriptions of “Public Raods, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” to dates of “Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England.”  Many of the contents had a decidedly political tone, making it clear that Edes and Gill marketed this almanac and register to supporters of the patriot cause.  The printers led the list of contents with “A Prospective View of the Town of Boston the Capital of New-England; and the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry.”  This woodcut, fashioned by Paul Revere, depicted eight British warships delivering troops to be quartered in Boston.  In addition to that frontispiece, the almanac and register also contained an overview of many of the other sources of tension between the colonies and Britain, including a “List of the Importers and Resolves of the Merchants &c. of Boston” and a “List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”  More than just a handy register of practical information, this was a primer in patriot politics.  Even items intended for amusement had a political flair, such as “Liberty Song” and “A New Song, to the Tune of the British Grenadier, by a SON OF LIBERTY.”

It was rather late in the year for Edes and Gill to publish an almanac, but they apparently considered it a good time to disseminate patriot propaganda.  The “Judgment of the Weather, Suns and Moon’s Rising and Setting,” and other material commonly contained in almanacs did not receive much notice in their advertisement.  Instead, they emphasized contents related to colonial grievances, presenting consumers with new opportunities to participate in acts of resistance by purchasing items that documented the events unfolding around them.  By bringing those narratives into their homes, colonists would become better informed and perhaps even more politicized in favor of the patriot cause.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:30:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 30, 1769).

“VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON.”

Advertising increasingly took on a political valence during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Advertisers made political arguments about which goods and services to purchase, encouraging colonists to support “domestic manufactures” and abide by nonimportation agreements intended to exert economic pressure to achieve political goals. Some advertisements included commentary on current events, blurring the line between advertisements and editorials.

Other advertisements sometimes delivered news to colonists. Consider an advertisement for a pamphlet that appeared in the October 30, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. Patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill announced that they has “Just Published … AN APPEAL TO THE WORLD; OR A VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON,” a pamphlet historians attribute to Sam Adams. The pamphlet included “certain Letters and Memorials, written by Governor Bernard, General Gage, Commodore Hood, the Commissions of the American Board of Customs, and others” as well as “RESOLVES” from “a Meeting of the Town of BOSTON.” The lengthy advertisement concluded with an excerpt “From the APPEAL to the WORLD, Page 33.” Edes and Gill gave prospective customers a preview of the contents of the pamphlet in order to entice them to purchase their own copies.

Even if readers did not buy the pamphlet, the advertisement still delivered news to them. Indeed, it looked much more like a news item than an advertisement, especially given its placement in the October 30 edition of the Boston-Gazette. It appeared on the first page, nestled between news items, spilling over from the first column into the second. Most of the advertising for that issue ran on the third and fourth pages. Edes and Gill exercised their prerogative as printers of the Boston-Gazette to give the advertisement a privileged place in their own newspaper. Yet they were not the only printers to do so. The same advertisement, including the “RESOLVES” and the excerpt from the pamphlet, ran on the first page of the Boston Evening-Post on the same day. It was also nestled between news items and spilled over from one column to the next, while most of the advertising for that newspaper also ran on the third and fourth pages. T. and J. Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, gave the advertisement the same privileged place in their own newspaper, further blurring the line between advertising and news. Even though they were rivals when it came to selling newspapers, they had an affinity when it came to politics. The Fleets used the advertisement to deliver news to their readers while simultaneously presenting an opportunity to become even better informed by purchasing the pamphlet. The worlds of commerce and politics became even more firmly enmeshed as printers and advertisers deployed advertising for partisan purposes during the era of the American Revolution.

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1768 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (November 28, 1768).

“Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.”

As November came to an end and a new year drew even closer, printers and booksellers in Boston and throughout the colonies placed advertisements for almanacs for the year 1769. Almanacs were big business for eighteenth-century printers. From the most humble to the most elite households, customers of assorted backgrounds purchased these slender and inexpensive volumes, creating a broad market. As a result, printers and booksellers considered almanacs an important revenue stream, one that justified extensive advertising.

Compared to many other advertisements for almanacs, William McAlpine’s notice in the November 28, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle was short and simple. In its entirety, it announced, “Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.” Other printers and booksellers sold other titles by other authors, but some also sold “Ames’s Almanack.” Indeed, more than one version of that popular almanac circulated in the fall of 1768.

The same day that McAlpine advertised in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette ran identical notices that warned readers that “a counterfeit Ames’s Almanack has been printed not agreeable to the original copy.” That notice implied that the counterfeit contained “above twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts,” making that important reference information included among the contents of many almanacs useless to anyone who purchased the counterfeit. The notice also advised prospective buyers how to recognize the counterfeit: “the Name of William MAlpine” appeared in the imprint at the bottom of the title page. Anyone wishing to acquire “the true genuine correct Ames’s ALMANACKS” needed to “take Notice” of the imprint and select only those “that at the Bottom of the Outside Title, is ‘BOSTON, Printed and sold by the Printers,’ &c. and no particular Name thereto.”

Rather than a public service, this notice was actually an act of sabotage. A cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of McAlpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almakack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1769 and, adding insult to injury, accused McAlpine of introducing multiple errors into a counterfeit that he printed and distributed. Charles Nichols estimates that printers annually sold 50,000 copies of Ames’s almanac by the time of the Revolution, making it quite tempting for printers to seek their own share of that market. Not coincidentally, the notice warning against McAlpine’s supposed counterfeit ran in newspapers published by printers responsible for the pirated edition. T. & J. Fleet printed the Boston Evening-Post and Edes and Gill printed the Boston-Gazette. Richard Draper, printer of the Boston Weekly News-Letter, operated the third printing office involved in the conspiracy. His newspaper ran the same notice that week, but it also included an advertisement for “AMES’s Almanack for 1769” that bore the imprint “Sold by the Printers and Booksellers in Town, and Traders in the Country.”

Quite simple in appearance, McAlpine’s advertisement for Ames’s almanac provides a window for a much more complicated story of competition, piracy, and sabotage committed by printers in eighteenth-century Boston. The notice about a counterfeit inserted in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette had the appearance of a news item. In each instance it appeared at the end of news content and the start of advertising, blurring the distinction. The marketing strategy deployed by the printers of the pirated edition went far beyond fair dealing.

November 14

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

nov-14-11141768-boston-gazette
Boston-Gazette (November 14, 1768).

“The CHARTER of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.”

The first page of the November 14, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette featured both news and advertising.  Advertisements comprised the first of the three columns.  Extracts from the London Chronicle and the London Evening Post filled the second and overflowed into the third.  News from Charleston, South Carolina, and New London, Connecticut, nearly completed the third column.  The compositor inserted a short advertisement – just three lines – in the remaining space.

Although the placement of that advertisement was a practical matter, the position of the first advertisement was strategic.  It proclaimed, “THIS DAY PUBLISHED, (And Sold byEDES & GILL in Queen-Street.)… EDES & GILL’S NORTH-AMERICAN ALMANACK For the Year of our Lord1769.”  Edes and Gill happened to be the printers of the Boston-Gazette.  While most advertisements did not appear in any particular order, this advertisement for an almanac that they published and sold occupied a privileged place on the first page.  After the masthead, it was the first item that readers glimpsed, increasing the likelihood that prospective customers would notice it.

As part of their marketing effort, Edes and Gill inflected their advertisement with news.  They provided a general overview of the contents of the almanac, a standard practice in such advertisements, but made special note that it included “The CHARTER of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay; granted by King WILLIAM and Queen MARY.—Together with the Explanatory Charter, granted by His Majesty King GEORGE the First.” The printers then added an editorial note:  “[This CHARTER, tho’ not more esteem’d by simple ones than an OLD ALMANACK, has always been highly esteem’d by wise, sensible & honest Men.  It is the Basis of the civil Constitution of the Province, and should be often readAT THIS TIME, when the Rights and Liberties declared in it, are said to be invaded.]”  Edes and Gill harnessed the current political situation as they attempted to sell their almanac.  They knew that many prospective customers resented the Townshend Act and the quartering of troops in Boston.  In turn, they offered a resource that allowed them simultaneously to become better informed of their rights and express their own views through the act of purchasing Edes and Gill’s almanac over any of the many alternatives.

The placement of their advertisement as the first item on the first page was only part of Edes and Gill’s strategy.  In addition to the usual strategies for promoting almanacs, they incorporated content and commentary that addressed the unfolding imperial crisis.  By linking politics to the consumption of their almanac, they aimed to increase sales as well a produce a better informed populace.

December 7

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

Dec 7 - 12:7:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (December 7, 1767).

LABRADORE TEA.”

An advertisement in the December 7, 1767, issue of the Boston-Gazette announced “LABRADORE TEA, by the Hundred, Dozen, or less Quantity, to be Sold at Edes and Gill’s Printing-Office.” The bulk of the advertisement consisted of a testimonial that first outlined the medical and dietary benefits of drinking Labrador tea and then focused on the taste, acknowledging that the flavor differed from other popular teas but “a little Perseverance will render it very acceptable.”

By the time this advertisement appeared in early December, readers of Boston’s several newspapers had already been exposed to commentary about Labrador tea on multiple occasions, though in news items and editorial pieces rather than commercial notices. In the wake of a Boston town meeting that resolved to encourage consumption of domestic products rather than imported goods, several colonists noted the political benefits of Labrador tea. On November 2, Edes and Gill published a list of local manufactures in the Boston-Gazette. In addition to “Thirty thousand Yards of Cloth … Manufactured in one small Country Town in this Province” and “upwards of Forty Thousand Pair of Womens Shoes” made in Lynn, Massachusetts, in the past year, they described “a certain Herb, lately found in this Province, which begins already to take place in the Room of Green and Bohea Tea, which is said to be of a very salutary Nature, as well as a more agreeable Flavour – It is called Labrador.”

Two weeks later, both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy inserted a letter addressed to “My Dear Countrymen” that outlined a strategy for depending less on imported goods. The prescription included Labrador tea: “we think it our duty to add, the most sincere recommendation of the disuse of the most luxurious and enervating article of BOHEA TEA, in which so large a sum is annually expended by the American colonists, altho’ it may be well supplied by the Teas of our own country, especially by that called Labrador, lately discovered to be a common growth of the more northern colonies, and esteemed very wholesome to the human species, as well as agreeable.”

A poem, “Address to the LADIES,” from the November 16 edition of the Boston Post-Boy and reprinted in other newspapers in the city discouraged purchasing and wearing imported textiles and adornments and also advised women to “Throw aside your Bohea and your Green Hyson Tea, / And all things with a new fashion duty; / Procure a good store of the choice Labradore, / For there’ll soon be enough here to suit ye.”

By the time the advertisement for “LABRADORE TEA” appeared in the Boston-Gazette in early December, colonists had already been encouraged to consume it as part of a political strategy intended to address both an imbalance of trade between the colonies and England and Parliament’s imposition of new duties in the Townshend Act. A series of news items and editorials primed consumer interest in Labrador tea, but some colonists may have been skeptical that they would enjoy the local alternative as much as their favorite imported varieties. This new advertisement assumed readers were already aware of the political ramifications of purchasing Labrador tea, so instead addressed any concerns about health and taste in order to convince consumers who may have been wavering in their commitment to adopt this new product.

October 19

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

Oct 19 - 10:19:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 19, 1767).

“We are oblig’d to give a SUPPLEMENT.”

Edes and Gill placed their own announcement immediately before the “New Advertisements” in the October 19, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, they explained that within the last three days three ships had arrived in port from London. The captains brought with them the “Prints to the 19th of August,” which they passed along to the printers. In other words, Edes and Gill had just obtained recent (or as recent as could be expected given the time required to cross the Atlantic) newspapers. As was common practice in the eighteenth century, their method of reporting involved reprinting items directly from other publications.

Edes and Gill did not have much time to scan the London newspapers, choose which items to reprint, set the type, and operate the presses before distributing the Boston-Gazette on Monday, its usual publication day. They might have been able to include news that had arrived the previous Friday, if they were industrious, but it would have been impossible to insert anything delivered by the captain who arrived on Sunday night. Setting type and operating the press by hand required more time, even if they quickly identified which items to reprint in their own newspaper.

Still, they wanted to get recently arrived news in print and distributed to their subscribers as quickly as possible. To that end, they determined “to give a SUPPLEMENT at Three o’Clock this Afternoon” and instructed their customers “to call or send for them” at that time if they wished to know the “Articles of Intelligence” delivered on the recently arrived vessels. The Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy both also published supplements that day. None of the local newspapers usually published on Mondays allowed the others to scoop them.

Edes and Gill offered an additional explanation for their decision to limit the amount of news from London in the standard issue in favor of filling the supplement with those “Articles of Intelligence.” They reasoned that they needed “to give our Advertizing Customers a good Place.” They considered this a favor and a service to their advertisers, but it also suggested that they realized that even though readers might often be eager to peruse the advertisements that at the moment they prioritized the news, especially since the Townshend Acts were scheduled to go into effect in just a month. Subscribers might (or might not) call or send for a supplement filled with advertisements later in the day, but they would certainly retrieve a supplement that included the most recent political news from London. Edes and Gill implicitly acknowledged that they had a responsibility to place their advertisers’ notices in front of as many eyes as possible rather than consigning them to a separate supplement, distributed at a later time, that might not be read. This was good business that promoted loyalty among their advertisers and encouraged others to consider placing their advertisements in the Boston-Gazette.