July 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 30, 1773).

“Just Published, The PARTICULARS of the late Melancholy and Shocking TRAGEDY, which happened at Salem.”

The account of the “most distressing and melancholy Affair” of the drowning of three men and seven women, five of them reportedly pregnant, when their boat sank near Salem during a sudden storm on June 17, 1773, first appeared in the Essex Gazette on June 22 and then in the Boston Evening-Post on June 28 and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on July 1.  News also spread beyond the colony where the tragedy occurred.  On June 25, Daniel Fowle reprinted the account from the Essex Gazette in the New-Hampshire Gazette, though some readers likely already heard some of the details via word of mouth.

As was the case in Boston, commemoration and commodification of the drownings, entwined so tightly as to render them inseparable, soon appeared in the public prints.  Ezekiel Russell first advertised a broadside “Decorated with the Figures of Ten Coffins” that related “The Particulars of the late melancholy and shocking TRAGEDY, which lately happened at SALEM” in the July 12 edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Just three days later, Russell inserted the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy, adding a brief note about a second broadside, “An ELEGY on the affecting Tragedy at Salem.”  Fowle apparently acquired copies of the first broadside, which Russell sold “by the Groce,” to sell at his printing office.  A brief advertisement in the July 30 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette announced, “Just Published, The PARTICULARS of the late Melancholy and Shocking TRAGEDY, which happened at Salem, near Boston, on Thursday, the 17th Day of June, 1773.”

Fowle did not include any of those “PARTICULARS” in the advertisement, nor did he publish any of the extensive memorial that previously appeared in the advertisements in the other newspapers.  Between the account in the New-Hampshire Gazette and conversations about the drownings, he may have thought that the broadside did not need additional explanation.  He also did not have the same financial stake in marketing the broadside that Russell did, likely accepting only as many as he anticipated he could sell.  Russell played on the proximity of the tragedy to Boston in marketing the broadside to readers of newspaper published in that city, though he did proclaim that it “is recommended as very proper to be posted up in every House in New-England, to keep in Remembrance the most sorrowful Event.”  Fowle, on the other hand, did not assert such urgency to readers of his newspaper.  He presented the broadside for prospective customers who might be interested, but did not make the same hard sell in Portsmouth as Russell did in Boston.

July 22

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

Massachusetts Spy (July 22, 1773).

“An ELEGY on the affecting Tragedy at Salem.”

Three days after Ezekiel Russell first advertised a broadside “Decorated with the Figure of Ten Coffins” that gave the “Particulars of the late melancholy and shocking TRAGEDY,” the drowning of three men and seven women, “which lately happened at SALEM, near Boston, the 17th of June 1773,” in the Boston Evening-Post, he ran a similar advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy.  That new advertisement, repeated in the next issue, included all of the copy from the Boston Evening-Post with the addition of a note about a related item, “An ELEGY on the affecting Tragedy at Salem … By a friend to the deceased.”  These broadsides memorialized the deaths of ten colonizers, including five pregnant women, but they also commodified the tragedy in the form of a keepsake that Russell recommended as “very proper to be posted up in every house in New-England.”  To that end, he offered a similar deal for both broadsides to peddlers who purchased copies to sell near and far.  For the first broadside, the Particulars, Russell noted that “Great allowance is made to travelling Traders, who buy them by the Groce.”  For the other, the Elegy, he offered “an allowance to travelling traders.”

The broadsides each featured an image of ten coffins, each with the initials of one of the drowning victims, and thick mourning borders, but otherwise their contents differed.  In advertising them together, Russell suggested that customers might wish to acquire both as a means of memorializing “the most sorrowful event of the kind, that has happened in America since its first discovery.”  In addition, the broadsides expanded on the coverage that already appeared in newspapers published in Salem and Boston.  The Particulars included the report that first appeared in the Essex Gazette on June 22 as well as an introduction that reiterated the description in the advertisement first published in the Boston Evening-Post on July 12.  The “Names of the Deceased” appeared in the center, surrounded by mourning borders.  A short poem, “The Salem TRAGEDY.  Being a Relation of the drowning of Ten Persons, who were taking their Pleasure on the Water,” appeared below the newspaper account.  It consisted of five stanzas of four line each.  In addition to the ten coffins, an image depicted a strong gust of wind, so strong that it was visible, and a boat foundering in the water.  Mourning borders also surrounded that image.

The Elegy included a shorter introduction that gave the names of the victims and indicated their relationships to each other above a poem, fifteen stanzas in two columns with a double mourning border between them, and a remembrance attributed to “A FRIEND TO THE DECEASED.”  That anonymous friend stated, “Surely no one can fully express the horror and anguish of mind these People’s friends at MARBLEHEAD must suffer … resulting from this amazing catastrophe, and which must form such a shocking scene, that it can better be imagined than expressed.”  Yet neither that “FRIEND” nor Russell left the “Tragedy at Salem” to the imagination of consumers.  The “FRIEND” encouraged others to “make a right improvement” in the wake of “such an awful warning as this from GOD.”  Russell may have shared that perspective.  Whatever his views in that regard, he certainly leveraged current events in marketing a relic to consumers, playing on their emotions and curiosity about the extraordinary tragedy.

Detail from “The Particulars of the Late Melancholly and Shocking Tragedy” (Boston: 1773). Courtesy Library of Congress.

July 12

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

Boston Evening-Post (July 12, 1773).

“The Particulars of the late melancholy and shocking TRAGEDY.”

Ripped from the headlines!  Just a few weeks after the “melancholy and shocking TRAGEDY, which lately happened at SALEM, near Boston, the 17th of June 1773,” Ezekiel Russell advertised a broadside commemorating the deaths of ten drowning victims, three men and seven women.  Compounding the tragedy, five of the women were pregnant, “two or three of them far advanced.”[1]  Several boats had departed from Salem’s harbor “on Parties of Pleasure,” including one boat that took its passengers to Baker’s Island, “where they went ashore, staid and dined.”  When the passengers boarded again, the boat sailed to another part of the island “for the Purpose of Fishing” and later anchored between Baker’s Island and Misery Island, “where they drank Tea.”

When the weather began to look threatening, they determined to try for Marblehead Harbour.”  As the wind intensified, the men recommended to William Ward, “the Commander of the Boat,” that he lower the sails, but Ward insisted that “the Boat would stand it.”  The passengers, “trusting his Judgment, thought proper to submit.”  The women huddled in the cabin, out of the wind and out of the way of the men attempting to get the boat to shore.  When a “sudden, smart Gust of Wind canted the Boat over on one Side,” one of the men, John Becket, had time to open the cabin door and warn the women that “they were all going to the Bottom.”  The Boat “instantly sunk.”  Becket and a “Lad about 15 Years old” were the only survivors.  Becket reported that heard the women shrieking in their last moments.  Observers on shore in Marblehead, about a mile distant, saw what happened and, “by their timely and vigorous Efforts,” launched a small schooner to retrieve Becket and the youth from the water, but it was too late to aid Ward and the women.

Russell presented an even more dramatic scene when he marketed the broadside, suggesting that the boat had been closer to shore than the newspaper accounts indicated.  “Shocking indeed must one imagine it for their Friends on the Shore at Marblehead, and at the small Distance of 100 Yards,” he proclaimed, “to behold these distressed People just launching into Eternity, and not able to afford them the least of their wonted Assistance!”  Ramping up his efforts to play on the emotions of prospective customers, Russell became even more melodramatic: “Surely the Shrieks and Cries of the poor drowning Souls, which seemed to reach the Heavens (especially the Lamentations of the Women, as the pregnant Situation of five of them made the Scene more dreadful) must pierce the Soul of the Spectator, and melt his Heart, even were it adamant!”  It was not Russell who was ghoulish in marketing this broadside, but rather readers who could learn of this “melancholy and shocking TRAGEDY” without it affecting them.  They could demonstrate that the events had indeed moved them by purchasing and displaying the broadside “Decorated with the Figure of Ten Coffins.”

The following day, colonizers from Salem and Marblehead located and raised the sunken boat.  They recovered the bodies of six of women, but did not find the bodies of Mrs. Diggadon and the three men.  They returned the bodies of the women to “the same Wharf from which so much Cheerfulness and Gaiety they departed the Day before.”  At the funerals, the “Solemnity of the several Processions drew together a vast Number of People” of “all Ranks” to mourn the victims of such a tragedy.

That account of the tragedy first appeared in the June 22 edition of the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  Within the next ten days, the Boston Evening-Post reprinted the news on June 28 and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter did so on July 1.  Even if colonizers in Salem, Boston, and other towns did not read about the tragedy, they almost certainly heard about it given the way that local news, especially something as “melancholy and shocking” as these drownings, usually spread by word-of-mouth much more quickly than printers could set type.

Russell provided an opportunity for consumers to acquire a keepsake of the tragedy.  He anticipated that they would be eager to do so, offering “Great Allowance … to travelling Traders, who buy [the broadside] by the Groce [or Gross].”  In other words, peddlers who would disseminate the broadside throughout the countryside received a significant discount for purchasing by volume.  Russell claimed that he did not consider it macabre to advertise and sell the broadside, asserting that it was “printed in this Form at the Request of the Friends and Acquaintance of the Ten deceased Persons.”  To incite sales, whether at his shop or from itinerant peddlers, he suggested that it was “very proper to be posted up in every House in New-England, to keep in Remembrance the most sorrowful Event, of the kind, that has happened in America since its first Discovery.”  Even as Russell focused on the emotional response to such a harrowing story, he participated in the commodification of recent events, just as printers, booksellers, and others did following the Boston Massacre and the death of George Whitefield.

The Library of Congress makes an image of the broadside available to the public.


[1] This narrative draws from the account in the Essex Gazette.  That account also appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and on the broadside.

September 10

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

Massachusetts Spy (September 10, 1772).

“The New Auction-Room and Intelligence-Office.”

The partnership of Russell and Yorke operated the “New-Auction-Room and Intelligence-Office” in Boston in 1772.  In the September 10 edition of the Massachusetts Spy, they explained to prospective clients that the intelligence office “is conducted … upon the same useful plan such offices are in the city of LONDON and other capital placed in England.”  Russell and Yorke served as agents who registered real estate, commodities, livestock, and other items “for sale or hire.”  They also introduced colonizers with money to invest to borrowers who could provide “security.”  In addition, they offered employment services, keeping a roster of colonizers seeking employment in order to “provide gentlemen and ladies with servants in all capacities.”  In the auction room, they conducted sales “upon the most reasonable terms” for clients who entrusted them to sell “goods of all kinds.”  Their advertisement included sections for items “Now registered at said office for SALE” (including “A lady’s pinchbeck watch” and “Two genteel houses in good repair, pleasantly situated in Boston”) and people who “WANT EMPLOYMENT” (including “A woman who would take the care of a family, or children, and can be well recommended”).

Russell and Yorke listed “negros” among the commodities they registered and sold at the intelligence office, acknowledging that slavery and the slave trade were enmeshed in commerce and daily life in Boston during the era of the American Revolution.  One of the partners, Ezekiel Russell, also ran a printing office.  For less than six months, from late November 1771 through early May 1772, he published a combination political magazine and newspaper called The Censor.  That publication occasionally included a supplement for advertising, but did not attract many advertisers during its short run.  No advertisements offering enslaved people for sale or offering rewards of the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from their enslavers appeared in extant issues, differentiating The Censor from other colonial newspapers.  That does not seem, however, to have been the result of a principled stand by Russell but rather an outcome grounded in failing to recruit advertisers for a publication with low circulation numbers during its brief existence.  Just a few months after The Censor folded, the printer advertised his services as an agent who registered “negros” at the intelligence office “Over E. RUSSELL’s Printing-Office” in Boston.  While other printers in the city acted as slave brokers when they disseminated “enquire of the printer” advertisements in their newspapers, Russell promoted the services he provided as a slave broker at his new intelligence office.  In printing offices and intelligence offices alike, facilitating the buying and selling of enslaved men, women, and children was one of many services available to colonizers.

May 6

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 4, 1772).

“The elegant POEM, which the Committee of the Town of Boston had voted unanimously to be Published with the ORATION.”

The May 4, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy carried a brief advertisement for “The elegant POEM, which the Committee of the Town of Boston had voted unanimously to be Published with the ORATION.”  The “ORATION” referred to the address that Dr. Joseph Warren delivered on the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, an address already published and advertised in several newspapers in Boston and beyond.  Why, if “the Committee of the Town of Boston had voted unanimously” to publish it with Warren’s oration, had that not occurred?

The advertisement did not name the author of the poem, but many readers knew that James Allen wrote it.  Both the American Antiquarian Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society state that the poem “was suppressed due to doubts about Allen’s patriotism and later was republished by Allen’s friends, with extracts from another of his poems, as ‘The Retrospect.’”  That narrative draws on commentary that accompanied the poems as well as Samuel Kettell’sSpecimens of American Poetry (1829) and Evert A. Duyckinck and George L. Duyckinck’s Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1856).  More recently, Lewis Leary argues that Allen’s “friends” had motives other than commemorating the Bloody Massacre in King Street or demonstrating Allen’s patriotism in the wake of the committee composed of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and other prominent patriots reversing course about publishing the poem in the wake of chatter that called into question Allen’s politics.

According to Leary, Allen’s poem about the Boston Massacre and “The Retrospect” must be considered together, especially because “the extracts from ‘The Retrospect’ are unabashedly loyalist, praising Britain’s military force, her selfless defense of her colonies, and benevolent rule over them.”  Furthermore, the commentary by Allen’s supposed friends “does indeed clear ‘the authors character as to his politics’ and exhibits his ‘political soundness,’ but that character and that soundness are loyalist, not patriot.”[1]

Postscript to the Censor (May 2, 1772).

Significantly, Ezekiel Russell published the pamphlet that contained Allen’s poem, “The Retrospect,” and commentary from Allen’s “friends.”  He also published the Censor, a weekly political magazine that supported the British government and expressed Tory sympathies.  The Postscript that accompanied the final issue of the Censor included a much more extensive advertisement for Allen’s poem, one that included extracts from both the commentary and “The Retrospect.”  The portion of the commentary inserted in the advertisement describes how Allen “describes the triumphant March of the British Soldiers to the CAPITAL” and then “makes the following Reflections, which no less characterise their Humanity than their Heroism” in “The Retrospect.”  The advertisement praises the “ingeniousAUTHOR” for his “luxuriant Representations of the Valour and Achievement of the British Soldiery.”

Leary argues that Allen’s “friends” sought to discredit Adams, Hancock, and other patriots for being so easily fooled by his poem about the Boston Massacre that seemed to say what they wanted to hear.  In that regard, the “publication of his Poem and its antithetical counterpart seems to have been one among many minor skirmishes in the verbal battles between Tories and Patriots on the eve of the Revolution, in which skirmish Allen seems to have been more pawn than participant.”  To that end, the “purpose of his ‘friends’ seems clearly to have been to discomfit the committee for its vacillation on the publication of the poem and to expose patriot leaders in Boston as men who could be duped by a skillful manipulator of words.”  Allen’s “friends,” according to Leary, did seek to clarify his politics, but with the intention of “certify[ing] him, certainly to his embarrassment, a Loyalist clever enough to mislead his patriot townspeople.”[2]

Still, that may not tell the entire story.  Leary argues that “what evidence is available suggests that James Allen as a younger man, like many colonials, had been enthusiastically a loyal British subject, grateful for Britain’s protection of her colonies, but that after the horror of the massacre in Boston on March 5, 1770, had become at thirty-six a patriot who could bitterly challenge the British.”[3]  In 1785, Allen’s poem about the Boston Massacre appeared in a collection of orations that commemorated the event, including Warren’s address.  By then, the editors who compiled the anthology recognized that Allen wrote the poem “when his feelings, like those of every other free-born American were alive at the inhuman murders of their countrymen.”[4]  The controversy had passed, Allen’s poem no longer questioned as an insincere lamentation belied by his earlier work.


[1] Lewis Leary, “The ‘Friends’ of James Allen, or, How Partial Truth Is No Truth at All,” Early American Literature 15, no. 2 (Fall 1980): 166-167.

[2] Leary, “‘Friends’ of James Allen,” 168-169.

[3] Leary, “‘Friends’ of James Allen,” 168.

[4] Quoted in Leary, “‘Friends’ of James Allen,” 170.

March 28

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

The Censor (March 28, 1772).

The hurry of our other business prevents giving the Publick an additional half sheet.”

When Ezekiel Russell began publishing The Censor, a political magazine, in the fall of 1771, he did not include advertising as a means of generating revenue.  Each weekly issue of the publication consisted of four pages, two printed on each side of a broadsheet then folded in half.  In that regard, The Censor resembled newspapers of the period, but it did not carry short news articles reprinted from other newspapers, prices current, shipping news from the customs house, poetry, advertisements, and other content that appeared in other newspapers.  Instead, Russell used The Censor to disseminate political essays that expressed a Tory perspective on current events in Boston, often only one essay per issue.  Sometimes essays spanned more than one issue.  After a few months, Russell began distributing a half sheet Postscript to the Censor with content, including advertising, that more closely resembled what appeared in other newspapers published in Boston.

Russell devoted the entire March 28, 1772, edition of The Censor to a letter from a correspondent who defended Ebenezer Richardson, the customs official who killed eleven-year-old Christopher Seider.  On the night of February 22, 1770, Richardson fired into a crowd of protestors who objected to merchants bringing an end to their nonimportation agreement before Parliament repealed import duties on tea.  His shots killed Seider.  The boy’s funeral became an occasion for further anti-British demonstrations.  Less than two weeks later, heightened tensions overflowed into the Boston Massacre.  A jury convicted Richardson of killing Seider, but the authorities chose to imprison rather than execute him.  The king eventually pardoned Richardson and offered him a new post in Philadelphia in 1773, but he was still imprisoned in 1772 when a correspondent of The Censor examined his case.

That correspondent’s letter did not fit in a single issue of The Censor.  Russell concluded with a brief note that “The Remainder must be omitted until next Week.”  He further explained that “the hurry of our other business prevents giving the Publick an additional half sheet” with other news, advertising, and other content.  He did find space, however, to insert a short teaser about a forthcoming publication.  “It is with pleasure the Printer can promise his Customers,” Russell declared, “that in a few days will be published, a PAMPHLET, intimately connected with the present Times, and perhaps one of the most agreeable Entertainments ever offered the sensible Publick.”  He did not further elaborate on the topic of that pamphlet, but his announcement suggested that he could be savvy in his efforts to incite interest and anticipation among consumers.  In this instance, Russell emphasized his own marketing but did not tend to the paid notices that would have appeared in the “additional half sheet.”  Isaiah Thomas, the patriot printer of the Massachusetts Spy and author of The History of Printing in America (1810), claimed that The Censor quickly failed because Russell published unpopular political views.  While that may have been the primary reason, it also looks as though Russell did not sufficiently attend to the business aspects of publishing it.  Not distributing the “additional half sheet” meant delayed advertising revenues and dissatisfied advertisers.

March 21

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

The Censor (March 21, 1772).

“This Paper may be had once a Week, Price Two Pence per Number to Subscribers.”

The colophon for The Censor, a political newspaper-magazine published in Boston by Ezekiel Russell for a few months in late 1771 and early 1772, appeared immediately below the masthead on the front page rather than on the final page. While the placement was unusual, it was not unique.  Both newspapers printed in New York at the time adopted the same format, drawing attention to the printers as soon as readers glanced at the front page.  Starting with the March 7 issue, Russell did include more information in the colophon for The Censor than the New York printers listed in the colophons for their newspapers.  The colophon for the New-York Journal simply stated, “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, ON HUNTER’S-QUAY, ROTTON-ROW.”  The colophon for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was only slightly more elaborate: “Printed by HUGH GAINE, Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in HANOVER-SQUARE.”

Russell initially included the same information, printer and location, in a short colophon that declared “Published by E. RUSSELL, at his Printing-Office, in Marlborough-Street.”  He eventually added, “Where this Paper may be had once a Week, Price Two Pence per Number to Subscribers.”  Even though he recently began accepting advertising to publish in a supplement, the Postscript to the Censor, Russell did not indicate how much he charged to publish advertisements.  Although some printers mentioned subscription prices or advertising fees or both in their colophons, most did not regularly provide that information in their weekly publications.  The information that Russell incorporated into the colophon for The Censor indicated that he adopted a different business model than other printers.  Others charged annual subscription rates rather than by the issue or “per Number.”  Why did Russell choose a different method for his weekly publication?  Perhaps he wished to make The Censor seem less expensive to prospective subscribers.  After all, “Two Pence per Number” amounted to eight shillings and eight pence over a year.  None of the newspapers printed in Boston at the time published their subscription rates, but the colophon for the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, listed the price at “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum.”  If printers in Boston charged similar amounts for their newspapers, that made an annual subscription to The Censor more expensive than any of the local newspapers.  The Censor quickly folded, largely because it rehearsed unpopular political opinions, but the cost “per Number” may have been a factor in the publication’s demise as well.

March 1

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

The Censor (February 29, 1772).

“NORTON’s American Mercantile INK-POWDER.”

Ezekiel Russell of Boston commenced publication of The Censor on November 23, 1771.  In an advertisement he inserted in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy a few weeks later, he described The Censor as “a New Political Paper,” though both colonizers and historians have since questioned whether Russell published a newspaper or a magazine or something else that defied categorization.  For several months, The Censor did not carry any advertisements, distinguishing it from every newspaper published in the colonies.  Eventually, according to Isaiah Thomas, printer and publisher of the Massachusetts Spy and author of The History of Printing in America (1810), Russell “made and effort to convert” The Censor “into a newspaper; and, with this view some of its last numbers were accompanied with a separate half sheet, containing a few articles of news and some advertisements.”[1]  An infusion of revenue from advertising did not prevent The Censor from folding a couple of months later since the Tory-leaning publication did not attract a broad readership in Boston.

The first of those half sheets accompanied the February 29, 1772, edition of The Censor.  Russell printed “Vol I.” and “NUMB. 15” in the masthead of both the standard issue and the supplement.  The latter featured four columns, two on the front and two on the back.  News from London, some of it reprinted from the London Gazette, filled the first three columns, leaving the entire fourth column for advertisements.  Only two of the four advertisements appear to have been paid notices, one seeking a farm to rent and another offering a farm for sale.  Russell inserted the other two advertisements in support of other activities undertaken at his printing office in Marlborough Street.  In one, he hawked “NORTON’s American Mercantile INK-POWDER.”  The other, a subscription notice, outlined “PROPOSALS For Printing … A Collection of POEMS, wrote at several times, and upon various occasions, by PHILLIS, a Negro Girl.”  Russell sought to publish about two dozen of Phillis Wheatley’s poems in a single volume “as soon as three Hundred Copes are subscribed for,” but his notices apparently did not generate sufficient attention to produce an American edition.  The following year, Wheatley traveled to London to publish Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moralwith assistance from the Countess of Huntingdon.

Even when Russell introduced advertising into The Censor, his own notices accounted for the vast majority of such content.  Colonial printers often inserted advertisements into their own publications, sometimes two or three or more in a single newspaper issue.  Russell demonstrated that The Censor provided space for advertising, but the publication closed before he managed to cultivate a clientele of regular advertisers.  For only a couple of months in 1772, colonizers in Boston encountered advertising that circulated via yet another publication printed in the city.


[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers, ed. Marcus McCorison (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 153.

December 26

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 26, 1771).

“AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Ebenezer Russell correctly anticipated that some of his competitors would produce and sell a pirated edition of “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.”  He warned consumers, running advertisements that proclaimed that he published “THE original Copy” of the popular almanac yet suspected that other printers planned to market their own editions.  On December 26, 1771, the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements for both.  In a fairly lengthy advertisement, Russell described the contents to entice consumers.  He also listed nearly twenty booksellers in Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth who sold his edition.  A shorter advertisement simply announced, “This day published, AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, appeared on Russell’s list of booksellers.  That did not prevent him from running an advertisement for the pirated edition.  He also inserted his own advertisement advising readers of “AMES’s, Low’s, Bicker[st]aff’s, Massachusetts and Sheet ALMANACKS, to be sold by I. THOMAS, near the Mill Bridge.”  Conveniently, that notice was the only advertisement on the second page, making it the first that readers encountered as they perused the December 26 edition.  Almanacs had the potential to generate significant revenues for printers in the early American marketplace.

It was not the first time that Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, pirated Ame’s Almanack.  In 1768, a cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of William Alpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769.  The conspirators included Edes and Gill and the Fleets as well as Ricard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This time around, however, Draper did not join his fellow printers in that endeavor.  Instead, Russell included him among the authorized sellers of “THE original Copy” in his advertisements.

As the new year approached, consumers still in the market for purchasing almanacs had a variety of choices.  In addition to choosing from among a variety of popular and familiar titles, those who followed the dispute between Russell and his competitors that unfolded in newspaper advertisements faced decisions about whether they wished to acquire an “original Copy” or reward the printers and booksellers who sold a pirated edition.

December 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 23, 1771).

Give him the Preference of buying his Ames’s Genuine Almanack before any PIRATED Edition.”

Ezekiel Russell claimed that he published “The Original Copy of Ames’s Almanack, For the Year 1772.”  On December 9, 1771, he announced that he would print the almanac the following week, as well as disseminate new advertisements that included the “Particulars of the above curious Almanack with the Places where the Original are sold.”  True to his word, he placed much more extensive advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on December 16 and 23.  Those notices included an overview of the contents, such as “Eclipses” and “Courts in the Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island,” as well as a list of nearly twenty printers and booksellers who carried copies, many of them in Boston, but others in Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth.

Russell also took an opportunity to air a grievance with other printers in hopes of convincing consumers to purchase his edition of Ames’s Almanack.  He asserted that he “purchased of Doctor AMES, at a great Expence, the true Original Copy of his Almanack.”  That being the case, he hoped that “the Publick, with their usual Impartiality,” would buy “hisAmes’s Genuine Almanack before any PIRATED Edition.”  Furthermore, he accused “some of his Elder Typographical Brethren,” other printers in Boston, of attempting to “prejudice the Interest of a YOUNGER BROTHER.”  In other words, Russell declared that his competitors, men with much greater experience as printers, unfairly attempted to sabotage his endeavor and ruin his business.  It was not the first time that residents of Boston witnessed disputes over which printers published the “Original” or the most accurate version of Ames’s Almanack.  In a crowded marketplace, several printers aimed to profit from the popular title.  Russell sought to convince consumers that the character of the printer mattered as much as the contents of the almanac.  At the very least, he wanted those who purchased copies of Ames’s Almanack to make informed decisions about what kind of behavior they were willing to tolerate from printers who produced and sold the almanac.