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