May 6

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

Boston-Gazette (May 6, 1771).

“AN ORATION … to COMMEMORATE the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”

In the spring of 1771, colonists had several opportunities to purchase memorabilia that marked the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  For the fourth consecutive week, Benjamin Edes and John Gill advertised James Lovell’s “ORATION … to COMMEMORATE the BLOODY TRAGEDY” in the May 6 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Edes and Gill, printers of that newspaper, also printed the oration “by Order of the Town of BOSTON,” according to the imprint on the title page.

Lovell delivered the first oration commemorating the Boston Massacre sanctioned by the town of Boston on April 2, 1771, though Thomas Young also gave an address on the same theme a few weeks earlier and closer to the first anniversary of British soldiers firing into a crowd and killing several colonists.  No copy of Young’s address survives, but Edes and Gill took Lovell’s oration to press less than two weeks after he spoke to the residents of Boston.  Starting on May 15, they promoted the oration in the Boston-Gazette, informing readers that they could acquire copies of this commemorative item.  A week later, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, advised residents of Salem and its environs that he also carried Lovell’s oration.

Edes and Gill simultaneously marketedINNOCENT BLOOD CRYING TO GOD FROM THE STREETS OF BOSTON,” a sermon that John Lathrop, “Pastor of the Second Church in BOSTON,” delivered just days after the Boston Massacre.  Edes and Gill reprinted a London edition delivered to them by a ship captain who carried both news and consumer goods across the Atlantic.  In the case of the sermon, news and merchandise came packaged in a single pamphlet, ready for reprinting and dissemination throughout the busy port and into the countryside.  According to their advertisement, Edes and Gill sold the sermon single and by the dozen, an invitation to retailers to purchase and sell it in their shops.

Civic leaders in Boston encouraged a culture of commemoration around the Bloody Massacre, just as colonists in many towns marked the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.  Printers like Edes and Gill eagerly participated in that process, inspired by both their political principles and their desire to generate revenues.  Printing and marketing orations and sermons about the Boston Massacre helped to keep the event fresh in popular memory by making those addresses readily accessible long after the speakers delivered them.

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.”