What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Feast of ST. PATRICK is to be celebrated, together with the Repeal of the STAMP-ACT.”
According to advertisements in the New-York Journal in February and March 1771, colonists began planning an event to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act several weeks in advance of March 18. The organizers invited “all the Friends of LIBERTY” to Hampden Hall to mark the occasion “with proper Festivity.” In early March, advertisements about a similar gathering appeared in the Boston-Gazette. In that case, however, the organizers combined commemorations of the repeal of the Stamp Act with celebrating the “Feast of ST. PATRICK” at the Green Dragon tavern.
The advertisement ran twice in the Boston-Gazette, first on March 4 and a week later in the last issue prior to the important anniversary. In neither issue was it the only act of commemoration of events that ultimately led to the American Revolution. Several years before declaring independence, colonists marked anniversaries of significant events. In the March 4 edition, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted an editorial about the Boston Massacre. “To-morrow will be the anniversary of the fatal fifth of March 1770,” they proclaimed, “when Mess. Gray, Maverick, Caldwell, Car and Attucks, were slain by the Hands of Eight Soldiers, of the 29th Regiment, then posted in this Town.” Edes and Gill acknowledged that not all colonists agreed about why the soldiers were quartered in Boston, though they made their position clear. “[S]ome ridiculously alledge” the soldiers were present “to preserve the Peace, but others say to inforce the Revenue Acts, and the arbitrary unconstitutional Measures of a corrupt and wicked Administration.” The editorial further lamented the outcome of a trial during which “it was adjudg’d to be excuseable Homicide in six of the Soldiers, and in two of them Manslaughter!” Despite the verdict, Edes and Gill declared that “By far the greater Part” of the residents of Boston “still think it was a barbarous Murder.”
When the advertisement for the gathering at the Green Dragon ran a second time a week later, Edes and Gill devoted the entire front page of the Boston-Gazette to reprinting the “solemn and perpetual MEMORIAL” about “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street” that originally ran in the Essex Gazette on the day of the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Thick black borders, a symbol of mourning in the wake of a significant loss, enclosed the entire memorial. Before they encountered the invitation to the event commemorating the repeal of the Stamp Act at the Green Dragon tavern among the advertisements, readers already contemplated other abuses perpetrated by the British.
Dual commemorations thus appeared in the Boston-Gazette, spanning the sections devoted to news and advertising, in the first weeks of March 1771. Edes and Gill marked the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre with editorials, one original and the other reprinted from another newspaper, while organizers of an event on the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act published advertisements inviting colonists to the Green Dragon tavern to celebrate. Advertising contributed to a culture of invoking memories of important events as part of the political culture of the period.