What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Conduct of the Parties from first to last will best appear … when the Evidences on both Sides are properly examined.”
Printers selected which items appeared among the news and editorials in their newspapers, yet colonizers exercised some amount of editorial authority when they published news in the form of advertisements. Consider and exchange between Patty Hall and her neighbors in two newspapers published in Boston in the first week of February 1773.
Hall initiated the exchange with an advertisement in the February 1 edition of the Boston-Gazette. Placing the notice for the purpose of selling a house, Hall seized the opportunity to name several of her neighbors and report that they “made a Complaint to the Selectmen, about a Piece of Land; and they laid it before the Grand Jury; and after making a great Bustle, dropt the Matter.” The matter being settled, Hall declared that the purchaser “may depend that a good Title will be given.” According to Hall, that was only the beginning of the trouble she supposedly had with her neighbors. She claimed that at the same time she “had her Windows broke, Spouts tore down, the Drane stopt,and frequently Stones thrown at all Parts of the House.” To make matters even worse, she “very nearly escap’d a great Stone thrown at her passing thro’ the Yard.” She suspected that her neighbors were directly responsible or “employ somebody to do it” and offered a reward to anyone “that will apprehend the Person or Persons concern’d.”
The neighbors that Hall named – “Constable Hale, James Bailey, Samuel Sloan, Retailer, Elizabeth Clarke and Nowell, and Deacon Barrett” – objected to the version of events that Hall published in the Boston-Gazette. Rather than wait a week to make their rebuttal in the next edition of that newspaper, they inserted their own notice in both the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy just three days later. They identified themselves as “THE PERSON mentioned with so much Politeness by Mrs. HALL in her advertisement, *” and directed readers to “* See Edes and Gill’s last Gazette.” They offered clarifications about the outcome of the “Bustle” in court, stating that when Hall “gave Notice that the Matter was dropt, she should have added,— “in order to be taken up at another Court.’” Unlike Hall, the neighbors considered the matter far from settled. They encouraged others “to suspend their Judgment both as to the Merits of the Cause and the Title … until the same shall be determined in a due course of law.” As for the other allegations made by Hall, her neighbors implied that she fabricated the story. “The Conduct of the Parties from first to last will best appear, either to their Honor or Disgrace,” they asserted, “when the Evidences on both Sides are properly examined.” In refusing the dignify Hall’s allegations with any more of a response, her neighbors suggested they had no merit.
Hall wished to frame the narrative of her troubles with her neighbors. Purchasing a paid notice in one of the local newspapers allowed her to do so. Similarly, those neighbors also bought advertising space to tell their side of the story. This allowed both parties to bypass the printer-editors of the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, and the Massachusetts Spy to determine for themselves what kind of content the public read or heard about as colonizers discussed the altercation that appeared among newspaper advertisements that delivered all kinds of local news.