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.

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[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.

April 1

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

Boston Evening-Post (March 30, 1772).

“An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”

On the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Dr. Joseph Warren delivered “An ORATION … at the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of BOSTON, to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY of the FIFTH of MARCH, 1770.”  Colonizers gathered to listen to the address, but attending that gathering was not their only means of participating in the commemoration of such a significant event.  Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, published Warren’s “ORATION” and marketed it widely in Massachusetts.

They placed their first advertisement in their own newspaper less than three weeks after Warren addressed “the Inhabitants of the Town.”  Their lengthy notice in the March 23, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette included an extensive excerpt about “the ruinous Consequences of standing Armies to free Communities.”  Edes and Gill also stated that they stocked “A few of Mr. LOVELL’S ORATIONS Deliver’d last April, on the same Occasion.”  Prospective customers had an opportunity to collect memorabilia related to the “FATAL FIFTH OF MARCH 1770.”  The following day, Samuel Hall, one of the printers of the Essex Gazette, informed readers that he sold copies of Warren’s address “published in Boston.”  His advertisement did not include an excerpt from the address, nor did subsequent advertisements that Edes and Gill placed in other newspapers in Boston.  They inserted a brief notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on March 26 and then repeated it in the Boston Evening-Post on March 30.

Edes and Gill advertised widely.  That increased the chances that consumers would see their notices and contemplate purchasing copies of Warren’s “ORATION,” but those patriot printers likely aimed for more than generating sales.  Their advertisements in several newspapers contributed to a culture of commemoration of the American Revolution years before the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord.  Their work in the printing office, publishing newspapers and marketing pamphlets that commemorated the Boston Massacre, played an important role in shaping public opinion as colonizers considered current events and the possibility of declaring independence.

March 24

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

Essex Gazette (March 24, 1772).

“Yesterday was published in Boston … An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”

As soon as Benjamin Edes and John Gill informed readers of the Boston-Gazette that they published an oration that Joseph Warren delivered to commemorate the second anniversary of the “BLOODY TRAGEDY Of the FIFTH of March, 1770,” the printers of the Essex Gazette ran their own advertisement.  “Yesterday was published in Boston, and now to be sold by Samuel Hall, in Salem,” the notice announced, “An ORATION, delivered March 5th, 1772, at the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY of the Fifth of March, 1770.  By Dr. JOSEPH WARREN.”  That advertisement did not include the lengthy excerpt from the address that Edes and Gill included in their notice, but it did encourage consumers to participate in commemorating the Boston Massacre by purchasing their own copy of Warren’s remarks.

Not surprisingly, given its location, the Essex Gazette engaged in the most extensive remembrances of “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street … In which Five Persons were killed, and Six wounded” of any newspaper published outside of Boston.  On the occasion of the second anniversary, the Halls devoted the entire first page of their newspaper to a memorial that honored the patriots who gave their lives and listed grievances against the “British Ministry” that “contrived and effected the Establishment of the late Standing Army” in Massachusetts.  In addition to such memorials, the Essex Gazette carried advertisements for commemorative items connected to the Boston Massacre.  Nearly a year before promoting Warren’s address, the Essex Gazette carried an advertisement for “A few of Mr. Lovell’s ORATIONS on the Massacre in Boston, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”  Residents of Salem and surrounding towns had an opportunity to purchase the same commemorative pamphlet printed and sold in Boston.  The commodification and marketing of the Boston Massacre helped to create a culture of commemoration of the Boston Massacre throughout the colony.  Colonizers who did not live in the busy port and could not witness Warren’s oration themselves read the Essex Gazette and the various newspapers printed in Boston.  When they did so, they read coverage of the commemorative events and encountered invitations to purchase their own copies of orations and other items related to the Boston Massacre, opportunities to partake in civic participation through consumption even if they could not attend in person.

March 23

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

Boston-Gazette (March 23, 1772).

“AN ORATION … TO COMMEMORATE THE BLOODY TRAGEDY.”

Commemoration and commodification of the Boston Massacre commenced just weeks after British soldiers killed several colonizers when they fired into a crowd of protesters on March 5, 1770.  Paul Revere advertised “A PRINT containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-Street” in the March 26, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  He appropriated the image from a sketch done by Henry Pelham.  A week later, Pelham advertised “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, An Original Print, representing the late horrid Massacre in King Street, taken from the Spot” in the April 2 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  A year later, colonizers in Boston determined that public orations should mark the event.  On April 2, 1771, James Lovell delivered “AN Oration … At the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston; To Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March, 1770.”  Not long after that, an advertisement in the April 15 edition of the Boston-Gazette promoted copies for colonizers to purchase.

In subsequent years, the annual oration occurred on March 5.  From 1771 through 1783, this commemorative event attracted more attention in Boston than Independence Day, but after the Treaty of Paris brought the Revolutionary War to an end July 4 became more widely recognized.  On the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Joseph Warren gave “AN ORATION … At the REQUEST of the INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN OF BOSTON TO COMMEMORATE THE BLOODY TRAGEDY Of the FIFTH of March, 1770.”  An advertisement quickly appeared in the March 23 edition of the Boston-Gazette, filling nearly two-thirds of a column.  The advertisement occupied so much space because Benjamin Edes and John Gill, the patriot printers of both the Boston-Gazette and the oration, included an extensive excerpt about “the ruinous Consequences of standing Armies to free Communities.”  The printers hoped that by giving prospective customers a taste of what Warren had to say about the “tyranny and oppression” of an “armed soldiery” who “frequently insulted and abused” the residents of Boston that would entice them to purchase the oration and read more.  Doing so also gave them an opportunity to remember the “horrors of THAT DREADFUL NIGHT” and venerate “the mangled bodies of the dead” who perished as a result of the “barbarous caprice of the raging soldiery.”

At the end of the advertisement, Edes and Gill noted that they also stocked “A few of Mr. LOVELL’S ORATIONS Deliver’d last April, on the same Occasion.”  They made it easy for patriotic consumers to collect memorabilia associated with the Boston Massacre.  Commemoration and commodification of that event occurred simultaneously in the years before the colonies declared independence.