January 21

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 21, 1773).

“The SECOND EDITION.”

Just a week after the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements announcing that An Oration on the Beauties of Liberty or the Essential Rights of the Americans was “Now in the press, and will be published in a few days” on January 14, 1773, both newspapers carried notices about the publication of a second edition.  John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark identify the author, “A British Bostonian,” as John Allen, a Baptist minister who migrated to New England in the early 1770s.  They consider the Oration “one of the best-selling pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary crisis, passing through seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775.”[1]

The Oration very quickly went to a second edition.  Was that because the first edition sold out so quickly?  Or did other factors play a role.  The advertisement in the January 21 edition of the Massachusetts Spy implied that it was the former, that the popularity of the pamphlet prompted the printers, David Kneeland and Nathaniel Davis, to publish “The SECOND EDITION.”  In addition to the advertisements that ran on January 14, another advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette on January 18, helping to incite interest and demand in a pamphlet drawn from an address that many Bostonians heard several weeks earlier.  Word-of-mouth chatter about the Oration likely supplement newspaper advertisements in promoting the pamphlet.

The advertisement in the January 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter provided additional details. It featured two revisions to the original notice.  The headline now read “This Day Published” instead of “To-Morrow will be Published.”  In addition, a new line at the end of the notice advised prospective customers that they could purchase “The SECOND EDITION corrected.”  Did Kneeland and Davis sell out of the first edition?  Or did they take advantage of producing a second edition that corrected errors to suggest that such the first edition met with such success that it made the immediate publication of a second edition necessary?  Either way, the reception of the first two editions apparently convinced other printers in Boston, Hartford and New London in Connecticut, and Wilmington in Delaware, that they could generate revenues by publishing their own editions.  In so doing, they assisted in disseminating arguments that encouraged colonizers to move from resistance to revolution during the era of the imperial crisis that culminated in thirteen colonies declaring independence from Great Britain.

**********

[1] John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine: John Allen and the Spirit of Liberty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 21, no. 4 (October 1964): 561.

January 14

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 14, 1773).

“AN ORATION on the Beauties of Liberty.”

An advertisement in the January 14, 1773, editions of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy announced the imminent publication and sale of a political pamphlet about “the Beauties of Liberty or the essential rights of the Americans.”  David Kneeland and Nathaniel Davis advised that the work was “Now in the press” and would be available in a few days.  The printers also noted that the pamphlet was “AN ORATION … Delivered at the second Baptist-Church in Boston, upon the last annual thanksgiving.”

Kneeland and Davis did not name the orator-author, perhaps expecting that many prospective customers already knew his identity as a result of having heard the sermon on liberty or heard about it from friends and acquaintances.  The title page attributed the Oration on the Beauties of Liberty to “A British Bostonian.”  The same author composed The American Alarm, published and advertised a few weeks earlier.  John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark identify both pamphlets as the work of John Allen, “a Baptist minister and recent émigré from England, politically disenchanted and personally discredited” for an incident involving a forged promissory note.[1]

According to Bumsted and Clark, the second of those pamphlets, the Oration, “proved to be one of the best-selling pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary crisis, passing through seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775” and the “immense popularity of this fiery attack on British policy – specifically the appointment of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the burning of the Gaspee – marked the author as an agitator of considerable importance.”[2]  Advertising may have contributed to the popularity of the pamphlet, especially if Kneeland and Davis carefully chose which newspapers carried their notice.  Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, had a reputation as an agitator.  Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette did as well.  Following the initial announcement about the pamphlet on January 14, Kneeland and Davis placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette on January 18, but opted not to insert notices in the other two newspapers published in the city that day, the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Their conceptions of the political sympathies of both the printers and readers of those newspapers may have played a role in selecting where to invest their limited funds for advertising.

**********

[1] John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine: John Allen and the Spirit of Liberty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 21, no. 4 (October 1964): 562.

[2] Bumsted and Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine,” 561.