March 26

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

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 26, 1770).

“A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street.”

Only three weeks after the Boston Massacre colonial consumers could purchase engravings depicting the event.  On March 26, 1770, the first advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  Both announced “A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street” available for sale by Edes and Gill, the patriot printers of the Boston-Gazette.  Engraved by Paul Revere, this print has become the most iconic image of the Boston Massacre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (though more colonists likely encountered woodcuts depicting the coffins of the victims that accompanied newspaper coverage of the event and the funeral procession than purchased or even glimpsed Revere’s Bloody Massacre in the eighteenth century).

Widely considered a piece of propaganda rather than an accurate depiction of the event that transpired on the evening of March 5, Revere’s engraving was the first to hit the consumer market in 1770.  Controversy at the time focused less on any liberties taken with the facts and more on Revere basing his work on an engraving by Henry Pelham and then issuing his own version so quickly that he edged out Pelham.  As the Massachusetts Historical Society explains, “Although Pelham created his image, The Fruits of Arbitrary Power first, somehow Revere, working from Pelham’s rendition of the scene, created, advertised, and issued his own version, The Bloody Massacre, ahead of Pelham’s.”  Although the advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette did not name Revere as the engraver, they certainly promoted sales of his depiction of the event.

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 26, 1770).

Pelham considered this an injustice.  He wrote to Revere shortly after the advertisements first appeared.  “When I heard that you was cutting a plate of the late Murder,” Pelham lamented, “I thought it impossible as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you coppied it from mine and I thought I had intrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you.”  For his part, Revere may have been more concerned with disseminating as quickly as possible an incriminating image of the 29th Regiment firing on colonists.  After all, just as printers liberally reprinted news, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another, eighteenth-century engravers frequently copied images that came into their possession, though usually after they had been published.

Did Revere weigh the “dictates of Honour and Justice” against serving the patriot cause and determine that the latter mattered more?  To what extent did the sirens of fame and fortune play a role in his decision to copy Pelham’s engraving and make his own version the first available for public consumption?  Can these questions be separated, or must they each inform the other?  Like printers and booksellers who profited from publishing and selling political treatises and accounts of current events during the era of the American Revolution, Revere also reaped rewards for his engraving even as he educated the public and shaped popular opinion.

February 19

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

Feb 19 - 2:19:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 19, 1770).

“List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”

In the third week of February 1770, many printers continued to advertise almanacs, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that counted against any profits they might earn on the venture.  In contrast, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, advertised that they had plans within the next few days to publish their “North-AmericanALMANACK, AND Massachusetts REGISTER, For the Year 1770.”  They either identified demand, even that far into February of the new year, or believed that they could incite sufficient demand to merit the expense of pursuing the project.

In presenting this edition of their almanac to the public, Edes and Gill focused on the contents of the “REGISTER.”  They listed the contents, including useful reference material from tables of colonial currencies to descriptions of “Public Raods, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” to dates of “Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England.”  Many of the contents had a decidedly political tone, making it clear that Edes and Gill marketed this almanac and register to supporters of the patriot cause.  The printers led the list of contents with “A Prospective View of the Town of Boston the Capital of New-England; and the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry.”  This woodcut, fashioned by Paul Revere, depicted eight British warships delivering troops to be quartered in Boston.  In addition to that frontispiece, the almanac and register also contained an overview of many of the other sources of tension between the colonies and Britain, including a “List of the Importers and Resolves of the Merchants &c. of Boston” and a “List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”  More than just a handy register of practical information, this was a primer in patriot politics.  Even items intended for amusement had a political flair, such as “Liberty Song” and “A New Song, to the Tune of the British Grenadier, by a SON OF LIBERTY.”

It was rather late in the year for Edes and Gill to publish an almanac, but they apparently considered it a good time to disseminate patriot propaganda.  The “Judgment of the Weather, Suns and Moon’s Rising and Setting,” and other material commonly contained in almanacs did not receive much notice in their advertisement.  Instead, they emphasized contents related to colonial grievances, presenting consumers with new opportunities to participate in acts of resistance by purchasing items that documented the events unfolding around them.  By bringing those narratives into their homes, colonists would become better informed and perhaps even more politicized in favor of the patriot cause.

September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (September 8, 1768).
“WHEREAS many Persons are so unfortunate as to lose their fore Teeth … they may have them replaced with false Ones … by PAUL REVERE.”

Although Paul Revere is primarily remembered as an engraver and silversmith who actively supported the Patriot cause throughout the era of the American Revolution, newspaper advertisements from the period demonstrate that he also tried his hand at dentistry. As summer turned to fall in 1768, Revere placed advertisements in both the Boston Evening-Post and Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette to encourage prospective clients to hire him if they needed false teeth made or adjusted.

Like many others who marketed consumer goods and services in the public prints, Revere stoked anxieties as a means of convincing readers to avail themselves of his services. He proclaimed that “many Persons are so unfortunate as to lose their fore Teeth … to their Detriment, not only in looks, but speaking both in Public and Private.” Revere raised the insecurities that prospective clients likely already felt, but then presented a solution. Colonists who had lost their front teeth “may have them replaced with false Ones, that looks as well as the Natural, and answers the End of Speaking to all intents.” He assured prospective clients that they would no longer need to worry about their appearance or speech once they sought his assistance.

Revere also attempted to generate business from among the clientele of John Baker, an itinerant “Surgeon-Dentist” who had provided his services in Boston before moving along to Newport and New York and other cities. Baker was well known to the residents of Boston and its environs. In an advertisement in the New-York Journal he claimed to have provided his services to “upwards of two thousand persons in the town of Boston.” Even if that was an inflated estimate, it still indicated that Baker had served a significant number of clients there. Revere confirmed that was the case when he used a portion of his advertisement to address those clients. He claimed that he had “learnt the Method of fixing” false teeth that had come loose from Baker during the surgeon-dentist’s time in Boston.

Thanks to the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere is most famous for his “midnight ride” on the eve of the battles at Lexington and Concord. He also encouraged resistance to the British through his engravings, including “The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street, Boston.” In addition, Revere is remembered as an artisan who crafted fashionable silver teapots, buckles, and other items. This advertisement shows another facet of Revere’s attempts to earn his livelihood in Boston in the late colonial period, dabbling in dentistry as an extension of practicing his trade as a silversmith.

April 10

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 10 - 4:10: 1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 10, 1767).

“Wm Jackson at the Brazen Head.”

Bang Bang: Bad Business in Boston! In reading this advertisement and delving deeper into who exactly “Wm Jackson” was, I discovered that he was a very controversial merchant in Boston. He owned a store and sold a variety of imported British products ranging from gun powder (as seen in this advertisement) to linens and silk to brass and iron hardware. The store “at the Brazen Head” was conveniently located next to the Old State House in Boston, making it a prime location for consumers, but also a place of heightened revolutionary fervor. After a successful career prior to the Revolutionary era, Jackson, a Loyalist, was in for a contentious atmosphere with patriotic local merchants and consumers.

At the time this advertisement was posted, Jackson was on the verge of causing controversy with his business. The Townsend Acts were passed in 1767, resulting in boycotts made by other businessmen in Boston. This reflected poorly on Jackson, who decided not to take part in these political statements and continued his store’s importation of British goods. This strategy did not benefit Jackson in the end. After attempting to flee Boston at the beginning of the American Revolution and getting captured by an American privateer, he was brought back to city and jailed. Later, he was banished for the rest of his life.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

William Jackson regularly advertised in Boston’s newspapers in the 1760s and 1770s, but, like many other colonial merchants and shopkeepers, he did not confine his marketing efforts to newspaper advertising alone. Industrious entrepreneurs distributed various advertising ephemera in eighteenth-century America, including trade cards, billheads, broadsides, catalogs, and circular letters. In striking contrast to the newspaper advertisement Shannon chose to feature today, Jackson commissioned an elaborate trade card that listed the “General Assortment” of merchandise that he imported from London and Bristol.

Apr 10 - William Jackson Trade Card
William Jackson distributed this trade card engraved by Paul Revere.  Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Jackson’s trade card resembled many others popular in London, other English cities, and urban ports in the colonies in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. A vignette of a bust and pedestal made of brass – a brazen head – appeared in a decorative cartouche at the top of the card. An ornate Chippendale border enclosed the list of goods Jackson sold. Although some American advertisers ordered engraved images of this sort from artists in London, a local artisan engraved Jackson’s trade card. That artisan was none other than the famous patriot, Paul Revere. Jackson and Revere may not have agreed on much when it came to politics, but the two men managed to put aside their differences at least long enough to produce one of the most stunning examples of pre-Revolutionary advertising ephemera that has survived into the twenty-first century.

 

According to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog record for Jackson’s trade card, it dates to 1769. By then Jackson’s political leanings were certainly known, especially since he refused to sign a nonimportation agreement in protest of the Townshend Acts that most of his competitors in Boston had signed in August 1768. Like others who distributed trade cards, Jackson doled his out to customers over several years. The trade card in the Paul Revere Collection at the American Antiquarian Society has a receipted bill signed by Jackson and dated August 20, 1773, on the reverse. By that time, given the events that had unfolded in Boston during the past four years, Jackson and Revere may have refused to undertake any more business with each other. That did not stop the loyalist Jackson, however, from promoting his own business by continuing to distribute the beautiful trade card engraved by the patriot Revere.