What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A POEM on the Execution of William Shaw.”
True crime! News of the murder of Edward East circulated widely in New England. The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter was among the first publications that presented the news to the public. A short article in its September 27, 1770, edition reported, “We hear from Springfield, that one Edward East, was murthered in the Gaol at that Place, by William Shaw and George French, who wounded him in several Parts, on the 17th of this [month], of which Wounds he died the next Day.” As was common practice at the time, several newspapers reprinted this news over the course of several weeks.
On October 12, the Connecticut Journal provided updates in a longer story, reporting that a “jury by their verdict declared” Shaw “to be guilty” of murder, “whereupon the sentence of death was passed upon him.” The execution was scheduled for November 8. At the same time, the jury did not find enough evidence to convict French as an accomplice but instead “returned a verdict in his favour.” On November 19, the Boston Evening-Post noted that Shaw’s execution was delayed until December 13, but did not provide an explanation. The Connecticut Journal reported on Shaw’s execution in its December 18 edition. “On which solemn occasion,” the editor declared, “an affecting sermon was delivered by the Rev. MOSES BALDWIN … to an audience of many thousands collected from all the adjacent towns as spectators of the awful scene.” Newspapers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island all reported on the execution.
Advertisements for commemorative items soon appeared as well, including one for “A POEM on the Execution of William Shaw” in the January 7, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. On January 10, an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter promoted another commemorative item, “A SERMON intitled, The Ungodly condemned in Judgment; Preached at Springfield, December 13th 1770. On Occasion of the Execution of WILLIAM SHAW, for Murder, By MOSES BALDWIN.” Printers and booksellers in other places also advertised and sold the poem and the sermon. Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette in Salem, for instance, advertised the poem on January 15. These advertisements helped to deliver news of current events while offering consumers opportunities to learn more. For those who were not among the “many thousands” who heard the sermon and witnessed the execution, the commemorative items served as a proxy in addition to as supplement for coverage in newspapers.