J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, February 06, 2021

A Short Narrative “from the London Edition”?

On 16 July 1770, six days after the Boston town meeting reaffirmed its ban on selling copies of its Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre locally, this advertisement appeared in the Boston Evening-Post:

Next WEDNESDAY will be Published,
[from the London Edition]
And to be Sold at the Printing-Office in Milk Street,
A NARRATIVE of the last horrid MASSACRE, in BOSTON, perpetrated in the Evening of the 5th of March 1770, by Soldiers of the 29th Regiment; which with the 14th Regiment were then Quartered there: some OBSERVATIONS on the STATE OF THINGS prior to that CATASTROPHE.
The printers on Milk Street were John Kneeland and Seth Adams, both trained by the former’s father. Isaiah Thomas wrote of them, “They were three or four years in the business, and printed chiefly for the booksellers.”

That ad seems to promise a completely new printing of the report, getting around the ban as a reprint of a book from London. No copy of that edition survives, however, so the town authorities may have squelched it.

Nevertheless, some Bostonians did obtain unauthorized copies of the Short Narrative, including the hatter Harbottle Dorr, who eventually bound his with his newspapers. We can examine it here, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society. And if we look closely, we see some curious details.

The title page of Dorr’s copy says it was printed for William Bingley in London, based on Edes & Gill’s original edition.
However, the type doesn’t exactly match the Bingley edition, which is now on Google Books.
The letter forms and spacing are ever so slightly different, and Dorr’s copy says “Messirs. EDES and GILL” instead of “Messrs. EDES and GILL.”

Then let’s skip ahead to page 25. The last line on Dorr’s copy is “These assailants, who issued from Murray’s” with the addition of a D (to signal the signature) and the first word on the next page, “barracks.”
Bingley’s edition actually had another line on that page: “barracks (so called) after attacking and wound-” And no D.
If we now turn to page 25 of an Edes & Gill copy, we see that it makes a perfect match for Dorr’s page 25.
There are other little differences between the two editions said to be printed by Bingley. For example, the top of page 33 says “His honour’s” in the London copy, “His Honor’s” in Dorr’s copy and in the Edes & Gill original.

Some printer had taken copies of the latest pages printed by Edes & Gill, removed the Boston title page at the front, and substituted a title page designed to look as much as possible like the Bingley edition from London.

The resulting copies could thus be sold to Bostonians as imports. Edes & Gill presumably got some money for the printed pages they were sitting on. People like Dorr could finally buy a copy for themselves. And just a few genuine Bingley editions shipped to America were turned into many more.

This subterfuge was noted by Thomas Randolph Adams in a bibliography published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts in 1966. He cited copies of the ersatz London edition then at the Boston Public Library, the Boston Athenaeum, the Huntington Library, the Library of Congress, and Harvard and Yale Universities, so quite a few were made. I first read about this subterfuge in a booklet from the Boston Public Library.

TOMORROW: Where did the Boston printers learn that trick?

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