Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston

AMERICAN REVOLUTION   |   James BOWDOIN

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Item#: 124669 price:$35,000.00

Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston
Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston

"IT WAS NOT EXPECTED… THAT SUCH AN OUTRAGE AND MASSACRE… WOULD HAVE BEEN PERPETRATED": RARE AND IMPORTANT CONTEMPORARY ACCOUNT OF THE 1770 BOSTON MASSACRE, THE EARLIEST BOSTON PRINTING TO BE SOLD IN AMERICA

(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) (BOWDOIN, James). A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston, Perpetrated in the Evening of the Fifth Day of March 1770… with some Observations on the State of Things prior to that Catastrophe. To which is added, an Appendix. Boston, Printed, by Order of the Town, by Messirs. Edes and Gill; And Re-printed for W. Bingley… London, 1770. [Actually printed in Boston by Edes and Gill in July, 1770]. Slim octavo, remnants of original wrappers; pagination: 2 preliminary leaves, [5]-48, [1]-83 (without half-title; without two leaves (pp. 7/8 and 77/78) which have been supplied in facsimile). Housed in a custom half morocco clamshell box. $35,000.

Extremely rare and important July 1770 Boston printing of this contemporary and influential account of the Boston Massacre, originally commissioned and ordered to be printed by the Town of Boston. Though the title page bears a London imprint, this edition was actually printed and sold in Boston to circumvent the American distribution ban (put in place so as not to prejudice the jury hearing the trial of the soldiers), and as such was the earliest Boston printing to be sold in America.

On March 5, 1770, a squad of British soldiers, rushing to support a sentry who was being heckled by a growing crowd, let loose a volley of shots. Three persons were killed immediately and two died later of their wounds. "This was to hand the colonists the first of a whole series of propaganda victories—the story of the 'Boston Massacre,' as it was called, and the failure of Britain to punish those responsible… Boston was now the center of outright opposition to British colonial rule" (Johnson, 140-141). At the Boston Town Meeting of March 12th, a committee consisting of James Bowdoin (later Governor of Massachusetts), Joseph Warren and Samuel Pemberton was appointed to create an official report about the Boston Massacre. "Town leaders spent several days after the confrontation gathering the testimony of people in the crowd at the time of the shootings. These materials, along with an account of the massacre by James Bowdoin, were published as A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston… The bulk of the pamphlet consisted of 96 depositions. Ninety-four placed the blame on the soldiers or other government officials. Copies of this pamphlet were hurriedly sent to Great Britain in hopes that officials there would believe the troops caused all the trouble…. Town leaders also hoped that 'A Short Narrative' would help convince any wavering citizens that the military was completely to blame in the case of the Boston Massacre. Officially, town leaders ordered that all extra copies of the pamphlet be impounded in order not to prejudice potential jurors. However, the pamphlet did circulate in Boston prior to the trials and possibly influenced public opinion concerning the massacre" (Chiassen, The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events, 19).

Edes and Gill produced four Boston printings of this work in April and May 1770, but their sale and distribution in America was ordered to be delayed so as not to prejudice the jury hearing the trial of the soldiers, though copies were sent to London to be reprinted there. The first London edition was printed by W. Bingley in May 1770, and by July copies of it had been brought back from England and were circulating in America, even though the ban was still being enforced on the Boston-printed copies. To get around the ban, in July Edes and Gill printed in Boston a surreptitious edition with a title page that copied the Bingley London imprint and marketed it through another bookseller. This is a copy of that edition (Adams, American Independence 75e), which can be distinguished from the true London edition (Adams 75f) by the pagination.

"This was printed from substantially the same setting of type as no. 75d [the Edes and Gill fourth Boston printing], but with the following very significant changes. The title page of 75d was discarded and in its place was printed a half title and title that closely copies the Bingley, London, no. 75f…. The explanation for this Boston imitation of Bingley's London edition while there were still undistributed copies of the earlier edition in Boston may be found in the minutes of the Town Meeting of July 10th. At that time an attempt to release the earlier Boston printing for distribution was voted down. The Bingley London edition was first advertised in the London Chronicle two months earlier on May 5th. By July copies were undoubtedly being brought back from England, for in that same Town Meeting of July 10th, letters from England concerning the 'horrid Massacre' were read at the meeting. Edes and Gill, after printing copies for the Town Meeting two months before, had probably kept the type standing in anticipation of a substantial sale once the pamphlet was released. They now found copies of the London edition being circulated with the ban on their copies still enforced, probably because the trial of the soldiers was not to be held until the following November. Apparently their solution was to bring out a surreptitious edition and market it through another bookseller, because the Boston Evening Post for July 16th carries the following advertisement: 'Next Wednesday will be published (from the London edition) and to be sold at the Printing Office in Milk Street'" (Adams, American Independence 75e). Without half title; without two leaves (pp. 7/8 and 77/78) which have been supplied in facsimile. Appendix title page excised. Adams, American Independence 75e. Contemporary owner signature to upper edge of page 9. Slight scattered foxing; minute closed tears to edges of several leaves, minimally affecting text; faint pencil markings to verso of title page and pages 35-36, without affecting text.

In addition to the two leaves supplied in facsimile, small portion of upper corner of first three leaves repaired, with a very few words and letters, including the "E" in "NARRATIVE" on the title page, supplied in neat pen facsimile. Without front wrapper; original rear wrapper intact with some loss to edges. All of the early 1770 printings are rare and are usually lacking some leaves. This unusual edition (commonly misidentified as the Bingley London edition) is particularly scarce. A rare and desirable Boston printing of this important contemporary account of the Boston Massacre, which helped fan the flames of discontent that led to the American Revolution.

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