Today, we devote a lot of attention to fake news – but what’s really interesting is that America as we know it would not exist without propaganda. The “Founding Fathers” had a lot of gumption, but they were also PR extraordinaires.
Exhibit A: Paul Revere. Your history book almost surely included his engraving of what we call the Boston Massacre. What not many people know is that it only presented one version of the events, and it certainly wasn’t what one would call “the truth.”
That fateful night in Boston actually began with a group of colonists harassing the single guard who was on duty in front of the King’s funds at the Boston Customs House.1 They provoked him until he began to fight back, with his bayonet. Ill-advised though this was, he began to call for reserves, afraid of what the colonists might do. As a result of the conflict, colonists all over town began ringing the fire bell, sending more colonists out into the street.2
Soon British Captain Thomas Preston arrived with a group of soldiers. Colonists were throwing rocks, ice, and snowballs, and Preston worried the violence would get worse. Somebody – to this day it’s unclear who – yelled “Fire!” and the British began to fire their guns. Five colonists were killed.3
Revere’s engraving shows a group of vindictive British soldiers firing on a group of innocent victims. And in fact, Revere was not the first to create such an engraving – he was simply the first to publish it. It’s now known that Revere copied his image from artist Henry Pelham, and Pelham in fact calls Revere out for his theft in a letter to the Boston Gazette! Still, Revere’s engraving is what has emerged as the image of record from the event.4
And it’s in fact this very image which caused the tide of public opinion to turn finally against the British once and for all. It was this shift in public opinion which gave the Patriots the “capital” they needed to mount the American Revolution.5
PR has always, for better or worse, been a factor in history’s major events.
“Boston Massacre.” com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/boston-massacre.
“Paul Revere’s Engraving – Explained.” Boston Massacre Historical Society, www.bostonmassacre.net/gravure.htm.