In the autumn of 1689 there appeared a sheet with the heading “The Present State of the New-English Affairs. This is Published to prevent False Reports,” and bearing the imprint “Boston, Printed and Sold by Samuel Green, 1689.” Whether this sheet234 was a broadside merely, or whether it was a broadside and also a newspaper, has long been a subject of controversy, and was discussed at length before this Society at its meeting in March, 1906.235 However that point may be determined, it is certain that a genuine newspaper appeared in Boston on 25 September, 1690. This was entitled “Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick,” and was printed by Richard Pierce for Benjamin Harris, at the London Coffee House. After its first issue,236 this paper was suppressed by the authorities; and, so far as is known, no attempt to publish a newspaper was again made until 1704. In that year John Campbell, then Postmaster of Boston and a former writer of news-letters,237 began on 24 April the publication of the first American newspaper to be established on a firm basis — the Boston News-Letter.238
The words “Published by Authority” appeared in the title of the following issues: 1704, April 24 – 1720, July 11; 1723, January 7 – 1725, September 2.
The practice in regard to Old Style and New Style was, in the early years of the paper, not uniform. The issues of 1 January–19 March, 1705, were double dated “1704,5;” those of 7 January–18 March, 1706, were also double dated “1705,6;” while those of 6 January–24 March, 1707, were dated 1706. New Style was adopted 7 January, 1717.
The issue of 31 December, 1722, contained the following notice (p. 2/2):
*⸸* These are to give Notice, That Mr. Campbell Designing not to Publish any more News-Letters, after this Monday the 31 st Currant, Bartholomew Green the Printer thereof for these 18 Years last past, having had Experience of his Practice therein; intends (Life permitted) to carry on the same, . . .
Similar notices were inserted in the issues of 24 December, 1722 (p. 2/2), and of 7 January, 1723 (p. 2/2).
On becoming the publisher of the Boston News-Letter, Bartholomew Green introduced a curious device or signature, the reason for which is not easily understood. Every issue published in the years 1723, 1724, 1725, and 1726 had printed at the upper left-hand corner of the first page the letter A, B, C, or D, respectively.239
The issue of 29 December, 1726, was numbered 1196. The issue of 5 January, 1727, was numbered 1; and with that issue, the paper underwent its first change in title. The following advertisement appeared on p. 2/2:
☞ WHEREAS the Method taken in the Boston-News-Letter, of carrying on a Threed of Occurences of an Old Date, and a Summary of the most Remarkable News of Europe, has not been very acceptable to the Publick, nor satisfactory to it’s Encouragers:
This is therefore to give Notice, That instead thereof, the Publisher intends to Print The Weekly News-Letter, wherein the Publick will be entertained with the latest and most remarkable News, both Foreign and Domestick, that comes to hand well attested. . . .
On 5 November, 1730, the title and the numbering were again changed. In that issue appeared this notice (p. 1/1):
The Publisher of this Boston News-Letter having in concert with the late Mr. Campbell begun to Print the same with Numb. 1. on April 24. 1704, and it being carried on with the History of the Publick Affairs to Numb. 1196, which was on Dec. 29. 1726; and then with Jan. 5. 1726,7, began with a new Number which amounted on the last Thursday to 200. It is now tho’t adviseable to add the said Numb. 200, to the former 1196, which makes 1396, the whole of our Numbers from the said 24. of April 1704, and now go on with Numb. 1397, &c.
The utter inability of the printers to number their issues correctly has already been commented upon.240 As a matter of fact, the issue of 29 December, 1726, ought to have been numbered 1198, and hence the issue of 5 November, 1730, ought to have been numbered 1399. It follows that while some numbers previous to 29 December, 1726, are wrong, all numbers after 29 October, 1730, are wrong.
In the issue of 4 January, 1733, was printed this notice (p. 2/2):
☞ MR. Bartholomew Green, who has for some Years past been the Publislier of this Boston Weekly News-Letter, being dead, this is to inform the Publick in general, and those who are the Customers for it in particular, that it will be yet carried on, and sent out every Week on Thursday Morning, at the usual Price, by John Draper, (Son-in-Law to the said Mr. Green241) who has been an Assistant with him in the said News-Letter: . . .
On January 8, 1755, there passed the Provincial Legislature and on January 13, 1755, there was published —
An Act for granting to his Majesty several Duties upon Vellum, Parchment and Paper for two Years, towards defreying the Charges of this Government.
WE His Majesty’s most loyal and dutiful Subjects, the Representatives in General Court assembled, from a Sense of the many Occasions which engage this Province in great Expences, for the Defence of the Frontiers, and for the necessary Support of the Government, pray that it may be enacted:
And be it according enacted by the Governour, Council and House of Representatives, That from and after the thirtieth Day of April next, there shall be throughout this his Majesty’s Province, raised, collected and paid unto his Majesty, his Heirs and Successors, during the Term of two Years, and no longer, for the several and respective Things hereafter mentioned, which shall be printed engrossed or written, during the Term aforesaid, the several and respective Rates, Impositions, Duties, Charges and Sums of Money herein after expressed, in Manner and Form following, that is to say, . . .
And be it further enacted, That . . . there shall be chosen and appointed . . . one or more suitable Person or Persons to be a Commissioner or Commissioners of the Stamps for this Province, who shall . . . provide . . . one other Stamp or Mark, with which all Vellum, Parchment and Paper herein before charged with the Payment of one-Half penny, shall be marked or stamped.242
In accordance with this Act, each issue dated 30 April, 1755 – 30 April, 1757, was printed on paper stamped by the Provincial Government. The figure of the stamp was round, about an inch and one-quarter in diameter, and the words “half penny · half penny” were inclosed between two circular lines, and formed the border; in the centre was a bird243 with outstretched wings, “probably meant,” according to Isaiah Thomas, “for an eagle on the wing.” This device was stamped with red ink on the lower right-hand corner of the first page of the paper.244 This Provincial Stamp Act was severely animadverted upon in some of the papers. The Boston News-Letter of 24 April, 1755, contained this notice (p. 2/2):
Boston, April 24. 1755.
☞ AS the Stamp-Duty takes Place on Wednesday next, the 30 th Current, the Publisher of this Paper desires such of his good Customers in Town or Country, who intend to take it on the Terms lately advertised, and have not yet given Notice thereof, to do it on or before the said Day, that he may know what Number to print off.
Unlike many of its contemporaries, the Boston News-Letter was published for nearly sixty years without a device. In its issue of 6 January, 1763, it assumed the Royal Arms. The choice of that particular device can be explained. Upon the death of John Draper on November 29, 1762, there appears to have been some uncertainty in regard to the carrying on of the Boston News-Letter. The issue of 2 December contained this notice (p. 3/1):
THE Publick are notifyed, That the Business of the late Publisher of this Paper is devolved upon the Subscriber, Son to the Deceased: Those who have been Customers will be continued in the same Manner as heretofore; and the utmost Endeavours will be taken to retain the Character this Paper has always had: By their humble Servant,
In the issue of 10 December was printed the following (p. 3/3):
THE Publishing of this Paper is continued by Richard Draper, Printer, Son to Mr. John Draper, the late Publisher, deceased. Advertisements are taken in, and the Papers delivered out at the Printing-Office, or at the Shop in Cornhill, as heretofore.
The same notice appeared in the issues of 16 December (p. 2/2), of 23 December (p. 3/3), and of 31 December (p. 2/2). Meanwhile, however, Richard Draper had not been idle in another direction. On December 1, 1762, he presented to the Governor and Council the following petition:
Captain-General and Governor in Chief, in and over
His Majesty’s Province of the Massachusetts-Bay
in New-England, and Vice-Admiral of the same.
And the Honourable
His Majesty’s Council.
The Petition of Richard Draper, Printer.
THAT by the Decease of his Father, Mr. John Draper, Printer, the said Business is devolved upon your Petitioner: That the Deceased was employed for about 30 Years as Printer to the Governor and Council of the Province; and in which your Petitioner has assisted from his Youth.
Wherefore, he humbly prays, That your Excellency and Honours would appoint him to the same Business, and allow the same to be recorded, as has been the Custom; that he may be continued therein so long as he shall discharge his Duty with Fidelity, Dispatch and at a reasonable Price.
And as in Duty bound shall ever pray, &c.
Boston, December 1st. 1762
At a meeting of the Council held December 2,—
His Excellency having acquainted the Board that John Draper, Printer to the Governor and Council was dead, proposed to them the appointment of Mr. Richard Draper son of the deceased to the said Business
Advised That Mṛ̣ Richard Draper be appointed Printer to the Governor and Council accordingly.246
Having completed his arrangements in regard to the publication of the Boston News-Letter,247 Draper, as evidence of his appointment as printer to the Governor and Council, introduced the Royal Arms into the issue of 6 January, 1763, and in the same issue inserted the following notice (p. 1/1):
THE PUBLIC are hereby informed that this Paper is now carried on by the Subscriber, who will take all possible Methods to collect the most authentic Articles of Intelligence from Time to Time; and when there happens to be a Scarcity of News will insert Pieces of Speculation that may be entertaining to the Reader. — Any Gentlemen who may be desirous of communicating their Thoughts, thro’ the Channel of this Paper for the Benefit of Trade & Commerce, or on any other Subject, they may depend on their being gratefully received. — But all Party Disputes and personal Invectives will, as much as possible, be avoided.
On 7 April, 1763, the Boston News-Letter suddenly changed its title from “The Boston News-Letter, and the New-England Chronicle” to “The Massachusetts Gazette. And Boston News-Letter.” This was the first time that the words “Massachusetts Gazette” had appeared in the title of the Boston News-Letter, and no reason for the assumption of those words has ever been given. Their adoption, however, is explained by the action of the Council. At the meeting of the Council held March 17, 1763, it was —
Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee of Accounts that they do not for the future report in favour of an Allowance to any of the Printers of the Boston News Papers for inserting any Article therein, unless such Printer shall have had directions from proper Authority for so doing.248
The matter was finally disposed of on March 31 by the following order,249 which was printed on the first page of the Boston News-Letter of 7 April, 1763:
At the Council-Chamber in Boston, March 31. 1763.
PRESENT His EXCELLENCY in Council.
ADVISED and ORDERED, That for the future all Orders which shall be made by His Excellency the Governor, with the Advice of the Council, and which it shall be thought fit to publish, be published in the Thursday’s News-Paper, printed by Richard Draper, Printer to the Governor and Council: And that publick Notice be given thereof for the Information of the Inhabitants of the Province, or any others whom it may concern.
A. OLIVER, Secr’y.
The issue of 2 May, 1765, contained this notice, printed across the bottom of the first page:
THE Publick is informed that this Day’s Gazette is printed on Paper manufactured at Milton; and we doubt not they will judge it to be of as good Quality as any of the Kind that is imported. It is earnestly requested that Families would be careful to save all LINEN RAGS, a full Supply of them would prevent large Sums of Money from going out of the Province.
The Stamp Act passed the British Parliament March 22, 1765, and took effect November 1 following. It was repealed March 18, 1766, to take effect May 1 following. Several false reports of its repeal were published in the Boston newspapers, but authentic intelligence did not reach Boston until May 16. The Boston News-Letter of 22 May, 1766, contained the following notice, printed across the top of the first page:
Friday last arrived here the Brigantine Harrison, Shubael Coffin, Master, belonging to John Hancock, Esq; a principal Merchant in this Town, in about 6 Weeks from London; who brought the important Account of the REPEAL of the AMERICAN STAMP-ACT.
Section XXVII of the Stamp Act contained the following requirement:
That no person whatsoever shall sell or expose for sale any such pamphlet, or any news paper, without the true respective name or names, and place or places of abode, of some known person or persons by or for whom the same was really and truly printed or published, shall be written or printed thereon; upon pain that every person offending therein shall, for every such offence, forfeit the sum of twenty pounds.250
In apparent defiance of this order, the Drapers omitted in the issues dated 7 November, 1765–15 May, 1766, from the first page of the Boston News-Letter the names of the publishers and from the last page the imprint.251 They also assigned to each issue a large zero, in place of the usual number in Arabic numerals.252 The issue of 31 October, 1765, was numbered 3239. That of 22 May, 1766, was numbered 3268, the twenty-eight issues between those dates numbered O being allowed for.
In May, 1768, a singular arrangement was entered into between Richard Draper, publisher of the Boston News-Letter, and John Green and Joseph Russell, publishers of the Boston Post-Boy. The Boston News-Letter was issued on Thursday, the Boston Post-Boy on Monday. The publication of each paper continued under its own name and on its regular day of issue, while the publishers of both papers published jointly a paper called the Massachusetts Gazette.253 The portion of the Massachusetts Gazette which appeared on Thursday was printed by Draper and was sometimes, but not always, printed on the same sheet with the Boston News-Letter of the same date; while the portion of the Massachusetts Gazette which appeared on Monday was printed by Green and Russell and was sometimes, but not always, printed on the same sheet with the Boston Post-Boy of the same date.
On 22 May, 1766, the Boston News-Letter changed its title to “The Massachusetts Gazette. And Boston News-Letter.” On 26 May, 1768, the title was again changed to “The Boston Weekly News-Letter.” In that issue the following notice254 was printed across the top of the first page:
THE Thursday’s Paper (the first ever printed in America,) returns to its primitive Title,255 the Gazette being directed by AUTHORITY to be published in another Manner: The Customers will be served with Care and Fidelity; those who advertise herein may depend on having their Notifications well circulated. N.B. A Gazette will accompany the News-Letter every Thursday (tho’ not always in a separate Paper.) . . .
This curious arrangement between the Boston News-Letter and the Boston Post-Boy lasted from 23 May, 1768, to 25 September, 1769. On 28 September, 1769, the Boston News-Letter changed its title to “The Massachusetts Gazette: and the Boston Weekly News-Letter;”256 while on 2 October, 1769, the Boston Post-Boy changed its title to “The Massachusetts Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser.” This confusing similarity in titles continued until the last appearance of the Boston Post-Boy on 17 April, 1775.
Early in 1774 Richard Draper fell ill. In the issue of 5 May, 1774, appeared the following (p. 2/3):
The Publisher and Printer of this Paper being in a very low State of Health, prevents his making such Collection of Intelligence and Speculation, as his Customers must have expected to be given them, especially since the arrival of the last Vessels; he begs their Indulgence till he recovers Strength, or till the Paper falls into other Hands. A Printer that understands collecting News, and carrying on a News Paper, by applying to the Printer hereof, may be concerned on very advantageous Terms.
This notice was followed by another in the issue of 12 May, 1774 (p. 3/2):
The Publisher of this Paper would acquaint his Customers, That he is about entering into a Co-Partnership with Mr. John Boyle, . . . and that for the future, The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter, will be published by Draper and Boyle; . . .
Boston, April 12, 1774.257
The issue of 9 June, 1774, contained this notice (p. 1/1):
To the PUBLIC.
WHEREAS the Co-Partnership between Richard Draper and John Boyle is dissolved by the Death of the former: This is to give Notice, that The Massachusetts Gazette, and Boston Weekly News-Letter, will now be carried on by Margaret Draper and John Boyle:
The following notice appeared in the issue of 11 August, 1774 (p. 2/3):
To the Public
THE Printing of this Paper having since Mr. Draper’s Death, been carried on by MARGARET DRAPER & JOHN BOYLE, agreeable to Contract, the public are hereby notified, that their Connection in that Business is now dissolved by mutual Consent.
Mrs. Draper being under the Necessity of procuring some reputable Means of Subsistance, proposes to continue publishing the Paper herself; and hopes by the assistance of her Friends to give full Satisfaction to it’s former Customers, and the Public in general: . . .
At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, five papers were published in Boston. The political crisis put an end to the existence of the Boston Evening-Post and of the Boston Post-Boy, drove the Boston Gazette to Watertown and the Massachusetts Spy to Worcester, and left the Boston News-Letter — which for many years had been the organ of the Tories — the sole paper to be printed in Boston during the Siege. No copy of the Boston News-Letter between 20 April and 19 May, 1775, is known to be in existence. The fact that the issue of 20 April was numbered 3734, while the issue of 19 May was numbered 3735, would be conclusive evidence that no paper was printed between those dates were it not for the further fact that the numbering of issues was so erratic as to be absolutely unreliable. There is proof, however, that the publication of the paper was interrupted after 20 April; for in the issue of Friday, 19 May, 1775, appeared the following notice (p. 1/1):
To the PUBLIC
As a Number of Gentlemen are very desirous of having a Continuation of the Massachusetts-Gazette, the Proprietor therefore proposes to renew the Publication of [the] Paper on the following Conditions, viz. — That it contain two pages in Folio, and be published on Thursday’s as heretofore — And that as the Communication with the Country is at present impeded, the Number of Customers it’s likely will be but few, the Price therefore to Subscribers cannot be less than Eight Shillings Lawful Money per Year, one Quarter Part to be paid at Entrance, and another Quarter Part at the End of three Months.
SUBSCRIPTIONS are taken in at DRAPER’s Printing-Office in Newbury-Street; and as soon as 300 are subscribed the Paper to be published.
Boston, May 17. 1775.
Emboldened by the encouraging Assurances of a Number of respectable [Gentlemen who have without] Hesitation subscribed our Proposals, and being willing to oblige them as speedily as possible, we have ventured upon the Publication of the first Paper, hoping that a sufficient Number will be subscribed through the course of the Week to encourage us to continue it weekly from this Time. — The Difficulties attending the Publication of a News-Paper, at this unhappy Period, when almost all Communication with the Continent is cut off, and so every regular Source of Intelligence stopped, obliges us to beg a twofold Share of that Candor we have formerly experienced.258 . . .
The issue of 17 August, 1775, contained the following notice (p. 2/2):
AT the Request of a Number of Gentlemen we were prevailed upon to renew the Publication of this Paper: — Since which, we have endeavored as far as we were able to render it equal to their Expectations, by collecting what Intelligence could with certainty be procur’d within the circumscrib’d Bounds of our present Situation. . . . And as this Day’s Paper compleats the First Quarter since it’s Publication, we think ourselves bound to express our Obligations to those Gentlemen who have furnished us with News Papers or Articles of Intelligence; and relying still on the Candor of our Customers, and the future kind Assistances of our Friends, we propose to continue it another Quarter, provided the Original Proposals shall be comply’d with, without which it will be absolutely impossible. . . .
Every known issue from 11 August, 1774, to 7 September, 1775, had the word “Draper’s” printed on the first page, though no issue bore an imprint on the last page. No copies of the paper between 7 September and 13 October, 1775, are known to be in existence. All known issues from 13 October, 1775, to 22 February, 1776, bore on the last page the imprint of John Howe as printer; but the word “Draper’s” is found in none of them, nor is the name of a publisher anywhere given.
The issue of 26 October, 1775, contained this notice (p. 2/3):
*** So important are the Solicitations of Friends, and so unbounded their Candor, that if Customers are punctual in paying their Arrears, this Paper will yet be continued weekly. The Publisher would be extremely obliged to Gentlemen, into whose Hands Papers or Articles of Intelligence may accidentally fall, if they would be so kind as to favor him with them: They would thereby not only oblige the Printer, but afford the greatest Satisfaction to the Public.
In the issue of 30 November, 1775, appeared this notice (p.3/3):
*⸸* This Day’s Paper compleats the Second Quarter since its Publication; and as sending them to the Subscribers has for some time past been omitted, the Publisher would now inform them that upon their Subscriptions and leaving the Places where they reside, the Papers will in Future be regularly sent to them.
The issue of 22 February, 1776, contained this notice (p. 2/2):
As this Day’s Paper compleats the third Quarter, we must request our Customer’s to be punctual in paying their Entrance for the ensuing one, or they cannot be obliged with this Paper, indifferent as it is. — Those who are in Arrears for past Quarters, it is hoped will remain no longer unmindful of the necessity of discharging them. — The Sum being but trifling many Gentlemen have thought nothing of it, but it is from a Collection of these Trifles the Paper may be supported.
Whether this final appeal was successful is uncertain, but no issue of the Boston News-Letter after 22 February, 1776, is known to be in existence.
Isaiah Thomas asserted that “after the war began, John Howe became her [Mrs. Draper’s] partner, and remained in business with her until the British troops left Boston in 1776;” and that “M. Draper . . . was induced, a short time before the commencement of the war, to take him [John Howe] into partnership; but his name did not appear in the imprint of the Massachusetts Gazette till Boston was besieged by the continental army.” A discrepancy between these two statements will be observed; and, though Thomas’s opinion is entitled to much weight, yet his account of Boston newspapers, excellent as it was for its day, contains many inaccuracies and was not published until thirty-four years after the discontinuance of the Boston News-Letter. The extracts printed above give everything relating to the matter that has been found in the Boston News-Letter itself; and while the evidence contained in them is perhaps not decisive, it points to the conclusion that Mrs. Draper ceased to be the publisher of the paper between 7 September and 13 October, 1775, at which time John Howe became both its publisher and printer.259
The dates in our Check-List after 20 April, 1775, for those issues of which no copies are extant, are of course purely conjectural; and the fact that the issue of 13 October, 1775, is headed “The Massachusetts Gazette: Published Occasionally” proves that lacunæ existed after as well as before 19 May, 1775.
The bibliographical details relating to the Boston News-Letter are arranged under the following four heads:
- I. Titles.
- II. Days of Publication.
- III. Publishers, Printers, and Places of Publication.
- IV. Devices.
1704, April 24: The Boston News-Letter.
1727, January 5: The Weekly News-Letter.
1730, November 5: The Boston Weekly News-Letter.
1757, September 1: The Boston News-Letter.
1762, March 25: The Boston News-Letter. And New-England Chronicle.
1763, January 6: The Boston News-Letter, and the New-England Chronicle.
1763, April 7: The Massachusetts Gazette. And Boston News-Letter.
1765, November 7: The Massachusetts Gazette.
1766, May 22: The Massachusetts Gazette. And Boston News-Letter.
1768, May 26: The Boston Weekly News-Letter.
1769, September 28: The Massachusetts Gazette: and the Boston Weekly News-Letter.
II DAYS OF PUBLICATION
Monday: 1704, April 24.
Thursday: 1723, February 7.
III PUBLISHERS, PRINTERS, AND PLACES OF PUBLICATION
1704, April 24: Published by John Campbell. Printed by Bartholomew Green.
1707, November 10: Printed by John Allen in Pudding Lane.
1711, October 1: Last issue printed by John Allen.
1711, October 8: Printed by Bartholomew Green in Newbury Street.
1722, December 31: Last issue published by John Campbell.260
1723, January 7: Published and printed by Bartholomew Green in Newbury Street.
1732, December 28: Last issue published and printed by Bartholomew Green.261
1762, November 25: Last issue published and printed by John Draper.262
1762, December 2: Published and printed by Richard Draper in Newbury Street.
1763, January 13 – 1765, April 11: Published by Richard Draper. Printed by Richard Draper and Samuel Draper in Newbury Street.
1765, April 19: Published and printed by Richard Draper and Samuel Draper in Newbury Street.
1767, March 19: Last issue published and printed by Richard Draper and Samuel Draper.263
1767, March 26: Published and printed by Richard Draper in Newbury Street.
1774, May 12: Last issue published and printed by Richard Draper.
1774, May 19: Published and printed by Richard Draper and John Boyle in Newbury Street.
1774, June 2: Last issue published and printed by Richard Draper and John Boyle.264
1774, June 9: Published and printed by Margaret Draper and John Boyle in Newbury Street
1774, August 4: Last issue published and printed by Margaret Draper and John Boyle.265
1774, August 11: Published and printed by Margaret Draper in Newbury Street.
1775, September 7: Last known issue published and printed by Margaret Draper.266
1775, October 13: Printed by John Howe267 in Newbury Street.
1776, February 22: Last known issue printed by John Howe.268