A Boston newspaper of the eighteenth century was seldom mentioned by its contemporaries unless there was between them some subject of controversy. The third paper to be published in Boston — the New-England Courant — was the private enterprise of its publisher, James Franklin. It began its lively career with a reflection upon John Campbell, the publisher of the Boston News-Letter. To this fortunate circumstance we owe our certain knowledge of the date of publication of the first issue of the New-England Courant.298 The Boston News-Letter of 14 August, 1721, contained a long reply from Campbell, which began as follows (p. 4/1):

    ☞ N. B. ON Monday last the 7th Currant, came forth a Third News-Paper in this Town, Entituled, The New-England Courant, by Homo non unius Negotii; Or, Jack of all Trades; and it would seem, Good at none: giving some very, very frothy fulsome Account of himself, but lest the continuance of that stile, should offend his readers, . . . The said Jack promises in pretence of Friendship to the other News-Publishers to amend, like soure Ale in Summer, Reflecting too too much, that my performances are now and then very, very Dull.

    New Style was adopted 15 January, 1722.

    Besides his bickerings with contemporaries, James Franklin soon got into serious difficulties with the authorities. In the New-England Courant of 11 June, 1722, it was insinuated that the latter were lukewarm in their efforts to capture a pirate vessel. The following is taken from the Massachusetts House Journals of 12 June, 1722 (p. 21):

    Samuel Sewall, Penn Townsend, and Addington Davenport, Esqrs; brought down the following Vote of June 12 th 1722. The Board having had Consideration of a Paragraph in a Paper call’d the New-England Courant, published Monday last, relating to the fitting out a Ship here, to proceed against the Pirates; and having Examined James Franklin Printer, he acknowledged himself the Publisher thereof: And finding the Paragraph to be grounded on a Letter pretended by him to be received from Rhode-Island. Resolved, That the said Paragraph is a high Affront to this Government.

    Sent down for Concurrence.

    Sent up.

    Read and Concurred.

    Resolved, That the Sheriff of the County of Suffolk, do forthwith commit to the Goal in Boston, the Body of James Franklin Printer, for the gross Affront offered to this Government, in his Courant of Monday last, there to remain during this Session.

    Sent up for Concurrence.

    Franklin’s imprisonment continued until the General Court was prorogued on 7 July.299 Two days before this, however, the Council determined on a more drastic measure, but the proposed legislation was defeated in the House. The following is taken from the Massachusetts House Journals of 6 July, 1722 (p. 60):

    The following Resolve of Council sent down, viz. In Council July 5 th. 1722.

    Whereas in the Paper call’d the New-England Courant printed Weekly by James Franklin, many Passages have been published, boldly reflecting on His Majesty’s Government and on the Administration of it in this Province, the Ministry, Churches and College: and it very often contains Paragraphs that tend to fill the Readers minds with vanity, to the dishonour of God and disservice of Good Men.

    Resolved, That no such Weekly Paper be hereafter Printed or Published without the same be first perused and allowed by the Secretary, as has been usual. And that the said Franklin give Security before the Justices of the Superiour Court in the Sum of l. 100 to be of the good Behaviour to the end of the next Fall Sessions of this Court. Sent down for Concurrence.

    Read and Non-Concurred.

    The issue of the New-England Courant of 14 January, 1723, contained an essay on hypocrites and two other articles of a nature to invite condemnation. Not only did the paper appear as usual on 21 January, but in the issue of that date was printed the following (p. 2):

    We hear that the following Act is to be inserted in the News-Letter and Gazette Three Weeks successively.

    At a Great and General Court or Assembly of His Majesty’s Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, held at Boston the fifteenth Day of November, 1722.

    In COUNCIL, Jan. 14. 1722.

    WHEREAS the Paper call’d, The New-England Courant, of this Day’s Date, contains many Passages in which the holy Scriptures are perverted, and the Civil Government, Ministers, and People of this Province highly reflected on,

    Ordered, That William Taller, Samuel Sewall, and Penn Townsend, Esqrs; with such as the Honourable House of Representatives shall join, be a Committee to consider and Report what is proper for this Court to do thereon.

    Sent down for Concurrence.

    J. Willard, Secr.

    In the House of Representatives.

    Jan. 14. 1722. Read & Concurr’d, And Mr. Fulham, Mr. Remington, Mr. Stone, and Mr. Knolton be joyned with them.

    John Clark, Speaker.

    The Committee appointed to Consider of the Paper called. The New-England Courant, published Monday the fourteenth Currant, are humbly of Opinion that the Tendency of the said Paper is to mock Religion, and bring it into Contempt, that the Holy Scriptures are therein profanely abused, that the Reverend and faithful Ministers of the Gospel are injuriously Reflected on, His Majesty’s Government affronted, and the Peace and good Order of his Majesty’s Subjects of this Province disturbed, by the said Courant; And for prevention of the like Offence for the future, the Committee humbly propose, That James Franklin the Printer and Publisher thereof, be strictly forbidden by this Court to Print or Publish the New-England Courant, or any Pamphlet or Paper of the like Nature, except it be first supervised by the Secretary of this Province; And the Justices of His Majesty’s Sessions of the Peace for the County of Suffolk, at their next Adjournment, be directed to take sufficient Bonds of the said Franklin for [his good Behaviour300] Twelve Months Time.

    per Order of the Committee,

    William Tailer.

    In COUNCIL, Jan. 15. 1722.

    Read and Accepted. Sent down for Concurrence.

    J. Willard, Secr.

    In the House of Representatives.

    Jan. 16. 1722. Read and Concurr’d.

    John Clark, Speaker.

    W. Dummer.

    Consented to,

    A true Copy,

    Examin’d per J. Willard, Secretary.

    Franklin’s arrest was ordered by the Council on 24 January, and the warrant for his arrest was issued 28 January.301 The issue of the New-England Courant of 11 February, 1723, contained this notice (p. 1/1):

    The late Publisher of this Paper, finding so many inconveniences would arise by his carrying the Manuscripts and publick News to be supervis’d by the Secretary, as to render his carrying it on unprofitable, has intierely dropt the Undertaking. The present Publisher having receiv’d the following Piece, desires the Readers to accept of it as a Preface to what they may hereafter meet with in this Paper.

    The “present publisher” was Benjamin Franklin, from whose Autobiography is taken the following account of his connection with the New-England Courant:

    One of the pieces in our newspaper on some political point, which I have now forgotten, gave offense to the Assembly. He was taken up, censur’d, and imprison’d for a month, by the Speaker’s warrant, I suppose, because he would not discover his author. I too was taken up and examin’d before the council; but, tho’ I did not give them any satisfaction, they content’d themselves with admonishing me, and dismissed me, considering me, perhaps, as an apprentice, who was bound to keep his master’s secrets.

    During my brother’s confinement, which I resented a good deal, notwithstanding our private differences, I had the management of the paper; and I made bold to give our rulers some rubs in it, which my brother took very kindly, while others began to consider me in an unfavorable light, as a young genius that had a turn for libelling and satyr. My brother’s discharge was accompany’d with an order of the House (a very odd one), that “James Franklin should no longer print the paper called the New England Courant.”

    There was a consultation held in our printing-house among his friends, what he should do in this case. Some proposed to evade the order by changing the name of the paper; but my brother, seeing inconveniences in that, it was finally concluded on as a better way, to let it be printed for the future under the name of Benjamin Franklin; and to avoid the censure of the Assembly, that might fall on him as still printing it by his apprentice, the contrivance was that my old indenture should be return’d to me, with a full discharge on the back of it, to be shown on occasion, but to secure to him the benefit of my service, I was to sign new indentures for the remainder of the term, which were to be kept private. A very flimsy scheme it was; however, it was immediately executed, and the paper went on accordingly, under my name for several months.302

    As this account was written in 1771, it contains the inaccuracies that one would expect after a lapse of nearly half a century. Exactly when Benjamin Franklin left Boston is not known, but perhaps the following advertisement, inserted in the New-England Courant of 30 September, 1723 (p. 2/2), affords a clue:

    †*† James Franklin, Printer in Queen-Street, wants a likely lad for an Apprentice.

    Isaiah Thomas asserted that the publication of the New-England Courant “ceased in the beginning of the year 1727.” In the issue of 7 May, 1726, was printed this notice (p. 2/2):

    †*† This Paper (No. 249) begins a Quarter, and those who have not paid for the last, are desired to send in their Money, or pay it to the Bearer.

    For some reason which is not explained, no paper was issued on May 14, the issue of 21 May being dated, “From Saturday May 7. to Saturday May 21. 1726.” The last known issue is that of 4 June, 1726. It contained no notice of discontinuance. It is not known who published and printed the paper after Benjamin Franklin left Boston.

    The issue of 11 February, 1723, has frequently been reprinted, notably in Dr. Samuel A. Green’s Ten Fac-simile Reproductions Relating to Various Subjects (1903), and, from an original in the British Museum, in the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company in the autumn of 1906.

    The bibliographical details relating to the New-England Courant are arranged under the following four heads:

    • I. Titles.
    • II. Days of Publication.
    • III. Publishers, Printers, and Places of Publication.
    • IV. Devices.


    1721, August 7: The New-England Courant.


    Monday: 1721, August 7.

    Saturday: 1725, June 19.


    1721, August 7–1723, February 4: Published and printed by James Franklin303 in Queen Street.

    1723, February 11–1724, July 20: Published and printed by Benjamin Franklin in Queen Street.

    1724, July 27–1726, June 4: Published and printed by Benjamin Franklin in Union Street.