First U.S. Newspaper

Today in 1704, the first continuously-published newspaper in the United States, the Boston News-Letter, was published for the first time.  David Sloan tells us about an incident that was not published in the Boston News-Letter and tries to answer why it was not seen as news that’s fit to print:

“As Governor Joseph Dudley rode in his carriage on a narrow road on the outskirts of Boston, he encountered a cart laden with wood and driven by two young farmers. Dudley’s son waved them to the side and ordered them to let the carriage pass. The farmers were as good men as the governor, they yelled back, and refused to move aside. Incensed, Governor Dudley jumped from the carriage, drew his sword, and lunged at the farmers. He was not an accomplished swordsman, and one of them easily disarmed him, snatched the sword, and broke it in half. Dudley screamed insults, grabbed a whip, and lashed at one of the farmers. Still in a tirade, he had them both arrested, charged them with treason, and threatened to send them to England for trial. Eventually, a sympathetic judge released them on bond, and the Massachusetts court refused to prosecute them.

The episode became the talk of Boston, especially after a pamphlet provided a detailed account. It added one more reason for most of the local residents to despise Dudley. If any of them wished to find any details of the encounter in Boston’s lone newspaper, however, they were disappointed. The News-Letter, published by the postmaster John Campbell, printed not a single word. Indeed, in its silence on this and other unfavorable affairs involving Dudley may be found the central feature of Campbell and the News-Letter — a silence made notable because the News-Letter holds the distinction of having been America’s first continuously published newspaper. ….

John Campbell…. began the paper, the Boston News-Letter, without any conception of its being a true newspaper or of exercising any publishing independence. Publishing a quasi-official report in the form of a newspaper was, he believed, one of the responsibilities required by his position as postmaster. He thus looked on himself not as an energetic editor but as an official conduit of information and on the newspaper as a formal, chronological record of news items. Tied so plainly to the unpopular Dudley administration, he never gained the confidence of the populace, and he found that his life as a publisher was an ongoing, tiresome struggle for mere existence.”

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