By R. J. Brown
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Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, the first newspaper published in America, was printed by Richard Pierce and edited by Benjamin Harris in Boston on September 25, 1690. It filled only 3 of 4 six by ten inch pages of a folded sheet of paper. The journalist stated in his his first (and only) issue that he would issue the newspaper "once a month, or, if any Glut of Occurrences happen, oftener."
Benjamin Harris's news was real news and was the first and last offered to Americans for many years. Publick Occurrences was brought to an end after only one issue by an outraged administration, claiming that it contained "reflections of a very high order." It was printed without authority. An aroused bureaucracy issued a broadside warning against future publications of any kind without "licence [sic] first obtained from those appointed by the Government to grant the same."
Fourteen years elapsed between the appearance of America's first and second newspapers. John Campbell, a bookseller appointed Postmaster of Boston, was the editor. His newspaper was the Boston News-Letter and the first issue was dated Monday, April 17 to Monday April 24, 1704. The pages were slightly larger than those of Publick Occurrences.
In the first issue of the News-Letter there was only one advertisement: "This News-Letter is to be continued Weekly, and all persons who have any lands, houses, tenements, farms, ships, vessels, goods, wares or merchandise to be sold or lett; or servants runaway, or goods Stoll [sic], or lost, may have the same inserted at a reasonable rate; From Twelve Pence to Five Shillings and not to exceed. Who may agree with Nicholas Boone for the same, at his shop next door to Major Davis's apothecary, in Boston, near the Old Meeting House. All persons in Town and Country may have the same News-Letter, Weekly, upon reasonable tearms [sic], agreeing with John Campbell, Post-Master, for the same." This newspaper was never very prosperous.
When William Brooker was appointed Postmaster to replace Campbell, Brooker wanted to continue the newspaper under the same title. Campbell held out and refused to authorize the use of the title News-Letter to anyone else. Brooker sidestepped the matter and called his newspaper the Boston Gazette which made its first appearance on December 21, 1719. Likely for this reason, there was great animosity between the two newspapers. An early issue of the News-Letter carried this editorial: "I pity the reader of the new paper; it is not fit reading for the people."
Seven months later, Philip Musgrave was awarded the position of Postmaster in Boston and replaced Brooker. At this time, James Franklin, the printer of the Gazette, was also replaced. Franklin wanted to start his own newspaper despite friends and family telling him that Boston already had enough newspapers (2) and a third could not survive. Despite this, Franklin went ahead and published his own newspaper, the New England Courant on August 19, 1721. It became the fourth newspaper published in America.
Campbell, in his News-Letter commented in one of his issues: "...The New England Courant... by Homo Unius Negotii, or Jack of All Trades, and, it would seem, Good at None... giving some very, very frothy fulsome Account of himself..." When James Franklin published an editorial criticizing the government for lack of interest in getting rid of pirates that were harassing shipping off the New England coast he was sent to prison. James' 13 year old brother and apprentice, Ben, took over the work of laying type, printing, and delivery of the issues. Six months later, James Franklin was forbidden to publish any more newspapers so the masthead now carried the name Ben Franklin as editor and publisher. Young Ben, now legally being free of being an apprentice, and not liking his brother James, ran away to New York and later to Philadelphia. The New England Courant kept publishing issues claiming Ben Franklin was editor and publisher until 1726 without anyone being the wiser.
The first issue of the third newspaper in America, the American Weekly Mercury, was published in Philadelphia and was dated December 22, 1719 -- one day after Brooker's first issue of the Boston Gazette. The page size was about nine by thirteen inches. The editor was Andrew Bradford. While early issues were primarily news from London and Europe, Bradford ventured forth in one issue and printed a mild comment against the General Assembly. He was quickly summoned by the Authority for a scolding. Despite the warning, Bradford slowing started publishing more and more local news.
The fifth newspaper in America, also published in Boston, was the New-England Journal and its first issue was March 20, 1727 and was edited by Samuel Kneeland. Following the lead of the Courant, the Journal featured the letters, essays, and verses of its readers.
The sixth newspaper in America was published November 8, 1725 and was the New York Gazette.
The seventh newspaper in America was published September 27, 1727 in Annapolis and was titled the Maryland Gazette. It was edited by William Parks.
The eighth newspaper in America was the Universal Instructor in all the Arts and Sciences; and Pennsylvania Gazette. It was edited by Samuel Keimer and the first issue was dated December 24, 1728. The first two issues were filled with extracts from the book Chamber's Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen. Less than one year later, Keimer sold his newspaper to Benjamin Franklin and his partner Hugh Meredith. The title was then shortened to the Pennsylvania Gazette and the first issue under this title was dated Thursday September 25th to Thursday October 2nd, 1729.
Although short-lived, the ninth newspaper in America was the South-Carolina Gazette, edited by Thomas Whitmarsh. The first issue was dated January 8, 1731 and printed in Charleston. When the publisher died in 1734, Lewis Timothy established another newspaper with the same title.
It becomes unclear just which newspaper was the tenth and eleventh newspaper published in America. The Weekly Rehearsal started as a magazine in 1731 but sometime in 1732 -- some sources state 1733 -- Thomas Fleet purchased the publication and turned it into a newspaper. (In 1735 the title was changed to the Boston Evening Gazette.) The exact date of the first newspaper issue is unknown. Eleazer Phillips began publishing the South-Carolina Weekly Journal, in 1732. Again, the exact date of the first issue is unknown.