Grateful American® Foundation

What was the first successful newspaper in the US?

April 24th

Image from the collections of the Massachusettts Historical Society.April 24, 1704 — Formed today was the Boston News-Letter, the first successful newspaper in the North American colonies. A small single sheet of 8×12 inches, articles were printed on both sides; it was published weekly until 1776.

Its editor and publisher was John Campbell, a bookseller who had been appointed postmaster in 1702. And active writer who regularly sent “news letters” of European occurrences to New England governors for a year or more, Campbell thought it would save him a little trouble to print and distribute them to the masses.

However, the News-Letter was eavily subsidized by the British government, and all copy was approved by the governor, so distribution was limited.

During its early years, the News-Letter was filled primarily with articles from London journals describing English politics and the details of European wars. As the only newspaper in the colonies at the time, it also reported on the sensational death of Blackbeard the pirate in hand-to-hand combat in 1718.

The News-Letter had no competition in Boston until December 21, 1719 — when the first issue of the Boston Gazette was launched by Ben Franklin, his older brother James, and Benjamin Edes, a journalist and political agitator.

At the time, even the two largest cities in British America — Philadelphia and New York — lacked their own newspapers, until 1719 and 1725 respectively.

The News-Letter continued to be popular, however, and also became a legacy handed down to family members. In 1707, a printer named John Allen took over the printing of the News-Letter, and assumed the role of editor from 1722, focusing more on domestic events. After his death in 1732, his son-in-law John Draper, also a printer, took the paper’s helm. He enlarged the paper to four pages and filled it with news from throughout the colonies.

Upon his death in 1762, his son, Richard, became editor. An ardent loyalist who firmly supported the mother country in the stormy times of the 1770s, he ran the News-Letter until his death in 1774. His widow, Margaret Green Draper, shared his sympathies and published the newspaper until the British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776 — taking her with them. The British government gave Margaret Draper a life pension.

Words of Wisdom

They (the Indians) killed and scalped Mr. Bradford, His wife and Mr. Mills' wife and killed her children. Two of Mr Bradford's boys they carried off prisoners, wounded one of his daughters and a boy of Mills dangerously.

Joshua Bradford was grinding corn outside that morning and did not hear the warning shots. Since he had earlier that winter saved the life of the the Chief when he was drowning, Joshua did not fear the local Indians.Sarah hid with one of her younger siblings, but two of her brothers were taken captive and brought into Canada. It is said that many years later the two boys returned to the family, but did not like living with them and returned to the Indian Villages that they had been raised in.

It is also said that their daughter Melatiah had hid under the bed with her brother, Elisha. when Elisha cried, she crept out and dashed toward the fort. The Indians saw her as they were leaving and started in pursuit. One gave her an ugly wound which was supposed to have severed two lower ribs from the spine. A soldier from the fort where the other children had taken refuge, succeeded in rescuing her.

— From "The Boston News-Letter," June 1, 1758

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