The First Newspaper in the Colonies
While newspapers are an integral part of modern life, the idea of a published, circulating paper containing news did not begin to come into its own until the mid-1600s in London, England. Those early newspapers were for members of the wealthier classes, who had the education and the leisure to read. The first newspaper in the New World, titled Publick Occurrences, was published in Boston, Massachusetts on September 25, 1690. Intended as a monthly publication for the general public, it was published without a license from the authorities. Its contents greatly offended those in power and caused such a public uproar that it was immediately discontinued after the one issue. Publick Occurrences was the forerunner of a new time, however, and in the 1700s, newspapers began to spring up in the American colonies.
The Earliest Connecticut Newspapers
The first Connecticut newspapers were published along the Connecticut shoreline during the 1750s. Members of the Green family, especially Thomas Green (1735-1812) either worked on or helped found each of Connecticut’s first three newspapers, the Connecticut Gazette in 1755 at New Haven, the New London Summary in 1758, and the Connecticut Courant of Hartford, the first inland newspaper, in 1764.
In the brief histories of Connecticut’s six earliest newspapers, below, as printers of the Green family are named, you may click on each to connect with genealogical information on that person. Each person has also been given a number in parentheses following his name. This corresponds to his number in an overview of the Green family of printers.
In all, six Connecticut newspapers started before the Revolutionary War, and by the close of the eighteenth century, over thirty other newspapers were in existence. Only a handful lasted more than a few years. The Connecticut Courant still survives today as the Hartford Courant, making it the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States.
1755 Connecticut Gazette (New Haven)
Connecticut’s earliest known newspaper was the Connecticut Gazette of New Haven. Mainly a military record reporting the events of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Connecticut Gazette began publication on April 12, 1755. James Parker of New York owned and published it. His business partner was Benjamin Franklin, who enjoyed helping printers outside of Philadelphia (Franklin’s town) start newspapers.
The Gazette was not Parker’s main publication. In 1755 he published ten religious pamphlets, five almanacs, two New York newspapers, and 19 other works, in addition to the Gazette. He rarely visited New Haven and left the work of running the paper to the manager of the Connecticut Gazette, John Holt.
John Holt was manager of the Gazette from its beginning until 1760. In that year he turned management of the paper over to Thomas Green (5) a member of a large family of printers and publishers who made extensive contributions to early newspaper publishing in Connecticut and throughout the colonies. The Gazette was suspended in 1764, as the French-Indian War was winding down. It resumed in July 1765 under Benjamin Mecom, nephew of Benjamin Franklin. Mecom was not a good businessman, and the paper did not thrive, lasting only until February 1768.
1758 New London Summary (New London)
Timothy Green (3) the uncle of Thomas Green, began The New-London Summary, or The Weekly Advertiser in August of 1758. This, the second newspaper published in Connecticut, was also chiefly a war journal. Timothy Green (3) died early in October 1763, and the newspaper was discontinued. However, it was immediately followed by the New London Gazette, published by the nephew of Timothy Green (3), also named Timothy Green (6).
1763 New London Gazette (New London)
Thomas Green’s brother, Timothy Green (6) took over the Connecticut Gazette business in 1763 and changed its name to the New London Gazette. In those days governments wanted to regulate the output of the presses. Many newspapers were published “by authority”. The presence of what looks like a royal coat of arms on the masthead suggests this newspaper received the official sanction.
1764 Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
Thomas Green (5) moved from New Haven to Hartford and began the Connecticut Courant in 1764. He was not there many years before transferring management of the newspaper to Ebenezer Watson in 1767 and going back to New Haven to join another brother Samuel Green (7). When Ebenezer died in 1777, his wife Hannah Bunce Watson published the paper, making her the first woman editor in Connecticut and one of the first dozen women editors in the American colonies.
1767 Connecticut Journal (New Haven)
Thomas Green (5) and Samuel Green (7) founded the Connecticut Journal in New Haven in 1767. Later Thomas Green, Jr. (8) joined the firm and continued the publication. With many changes in title and management, this newspaper continued into the twentieth century. In 1987 the Journal-Courier was finally absorbed by the New Haven Register.
1773 Norwich Packet (Norwich)
The Norwich Packet was begun by Alexander and James Robertson and John Trumbull. The original title was the Norwich Packet, And the Connecticut, Massachusetts, New-Hampshire, and Rhode-Island Weekly Advertiser. Alexander and James Robertson were Loyalists and left for New York early in 1776, leaving John Trumbull as the sole publisher. Trumbull published the Norwich Packet until about 1807, when it was continued by his son under the title Connecticut Centinel.
Publication Processes of the Early Connecticut Newspapers
The Problem and Politics of Paper
Obtaining paper was a major problem of colonial printers. All paper was imported from England until 1691. In that year, William Rittenhouse and his son, Nicholas, produced the first paper in the American colonies in their mill near Germantown, Pennsylvania. Paper mills slowly sprang up in each of the colonies. Thomas Short operated Connecticut’s first printing press in 1709 in New London, but there was no paper mill in the colony until 1766, when Christopher Leffingwell opened his in Norwich, Connecticut. This made Connecticut the seventh colony to have a paper mill. The next Connecticut paper mills were in Manchester (ca. 1774) and New Haven (1776).
The actual process of making paper was long and laborious, done by hand. First, cotton and linen rags had to be collected. Men called “ragpickers” went from house to house, asking for rags, which they then sold to paper mills. Newspapers also ran ads requesting that people bring in their old rags, which the newspaper sold to the paper mills, then receiving a discount on the paper needed for publication. Sometimes the need for paper was great, and newspapers offered special incentives to attract rag business. One printer even offered half-price books in exchange for rags.
The rags collected were first taken to a paper mill, where they were cut up and placed in a vat with a special solution, and left to soak. When the solution had broken down the cloth fibers until they were only fine pieces floating in the solution, a framed screen was lowered into the vat. The screen, when it was lifted up out of the solution by a laborer, contained a thin, wet, matted blanket of fibers. This was carefully and quickly flipped onto a piece of felt to dry. The worker then laid down another piece of felt and took his screen back to the solution to make another piece of paper. A good worker could make only so many pieces of paper an hour, which made paper a precious commodity. The first paper machines did not begin to appear until the 1830s, and wood pulp was not used in paper until after 1860.
The establishment of paper mills in America created political tensions with Great Britain. While the colonists wanted to manufacture their own paper and cloth, English merchants who exported these commodities saw a lucrative market about to dry up. To protect its merchants, England continued to limit these industries in America, which irritated the colonists. Some of the Stamp Acts, which further angered the colonists and helped lead to the Revolutionary War, involved a special tax on imported paper. When the Revolutionary War broke out and imports of paper and cloth were banned, publishing anything became difficult.
Printing Presses and Distribution
The first printing press in the American colonies was in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638. The idea of newspaper publication did not begin to develop seriously in Connecticut or the other New England colonies until the mid-1700s. The newspaper publisher purchased his paper from a paper mill. Once paper arrived at the printer’s press, the actual publication began.
Each word printed was set up by hand, letter by letter, using individual blocks of type, placed in a special frame, until the entire text for one page was laid out. A sheepskin ball, tightly stuffed with wool, was dipped in the ink and then rubbed on the type form. The printer laid the inked form on the waist-high printing base or “bed” of the wooden printing press. He then laid a clean sheet of piece paper on the inked form and, using a lever-operated screw, brought a metal plate or ” platen” down to press the paper into the form and so impressed the ink on the paper. One side of one sheet of paper was then completed. Two hundred impressions or “pulls” per hour was considered very good work.
Distribution of the final product was usually by carrier, often the printer’s apprentice. Subscribers who had the paper delivered to their homes were charged a fee. Sometimes the news carrier had to advertise to remind his customers to pay his fee. Outside of town, the post rider was the main distributor of newspapers. The post, or mail, came in once a week in the early days. Often the printer was also post-master and would see that newspapers were carried free of charge from office to office.
Getting the News: A Continuing Challenge
Printers relied on correspondents for the news they published. What appeared in the paper depended on what letters were received by the printer that week. The staple of the early newspapers was military news, first from the French and Indian War, later from the Revolutionary War. After the Revolution, newspaper publishers relied on the activities of the legislature for news, and often promoted their own political opinions. Town news was contributed by citizens or perhaps by the printer himself. Aside from politics and law, articles could be about anything current in the community, from the mundane to the sensational, the latter including reports of whirlwinds, tornadoes, floods, murders, seductions and theft. Local people who wished to remain anonymous sometimes submitted articles or poems, signing them with pen-names, such as “Censor”, “Plato”, and “Friend of Liberty”.
News was not really current, unless it happened in the area of the newspaper. Packet boats traveled up and down the American coast, bringing local news from port to port. It took two to four weeks for European news to reach London and another four to six weeks for the same news to get across the Atlantic. “Breaking” news, in 1759, was when Timothy Green published an extra edition of The New London Summary, or The Weekly Advertiser to inform his public of the capture of Quebec a month earlier. This capture was a momentous victory for the English, and Green had only just received a letter describing the event.
The printer also copied articles from other newspapers. Newspaper publishers all had the same ongoing need for news. They commonly sent their newspapers to each other, in order to get news from other parts of the country. When an article was taken from another newspaper, that newspaper was credited, and so received extra publicity. Everyone benefited from this type of exchange.
One very large group of exchanged newspapers received by a Connecticut editor has survived to the present. Gideon Welles became editor of the Hartford Times in 1827, and maintained a sizable newspaper exchange list. He remained with the newspaper until 1836 and continued to contribute to it until 1846. It is because of him that the Connecticut State Library owns an interesting collection of newspapers from around the US for the years 1825-1840. The Welles Collection includes 676 newspaper titles. As well as east coast newspapers from Maine to South Carolina, the collection has various newspapers from Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
Survival into the 1880s and the Emergence of the Dailies
Long-lived newspapers, like the Connecticut Journal, were rare in the 18th century. It was difficult to distribute the papers, and it was difficult to get the news. The concept of advertising as one of the main financial supports of a newspaper had not yet arrived, and the earliest papers did not have many ads. Over 30 newspapers were published in Connecticut before 1800, but only a handful lasted any length of time.
Those that survived did so in part by keeping current with the times. The titles of Connecticut newspapers often reflect the interests of an era. In 1783, when the colonies were at war with Britain, fighting for freedom, The Freeman’s Chronicle, or, The American Advertiser was being published in Hartford. In 1969, a growing awareness of the political power of minorities was reflected in the title of the Hartford newspaper Other Voice.
The earliest Connecticut newspapers had been monthly or weekly publications, as publishers most often got news by letter or word of mouth. The early 1800s saw improvements in communications, and news became easier to obtain. Daily newspaper publication began in 1832 with the New Haven Daily Herald, followed by the Daily New Havener in 1833 and the New England Daily Review of Hartford in the same year. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Connecticut had ten dailies, over forty weeklies and three semi- or tri-weeklies. When the United States centennial arrived in 1876, nearly one hundred newspapers were being published in the state.
Connecticut Newspaper Publishing in the 1900s
Newspaper publishing reached its peak around the turn of the twentieth century when there were 150 different titles being produced. In 1900, the larger cities could support three or four dailies each: New Haven had three morning and three evening papers. During the twentieth century, the number of daily newspapers published dwindled from 46 dailies in 1900 to the 19 that exist today. Today, each of Connecticut’s largest cities has only one daily newspaper.
The number of Connecticut weekly publications, on the other hand, has remained relatively stable, except during the World War II era. Today, 42 weekly newspapers are being published, as many as there were at the turn of the past century. The major difference is that many of Connecticut’s weekly newspapers have been merged into conglomerates. Eight conglomerates within the state now publish a combined total of 42 weekly newspapers, and the Journal Register Company alone publishes 21 weeklies.
Originally prepared by the Connecticut Newspaper Project, Connecticut State Library, November, 1996. Revised by the History and Genealogy Unit, November, 2000.