- 1776 -- 1976 -
How News Was Spread 200 Years Ago
It was called Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick
Two hundred years ago news traveled only as fast as horsemen could carry it and news from Europe crossed the ocean slowly in sailing ships.
In towns and villages throughout New England, the most common method of communicating any information of importance was through the town crier. He rang his bell at every street corner and, with a "Hear Ye! Hear Ye!", cried out his news to listeners. You will recall that when the British soldiers were coming in 1775, Paul Revere mounted his horse and took off at a gallop to spread the news.
The first newspaper published in the American colonies was called Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick. It was issued in Boston in 1690 by Benjamin Harris, who had already been in trouble for bold publishing in England. His Boston paper was suppressed after the first issue.
No other newspaper was attempted until John Campbell began his Boston News-Letter in 1704. After that, other papers were attempted in Boston and some of them were successful. One of these was the New England Courant, begun in 1721 by James Franklin, who employed his younger brother, Benjamin, in his shop. Benjamin Franklin later published the very successful Pennsylvania Gazette in Philadelphia.
At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, there were 35 newspapers being published in the American colonies. During that war, newspapers gained in prestige because such leaders as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson deeply appreciated their help in building and maintaining a patriotic spirit among the citizens.
The early New England newspapers carried only a limited amount of news. They were reporting on events that had often happened weeks before. Still, these journals were the best source of information and people looked forward to receiving them. You can bet that when a sailing vessel from Boston arrived in Hampton, one of the first things people were anxious to obtain was a copy of the weekly Boston newspaper.