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Originally sent to JHistory, the journalism historians' mailing list,
Tue, 23 Mar 2004, in anticipation of the 300th anniversary of the
founding of The Boston News-Letter (America's first continuing newspaper).
---

JOHN CAMPBELL AND THE BOSTON NEWS-LETTER

by David Sloan

The first Boston News-Letter front pageAs 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.[1]

   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.

    What were the motivations behind Campbell's decision to publish a newspaper? Why did he produce a newspaper of the nature of the News-Letter? What was his philosophy about the role of the newspaper and about his own duties? Considering the fact that the News-Letter holds the historical distinction that it does, surprisingly little historical effort has been devoted to answering such key questions.[2] Throughout the history of colonial Massachusetts, religion played a key, perhaps even the central role. It influenced social and political relations, and it provided the basis for much of the dynamic tension between government, the governed, and the press. The environment that the tension created exerted strong pressure on the nature of the News-Letter and Campbell. Campbell himself, however, was also one of the key ingredients. He was devoted to what he conceived as his duty to publish the newspaper. Had it not been for that sense of duty, the paltry financial support and other difficulties that he faced might very easily have resulted in the paper's early discontinuation.

    The religious environment in Massachusetts in 1704, the year of the founding of the News-Letter, was the result primarily of the influence of Puritanism; but the entrance of Anglicanism and its ties to the British crown and, consequently, to government authority, made the situation volatile. Puritans in Massachusetts successfully had resisted the intrusions of Anglicanism throughout most of the seventeenth century owing largely to popular opposition and to the talents of the Puritan clergy. Massachusetts, and particularly the town of Boston, remained safe from Anglican threats until the colony was made a royal province and on May 16, 1686, a ship brought Dudley to be interim governor of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Arriving on the same passage was the Rev. Robert Ratcliffe to conduct Episcopal services in Boston -- the equivalent, Puritans believed, of worshipping Baal. Expressing the Puritans' common abhorrence of Anglicanism, the cleric Cotton Mather wrote in his diary in November of that year: "The Common-Prayer-Worship [is] being sett up in this Country. I would procure and assist the Publication of a Discourse written by my Father, that shall enlighten the rising Generation, in the Unlawfulness of that Worship, and antidote them against Apostasy from the Principles of our First Settlement."[3] The Puritan leaders refused the Anglican churchmen's request that one of the local church buildings be made available for Anglican services, but the issue was soon forced with the arrival of Sir Edmund Andros, Dudley's successor, as royal governor of New England.

    Andros brought with him a communication from the king that "[w]e do here will and require and command that ... all persons ... specially [those] as shall be conformable to the rites of the Church of England be particularly countenanced and encouraged."[4] The new governor immediately demanded that Anglicans be allowed the use of the Old South Church building, but the Puritan ministers would agree only to permit the use of the Town House. Andros would not willingly submit to this affront to his faith and in March, on Good Friday, of the following year commanded that the South Church be opened. On Easter Sunday, the Anglicans took the building for their service and did not vacate it for the church's Puritan congregation until after 2 p.m.[5] Finally, the two sides reached an understanding by which the Puritans offered one of their churches for use of Anglican services on Sunday afternoons.

    Shortly thereafter, the Anglicans began construction of their own building, King's Chapel, "the Church of England as by law established." Inspired by that success, Edmund Randolph, one of the royal commissioners and a devout Anglican, proposed to King James that the costs of supporting the church and its minister be paid by the Puritan congregations.[6] That attitude -- as if being allowed to exist conferred on Anglicans special status -- was one, however, that the Puritans unremittingly opposed.[7]

    With the founding of King's Chapel, its members at once became energetic in the attempts to establish Anglicanism in Massachusetts. Their view was that the colonies were possessions of Britain and were therefore subject to that government in all matters civil and religious. Since the Church of England was the official church of the Britain, it therefore automatically was the established church in Britain's colonies. They were at the forefront of efforts to tie church matters to political ones and thus gain success. Following the Puritans' overthrow of the Andros government in 1689, one of the Anglicans' goals was to get a governor appointed who was an adherent of the Church of England and therefore would assist in the establishment efforts of the church. As one of the first official acts of King's Chapel, its minister, the Rev. Samuel Myles, and wardens petitioned the crown, who "has bin graciously pleased to have particular regard to the religion of the Church of England," to appoint a new colonial governor and council so that the Church might "grow up and flourish, and bring fruites of religion and loyalty, to the honour of Almighty God, and the promotion and increase of Your Majesty...."[8] Their hopes were satisfied with the appointment of Dudley, the Puritans' old nemesis, as governor in 1702.

   It was under him that Boston acquired its first continuing newspaper, published by the Anglican John Campbell. He 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.

    Joseph Dudley -- whose father, Thomas, was one of the most respected of the first generation of Massachusetts settlers -- had been suspect ever since his mission as colonial agent to England in 1682.[9] Having placed his own interests above those of the colonists, he returned to tell them that they must submit to the monarchy. In 1685 James II named him president of New England in the interim before Andros assumed the position. Under Andros, he served as chief justice of the superior court and acted as overseer of the press. Along with Andros he was imprisoned by Bostonians during the 1689 rebellion. Appointed governor of Massachusetts in 1702, he adhered uncompromisingly to a doctrine of submission to royal and, having converted to the Anglican church, episcopal authority. His duty of enforcing unpopular British laws combined with the enmities created during his first administration to make him the most disliked man in Massachusetts. He was, Cotton Mather declared, a "wretch."[10] Mather told Dudley forthrightly that the cause of his malfeasance was his "unhallowed hunger of riches," which caused him to "make his government more an engine to enrich himself than to befriend his country" and "to do many wrong, base, dishonorable things." [11]

    John Campbell had emigrated from Scotland to the colonies in the 1690s, become acquainted with some of Boston's most prominent figures, joined King's Chapel, and been appointed a constable in 1699.[12] In 1702, upon the death of his brother, Duncan Campbell, he was named to replace him as Massachusetts' postmaster.[13] The postal system had been set up in 1692 under a royal grant that gave it a monopoly on "any letters or Pacquets which shall be brought into... or shipped from" any colony from Virginia northward.[14] That monopoly, along with the franking privilege that each colonial postmaster enjoyed, made the position of postmaster ideal for obtaining information and for mailing letters and printed material.

    As part of his job, Campbell had the official task of writing letters of important information to the main office.[15] As postmaster in an important commercial center and seaport town, he was in a position to obtain news conveniently from incoming letters, newspapers, and ship crews. He circulated his handwritten "public news-letters" to postal officials, merchants, and other affluent colonists. The reports were chiefly about commerce, shipping, and governmental activities. Many subscribers shared them with non-subscribers, and some letters ended up posted in taverns and other public places for anyone who wished to learn about the news.

    With an increasing number of clients, Campbell found that producing the letters by hand required too much time. The increased numbers also convinced him that a sizable potential market of readers probably existed for the letters. So he decided to begin printing the letters and making them available for purchase by the general public. Producing a public news letter would require, he calculated, little more work than he already was doing. His franking privilege would help keep costs down. Furthermore, he expected that a newspaper could attract income through advertising. He worked out an arrangement with Nicholas Boone, a bookseller, to serve as the advertising solicitor.[16] He then contracted with Bartholomew Green to set one of the handwritten letters in type and print copies. Printing allowed Campbell to produce as many copies as he wanted at a much faster speed and more economical rate than he could ever imagine writing them with his quill.

    Thus on April 24, 1704, began the Boston News-Letter. This, the colonies' first continuous newspaper, was a half sheet of paper, about 8 x 12 inches, made up with two columns on each of its two pages. A machine-printed version of Campbell's handwritten news-letters, it did not use headlines and varied the type only slightly, thus presenting a monotone page, on which the news items were arranged without any graphic order or emphasis. Subsequent issues followed the same rigid page make-up with clock-like regularity. Foreign news was printed on the front page and part of the second and third pages, followed by colonial news, and finally local news on the last page.

    The News-Letter served as a semi-official report summarizing items of news for reader convenience. Many Bostonians came to rely on it for their own information and used it as a means of keeping friends in other towns supplied with news of Boston happenings.[17] It supplied readers with extracts of news of England and Europe, commercial shipping news, news of the seaboard colonies and the West Indies, governmental items, local Boston news, and occasionally sermons and philosophical discourses.

    The foreign news items, culled from English newspapers, were mostly political in nature. British government activities occupied the front page. Reprinted also were reports about the court intrigues and gossip, wars, and peace treaties. The London Flying Post and London Gazette were used most frequently as sources of news. To obtain the foreign news, Campbell would watch ships sailing up the harbor until they docked. Then he would run to the docks, hasten aboard to greet the captain, and secure the London papers.[18]

    Campbell's domestic news covered the seaport settlements with which Boston had business and other contacts, from Nova Scotia to Charleston, South Carolina. Most of the news was about the arrival and departure of ships, and other marine news. He received his domestic news through the colonial post. Because transportation was slow and the post ran only weekly out of Boston, the reports almost always were at least a fortnight old. When winter snows hampered travel, they were older.[19] Nevertheless, the trade news was important to shippers, officials, farmers who had products and goods to ship or merchandise to buy, and businessmen who owned the ships or had investments in them. Adding excitement and drama to the News-Letter's pages were accounts of fights with pirates and French privateers who infested the waters of the Atlantic and of warfare against the Indians who prowled outside the settlements. Functioning as a journal of public affairs, the News-Letter reported on the activities of colonial government and the assembly. It also laconically summarized such occurrences as deaths, disease, fire, and floods that could stir people's emotions. It carried, however, little local news of Boston and the immediate neighborhood. The stories that it did publish formed a weekly chronicle of Boston events: disease, natural deaths, executions of pirates, religious news, official court news, and political news. Of the political news, the governor's activities always made front page stories -- an exception to Campbell's practice of relegating local news to the back.

    Historians frequently have suggested that colonial newspapers downplayed local news on the assumption that local residents already knew what had happened in town. News of Dudley's fight with the two farmers, for example, already would have been much talked about in taverns and probably superseded by other more recent topics by the time it would have appeared in Campbell's weekly medium. Such an assumption about colonial publishers' reason for not publishing local news must be approached with skepticism. Today, for example, many weekly newspapers publish in towns smaller than Boston was in 1704, and yet their emphasis is on local news. Furthermore, today the means of communication -- such as the telephone -- in a small town are much better than in 1704, enabling local residents to keep informed by word of mouth better than than they could have in the eighteenth century. In light of such considerations, a better explanation of the paucity of local news in colonial papers is simply that an emphasis on local news was not the standard journalism practice of the time. When colonial Americans started newspapers, they usually adopted the practices of the time, and the standard practice was to emphasize non-local and particularly foreign news.

   With the-News-Letter, however, as with most other colonial newspapers, one finds that some local news was printed. In the case of the News-Letter, the local news that was omitted was that which involved Dudley and his supporters unfavorably. Campbell thus appears to have had partisan motives for news decisions. As for other colonial newspapers, decisions about running news of local events appear to have been based normally on the proprietors' judgment about what would be of interest to local readers, thus accounting for a mix of foreign, domestic, and local news.

    Campbell was so conscientious in providing a complete chronicle of news as to be inflexible. He cherished the foreign news so much that he would not throw away any part, however old it might be. He tried to carry all items as a "thread of occurrence," running a brief summary of the important events and then publishing serially all the items he had on hand. Ever attentive to foreign happenings, incoming boats, and local events, he attempted to include as much in each issue as space allowed, but the weekly half-page simply could not hold all he wished to relay. The result was that, as time passed by, the News-Letter lagged further and further behind. The news items were so stale, a year old in some instances, that Cotton Mather called them "antiquities."[20]

    Criticized for the News-Letter's mundaneness, Campbell stated his editorial policy as having "always been to give no offence, not meddling with things out of his Province."[21] It was this spirit that prompted him to shy away from controversial political and social issues. He published the newspaper with permission from the Dudley administration, with each issue prominently displaying the line "Printed by Authority."[22] Producing the newspaper was, he believed, a responsibility of his position, and he thought of his own function as that of the government's provider of information. He never thought of being an independent, imaginative editor whose role was to scrutinize government action or analyze issues or indulge in controversy. As a friend of Dudley and many of his associates,[23] it was natural that he sided with government positions. On only one occasion was he reprimanded for offending authorities, and he willingly apologized.[24]

   Most of the important issues facing Bostonians centered around contentious differences between Dudley and the townspeople. Campbell, however, had no wish to give attention to the dissensions in the News-Letter. As a result, he failed to cover many of the major events that were shaping Boston and that were of greatest interest to its citizens. This deficiency was especially noticeable in political events. In the early 1700s, Massachusetts confronted a variety of critical issues, ranging from the ongoing and acrimonious controversies between Anglicans and Puritans, to frontier defenses, the issuance of paper currency, taxation, the imbalance of trade with Great Britain, the dispute over a private banking system, a struggle for more autonomy from royal power, and a fight between the mercantile class and the old charter party. The News-Letter kept clear of these controversies. It also turned a blind eye on questionable and controversial activities of Dudley and his friends, including such actions as Dudley's high-handed political tactics with opponents; his acrimonious efforts to have his salary increased; a mob's attack on the grain warehouses of Andrew Belcher, a merchant friend of Campbell; the open flaunting of an adulterous affair by Dudley's mercantile associate, Arthur Lawson, which enraged Bostonians; and a trial in which Lawson and other merchants were convicted of selling English supplies to enemy troops in Canada and in which charges were made that Dudley himself was involved. While pamphleteers argued over these episodes incessantly, the pages of the News-Letter could have led a reader to believe they never happened.

    Because of its news treatment and other reasons, the News-Letter struggled. Although receiving occasional government subsidies, Campbell faced hard times almost perpetually. The number of subscriptions remained small, and advertising volume never provided substantial income. With a circulation of fewer than 300 copies, Campbell frequently called upon the public and officials for support. Subscribers seemed to have been habitually tardy, sometimes by more than a year, in paying their bills; and Campbell repeatedly had to publish pleas for payment.[25] Most of his calls seem to have gone unrequited.

    Part of the problem was that some Bostonians simply found Campbell's writing graceless and the paper dull. Cotton Mather, although a reader, ridiculed it as "our paltry news-letter.[26] More damaging, however, was the knowledge that the News-Letter was the official record for the unpopular and, some thought, immoral Dudley regime. Mather's statements to acquaintances that the "filthy and foolish" News-Letter provided only "a thin sort of diet" were so harsh as to appear motivated by more than the paper's dullness.[27] Most of the Puritan citizenry and Dudley's other political opponents held the News-Letter in low regard. Opponents such as Cotton and Increase Mather produced pamphlets attacking the Dudley administration and its Anglican supporters. Ministers preached on the necessity for public officials to follow Biblical standards in the conduct of local affairs. In spite of commercialism and other changes taking place in Boston society, Puritan traditions still were strong enough to provoke public anger against Dudley's vanity, government corruption, the British monarchy's efforts to expand its control over the colony, and the exertions of Boston's small Anglican minority to gain favored status.

    Still, Campbell persevered. He displayed a tenacious determination to carry out his arduous publishing duties despite the continuing problems. Revenues were barely enough to pay costs, and Campbell gave his "Labour for nothing."[28] Committed to fulfilling what he considered to be a public obligation, he worked conscientiously at the paper "(according to the Talent of my capacity and Education; ...) in giving a true and genuine account of all Matters of Fact, both Foreign and Domestick, as comes any way Attested...."[29] He made periodic pleas to the public for support, while promising that he would continue even if the small number of subscribers did not increase.[30] The News-Letter, troublesome and never prosperous, provided no more than a small source of income; and an individual less dedicated to his duties than Campbell might have stopped publication on any number of occasions.

    The situation, difficult as it was, grew worse in 1718. Campbell was replaced with another postmaster, William Brooker. Campbell's philosophy about operating the News-Letter as if it were an official journal led his successor to assume that the newspaper was a part of the postmaster's position. Campbell, however, refused to give the paper to Brooker, and the two quarreled. Campbell was denied use of the mail for sending the paper to subscribers.[31] Some subscribers were no longer able to obtain the News-Letter, and the government was deprived of its journal.

    Brooker thereupon decided to start another newspaper, publishing the first issue of the Boston Gazette on December 21, 1719. When, in September of the following year, another postmaster was appointed to replace him, Brooker surrendered the newspaper to him. The Gazette became the organ of the postmaster and, it was assumed, of the colonial governor as well. When Brooker's successor, Philip Musgrave, was replaced in 1726, he likewise gave the paper to his successor. Thus the newspaper continued through a succession of five postmasters.[32]

   Replaced as postmaster, Campbell nevertheless continued to publish the News-Letter. His approach, however, began to change. Whereas formerly he had moaned to readers about the paper's difficulties, he now told them that the subscription list was long, and he invited them to compare the quality of his newspaper with its competitor.[33] He began to insert his personality more, and along with the short summary news items he always had carried he now began including occasional essays and observations.[34] Piqued that Campbell had kept the News-Letter, Brooker printed an article stating that Campbell had been fired from the postmaster's job.[35] That charge led to an exchange of personal insults between the two,[36] and it was not long before they were taking sides on public issues. Generally, the Gazette under Brooker and Musgrave favored the interests of Governor Samuel Shute,[37] while the News-Letter took the side of the assembly.

    Neither newspaper could be accused, however, of being a tool exclusively for one side. Political issues were intricate, and both papers frequently published material from contending sides. Some material was paid for as "advertisements" by the authors, whereas some was published as straight news matter. Cotton Mather's attitude toward the News-Letter had moderated, for example, and he wrote a number of pieces for it.[38] In 1722 he began publishing a nine-part series on "The State of Religion," which among other things criticized Anglicanism -- despite Campbell's Anglican membership. Because of that criticism and remarks the essay made about the British monarchy, the government proceeded against Mather as a "publisher of dangerous libels."[39] On the other hand, in the acrimonious public debate over smallpox inoculation in 1721-1722, it was the Gazette which served as the primary outlet for Mather and his supporters.

    Contentions between the royal governor and the elected representatives came to a head in 1720, and the dispute dealt the death blow to the governor's licensing of the press. The News-Letter and the Gazette played active roles in publicizing the contentions. Royal governors never had been fully able to control publishing in Massachusetts, as the lively pamphleteering scene had shown, but they still officially retained the authority given by the British crown to oversee printing and prohibit obnoxious publishing. In November 1719 Governor Shute delivered an address in which he blamed the colony for failing to manage forests as required for the construction of masts on naval ships.[40] The House of Representatives responded that the problem lay not with the colony but with the forest surveyor, who was appointed by the crown.[41] Shute then asked the House not to include that passage in its printed proceedings. The House refused, declaring that since the governor's criticism had been printed, it was appropriate that the response should be also. Shute replied that if the passage were not omitted, he would use his power as licenser of the press to prevent its publication. His instruction to Bartholomew Green, the official government printer, was sufficient to dissuade him from doing the work, but House members from Boston contracted with Nicholas Boone to proceed with the printing. Upon asking his council what action he should take, Shute discovered that council members were divided.[42]

    The governor and the representatives continued at loggerheads over a variety of issues, the main one being the respective authority that belonged to each, during the remainder of Shute's stormy term of office, and both sides used the Gazette and News-Letter extensively. When in March of 1721 Shute proposed a law to give him through legislation the authority to license printing, the House replied that licensing would raise "innumerable inconveniences and danger" for the colony and that punishment after publication would be preferable. [43] When Shute's council then approved a bill for preventing and punishing libels, the House refused to pass it. The entire disagreement between the governor and the House was aired in the pages of the Gazette and News-Letter[44]and in an array of pamphlets.

    Because of their moderation, however, neither the News-Letter nor the Gazette could satisfy the combative High Church faction in Kings Chapel, and it was the dissatisfaction of that small group that provided the motive for a third newspaper, the New-England Courant. The Courant brought the differences between radical Anglicanism and Boston Puritanism to a head. Ever since the founding of King's Chapel, its members had hoped that Anglicanism would be established as the official church in Massachusetts. Since Anglicans were greatly outnumbered and their presumptions and practices held in contempt by most of the populace, they had found it necessary to act with a degree of prudence. With the advent of John Checkley, however, they gained a zealous spokesman who did not shrink from controversy but relished it. Seeking a forum from which he could attack Puritanism, in 1721 he decided upon the tack of founding the Courant.[45] It brought a new aggressive, virulent, vituperative style to Boston journalism.

   The following year, after eighteen years of publishing the Boston News-Letter, Campbell finally sold it to Bartholomew Green in 1722. Campbell was appointed a justice of the peace the following year[46] and died in 1724.[47] Under Green and his successors, the News-Letter remained a supporter of the royal authorities and a straightforward, innocuous journal.[48]

NOTES

[1] The Diary of Samuel Sewall, 1674-1729, M. Halsey Thomas, ed. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973), December 7, 1705, and subsequent entries detail the legal proceedings.

[2] Most of the work that has been done on Campbell and the News-Letter appears in biographical encyclopedia and as biographical entries in surveys of printing. The best researched and fullest study is Elsie Hebert's "John Campbell," in Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Newspaper Journalists 1690-1872 (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1985), 91-97. Hebert, however, misconstrues several key points, thus resulting in errant explanations of vital features of the accounts of both Campbell and his newspaper. She emphasizes the suppressive nature of government authority rather than Campbell's support of the authorities, she equates Cotton Mather and other Puritan leaders with the authorities when in fact they opposed them, she assumes that the Puritans as the authorities were suppressive of printing, and she assumes that Campbell was a Puritan when in fact he was a member of the opposition Anglican church. Generally, her study is written from a perspective that uses present-day views about journalism, press freedom, the press-vs.-government relationship, and other related concepts to attempt to come to an understanding of newspaper printing in the early 1700s. Colonial "journalism,"
however, did not operate on the principles essential to journalism today.

[3] November 11, 1686, Diary of Cotton Mather, 1681-1708 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 1911), ser. 7 vv. 7-8.

[4] Massachusetts Historical Collections III: 7 and 148.

[5] The diarist Sewall recorded, "'Twas a sad sight to see how full the street was with people gazing and moving to and fro, because they had not entrance into the house." (March 29, 1687, Diary of Samuel Sewall, 136.)

[6] "I humbly represent to your Grace," he wrote, "that the three meeting houses [Puritan churches] in Boston might pay twenty shillings a week a piece, out of their contributions, towards defraying our Church charges." (Hutchinson, Collections, 549, quoted in Sanford H. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America: A History [New York: Macmillan, 1902], 231.)

[7] In Randolph's earlier proposal to the Puritans themselves, they had rebuffed him. "They tell us," he explained to the king, "those that hire him [the Anglican minister] must maintain him, as they maintain their own minister, by contributions." Hutchinson, Collections, 549.

[8] "The humble Address of Your Majesty's most loyal and dutiful Subjects of the Church of England in Boston ...," quoted in Henry Wilder Foote, Annals of King's Chapel, 2 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1896), I: 102.

[9] The fullest study of Dudley is Everett Kimball's sympathetic The Public Life of Joseph Dudley (New York: Longmans, Green, 1911).

[10] Diary of Cotton Mather, June 16, 1702.

[11] Mather to Gov. Joseph Dudley, January 20, 1708, Kenneth Silverman, comp., Selected Letters of Cotton Mather (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971), 78-79.

[12] For church membership, see Foote, Annals of King's Chapel, Vol. I: 173. Samuel Sewall recorded in his diary for December 19, 1699, that Campbell was one of seventeen guests in Sewall's home attended by, among others, Gov. Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont. Campbell's appointment as constable is recorded in Robert Francis Seybolt, The Town Officials of Colonial Boston 1634-1775 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1939), 97.

[13] Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 3d series, Vol. VII: 55-58, 60, 65.

[14] The grant was given to Thomas Neale, a favorite of the royal court. He never visited the colonies and appointed the Scotchman Andrew Hamilton his deputy to administer the system. The grant is quoted in Harry Myron Konweiser, Colonial and Revolutionary Posts; A History of the American Postal Systems (Richmond, Va.: Dietz Printing Co., 1931), 16-17. See also Wesley Everett Rich, The History of the United States Post Office to the Year 1829 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1924), 128.

[15] George Emery Littlefield, Early Boston Booksellers, 1642-1711 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1969; reprint of the 1900 edition), 134.

[16] The initial issue of the News-Letter carried this notice: "[All] Persons who have any Houses, Lands, Tenements, Farmes, Ships, Vessels, Goods, Wares, or Merchandizers, &c. to be sold or Lett: or Servants Runaway: or Goods Stoll 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'...." Boston News-Letter, April 17-24, 1704. Boone's association with the newspaper lasted four weeks.

[17] Samuel Sewall, the Boston judge, may have been typical. Frequently in his diary he made references to the content of the News-Letter and his having sent the paper to acquaintances. See Diary of Samuel Sewall, June 12, 1704; September 19, 1706; April 3, September 30, 1708; December 6, 1714; June 4, October 15, 1716; March 18, 1717; March 11, June 10, 1718; April 14, November 7, 1720; November 18, 1721; March 19, 1722. See also Silverman, Selected Letters of Cotton Mather, 86, 219.

[18] News-Letter, November 5, December 2, 1706; April 23-30, 1711; August 3-10, 1719. For a detailed discussion of transatlantic travel and its impact on news, see Ian K. Steele, The English Atlantic 1675-1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

[19] The News-Letter of February 5, 1705, contained this description of the road conditions: "The East post came in Saturday ... who says there is no Travailing with horses, especially beyond Newbory, but with snowshoes, which our people do much use now that never did before. The West post likewise says 'tis very bad Travailing."

[20] Cotton Mather, October 15, 1716, Selected Letters of Cotton Mather, 219.

[21] Boston News-Letter, August 14, 1721.

[22] The paper continued to carry that legend during the administrations of Gov. Elizeus Burges (1715-1716) and Samuel Shute (1716-1728) until July 11, 1720, after Campbell was replaced as postmaster in 1719.

[23] Some evidence of relationships can be gathered from pallbearer services. Campbell served at the funerals of Roger Lawson, John Foy, John Frizell, and Sarah Williams. At Campbell's funeral, the pallbearers were Samuel Sewall, Nathaniel Byfield, Andrew Belcher, Daniel Oliver, Judge John Menzies, and Capt. Steel (John or Thomas). Diary of Samuel Sewall, April 13, 1709; November 25, 1716; April 15, 1723; March 7, 1727; March 4, 1728. All except Sewall and Oliver were members of King's Chapel, and several were prominent Dudley allies.

[24] The News-Letter of October 29, 1705, had accused Quakers of misrepresenting conditions in Massachusetts. Campbell promised to the Council of Trade and Plantations in London that in the future he would "carefully forbear reflecting upon those people, who I observe are very well and easily treated by the Government here, and for ought I know are peaceable in their places." Campbell to Wm. Popple, Council of Trade and Plantations, Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, Vol. 23 (1706-1708), #510.

[25] In 1708, on the fourth anniversary of the newspaper's publication, Campbell published this dun: "This being the last day of the fourth Quarter of this Letter of Intelligence: All persons in Town and Country, who have not already paid for this fourth Year, are hereby desired now to pay or send it in." See the News-Letter of August 10, 1719, for a lengthy recitation of Campbell's troubles.

[26] Cotton Mather, May 2, 1706, Silverman, Selected Letters of Cotton Mather, 77.

[27] Mather to ??, and Mather to Stephen Sewall (?), January 30, 1706, Silverman, Selected Letters of Cotton Mather, 70 and 76. In later years, however, Mather's attitude moderated, and in the 1720s during the inoculation crisis he wrote a number of pieces for the newspaper. See Diary of Cotton Mather, July 7, August 18, November 17, 1721. In 1722 he began publishing a nine-part series in the News-Letter on "The State of Religion." Because of its criticism of Anglicanism and the English monarchy, the government proceeded against him as a "publisher of dangerous libels." Mather to Lt. Gov. William Dummer, April 1, 1724, Diary of Cotton Mather, 793.

[28] Boston News-Letter, August 10, 1719.

[29] Boston News-Letter, August 14, 1721.

[30] The fourth-anniversary issue of the News-Letter carried this vow: "[T]hough there has not as yet a competent number appeared to take it annually so as to enable the Undertaker to carry it on effectually; yet he is still willing to proceed with it, if those Gentlemen that have this last year lent their helping hand to support it, continue still of the same mind another year, in hopes that those who have hitherto been backward to promote such a Publick Good will at last set in with it." Boston News-Letter, April 24, 1708.

[31] It is unclear whether Brooker simply refused to allow Campbell to use the mail, or whether Campbell could not afford to pay postage fees from the newspaper's income when his franking privilege ended with his postmastership. In the Boston Gazette of December 21, 1719, Brooker stated that some subscribers to the News-Letter "have been prevented from having their newspaper sent them by the post, ever since Mr. Campbell was removed from being postmaster."

[32] Brooker (1719-1720), Musgrave (1720-1726), Thomas Lewis (1726-1727), Henry Marshall (1727-1732), and John Boydell (1732-1734). Boydell retained the paper after leaving the postmastership. Upon his death, the Gazette became the property of his heirs. They operated it until 1741, when they sold it to the printers Samuel Kneeland and Bartholomew Green. When Boydell decided to keep the Gazette, his successor as postmaster, Ellis Huske, began the Post-Boy (1734).

[33] Boston News-Letter, December 26, 1720.

[34] His lampoon of the New-England Courant on August 28, 1721, for example, turned the Courant's criticism that Campbell was dull.

[35] Boston Gazette, December 21, 1719; January 11 and 25, 1720.

[36] In the News-Letter of January 4,1720, Campbell implied that Brooker was a drunkard, and in the following issue of the Gazette (January 11) Brooker said that he had been kind in reporting that Campbell had been "removed" from the postmastership rather than "turned out." Almost nothing of a personal nature is known about Brooker. The diarist Samuel Sewall recorded in October 1720 that a Boston resident named Brooker "was a little before sent to prison for Debt." (Diary of Samuel Sewall, October 24,1720.) His nomination for the postmastership apparently was turned down by the London office.

[37] Elizeus Burges replaced Joseph Dudley as governor in 1715 but served only one year. Shute succeeded him and served until the end of 1728, although he was in absentia in England after 1722.

[38] See Diary of Cotton Mather, July 7, August l8, November 17, 1721.

[39] Mather to Lt. Gov. William Dummer, April 1, 1724, Diary of Cotton Mather.

[40] The speech is reprinted in the News-Letter, November 9, 1719.

[41] General Court Records, X: 417, quoted in Clyde Augustus Duniway, The Development of Freedom of the Press in Massachusetts (New York: Longmans, Green, 1906), 87.

[42] Sewall Papers, III: 238-239, quoted in Duniway, ibid., 88.

[43] Quoted in Thomas Hutchinson (Massachusetts colonial governor), The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts-Bay (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936), 185-86. In illustrating the types of material that should be punished, the House referred to a pamphlet titled News from Robinson Crusoe's Island (Boston, 1720) written by Cotton Mather, which criticized Elisha Cooke, Increase Mather's old adversary and now a leader of the anti-Shute faction in the House. Mather was concerned that the House's wrangling to assert its power might endanger Massachusetts' charter.

[44] The episodes involving the governor and the House are recounted in detail in Hutchinson, ibid., 163-218, and Duniway, The Development of Freedom of the Press in Massachusetts, 79-96.

[45] For an account of the Courant, see Wm. David Sloan, "The New-England Courant: Voice of Anglicanism," American Journalism 8 (1991): 108-41.

[46] William H. Whitmore, The Massachusetts Civil List for the Colonial and Provincial Periods, 1630-1774 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969; reprint of the 1870 edition), 127.

[47] Samuel Sewall recorded that "Monday night, March 4th. Mr. John Campbell dies, who writ the first News-Letter. Was inter'd Saturday March 9th." Diary of Samuel Sewall, 1060.

[48] Green published the paper until 1733, altering the title to the Weekly News-Letter with the last week of December 1726. He also abandoned Campbell's philosophy of publishing a "Thread of occurrences" no matter how old the news and began to publish weekly the latest intelligence he could procure. The News-Letter was one of the longest-lived newspapers in colonial America, spanning seventy-two years. On January 4, 1733, John Draper took over as publisher. He transferred the paper to his son Richard Draper in 1762. Richard renamed it the Massachusetts Gazette. On his death in 1774, his widow, Margaret Draper, assumed control and, in partnership with John Boyle and then John Howe, continued publication until 1776, when, with the evacuation of British troops from Boston, the newspaper finally ceased.

© Copyright 2004 David Sloan.


David Sloan, a journalism professor at the University of Alabama, is the co-author of The Early American Press 1690-1783 and is author or editor of about 20 other books.

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