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Published by Authority: The Boston News-Letter, 1704-1776

Posted on 12/03/2013

The Boston News-Letter was the first continuously published newspaper in the British Colonies of North America, surviving for 72 years.  It appeared 13 years after the one and only issue of America’s first multi-page newspaper, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, was published in 1690. Established more than 300 years ago, the Boston News-Letter was first published and printed on April 24, 1704, by John Campbell and Bartholomew Green, respectively. The News-Letter was noted for its pro-British sympathies, and the words “published by authority” appeared on its front page.

Also of note was the News-Letter’s coverage of the movements of pirates during what we now refer to as the “Golden Age of Piracy” (1650s to 1730s). This information often came from firsthand accounts related to publisher Campbell by sailors arriving in the port of Boston. And there were many such accounts, including numerous mentions of Edward “Blackbeard” Teach. Perhaps of most interest among them would be the news of Blackbeard’s sensational death. This item, which describes his 1718 decapitation in hand-to-hand combat on-board ship, was published in the News-Letter dated Monday February 23, to Monday March 2, 1719

Another article details how the spoils of war (“articles”) are to be divided between the captain (in this case, the famous pirate Capt. Edward Low) and his crew (“the Company”). This item appeared in the News-Letter issue dated Thursday, August 1, to Thursday, August 8, 1723.

The Boston News-Letter went through a succession of printers and publishers ending with Margaret Draper, the widow of publisher Richard Draper and one of at least nine women printers during the Colonial Period. In this announcement of August 11, 1774, in the Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston Weekly News-Letter—the title on the masthead at this time—Mrs. Draper’s business skills and sincerity show as she appeals for continued patronage.

A long and sometimes bitter struggle occurred between the News-Letter and the [Boston] Massachusetts Spy from 1770 to 1775. The papers opposed each other on political and other grounds, even though the Spy’s Isaiah Thomas had once referred to the News-Letter’s original printer, Bartholomew Green, as “the most distinguished printer . . . in this country.”

The News-Letter ceased publication in 1776 when the British withdrew from Boston, taking Margaret Draper, an ardent Loyalist, with them and giving her a life pension.

Early American Newspapers, Series 1, 1690-1876, contains 3,500 issues of the Boston News-Letter published from its founding through its demise. For more information about Early American Newspapers, or to arrange a trial for your institution, please contact


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