Boston had not had a newspaper for 14 years when John Campbell, the postmaster, started the Boston News-Letter, on April 24, 1704. It was the first continuously published newspaper in British North America.
Boston’s first newspaper, Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, lasted but one issue on Sept 25, 1690. It had carried a whiff of scandal and was quite popular, But the colonial authorities shut it down because of “sundry doubtful and uncertain Reports.” They did “hereby manifest and declare their high Resentment and Disallowance of said Pamphlet.”From then on, anyone who wanted to publish a newspaper had to have a license.
The Boston News-Letter
John Campbell, a Loyalist, had no problem getting one. The Boston News-Letter would function as the Tory house organ until the Siege of Boston.
Campbell had started by writing newsletters to Gov. Fitz-John Winthrop of Connecticut with information from travelers arriving from England. He may also have sent his newsletters to other New England governors. In 1704, Campbell decided to make his newsletter public and to sell it.
It was a single sheet, printed on both sides. The first issue was filled with news from England, much of it cribbed from London periodicals. It carried news of the French threats to Britain and warned of “bloody designs of Papists and Jacobites.”
Only one column of that first issue reported local news. News items included ship arrivals, a judicial appointment and an “excellent” sermon at Old South Church.
Campbell’s biggest scoop came in 1718, when he reported on the death of the pirate Blackbeard in hand-to-hand combat.
The Boston News-Letter’s printer, Bartholomew Green, took over in 1722 and ran the paper until he died in 1732. His son-in-law, John Draper, inherited the publication. Draper published the newsletter until he died in 1762, and his son Richard took it over. Richard died in 1774 and his widow, Margaret Green Draper, published it. She wasn’t the only widow to take up her husband’s printing business. Hannah Bunce Watson did it in Hartford and Ann Smith Franklin (Ben’s sister-in-law) did it in Newport, R.I.
Demise of the Boston News-Letter
The Boston News-Letter was the only newspaper published in Boston during the early days of the American Revolution. It carried the news of the Boston Tea Party, the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill. The stories were probably written by the apprentice, John Howe. He became Margaret Green Draper’s business partner during the last five months of its existence.
The Boston News-Letter stopped publication in February 1776, just before the British evacuated Boston. Draper and Green left for Halifax the next month, where most good Loyalists went.
This story last updated in 2022.