Those quarrelsome publishers just love to argue over the honor of being the oldest newspaper in the United States. But which one deserves the title?
The Hartford Courant, founded in 1764, says it’s nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper. The Courant, though, lost its independence when purchased by the Times Mirror chain. Then the Tribune Corporation bought Times-Mirror.
The Rutland Herald started 30 years later than the Courant, but managed to stay independent. So now it can claim the distinction as the oldest newspaper owned by the same family in continuous operation, published under the same name in the same city, in the United States.
The New Hampshire Gazette also claims to be the oldest newspaper. However, since its founding in 1756 it has changed owners about 25 times, disappeared and merged with other publications.
The Newport Mercury, founded in 1759, was identified as the nation’s oldest newspaper during one of the New Hampshire Gazette‘s lulls. It didn’t quite disappear, having been published by The Newport Daily News as a weekly with reprinted daily stories for out-of-town subscribers. In 2018 it became Mercury Magazine.
Hartford Courant 1764
Thomas Green started the Connecticut Courant as a weekly on Oct. 29, 1764. It claims the title ‘America’s oldest continuously published newspaper’ and the slogan, ‘Older than the nation.’
Hartford printer Ebenezer Watson then took over the Connecticut Courant. Watson died suddenly of smallpox in late 1777, creating a dilemma for American patriots.
The British had shut down all the newspapers in Boston. Plus, New York’s Loyalist newspapers printed nothing but pro-British news. The Courant, as the only paper large enough to provide reliable (that is, pro-patriot) news, was viewed as crucial to maintaining popular support for the Revolution in New England.
Patriots approached Watson’s widow, Hannah Bunce Watson, and asked her to continue publishing the newspaper. She knew little about printing, but went ahead publishing the Courant to support the war effort. She made 20-year-old George Goodwin a business partner, as he had already worked for the newspaper for 12 years.
In 1779, she married Barzillai Hudson, and he took control of the newspaper. In 1837 the Connecticut Courant became the Hartford Courant, now the largest daily newspaper in Connecticut.
Bangor Daily News 1889
Richard J. Warren founded the Bangor Daily News on June 18, 1889, making it the oldest newspaper in Maine. In 1900 it merged it with the Bangor Whig and Courier. Today Warren’s great-grandson publishes the newspaper and his sister, Carolyn J. Mowers, serves as chairman of the board.
Though not as old as the Rutland Herald, the Bangor Daily News is a rarity in the newspaper business: a newspaper under the ownership of a single family. Today it’s the only newspaper in Maine owned independently. The BDN is also Maine’s largest, covering a readership area larger than Connecticut.
It did fail to publish once in its history: on Dec. 30, 1962, when a blizzard dumped five feet of snow on Bangor.
Daily Hampshire Gazette 1786
Massachusetts claims the oldest newspaper in the United States, the Boston News-Letter, but the Loyalist rag didn’t survive the Revolution. Founded in 1704 , it ceased publication when the British withdrew from Boston in 1776.
That leaves the Daily Hampshire Gazette, founded in 1786 in Northampton, Mass., as the oldest newspaper in the Bay State. In the first edition of the Hampshire Gazette, its 22-year-old publisher, William Butler, reported the news of Shay’s Rebellion. For more than a century the paper was published every week, but in 1890 it became a daily.
The Daily Hampshire Gazette went through a series of owners until its business manager, Harriet Williams DeRose, bought it in 1929. When she died in 1960, her son Charles Nathan DeRose took over. Charles died 10 years later and his two sons took over. By 2005, there were no more DeRoses interested in running the newspaper. That year Newspapers of New England, a chain based in Concord, N.H., bought the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
New Hampshire Gazette 1756
The New Hampshire Gazette has trademarked its claim as ‘The Nation’s Oldest Newspaper,’ but not without dispute. The sassy alternative, published every two weeks, has appeared only intermittently on the journalism scene.
Daniel Fowle, the first man to print the words of Samuel Adams, founded the New Hampshire Gazette in Portsmouth in 1756. After he died in 1787, the Gazette continued publishing. In 1839, the Maryland Gazette went under and the Portsmouth Gazette was recognized as the nation’s oldest newspaper.
In the 1890s, the Portsmouth Herald began publishing the Gazette as a weekend supplement, changing its name to the Herald Weekend Edition in 1960. However, Daniel Fowle’s descendant Peter Fowle discovered in 1989 that the ‘Gazette’ name was no longer under trademark. He took the rights to the name and in 1999 began publishing the New Hampshire Gazette ‘episodically, in a very small format.’
Today it includes ‘The Fortnightly Rant,’ film reviews, two pages of history, stories from the New Hampshire Indymedia Collective, vintage news from the 19th century and ‘Admiral Fowle’s Piscataqua RiverTidal Guide.’
Newport Mercury 1759
In 1759, Ann Smith Franklin and her son started the Newport Mercury in Newport, R.I., with the ‘freshest advices.’ She was Benjamin Franklin’s sister-in-law, the widow of his brother James (the one Ben didn’t get along with). Ann Smith Franklin and her son published the newspaper until she died in 1763.
Solomon Southwick, a patriot, took over the paper, but buried the press and type when the British landed in Newport. After the Revolution, he resumed publishing the newspaper.
The Newport Mercury has the distinction of first publishing an African-American woman, Phyllis Wheatley, in a newspaper.
Edward A. Sherman, owner of the Newport Daily News, bought the Newport Mercury in 1928 and published it as a paid weekly. In 2005, the News turned the Mercury into an alternative weekly, covering entertainment, food and the arts.
Mirroring the newspaper industry’s struggles, the Mercury became a once-monthly insert into the Newport Daily News in 2018.
Rutland Herald 1794
On Dec. 8, 1794, the Rev Samuel Williams and his distant cousin Judge Samuel Williams, both Federalists, founded the Rutland Herald. Three years later, William Fay bought the newspaper and for four decades devoted it to biblical parables, poems and homilies.
The newspaper’s readers got a welcome relief when abolitionist George Beaman bought it in 1844. From 1856 to 1882, the father-and-son team of George and Albert Tuttle turned the Rutland Herald into a daily and covered the Civil War. .
Rutland native Percival W. Clement bought the Herald in 1882, having bought the Rutland Railroad, the Clement National Bank, New York real estate and a brokerage house. He used the newspaper to promote his political ambitions, succeeding in 1918 by winning the race for Vermont governor.
In 1927, P.W. Clements died and his son-in-law, William H. Field, moved back to Rutland to run the newspaper. Field, a co-founder of the New York Daily News, markedly improved the Herald. His son ran it until Robert W. Mitchell became owner-publisher in 1948. Mitchell’s son, R. John Mitchell, succeeded his father when he died in 1993.
Images: Bangor Daily News By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22888057; Shays Rebellion By Shockabrah – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58001789