Stop the Press!

In order to hereunto, the Publisher will take what pains he can to obtain a Faithful Relation of all such things: and will particularly make himself beholden to such Persons in Boston whom he knows to have been for their own use the diligent Observers of such matters.

Benjamin Harris

On September 25, 1690, the first American newspaper found its way into the Massachusetts Bay Colonies. Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick created by Benjamin Harris in Boston, contained four pages, and it measured 6 x 10 inches in a folded sheet of paper.

Harris and his family fled England, for he illegally printed and published seditious pamphlets that quite often incensed the government. His writings frequently landed him in the stocks and prison since he could not pay his fines.

Not one to give up, he started a new business after he arrived in the colonies. He operated a bookstore, print shop, and a popular coffee shop. Men would frequent his establishment to discuss current events, and his print shop produced books, school primers, almanacs, and even Bibles. Still, Harris wanted to circulate a monthly paper about the latest news from the colonies as well as Europe, so he set his plan in motion. The newsman also decided to leave one blank page that offered locals a chance to add their latest news bits too.

After he planned and printed the newest edition in the colonies, Harris found himself in hot water once again. He did not clear his plans with the powers that be and failed to acquire permission. To the ire of governing officials, the writer offered some tabloid news about the latest gossip and the decadences of the King of France. He also upset government officials when he described the activities of the French and Indian War and decried the barbaric treatment of French captives by native allies.


Massachusetts Governor (Bradstreet, Simon, 1689-1692), “By the Governour & Council. Whereas some have lately presumed to Print and Disperse a Pamphlet, Entituled, Publick Occurrences”

Within four days after distribution, the paper folded. Harris committed a serious infraction since he had not obtained permission to print his newspaper. The outraged Governor Simon Bradstreet and his council delivered a proclamation that declared the paper had been published “Without the least Privity or Countenance of Authority.” The governor demanded that the newspaper be “Suppressed and called in,” while adding no other publications could be printed without proper authorization.

Sadly, without the governor’s approval, the first American paper became the first banned by ruling powers. Bradstreet sent officials to collect and destroy every copy that they could find. Today, one known copy has survived, and it is housed in the British Museum in London.

Sources

  • Boczkowski, Pablo J. Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers. The MIT Press, 2005.
  • “By the Governour & Council. Whereas Some Have Lately Presumed to Print and Disperse a Pamphlet, Entituled, Publick Occurrences.” Omeka RSS, American Antiquarian Society, americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/items/show/31.
  • Kuehn, Duncan. “First American Newspaper: Publick Occurrences.” GenealogyBank Blog, 13 Jan. 2015, blog.genealogybank.com/americas-first-newspaper-publick-occurrences-both-forreign-and-domestick-1690.html.
  • Massachusetts Governor (Bradstreet, Simon, 1689-1692), “By the Governour & Council. Whereas some have lately presumed to Print and Disperse a Pamphlet, Entituled, Publick Occurrences,” The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865, accessed April 1, 2019, http://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/items/show/31.
  • Neil-Horsky. “About.” Horsky Projects, Horsky Projects, 10 Jan. 2017, horskyprojects.com/projects/this-month-in-boston-counter-cultural-history/.
  • Sargent, Hilary. “Happy 325th Anniversary to America’s First Newspaper, Published (and Banned) in Boston.” Boston.com, The Boston Globe, 25 Sept. 2015, www.boston.com/news/local-news/2015/09/25/happy-325th-anniversary-to-americas-first-newspaper-published-and-banned-in-boston.
  • Sloan, William David, and Lisa Mullikin. Parcell. American Journalism: History, Principles, Practices. McFarland & Co., 2002.
  • Yumpu.com. “Boston, Publick Occurrences, 1690, and Ban – National Humanities …” Yumpu.com, Yumpu, http://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/15524827/boston-publick-occurrences-1690-and-ban-national-humanities-.

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