January 20, 2009
The Birth and Death of the American Newspaper
Not the internet, silly; Jill LePore is talking about the first Death of the American Newspaper, i.e., the Stamp Act and the American Revolution. I love the story of Boston Gazette printer Benjamin Edes:
In 1774, a British commander gave his troops a list of men—including John Hancock and Sam Adams—who, the minute war broke out, were to be shot on sight, and he added a postscript: “N.B. Don’t forget those trumpeters of sedition, the printers Edes and Gill.”
By then, there were forty newspapers in the colonies. War came, to Lexington and Concord, on April 19, 1775. That night, in Boston—a city held by the British—Edes and Gill hastily dissolved their partnership. Gill went into hiding. Under cover of darkness, Edes, alone, carted his printing press and types to the Charles River, where he loaded them onto a boat moored at the bank, and rowed through the night to escape the siege. In a nearby town, he set up a makeshift printing shop, and, within weeks, managed to resume printing the Gazette, on lumpy paper, with gunky ink. In besieged Boston, British troops searched for Edes but, failing to find him, made do with his nineteen-year-old son. Peter Edes spent months as a prisoner of war. He watched from the window of his cell while a fellow-prisoner, a Boston painter, was beaten until, broken, he finally called out, “God bless the King.”
Peter Edes survived. He became a printer. The war ended. It took some time to figure out what, in a republic, a newspaper was for.