Throwback Thursday: America’s First Newspaper

The first in a weekly series in which we look back at Boston’s history.

On September 25, 1690—that’s 323 years ago this week—America’s first newspaper Publick Occurences Both Forreign and Domestick was published in Boston. It didn’t go very well.

Seen below, Publick Occurences [PDF] was a bit ahead of its time. It was edited by Benjamin Harris, who came to America after running into trouble with British authorities because of his belief in the separation of church and state. He filled only three of four six-by-ten-inch pages, and like a modern newspaper editor, he reported the news. There was news of suicide, criticism of the treatment of French prisoners, and a dose of modesty. “‘Tis possible we have not so exactly related the Circumstances of this business,” Harris writes at one point, “but this Account, is as near exactness, as any that could be had, in the midst of many various reports about it.”

Harris promised in his first sentence to publish once a month “or if any Glut of Occurences happen, oftener.” It was, in fact, his last issue. The Governours Council did not like what they’d read and issued a proclamation saying as much:

The Governour and Council having had the perusal of the said Pamphlet, and finding that therein is contained Reflections of a very high nature: As also sundry doubtful and uncertain Reports, do hereby manifest and declare their high Resentment and Disallowance of said Pamphlet, and Order that the same be Suppres’d and called in; strictly forbidding any person or persons for the future to Set forht any thing in Print without lIcence first obtained from those that are ors hall be appointed by the Government to grant the same.

As you might imagine given that decree, it would be a long time before Boston got another paper as honest and critical of the government as Publick Occurences. Whether we ever get one with as amusing a name remains to be seen.

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