Tag Archives: 18th century journalism

America’s Oldest Newspaper: The New Hampshire Gazette


The masthead of the Gazette’s first issue in 1756: “New-Hampshire Gazette, With the Freshest Advices Foreign and Domestick.”

     The New Hampshire Gazette is America’s oldest running newspaper, with it’s first issue being printed in October of 1756. From that very October 7 issue, printer Daniel Fowle wrote an introduction to his newspaper informing the new readers of it’s goals and expected content. Fowle specifically brings up the topic of the freedom of the press, writing:

 “…as the press claims liberty in free countries, it is presumed that none will be offended if this paper discovers that Spirit of Freedom…”

     This quote is interesting, mainly because of Fowle’s not-so-brilliant history with free-speech while printing in Boston. The year before he created the Gazette, Fowle was arrested on seditious libel charges in his native Boston for printing an anti-British pamphlet, “The Monster of Monsters.” After his release from jail, Fowle wrote another pamphlet in response to his arrest, “A Total Eclipse of Liberty,” and then moved to Dartmouth to start printing the Gazette. Fowle further sets a list of precedents in the first issue:

“But as Liberty ought not to be abus’d, no encouragement will be given by the publisher to any Thing that is apparently designed to foment Divisions in Church or State, nor to any Thing profane, obscene, or tending to encourage Immorality, nor to such Writings as produced by private Pique, and fill’d with personal Reflections and insolent scurrilous language.”

Here, the printer stresses his lack of obvious bias towards the promotion of the government and church. Fowle also prohibts any articles that are slanderous and personally charged without a sufficient basis to do so publicly. True to his word, Fowle effectively maintained a sense of neutrality and fairness throughout his years as printer of the Gazette, even during the trying and polarized time of the Revolution. In fact, the paper printed British letters and personal accounts frequently throughout the war. Whether or not the Fowle was trying to give the colonists a different perspective in their news, or to promote the Gazette’s neutral position- I’m not sure.

I found some examples of Fowle’s neutrality throughout his tenure as printer. For instance, a 1765 issue contained an article criticizing the recently enforced Stamp Act. Rather than print something that directly criticized Parliament, Fowle came up with something that wouldn’t directly slander the British government; a letter to the editor questioned the effectiveness of the Stamp Act with the concern that the Gazette had nowhere to apply for stamped paper and no one to deliver it. I found this to be quite humorous considering the fact most colonists were outraged that they personally had to pay a tax, yet the author of the said letter was more concerned with the welfare of his beloved weekly newspaper. Ironically, the Stamp Act was indeed a failure because most tax collectors were intimidated out of their positions.

Another interesting example of neutrality practiced by Fowle was in the Gazette’s last 1776 issue before it took a hiatus for over a year. The article in question was written under the pseudonym Junius and made an argument that the Continental Congress didn’t have the ability to declare independence and maintain it. The name Junius is in fact the middle name of Lucius Brutus, one of the founders of the Roman Republic (not the famous assassin of Caesar.) Junius wrote:

Every step towards INDEPENDENCY I said would be ruinous and destructive in it’s Consequences: now I will prove it. The Question turns to two points. 1st. Can we gain independence? 2nd. If gained, can we support ourselves in it?” 

Aside from neutrality in printing, Fowle held up many of his other promises including the publication of news from other parts of the world (especially Great Britain,) various “extracts from the best authors on points of the most useful knowledge,” and the prevention of “writing as produced by private Pique.” Nearly every issue contained news from around the world, with correspondents in locations as varied as London, Hague, and Ghent.

An aspect of the paper I found to be very retrospective was it’s advertisements:

“Yesterday, while my Family was at a Meeting, some evil minded Person or Persons got into my house, broke open two Locks in my Desk, and stole from thence about Two Hundred and Eighty Continental Dollars; and about the Value of seventy Dollars in Gold and Silver…P.S. If the their will speedily return the same, he shall be forgiven.” – Samuel Lane

Other advertisements proved to be just as informative about the demographics of New Hampshire. Like today’s newspapers, almost two pages of an issue were filled with advertisements that entailed job offers and the sale of property, lost horses, and negroes. While the sale of human beings as slaves is illegal in the United States today, newspapers still advertise houses, plots of land, and lost dogs, cats, etc.

During the Revolution, the Fowle changed the paper’s masthead to read: The New-Hampshire Gazette. or, State Journal, and General Advertiser. Some wartime advertisements were in support of troops, asking for extra supplies and food. Fortunately for residents of the New Hampshire area there was no actual fighting throughout the entire war, resulting in a majority of advertisements entailing typical day-to-day services and offers.

Much like today’s heated online arguments on Youtube pages or posted articles, the Gazette wasn’t short of debate. An article published shortly after the war’s end on September 6, 1783 questioned whether or not colonists were citizens in relation to the date of July 4, 1776. This article asked the question: if you were born or moved to America after July 4, can you still be considered a British subject? In the following issue, a letter to the editor was on the front page criticizing the article. Just as today’s internet “trolls” stress out over specific details, this author argued that the cutoff date was actually April 19 1775, when the British marched Lexington.

 “I assert that after the 19th of April 1775, there was not a man born in America that owed him (King George III) allegiance. From the moment the British tyrants first stained the plains of Lexington with our blood…the still voice of reason, convinced us of it more clearly than could a thousand formal declarations.”

In it’s beginning years, the New-Hampshire Gazette was a paper founded on keeping a neutral position (most likely due to Fowle’s bad history in Boston.) At the very core, it’s sole purpose was simply to tell the news. By including articles and letters from all viewpoints, Fowle’s Gazette was quite neutral and in my opinion, relatively tame compared to other printers of the time. Fowle sold the paper to two others at the end of 1784 and died shortly after in 1787. The New Hampshire Gazette continued it’s unbiased oath even after the sale. Here is an article from a 1785 issue under the new printers, “Melcher and Osbourne:

Printer to the Public 1785

In today’s issues of the Gazette, New Hampshire’s state motto is printed in the masthead: “Live Free or Die.”



Filed under Class Work, Historical Context, Journalism, My Reporting, News