America's First Newspaper

America's first continuously-published newspaper, the Boston News-Letter published its first issue on April 24, 1704. John Campbell, a bookseller and postmaster of Boston, was its first editor, printing the newspaper on what was then referred to as a half-sheet. It originally appeared on a single page, printed on both sides and issued weekly.

In the early years of its publication the News-Letter was filled mostly with news from London journals detailing the intrigues of English politics, and a variety of events concerning the European wars. The rest of the newspaper was filled with items listing ship arrivals, deaths, sermons, political appointments, fires, accidents and the like.

One of the most sensational stories published when the News-Letter was the only newspaper in the colonies was the the account of how Blackbeard the pirate was killed in hand-to-hand combat on the deck of a sloop that had engaged his ship in battle.

The Boston News-Letter: The first continuously published newspaper in early America

Campbell relinquished his stewardship of the paper in 1722 to Bartholomew Green, its printer. As editor, Green devoted less space to overseas events and more to domestic news. When Green died after a decade as its editor, the News-Letter was inherited by his son John Draper, also a printer.

Draper proved to be a better editor and publisher than his predecessors. He enlarged the paper to four good-sized pages, filling it with news from Boston, other towns throughout the colonies, and from abroad.

Ad from Scheme of a Lottery, created to raise funds to page Charlestown from the Ferry to the Neck

On view here is the May 14, 1761 issue of the News-Letter. The front page is displayed in its entirety. Notice the credit line Printed by J. Draper appearing under the masthead.

As was the custom then, the front page was devoted to events overseas. This issue contains news from London, a speech by the King to the House of Commons, and various accounts from Westminster and Whitehall.

Also displayed from this issue is an ad from the back page for a Scheme of a Lottery. The lottery was created to sell 6000 tickets at $2 each to raise funds to pave the highway in Charlestown from the Ferry to the Neck. Of the $12,000 to be raised, according to the ad, $10,800 is earmarked for prizes and $1200 for paving the highway.