J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, July 03, 2015

Newspaper Scoop of the Year 1776

On 3 July 1776, the Pennsylvania Gazette ran this item at the top of its local news:
Last year the Deseret News called this “America’s 238-year-old tweet.” We might also think of it as a leak since the Congress was still working on its Declaration. The only tweet out of Carpenters’ Hall should have been “#amwriting”.

After that scoop, the Gazette immediately turned to more ominous shipping news:
Yesterday Captain [William] Meston, late of the snow Dickenson, of this port, arrived here from Bristol, but last from the West-Indies.—He sailed from this place last February, bound for Nantz, but the Mate, assisted by the crew, seized and confined the Captain on the coast of Portugal, and then altered their course for London.

The southerly winds driving them into Bristol Channel, they arrived at Bristol, the 8th of April, when the mate proposed to set off immediately for London, with all the letters and papers on board, for the inspection of Government. The vessel was detained at Bristol, till the determination of Government concerning her should be known.
The Congress had commissioned Meston to carry flour to France and trade it for gunpowder, weapons, and cloth. Needless to say, he couldn’t carry out that mission. So this wasn’t an auspicious start for the free and independent states.


EJWitek said...

My reading of this is different than yours.
Richard Henry Lee had presented a resolution for Independence to the Continental Congress on June 7, 1776. Because several colonies were not willing to vote for Independence, Congress delayed debate on the resolution until July 1st. In the intervening period Congress selected a committee to draft a formal statement of Independence if and when the resolution was adopted. A draft document was presented to the Congress on June 28th. On July 1st debate began on Lee's resolution. It became obvious that the majority of the colonies was in favor of the resolution but it was felt that it should be adopted unanimously. To ensure this, the vote was delayed until 2 July when 12 colonies voted in favor of independence with New York abstaining.
John Adams would later write that July 2nd would be celebrated as the most important day in American history. I see no problem with the Pennsylvania Gazette's scoop.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, there's no doubt that the Congress voted for independence on 2 July. I quoted John Adams's prediction that that date would be celebrated some years back. But I don't think the Congress "declared" independence, as the newspaper item said, until 4 July when its members approved a public statement to that effect.

Of course, it's possible that this sentence in the newspaper was authorized by the Congress, as a way of getting the press of their backs while they were continuing to debate. "Okay, okay, we're independent! Happy now? You know, we'd finish this declaration a lot quicker if we didn't have to keep stopping to answer questions."

EJWitek said...

The vote on the Lee resolution on July 2nd, 1776 formally committed the thirteen colonies to independence. The vote on July 4th was a follow-on vote to approve a statement (declaration) setting forth the reasons for that resolution.

J. L. Bell said...

Exactly. The 4th was when the Congress “declared” the result and reasons for its vote on the 2nd.

Todd Andrlik said...

I was not aware of the Pennsylvania Gazette blurb, so I was thrilled to see this; however, the scoop was actually had by the Pennsylvania Evening Post, not the Gazette, on the previous day. In its July 2, 1776, issue: "This day the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS declared the UNITED COLONIES FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES."

Bill Caughlan said...

Just a slight correction: The Continental Congress would not have been "Tweeting" out of Carpenters' Hall on July 3, 1776. At that time they were meeting in the Pennsylvania State House, today famously known as Independence Hall.

And just as an aside: I've always agreed with Adams. The 2nd was the day that Lee's resolution for calling for independence was approved, and should be celebrated. July 4 was when Congress approved the press release, (the Declaration) and ordered that it be printed and sent out. That's just how I've looked at it. Not that it matters.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the added info!