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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Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Checklist of Carrier Verses

It’s a Boston 1775 tradition at the turn of each year to share at least one carrier verse or address.

Back in eighteenth-century America, apprentice printers would make those flyers and distribute them to customers around New Year’s Day as a way of asking for tips. The flyers offered a poetic review of the past year’s news, wishes for the customers’ prosperity, and reminders of the tough life of a newspaper carrier.

In 2000, Gerald D. McDonald (who that year turned ninety-five), Stuart C. Sherman, and Mary T. Russo published A Checklist of American Newspaper Carriers’ Addresses, 1720-1820. I treated myself to a copy this holiday season.

This book lists 1,001 carrier verses known from broadsides or republication in newspapers or books. The earliest appeared in New York in 1720, copying an English tradition. The custom continued after 1820, at least as late as the U.S. Civil War. The German-language newspapers of Pennsylvania provided their own examples. The book also lists 61 examples from Canada in both English and French.

As a bibliographic checklist, this book gives the basic details of each carrier address, including first lines if the text survives, but no more. Illustrations show several examples in full. That doesn’t replace the Readex Early American Imprints database that I used to be able to mine for interesting addresses, but it’s given me enough leads to fill a few more years.

A fraction of the addresses name the newspaper carriers who delivered them, and may have written them as well. Seven years ago I quoted the example from the Essex Gazette’s Job Weeden and traced his subsequent career. Five years ago I explored the life of Polly Beach of the American Telegraphe. Alas, I couldn’t find out anything more about Tobias Bond and Benjamin Welch, who delivered the Maryland Journal in 1780.

In a few cases, this checklist told me, famous authors wrote the verses for the carriers. Not just printers who became well known like Benjamin Franklin (he gets credit for the early Pennsylvania Gazette verses, but of course we give him credit for everything). Rather, gentleman poets like John Trumbull and Joel Barlow tried out the form. So I’m going to share one of those examples.

TOMORROW: A New Year’s greeting from the “Poet of the Revolution.”

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