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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Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Launch of the Boston Chronicle

This is the Sestercentennial, or 250th anniversary, of the first issue of the Boston Chronicle.

For a decade Boston had been a four-newspaper town. The oldest weekly was Richard Draper’s Boston News-Letter, founded in 1704 and almost always allied with the royal establishment. It appeared on Thursdays.

On Mondays three other papers came out: Edes and Gill’s radical Boston Gazette and the more middle-of-the-road Boston Evening-Post from the Fleet brothers and Boston Post-Boy from Green and Russell.

The Boston Chronicle joined the crowd on Mondays. It offered people a nicer reading experience with handsome typography and a little more white space on its pages. Starting in early 1769 the paper really shook things up by coming out on both Mondays and Thursdays.

The men behind the Chronicle were John Mein and John Fleeming. Unlike the printers of Boston’s other newspapers, they weren’t from old New England families. They had both moved into the colony from Scotland in 1764. Furthermore, they were both adherents of the Sandemanian or Glasite sect, which New England Congregationalists viewed with suspicion.

Mein was a bookseller while Fleeming was a printer. Together they published pamphlets, almanacs, and other items as well as the newspaper. Mein’s London Bookshop also functioned as a lending library; for “One Pound, Eight Shillings, lawful Money, per Year,” patrons could borrow any volume from his list of 1,200 titles. And by any volume, that meant one volume at a time.

Perhaps because of their closer ties to Britain, perhaps because of their church’s teaching to obey political authorities, perhaps because of political ideology, Mein and Fleeming’s Chronicle supported the Crown more strongly than any other Boston newspaper, even the News-Letter. The very first issue included an essay from London that harshly criticized William Pitt, a darling of American Whigs.

For a while the Boston Chronicle looked like a good business proposition. The Customs house and friends of the royal government supported the paper during the debates over non-importation and the Townshend duties. That support, in the form of printing contracts and advertisements, was probably what allowed the newspaper to start coming out twice a week.

In turn, Mein wrote and Fleeming printed slashing attacks on the Boston Whigs. Eventually Mein lost that fight (physically and fiscally) and had to retreat to Britain. Fleeming closed the newspaper on 25 June 1770 but stayed in town until the evacuation of 1776. Though the Boston Chronicle lasted only two and a half years, in that time it was a crucial voice in Massachusetts’s political debate.

(Front page of the 21 Mar 1768 Boston Chronicle above courtesy of Todd Andrlik’s Reporting the Revolutionary War website.)

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