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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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Newburyport Newspapers

Through Alexander Cain of Untapped History, I learned about this database of digitized documents from Newburyport, Massachusetts.

At the top are the links to (as of today) 646 pages from the 1770s and 1,131 from the 1780s. Those are mostly pages from Newburyport’s only newspaper at the time, the Essex Journal. Or, to give it the full original name, the Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet: Or, the Massachusetts and New-Hampshire General Advertiser.

The format of this newspaper database is different from any I’ve seen before. Clicking on each page opens up first a terrible O.C.R. transcription, then a full page image. The images are quite readable, so thumbing through is a fine way to immerse oneself in the life of a small New England port during the Revolutionary period.

The story of the Essex Journal starts with Isaiah Thomas and his ambition to franchise his Massachusetts Spy operation the way that Benjamin Franklin had sponsored and profited from other newspapers two generations before. Newspaper printers could benefit by building networks to share news, mail, advertising, and bookselling. Often those networks were built along family lines. Thomas was at a disadvantage without many relations, but he did have apprentices.

According to Thomas himself, he launched the Essex Journal in 1773 “At the request of several gentlemen, particularly the late rev. Jonathan Parsons [1705-1776].” Which is to say, Thomas supplied the printing equipment but stayed in Boston looking after his own newspaper and Royal American Magazine.

The actual printer in Newburyport was a young man named Henry-Walter Tinges. Facts about him are hard to come by. According to Thomas, he was “born in Boston” but “his parents were Hollanders,” or Dutch. Suffolk County probate records show that a Henry Tinges was assigned a guardian in 1767. He apprenticed first with John Fleeming and then, perhaps after the Boston Chronicle folded, with Thomas. Presumably he came of age in 1773 and was ready to manage his own shop.

Thomas and Tinges started collecting subscriptions for the Essex Journal in December 1773, distributing a sample issue for free. A lot of the early advertisers were Boston merchants—perhaps Thomas had given them a deal to advertise in both the Massachusetts Spy and the Essex Journal. The initial plan was to publish on Saturdays, but in response to public feedback the newspaper appeared on Wednesdays.

In August 1774, with Boston under army occupation for the second time, Thomas “sold the printing materials to Ezra Lunt, the proprietor of a stage” between Newburyport and Boston who thus had an interest in promoting local business. Lunt was a Newburyport native, thirty-one years old. Tinges remained the junior partner.

That arrangement lasted until May 1775, when Lunt became a captain in Col. Moses Little’s regiment of the Massachusetts army. According to local lore, “a stirring discourse from Rev. Jonathan Parsons” had prompted Lunt and his men to volunteer. The company saw action at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill, acting as a rear guard during the provincial retreat off the Charlestown peninsula. After the war, Lunt joined the Yankee exodus to the Ohio Territory and died in the town of Marietta.

Meanwhile, back in Newburyport, Tinges had a new senior partner: John Mycall (1750-1833). According to Thomas, Mycall was “born at Worcester, in England; and was a schoolmaster at Almsbury”—Amesbury, where he had married in 1772. A “man of great ingenuity,” within a year he was able to manage the press himself and publish the Essex Journal under his own name. Probably during this time he took on his nephew William Hoyt (1759-1812) as an apprentice.

Henry-Walter Tinges remained in Newburyport at least into January 1777, when his intention to marry Eunice Knight was announced. According to his old master Thomas, at some point he went “to Baltimore, and from thence to sea, but never returned.”

In February 1777, Mycall had to stop publishing the Essex Journal, apparently due to paper shortages and business uncertainty. The Newburyport database therefore has no local material from 1778 until 1784, when Mycall restarted the newspaper. It continued for another ten years, published by either Mycall or Holt, until Mycall finally retired in 1794, first to rural Harvard and then to bustling Cambridge. And that was the end of the Essex Journal.

But the Newburyport database continues uninterrupted with the town’s new newspaper, the Morning Star.

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