Publication History:

Place of Publication:  Boston, Massachusetts

Frequency: Weekly

Volume and Issue Data:  1700-1704; after 1704, the paper was printed

Size and Format: Approximately 6.25 x 10.5 inches

Editor/Publisher: John Campbell, Boston postmaster

Title Changes and Continuation: Boston News-Letter (printed edition beginning 1704)

Boston News-Letter (printed edition, 1704)

General Description & Notes:

The Boston News-Letter is generally regarded as the first “successful” newspaper in the American colonies. From 1704 to 1722, the last date being three years after he retired as postmaster, editor John Campbell produced a printed newsletter. However, for the first four years of the News-Letters’ existence, it was published in handwritten form.

Benjamin Harris’s Publick Occurrences preceded the News-Letter by at least 10 years, but Day’s paper lasted only one issue and was shut down by authorities. As the Campbell’s first printed issue of the News-Letter boldly states, the paper was “Published by Authority.”

Postmaster Campbell used his postal role as to gather information which he published “in the form of a newsletter–the primitive, handwritten report that had been the common medium of communication in Europe before the invention of printing. Most of the information sent out by Campbell was concerned with commercial and governmental matters.”

According to one historian, “There was such a demand for his news letter that Campbell began to look around for some way of relieving the pressure upon his time and energy. He got his brother, Duncan, to help, but even together they could not supply the demand for news. The just couldn’t write longhand fast enough.”

The first printed edition, replacing the handwritten version, appeared on April 24, 1704. “It was called the Boston News-Letter, an appropriate title, since it was merely a continuation of the publication the Campbells had been producing since 1700.”


Boston News-Letter (Boston, Mass.), 18-25 November 1706, p. 4

Information Sources:

Bibliography: Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, First Series, March 1867, Volume 9, pp. 485-501 (Nine issues of the News-Letter from 1703 are presented in this collection); Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years (New York, 1941); Willard G. Bleyer, Main Currents in the History of American Journalism (New York, 1973); Edwin Emery and Michael Emery,  The Press and America,  Fifth ed.  (Englewood Cliffs, 1984); Wm. David Sloan and Julie Hedgepath Williams, The Early American Press, 1690-1783 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), p.  18; Wm. David Sloan, “John Campbell and the Boston News-Letter,” AEJMC website (2004); Tom Kemp, “A Mystery from the First Handwritten Newspaper in America,”, posted Nov. 20, 2012, accessed Feb. 7, 2013.

Locations:  American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA; State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, WI