July 26

On his day in 1775 the Second Continental Congress took action upon the report of a “Committee to consider the best means of establishing Posts for conveying Letters and Intelligence through this Continent.” Thus was the first publicly-owned American postal system set up in opposition to that of the British government. However, the role of the colonial printers in the formation of the postal system seems to have been relegated to the footnotes in many standard histories.

During the colonial period the printer in each locality was a man of affairs, particularly if he held the title of “Publick Printer.” As publishers of newspapers these men invariably frequented the sessions of the various colonial governments, and of course gathered at first hand newsof all the important events taking place. With thirteen different local governing bodies enacting legislation, there was a great deal of printing to be done in order to acquaint the public with thedebates, votes, and proceedings stemming from each session. The printer thus became involved in all of the important decisions being made in his locality. In addition to carrying out the responsibility of printing the proceedings, he also interpreted them through the columns of his newspaper.

Many of the colonial printers also found it most advantageous to be postmaster for their localities. This office gave them at first hand access to all the important correspondence coming into their areas, which naturally enough provided newsworthy material for their journals. Then, the post office was a busy meeting-place in any town, which simplified the problems of newspaper distribution. And possibly most important of all, the postmaster/publisher was enabled to send out his sheet without cost via the post riders and to deny this service to all of his comvetitors.

The first American newspaper to be regularly published, the Boston News-Letter, was produced by John Campbell, who was both “Publick Printer” and postmaster. It is recorded that succeeding postmasters actually believed that the newspaper went along with the office. In 1734 The Boston Weekly Post-Boy bore the imprint:

“Boston: Printed for Ellis Huske, Post-Master: Advertisements taken in at the Post-Office in King’s Street, over against the North-Door of the Town-House, where all Persons in Town or Country may be supplied with this Paper.”

When Benjamin Franklin became the Philadelphia Postmaster in 1734 there were no established regulations for carrying newspapers by mail. He admitted the advantages: “It facilitated the correspondence that improv’d my newspaper, increas’d the number demanded, as well as the advertisements to be inserted, so that it came to afford me a considerable income. My old competitor’s newspaper declin’d proportionably.”

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