COMMUNICATIONS AND THE MEDIA IN CONNECTICUT
By Christine Brendel Scriabine, Guilford, Connecticut
As inhabitants of the age of instant communication and the information revolution, it is difficult to imagine the paucity of information and the delays in the transmission of news that prevailed in the first half of Connecticut's history. In the early years of the colony's existence, information was passed from place to place primarily by travelers. In 1672 when a mail service was established between Boston and New York over a system of post roads, inhabitants of eastern Connecticut were incorporated into one of the first formal structures for the transmission of information in the American Colonies. The first organized system of post offices for the colonies was created by parliament in 1711. Before, and even after, the establishment of post offices, official and other vital information was often conveyed to the public from the pulpits of churches.
In the first half of the seventeenth century printing and paper were so expensive that printed material was at a premium. One-page broadsides, official edicts, sermons, and almanacs formed the bulk of the publications of the colony's printers. Books were primarily imported from England.
Beginning in the latter part of the seventeenth century, ships arriving from England apparently carried examples of recently established newspapers to the fledgling Connecticut colony. Throughout the Colonial Period, the great London journals of opinion would remain the prime sources of information for Americans, particularly with regard to foreign and court affairs. The Whig point of view that many of these journals espoused would heavily influence American political thinking. In 1704 when the first American newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, started publication, colonists had their first opportunity to read about imperial matters from an American point of view.
In 1755 Connecticut's first newspaper, the Connecticut Gazette, was published in New Haven by James Parker. This four-page weekly emphasized the military news of the French and Indian War and shipping information invaluable to the city's merchants. During this period, financial success for a Connecticut newspaper was difficult with readers restricted because cities were small and mail service limited. Another problem was that news acquisition was complicated since a printer had to depend on travelers, letters, and other newspapers for information. Local news, such as crimes and accidents, was most often not carried in early newspapers because such news was conveyed much more rapidly by word of mouth in taverns and the community. In lieu of hard news, advertising often comprised a large portion of a paper. It was not unusual to have both the front page and fully one-half of the total paper devoted to advertising.
Connecticut's next two papers were launched in New London. Timothy Green published the New London Summary from 1758-1763. In 1763 a nephew, another Timothy Green, took over the presses and launched the New-London Gazette which enjoyed a long life. Another member of the same family, Thomas Green, who had been the editor of the Connecticut Gazette for James Parker, founded the Connecticut Courant in Hartford in 1764. This paper would become the oldest American newspaper in continuous publication in the same city. Other pre-Revolutionary newspapers in Connecticut were the Connecticut Journal and New Haven Postboy (the predecessor to the New Haven Journal-Courier) published in New Haven by Thomas Green and theNorwich Packet, and the Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island Weekly Advertiser first published in Norwich by Alexander and James Robinson and later by John Trumbull.
The Revolutionary ferment in Connecticut in the 1760s was fostered by a number of the colony's printers. The British attempts at increased imperial control after the Treaty of Paris of 1763 radicalized the colony's printers. The Courant, which almost immediately from its inception became a major colonial newspaper distributed not only in Connecticut but also in western Massachusetts and New Hampshire, was a leader in criticism of British policy. The depth of the commitment of the press to the Patriot cause can be seen during the Stamp Act crisis of 1765-1766. During this period, two of the colony's papers, the Connecticut Gazette and the New-London Gazette, risked serious legal reprisals by publishing without stamps, and the Courant fell silent for five weeks. During the ensuing years of turmoil Ebenezer Watson, the editor of the Courant from 1768 to 1777, became a leading proponent of the Patriot cause whose voice reached many beyond Connecticut's borders. With the exception of the Norwich Packet, Connecticut's press helped to establish an American point of view and advocated increasingly militant actions towards British rule and those who sympathized with it. In 1776 the Tory publishers of the Packet were forced to flee to the more congenial surroundings of New York City, and during the Revolutionary period all of the state's newspapers were propagandists for the Patriot cause.
1767 Journal Courier Bibliography