The First Colonial Newspaper
(that lasted longer than one issue)
This is the last entry in this series about women printers and newspaper publishers in the American colonies in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Heretofore, I have discussed women whose husband died and left them a printing press, with which they became a useful member of the community. In today’s entry, I bring light to the only woman newspaper publisher I have learned to be a loyalist who opposed the patriot cause.
Margaret Green Draper was born in Boston Massachusetts in 1727. She was in the fourth generation of the Green family in the colony. It was one of the two most famous American multi-generational families of printers in the English North American colonies (the Bradfords of Philadelphia being the other). She was the great-granddaughter of Samuel Green, who, in 1649, had taken over running the printing press that Henry Dunster had inherited when his wife Elizabeth Harris Glover Dunster died. Margaret was the granddaughter of Bartholomew Green, a Boston printer, and the daughter of Thomas and Ann Green (occupations uncertain, but likely printers).
Bartholomew Green had become the printer for John Campbell, who revived the Boston News-Letter in 1711 (colonial America’s first and second newspapers). Bartholomew bought the paper from Campbell in 1721 and published it for another eleven years. When Bartholomew died, his son-in-law, John Draper, took over the paper and published it until his own death in 1762. John’s son, Richard, took over the paper, changed its name to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, and put the coat-of-arms of King George III in the top banner of the paper’s front page. On 30 May 1750, Richard Draper had married Margaret Green. They had no children, (but are said to have adopted one of Margaret’s nieces).
The Stamp Act was imposed on Americans on 1 November 1765. It put a tax on each page of newspapers, which put most American newspapers out of business. (By printing on both sides of the page and then folding it in half, the tax actually applied to four pages, which was the length of most American newspapers; still, it was a regressive tax and did what it was supposed to do: reduce printed comments about government that were critical of it.) Publication of the Boston Weekly News-Letter did not cease after the Stamp Act went into force. Readership of the newspaper must have included that part of Boston society which was doing well, financially (mostly loyalists).
The Boston Weekly News-Letter did not have good things to say about the Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773, so the presumption that it was a loyalist newspaper is supported. Nonetheless, Richard Draper printed advertisements for subscriptions to Phyllis Wheatley’s first book of poems. As she was an African-American, the printing went against common knowledge that black people were and always would be illiterate and thoughtless—this was social criticism.
Richard Draper died on 6 June 1774 (at the age of 47). On 9 June, Margaret produced an issue of the paper on her own. On 11 August, she printed an appeal to her readers: ‘Mrs. Draper being under the necessity of procuring some reputable means of substance, proposes to continue publishing the paper herself; and hopes by the assistance of her friends to give full satisfaction to its former customers, and the public in general…and flatters herself that she shall meet with such assistance as may enable her to keep up credit which the paper had for a long time sustained in the days of her deceased husband.’
Margaret continued publishing the paper with different male business partners for longer than a year, but none of them suited her (owing to their wanting to print pieces that supported the patriots). She eventually took on a lasting partner, John Howe.
Margaret supported the ‘Intolerable Acts,’ as they were passed and the news reached across the Atlantic Ocean to the colonies. She was against the latest Bostonian non-importation of English goods agreement. She denounced the Continental Congress and predicted its failure. Her newspaper was attacked by Boston patriots (who went so far as to have a public burning of some of her issues.) After the battles at Lexington and Concord, which Margaret was the first publisher in Boston (and all of the colonies) to mention in her newspaper, the three patriot newspapers in town were closed and the Boston Weekly News-Letter became the only paper still printed in Boston. (Margaret’s property was protected by the Royal Army garrison in town.)
Alas, all good things come to an end. When the Royal Army evacuated Boston on 17 March 1776, Margaret went along. It was probably a good decision. The patriots weren’t known for physically attacking women, but surely Margaret could not have continued the life she had been living. She first went to Halifax Nova Scotia and then on to London. She is supposed to have died in London in 1800. Her home and shop were sold by the Continental Congress to raise money for fighting the Revolutionary War.