Today, the Library of Congress Commemorative Bi-Metallic Ten-Dollar Coin remembers the first newspaper of New York printed 292 years ago.
Some historians show October 16 as the first day of printing. Others claim the first week of November.
Moving from the Old Style (Julian) to New Style (Gregorian) calendar contributes to the difficulty of determining the date.
Regardless, let’s remember the man and the printing of New York’s first newspaper.
From the History of American Journalism by James Melvin Lee published in 1917:
First Paper in New York
Because William Bradford was the founder of the first paper in New York, and because he trained in his shop many of the printer-editors of colonial New York, he should receive special attention.
After learning his trade in the office of his father-in-law, Andrew Sowle, he accompanied William Penn to America in 1682.
Upon his return to England in 1685 he procured a press and type and again set sail for Philadelphia where he opened a bookshop and did a general printing business — a work which needs only passing mention, as he did not at that time think of starting a newspaper.
Invited to come to New York by Governor Benjamin Fletcher, Bradford was appointed “Royal Printer” in 1693.
In 1696 Bradford evidently reprinted an English newspaper, — probably The London Gazette, — for a letter dated May 30, 1696, from Governor Fletcher to the Lords of Trade says:
“A Ship belonging to this Place from Madera happily mett at Sea that Vessell which had your Lord’s Packet for Virginia & brought me a Gazett which gave me an Account of that horrid Conspiracy against His Majesty’s Sacred Person. I caused it to be reprinted here.”
Possibly Bradford was mindful of the fate of the venture attempted by Benjamin Harris in Boston and did not care to start a paper when the censorship was so severe.
Thomas, in his “History of Printing,” reproduced a heading of a second number of The New-York Gazette in which it showed the date of from Monday, October 16, to October 23, 1725: this would make the first issue on October 16, 1725 — a date which has been commonly accepted as that on which New York’s first newspaper appeared.
While Thomas undoubtedly knew at firsthand about the early journalism of New England, he was evidently mistaken about the date of the first issue of The New-York Gazette.
Unfortunately, no copy of the first issue of the paper has survived, but there are, however, copies of the paper published the first half of 1726.
Taking any one of these as a starting-point and working backwards, one finds that Volume I, Number 1, should be dated November 1 to November 8, 1725: in other words, The New-York Gazette was first published on November 8, 1725, if there was regularity of publication.
To support the correctness of this date, the following facts may be cited: Bradford’s day of publication was on Monday, and any almanac for 1725 shows that October 16 fell not on Monday, but on Saturday.
The New-York Gazette, Number 26, May 2, 1726, contained this item: —
N.B. This Numb. 26 of our Gazette, concludes the first half year and is the Time the first Payment should be made by the Gentlemen who encourage the same. And altho’ the Number subscribed for does not defray the Charge, yet we intend to Continue it the next half year, in the hopes of further Encouragement.
The most positive proof of November 8 as the date on which Bradford first brought out his Gazette will be found in an item published after the paper had been in existence two and one-half years: —
By the Advice and encouragement of some Gentlemen, for the Information of the Publick, We began to Publish this Gazette the first of November, 1725 (not doubting but we should have Subscribers to take off such a Number as might defray the Charge), and the first of May last it was Two Years & a half that we have continued its Publication; but having calculated the Charge of Printing and Paper for the same, as also how much will arise to defray that Charge (when all those that take this Gazette have paid in what is due to the first of May last) do find that we shall lose Thirty-Five Pounds in the two years and a half by Publishing this Paper, besides the trouble and Charge of Correspondents, collecting the News, making up Pacquets and conveying the same to those in the Country who take them, And therefore if some further Encouragement be not given by a larger Number of Subscribers for said Gazette we must let it fall, and cease publishing the same. Many Persons that take this Gazette being above a year behind in their Payments, and some not having paid since the first publishing of the same, They are now desired to pay in what is due, in order to enable the further Publication, if it be continued.
This advertisement, or appeal, in Bradford’s own paper settles, beyond the permissibility of a doubt, the month in which his Gazette first appeared.
It should be noticed that Bradford did not say the first day of November, but “the first of November 1725,” and consequently, because of the other proofs just given, his assertion may be taken as a common way about speaking of the first week of the month.
In view of these facts, the date of New York’s first newspaper may be set down as November 8, 1725.
From 1725 to 1730 The New-York Gazette consisted of a single sheet of four pages.
From 1730 on, the number of pages was irregular, sometimes, two, other times, three, and occasionally, six.
The paper was invariably poorly printed — doubtless due to the fact that Bradford had used the type for a long time before he began to print this newspaper.
Advertisements were few in number and the subscribers were not numerous enough to afford much encouragement to the printer — a fact brought out by the two quotations already printed from Bradford’s Gazette.
During all the years that Bradford conducted his paper, he was most loyal to those in authority.
Yet Bradford, at heart, undoubtedly was in favor of the freedom of the press and supported in his columns many things simply because he needed the salary which he received as “Printer to the Province of New York,” and which he would doubtless have lost had he adopted the motto of The New-York Chronicle, the tenth paper in New York, which read: “Open to all Parties and Influenced by None.”
Had The New-York Gazette been open to the Popular Party, it is a matter of doubt whether John Peter Zenger would have started The New-York Weekly Journal in 1733.
The newspaper war which arose between The New-York Gazette and The New-York Weekly Journal, the next paper of the colony, made Bradford’s newspaper unpopular with the common people and assisted in a most material way to put Zenger’s paper on a firm basis.
Bradford retired from the newspaper world on November 19, 1744, with the last issue of The New-York Gazette.
For some time the paper had been published under the joint imprint of William Bradford and Henry De Foreest.
After Bradford’s retirement, De Foreest changed the name of the paper to The New-York Evening Post, with the next issue on November 26, 1744.
Bradford died May 25, 1752.
The Library of Congress Commemorative Bi-Metallic Ten-Dollar Coin shows with an example of William Bradford’s printing, a ten-shilling note from 1709