Archive for June, 2015


The Courant in the late 18thC

   Posted by: rring    in Americana, Classes

[Posted by Sarah Mowery for AMST 838: America Collects Itself, from Colony to Empire]
We are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale in AMST-803 (Historiography). In Ulrich’s work I have found inspiration for this post; not from the book’s content, but rather in Ulrich’s methodology. Ulrich’s primary source was a diary kept by Martha Ballard, an active midwife, between 1785 and 1812. Ballard’s daily entries were succinct and to the point, simply stating weather, visitors, housework performed and midwifery calls.  There was not enough meat on the bones to retell a full story, and for years the diary was overlooked by historians who concluded it was noteworthy but too limited.  Ulrich overcame this obstacle by looking to other sources to link the activities of a local midwife with other local happenings in the town of Hallowell, Maine and in doing so she was able to tell not just the tale of one local midwife, but to develop a picture of the larger community.
And so I turned to newspapers for this project, wondering what tidbits I might find of pre-Revolutionary life in America.  At the Watkinson I found a folio containing editions of the Connecticut Courant between January 4, 1774 and May 31, 1774.  The Courant was the third newspaper to be printed in Connecticut.  It was preceded by the Connecticut Gazette printed by James Parker in New Haven beginning in 1755 and the New-London Summary, or The Weekly Advertiser, first printed in August 1758 by Timothy Green.
The Courant was founded by Thomas Green, a relation of the aforementioned Timothy.  With printing in his blood, in 1757 Thomas turned to the Gazette’s office in New Haven for training under John Holt, the manager of Parker’s publication.  In 1760 he assumed managerial responsibilities for the Gazette and in 1764 he opened his own shop in Hartford to begin publication of the Courant.  In a history of Connecticut Newspapers in the Eighteenth Century prepared for the Tercentenary Commission of the State of Connecticut, Jarvis Means Morse described Thomas as “not as bold an editor as his contemporaries in New Haven and New London.”  Morse notes that Thomas’ publication stayed away from controversy and editorial commentary.  This approach changed in 1770 when management of the Courant was assumed by Ebenezer Watson.  Mr. Watson was the publisher of the editions of the Courant I examined for this post and based upon my readings he does not appear to have shied away from relaying news of Revolutionary America.As I turned the well-worn folio cover of Watson’s publication I was transported to New York, December 17, 1773.Detestable Tea. No. 471; Tuesday, December 28, 1773 – Tuesday, January 4, 1774. The Boston Tea Party occurred on December 16, 1773.  This edition of the newspaper was therefore published just days following that momentous event.   The front page is filled with the happenings of Boston and contains articles originally printed in both New York and Boston on 12/17/1773. New York’s response to the Tea Party opens Connecticut’s new year.  By advertisement distributed throughout New York on December 16, 1773, citizens of the City were called to action by the Members of the Association of the Sons of Liberty.  A meeting was to be held “to morrow, (being Friday) on Business of the utmost Importance: — and every Friend to the Liberties and Trade of America, are hereby most cordially invited, to meet at the same Time and Place.”Mowrey1The subsequent article describes the proceedings of the December 17, 1773 meeting.  Despite bad weather a “respectable number of citizens” attended the meeting at City Hall.  John Lamb, a member of the Association addressed those gathered, reading aloud letters from Boston’s and Philadelphia’s Committees of Correspondence, relaying the happenings in Boston “relative to the Importation of the East India Company’s Tea.”   Following the reading, a “Committee of Fifteen Gentlemen was chosen to answer those Letters, and to correspond with our Sister Colonies on the subject of the dutied Teas.”   This was followed by a message from the governor read by the mayor of New York declaring that one of the six ships carrying the “detestable tea” would be offloaded in New York.  The mayor asked the attendees if they consented to such and the crowd responded with a “general No, No, No.” It was then resolved that “this Body highly approve of that spirited and patriotic Conduct of our Brethren, of the City of Philadelphia, and the Town of Boston, in Support of the common Liberties of America.”  New York would stand in solidarity with Boston.

Of interest to note is that the ship bound for New York was “by an Act of God, fast on Shore, on the Back of Cape Cod.” Severe weather delayed the ship’s arrival and open revolt prevented its docking; it shrunk back to the land of its colonial overlord.

But the Boston Tea Party and the colonies’ responses are well documented and well studied.  While it was fascinating to stumble upon this account what I was really hoping to find were the tidbits of local life in Connecticut.  In turning the page I found just that.

Lost and Found: 12/28/1773: Mr. David Riley of Wethersfield placed an ad warning his creditors that his wife had “without any reason or cause eloped and willfully deserted [his] house” and that the public be warned – she should not be given credit upon his good name.  In a quick online genealogical search, I found reference to a Sarah Goodrich, born July 28, 1743 in Wethersfield, “poss. the Sarah Goodrich who m. David Riley May 17, 1773 at Rocky Hill.” Could this be the same Sarah and David and if so, what could have caused Sarah to run off just seven months into their marriage?

1/4/1774: Similarly, Ichabod Wadsworth offered a reward of six pence for the return of his “servant boy named George White” who had run away.  Mr. Wadsworth provided quite a detailed description of the runaway youth.  George was still missing as of the following publication.

1/31/1774: Poor Mr.  Jonah Gillet of Windsor was hopeful that his “stray’d” two year old HEIFER would make its way back home. A “handsome” reward was offered for its safe return.

4/18/1774: A “Negro Man about 26 years of age” reportedly ran away from Elihu Hyde.  Reward: $7. A sad commentary of the definition of property in 1774.

The Poet’s Corner offered a lovely piece written by “Maria” entitled Winter.   A sampling follows:  “The herbs and flow’rs that deck’d the field / Are winter’d all, and left; / The streams and Brooksto ice congeal’d / Are chain’d by Winter’s frost. / But nature changes all combine / To prove their Author’s hand divine.”

Job Opportunities. A blacksmith sought a “LAD, about 14 years of age” to apprentice. Asher Bull of New Hartford sought to hire three journeymen, joiners by trade.

For Sale. Ames’s Almanack for 1774 to be sold at the Printing Office.  (A 1762 edition of Ame’s Almanack is part of the Watkinson collection.)

Fighting Words. 3/8/1774 – “Four Millions of free Americans signed on to A new Creed, founded on immutable TRUTH.  We most solemnly DECLARE, that we sincerely believe the Parliaments or General Assemblies of North-America, have no more right…to tax the people of Great-Britain, than the Parliament of Great-Britain have to tax the people of America.”

4/8/1774 – New Haven”  “To complete the ruin of this island, we have a stamp-act, which has just taken place, and is perhaps the most oppressive order ever imposed, even in in oppressive governments.”

Letters to the Editor. 3/10/1774 – From Mr. Aaron Horsford of Wetherfield: “Mr Watson, please to insert the following in your next…I observ’d in your paper No. 480, a very ill-natur’d piece…”

It should be noted that for the most part, the “national” news offerings of local newspapers – such as the accounts of the Boston Tea Party relayed above – were simply articles reprinted from their original publications.  Jarvis notes that any local news was very limited.  But I found glints of local history in each of the last two pages of the Courant.  Much like Ulrich looked to Ballard’s diary, here we can look to the advertisements placed by local subscribers.  These ads very much add meat to the bones of local history and give us a taste of life in Hartford in 1774.

One final note is of an ad I came across in the edition covering the week of February 15, 1774 which is on topic for our class America Collects Itself.  Here we have an ad placed by Benjamin Trumbull of New Haven offering a “reward” of three dollars for a publication printed in New Haven in 1656.