September 3, 2008

Public Appearance of Publick Occurrences

Curators from the Newseum and the National Archives of the United Kingdom prepare to install Publick Occurrences in the News Corporation News History Gallery. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)
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Curators from the Newseum and the National Archives of the United Kingdom prepare to install Publick Occurrences in the News Corporation News History Gallery. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

The 318-year-old newspaper will be on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery until Dec. 2, 2008. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)
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The 318-year-old newspaper will be on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery until Dec. 2, 2008. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

The only known copy of Publick Occurrences, North America’s first newspaper, is on loan from the National Archives of the United Kingdom in London. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)
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The only known copy of Publick Occurrences, North America’s first newspaper, is on loan from the National Archives of the United Kingdom in London. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

For the first time in 11 years, North America’s first newspaper is back home. The only known copy of Publick Occurrences: Both Forreign and Domestick, which was published 318 years ago in Massachusetts, is now on display in the Newseum on a three-month loan from the National Archives of the United Kingdom in London.

Published in Boston by Benjamin Harris on Sept. 25, 1690, Publick Occurrences was just four pages long and lasted only one issue. But its stated purpose — to report the news accurately and fairly — holds true for newspapers today.

Harris, an energetic and controversial publisher in London, was a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and he frequently found himself in conflict with British royalty, which was aligned with the church. He was jailed twice between 1680 and 1683 before eventually fleeing to the American colonies to start Publick Occurrences, among other projects.

Like many of today’s newspapers, Publick Occurrences had stories about local news, tragedy and gossip. It included a report criticizing military abuses against French prisoners by Indians who were allies of the British, and the account of a man’s suicide following the death of his wife.

Some stories in the first edition scandalized Colonial authorities, including a report that the King of France "used to lie with the sons wife."

The British-controlled authorities, fearing a free press and objecting to the paper’s criticism of the government, ordered the paper shut down.

It would be 14 years until America’s second newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, appeared in 1704. By the end of the 18th century, though, 235 newspapers flourished in the newly formed United States.

Publick Occurrences is on display through December 2008 in the News Corporation News History Gallery. This is its first worldwide public appearance since appearing in the original Newseum in 1997.

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