It took a long time for the news to reach North Carolina.
The first American printing press began operation in Massachusetts
in 1638, with the first newspaper in the colonies published
in Boston in 1690. North Carolina, which lacked the busy
ports and bustling commercial centers of many of the other
colonies, was a littler slower to develop. Early eighteenth-century
North Carolinians had to wait weeks and in most cases months
for their news to arrive in papers from Northern cities
or from England. Even when newspapers were established
in South Carolina in 1732 and Virginia in 1736, North Carolinians
did not rush to establish a press. It was not until 1749,
when the legislature decided that the colony needed a press
of its own to print currency and laws, that James Davis,
an experienced printer from Virginia, was hired and brought
to set up shop in New Bern. Later that year Davis issued
his first title, "The journal of the House of Burgesses
of the Province of North-Carolina," the first work to be
printed in North Carolina.
Davis served as official printer of the colony for thirty-three
years, though his work was not limited to official publications.
In August 1751 he published the first issue of The
North Carolina Gazette , North Carolina's first newspaper.
Although it looks very different from the papers we're
used to today, the Gazette was a typical eighteenth-century
newspaper. It contained a wide range of articles, many
reprinted from other papers. Essays, laws, and unsigned
or pseudonymous editorials took up the first couple of
pages. Local news, if it was included at all, was often
relegated to inside pages, and advertisements and announcements
appeared throughout. Although the Gazette offered,
according to its masthead, "the freshest Advices, Foreign
and Domestic," the freshness of the news was debatable.
A typical issue might include stories reprinted from other
papers as many as four or five months old.
After the Gazette was established, newspapers
began to appear slowly across the state, with other papers
founded in the larger eastern cities of Wilmington, Fayetteville,
and Halifax. By the end of the eighteenth-century, Hillsborough,
Raleigh, and even Salisbury, in what was then considered
the far western end of the state, had newspapers.
North Carolina has come a long way from having just one
newspaper for the state. The North Carolina Collection
holds at least one copy, often on microfilm, of more than
two thousand different papers that have been published
in the state from the 1750s through today. Although many
of today's papers show up in other formats - online versions
are increasingly common and microfilm has been used in
libraries for decades - publishers continue to produce
paper copies, and are showing no signs of ending the tradition
of newspaper printing in North Carolina, begun 253 years
ago this month.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Robert N. Elliott, Jr., " James Davis. " In Dictionary
of North Carolina Biography , vol. 2., edited by
William S. Powell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Robert N. Elliott, Jr., "James Davis and the Beginning
of the Newspaper in North Carolina." North Carolina
Historical Review 42, no. 1 (Winter 1965): 1-20.
Watson, Alan D. "The Role of Printing in Eighteenth-Century
North Carolina." Carolina Comments 48, no.
3 (May 2000): 75-83.
North-Carolina Gazette, August 1, 1777. Masthead.
James Davis originally published the North-Carolina
Gazette from 1751 until around 1760. He began a
new newspaper, The North-Carolina Magazine; Or Universal
Intelligencer in 1764 and published this until around
1768. In May 1768 he started over again, this time returning
to his original title. The new North-Carolina Gazette lasted