Winter was a challenging time for newspaper printers in early New England. When temperatures dropped, ships stopped arriving from abroad and foreign intelligence dried up. Examining this link between climate and print culture helps to reveal the material origins of early America's literary culture and its public sphere.

In early 1780, at a crucial moment in the American Revolution, a difficult winter settled across the northeast. With the Continental Army encamped in Morristown, New Jersey, their commander soberly observed, “The oldest people now living in this Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from.”1 Even as the season brought an end to combat, the conflict seemed to be escalating as reports arrived that Spain had declared war against Britain.2 Would the Spanish navy attack Britain's holdings in the Caribbean? How would the British military reorganize for the spring campaign? And how were British leaders reacting to the changing tide of the war? These questions burned on the minds of New Englanders, but they went largely unanswered because the winter weather had “stopped all the avenues of intelligence.”3 As snow slushed the streets and the veins of harbors clogged with ice, news stopped circulating. Those anxiously seeking information about these potential turning points in the war could do little but wait for the thaw.4

Though readers were eager to learn more about these events abroad, newspapers were forced to publish materials that had little or nothing to do with the war. Across its January issues, for example, the Boston Independent Ledger published nearly a page of poetry, a lengthy decade-old travelogue from Sicily, and stale news from Europe.5 Many newspapers, including the Boston Gazette, the Boston Evening Post and General Advertiser, Massachusetts Spy, the New-Hampshire Gazette, the Providence Gazette, and the Independent Ledger, faced a shortage of both news and paper, leading them to temporarily cut the size of their publication in half.6 Some printers skipped issues entirely. Others noted that this temporary decline in the size of the paper was acceptable because so little news had arrived that the half-sized paper “contains all the material Intelligence that has come to Hand.”7 Printer Isaiah Thomas of the Worcester Massachusetts Spy could share little more than reports about the weather and the lack of access to news. Hearing nothing of interest from Boston, he promised “important intelligence from all quarters was expected as soon as the roads were in general passable.”8

These printing businesses struggled to survive that winter. Some readers ended their subscriptions. A newspaper without news is, after all, just paper—and some printers could not even offer much paper. Thomas noted that demand for the Spy plummeted. At the same time, though, a shortage of paper meant that the “cost of printing exceeds the price … for the papers at least four to one.”9 Two weeks later, he could only thank those “who have continued to take his paper during the late tedious weather.” Reduced to so few subscribers, he decided to print only two pages of news and suspend the paper for a week, waiting in hopes that enough of his chastened customers would resubscribe to allow him to continue publication.10

In March 1780, as some of the ice and snow began to thaw, several newspapers reprinted a poem that pled for readers to continue their subscriptions during winter months. Its verses portrayed a dialogue between two neighbors discussing the issue. A man named Thomas explains that

our neighbours have wrote to the Printer;

To stop sending news-papers during the winter;

For living is hard, and provisions are dear,

And there's seldom much news at this time of year;

But in summer the Papers more news will contain,

And then or in spring we may take them again.

But Thomas's neighbor John explains that the printer “can never survive, / Unless thro’ the winter you keep him alive.” The poem ends with Thomas deciding not to end his subscription as he realizes that printers are human beings: “indeed we did none of us think / That Printers could feel, or could want meat or drink.”11

The following winter, however, some readers remained unconvinced. As temperatures began to drop in November, Isaiah Thomas complained that “Many people are so mistaken as to imagine that there will be but little intelligence of consequence contained in News-Papers in winter, and therefore cease to become customers for them in that season of the year.” He felt that this was unfair, especially as newspapers were more expensive to produce in the winter months. He threatened to shutter the newspaper unless his readers recruited new subscribers for the winter.12 By March, perhaps frustrated that his occasional editorial asides had not convinced readers of the importance of continuing to subscribe during winter, Thomas reprinted the poem that had circulated the previous year, editing in some adaptations to the circumstances of the Massachusetts Spy. Instead of the character Thomas speaking to John, the poem began, “Says Jemmy, I've sent to Thomas the Printer, / To stop sending News-Papers during the Winter.” Having decided to insert his own name into the poem, Isaiah Thomas must have realized that he would need to rechristen one of the two original characters, whose given name Thomas was confusingly identical to the printer's surname, as “Jemmy.” His adaptation also introduced the exhortation, “Then let's give him a lift, and revive the old SPY, / For without some assistance ‘twill certainly die.” Finally, Thomas inserted an exchange at the end in which Jemmy pleads, “I cannot buy News-Papers and all else I crave,” to which John responds, “drink the less Flip, and continue the SPY.”13 For Thomas, it seemed obvious that a newspaper subscription was more valuable than flip, a warm alcoholic drink similar to egg nog. But in the dead of winter, many readers probably preferred the bracing winter drink.

Though the winter of early 1780 was particularly severe, even mild winters could disrupt a newspaper's fragile mechanisms for newsgathering, production, and distribution, often all at once. These challenges were a part of the seasonal rhythm of newspaper printing in colder climates. We can see the relationship between climate and early newspaper printing most clearly in New England where settlers experienced some of the continent's worst winters and where newspapers in North America first developed. The study of early American print culture often focuses on the development of the so-called “public sphere,” an imagined space of intellectual exchange created primarily through media that corresponded with but was set apart from the physical world. By producing books, pamphlets, newspapers, and broadsides, and encouraging other forms of communication, printers helped to create this world of discourse for European settlers. Immersed in the words and ideas on a printed page, it is easy for historians to forget that physical action constituted the immaterial realm of the public sphere. If we are to understand the creation of New England's early public sphere, we must understand it through the material exchanges that sustained it—exchanges that weather often limited or prevented.

Beginning with William Cronon's essential work, a rich body of scholarship has explored the environmental history of early New England. These historians have focused on the impact of the region's harsh climate on resource-gathering, commerce, diplomacy, and war but seldom on how people gathered news.14 Likewise, even as they have become interested in the materiality of early print culture, historians of early American communications have displayed only passing interest in the impact of winter weather on information exchange.15 Scholars have recognized neither the extent to which climate restricted the embodied practices that made printing possible in early America nor how these limitations affected the character of the public sphere that they produced. New England printers, who struggled to find material to occupy readers in the absence of fresh news, sought out and thereby encouraged the production and distribution of literary essays, fiction, poetry, and instructional materials. At its beginning, New England's popular literary culture found room for expression in the columns vacated by absent news reports.

Responses to wintertime disruptions also allow us to track how New England settlers’ attitudes and expectations about news evolved over time. In the early eighteenth century, printed news about the world had been comparatively scarce. Newspapers provided some readers with access to foreign information but not in a predictable and steady manner. In that informational landscape, wintertime disruptions seemed quite normal. By the late eighteenth century, though, news was more abundant. A growing number of ships, including scheduled packet ships, regularly brought reports from Europe and the Caribbean to New England. An increasingly robust internal communications infrastructure, with dozens of newspapers and an improved postal system, spread news from the Atlantic world relatively quickly throughout the continent. Moreover, the excitement of the American Revolution and the revolutionary events of the 1780s and 1790s spurred greater interest in global news. By the late eighteenth century New England readers expected a steady stream of news and began to grumble about seasonal interruptions. As the winter of 1780 demonstrates, some readers became dissatisfied enough to cancel their subscriptions because of the lack of news. While readers’ expectations about connectivity had changed along with the world around them, their demand for reliable communications outpaced their information technology's ability to overcome environmental barriers. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that New England finally conquered the communications challenges of winter.

New England winters today are unpleasant enough, but they compare little to the winters of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century during the “Little Ice Age.” If New Englanders of today were transported back to those early winters, they might be surprised to find enormous snow drifts and frozen harbors. They might, in fact, be as horrified as the earliest British settlers in the region who discovered that New England, though at a Mediterranean latitude, was colder on average than much of northern Europe.16 Winters could be punishing. When snow fell in great amounts, it prevented horseback travel on roads—little resembling what we would today call roads—and forced colonists to travel slowly, if at all, on snowshoes.

If snowfall inhibited local and regional interchange, ice was the enemy of Atlantic communications. When temperatures dropped, frozen harbors blocked or endangered incoming maritime traffic. Newspapers abounded with accounts of ships ravaged by ice as they approached a harbor. The brig Bonetta, for example, “had her Bows so much torn by the Ice” as she approached New York in 1760 that the ships that discovered her were unable to tow her to the wharf. Instead, they ran her ashore on some rocks and did their best to recover her cargo.17 Though ice did not develop in every harbor each year, it was sufficiently common that ship captains and merchants were cautious about planning journeys that brought them to the northeastern corner of North America during colder months. Those who did risked encountering unanticipated expenses. When a ship left London for Boston in late 1756, for example, it discovered poor conditions and turned away for the Caribbean to await better weather. It was not until April 1757, seven months after departing London, that the ship arrived in Boston.18 Likewise, in February 1784, a ship left Charleston for Philadelphia expecting a short voyage. Carrying provisions for a normal trip, the crew experienced a “very disagreeable passage” when icy conditions kept them at sea for twenty days.19

Winter weather did not by any means create a complete blockade to Atlantic communications. Some ships left Europe in hopes that the weather in New England and the ocean between them would be acceptable, which was often the case. Moreover, ships from elsewhere in North America and from the Caribbean regularly arrived in New England during colder months. As they could turn back if they encountered poor conditions, short journeys were less risky than Atlantic passages. Overall, however, the number of ships arriving in New England harbors plummeted during colder months.20 Other parts of the continent also experienced this seasonal variation. Canadian port cities, especially those along the Saint Lawrence River, were particularly vulnerable to wintertime interruptions.21 New York, Philadelphia, and even Baltimore regularly experienced winter shipping slumps. Indeed, seasonal rhythms were normal features of early American commerce and culture.22

Yet New England's early newspaper printers found it especially difficult to adapt to winter. Cold weather inhibited the production of rag-based papers, which involved washing, steeping, and boiling rags in hot water—difficult in freezing conditions. Printer Roger Storrs of the Berkshire Chronicle anxiously asked his readers in the summer of 1788 to send him their rags “as soon as possible, in order that he may be enabled to procure a stock of Paper for winter, before the season for making it is past.”23 Other printers, especially in the early eighteenth century, depended upon imported paper from England, which often became scarce with slower transatlantic arrivals. Even when New England printers could find paper, it might not be the right size and quality. Elisha Babcock of the Hartford American Mercury explained that he had been forced to print a small issue in early 1804 because the “severity of the past Winter” had made it impossible to “procure paper for our News, of the usual quality and size.” Ironically, on the page following this notice, the American Mercury featured a stationer's advertisement promising the “Best English Paper, of the largest and smaller sizes constantly on hand.”24

Winter was also a challenging time to distribute newspapers to subscribers. Printers' apprentices and other carriers usually delivered a paper in its city of publication. Covering relatively small distances, carriers were usually reliable distributors even in winter conditions. In fact, at the beginning of each new year, a customer was expected to tip their carrier, who provided a poem to prompt them. These “carrier addresses,” as they were known, regularly remarked on the carrier's dogged efforts even in terrible winter conditions. One typical carrier address from Boston began, “Oft Gen'rous Patrons, to regale your Taste, / The Summer Suns, and Winter Storms I've fac'd, / How many annual Miles fatigu'd I've trod, / Thro’ depths of Snow, and Magazines of Mud!”25 But post riders, who contracted with postmasters and newspaper printers—sometimes one in the same—to carry mail and papers to rural customers, faced greater challenges. In snowy conditions, it was not always possible for post riders to maintain their routes. In January 1760, a reader of the Boston Gazette complained that he had missed something important in the paper because the post rider had “left off riding our way, on account of the difficulty of the season.”26 Hugh Finlay, who worked as inspector of postal roads from 1773 to 1774, acknowledged that “in winter the riders are very irregular.”27 Anticipating that their routes would take much longer, some post riders moved from weekly to fortnightly delivery during winter.28 These slower and more inconsistent mail routes limited subscribers’ ability to receive the papers they were owed. But perhaps more importantly, sluggish post riders prevented printers from exchanging newspapers with other printers, which was an essential part of their intelligence-gathering process.

Newspaper printers’ challenges with production, distribution, and newsgathering often peaked in January, which happened to be the month when printers were most vocal about begging their readers to pay their subscription fees. Because many newspapers were first published around the New Year, and because printers usually asked subscribers to pay a year's subscription in advance, they often found themselves begging subscribers for money in the very issues that contained the year's least satisfying material. Solomon Southwick of the Newport Mercury saw these forces collide in early 1771. In a February issue, he apologized that the “late severe Weather” had prevented him from “receiving a Supply of Paper,” so that he could only publish “Half a Sheet this Week,” meaning that the paper would be two pages long, rather than the usual four. Yet if this annoyed some readers, Southwick assured them it “can't be any great disappointment to them, as there is but very little News of any Consequence circulating at this time.” The winter weather had prevented the mail from bringing him letters or newspapers that he could reprint in his pages. Nevertheless, in the same paragraph, he urged his subscribers to “discharge their Accounts immediately” so that he could “pay for the Paper he is indebted for and procure more.”29

In the next issue, another “small Half Sheet” composed in two columns rather than the usual three, Southwick again assured his readers that they were missing nothing. The two pages contained “all the Intelligence of any Consequence, there being a great Dearth of News at Present.”30 As he asked his readers to live up to their side of their relationship by paying for their subscriptions, Southwick provided them with less news. Asking more of them, he offered less. Even those who wanted to continue to subscribe struggled to pay. Cash was generally in short supply during winter, and readers often paid in barter. One November, Charles Holt of the New London Bee made light of his subscribers’ reluctance to part with their cash during the winter, encouraging them to forward their fees “before the winter sets in and their hearts or purses are frozen.”31

New England's newspaper press, the first in North America and the most robust regional network for decades, used most of its columns to print two kinds of content when they were available: local advertisements and reprinted news from abroad. Both became scarcer in winter. Especially in port cities, where merchants often advertised the latest ship's wares, declines in wintertime shipping led to fewer advertisements. The freezing of harbors and rivers, along with large snowfalls, slowed down all commerce, as the author of a carrier address called “On Winter” (1753) observed, “In Town how dull all Business goes! / The River Ice, the Streets with Snows / Are clogg'd: Ev'n Conversation's froze.”32 Along with reduced subscription revenue, the seasonal ebb of advertisements must have threatened some newspaper businesses.

News from Europe, and particularly London, was the lifeblood of the colonial British American newspaper. It was what readers were most interested in. Indeed, it is only a small exaggeration to say that for most of the eighteenth century, there was little demand for printers to share anything other than news from abroad. When the printers of Vermont's Green Mountain Patriot announced their newspaper to the public in 1798, for example, they explained that they wanted to slake the public's “ardent thirst for novelty” and answer “the general cry of ‘What's the news abroad.’”33 While local and regional news circulated through letters and word-of-mouth, newspapers played a crucial role in sharing much-sought-after news from abroad.

The sporadic nature of ship arrivals during winter disrupted printers’ ability to provide a coherent account of events abroad. While merchants and ship captains cared more about ensuring that a vessel's passage was successful than a voyage's elapsed time, punctuality mattered a great deal to New England newsgatherers. In their ideal world, ships would arrive in regular, evenly spaced intervals. Instead, the seasonal irregularity of Atlantic shipping meant that printers did not have consistent access to foreign news. Because some readers might not pay for papers that lacked interesting intelligence, slow news weeks could threaten a printer's subscription base. Winter, in fact, was a time when many subscribers finally had the excess time to peruse the public prints. One farmer who lived outside of Boston explained in a 1788 newspaper essay that “in winter I have leisure to read the papers.”34 Though the light dimmed in the winter evening, the absence of much daytime agricultural labor meant that this farmer had completed his chores before bedtime, leaving him with idle evening hours. Interesting news often disappeared just as many readers most desired it.

As the continent's first long-running newspaper publisher, John Campbell had to be creative to negotiate these challenges. In a 1719 issue of his Boston News-Letter, he admitted that it had been “six Months” since “we had any Vessels from London,” which caused an information drought lasting from late September until early April. Writing at a time when his was the only newspaper published in North America, Campbell could not rely on news arriving from a nearby city's paper. He had no option but to wait. What would he print in these winter months? If he offered nothing but advertisements, his subscribers would complain. In 1720, he considered simply suspending his newspaper in colder months. He wrote that he might “not Print a Sheet every other Week this Winter time,” but if he decided to take a hiatus, he would “make it up in the Spring when ships do arrive from Great Britain.”35

Campbell eventually settled this problem by almost entirely giving up on timeliness. He knew that when a ship arrived, a dearth of intelligence could quickly be replaced with abundance. Indeed, a single ship might carry several newspapers, overflowing with more material than Campbell could fit into his columns. He created a system to balance out the winter's scarcity with the spring's overabundance. When a ship arrived, he would give a “Summary Account of the most Observable Occurrences” but would devote most of his pages to providing a continual “Threed” of news reprints containing all the news from the “British World.” As he admitted, though, this system had a flaw. Printing a continual record of news meant that by the spring of 1720, he was sharing material that was “12 or 14 Months behind hand.” But this adaptation was designed to ensure that he would always have something to print. If anyone could “Demonstrate a better Method,” Campbell pled, he would be happy to consider it.36

Feasts and famines continued to create problems as newspaper printing expanded beyond Boston. Aside from the occasional supplement, a newspaper had only a finite amount of space for news. When an excess of news arrived, some of it would inevitably go to waste as further content arrived while queued material grew outdated. In a January 1745 notice to his subscribers, Benjamin Franklin rejoiced that a “long Dearth of News” had ended with the arrival of English newspapers. Yet he was frustrated to have “a Series of Newspapers come to hand in a Lump together” after “months without having a Syllable.” Most of his contemporaries did not follow Campbell's method of providing a complete thread of events but, as Franklin explained, instead generally “crowd all the latest Events into our First Paper, and are obliged to fill up the Succeeding Ones with Articles of prior Date, or else omit them intirely, as being anticipated and stale.” This system would be baffling for readers who might read of a declaration of war, for example, after they read about the treaty ending it. Like Campbell, Franklin promised to avoid this “confused Method” and instead provide the latest news in the order it arrived.37

Over time, though, most northeastern printers did not adopt Franklin or Campbell's methods for dealing with seasonal changes to news flows. The “thirst for novelty,” along with increasing competition, meant that a printer could hardly afford to share exciting news weeks after a rival. Instead, by the 1730s and 1740s, most New England printers settled into a familiar ritual: when news ran short in the winter, they printed a mix of poetry—often about winter weather—local or regional news, prescriptive essays, instructive texts, literary works, available advertisements, and some older or less significant news.

While poetry was a common sight in eighteenth-century newspapers, it was particularly prominent in the winter. By the late 1720s and the 1730s, John Boydell, printer of the Boston Gazette, discovered that poetry could fill his pages in the absence of news.38 John Green and Joseph Russell of the Boston Post-Boy likewise offered an excerpt from a long poem “For the Entertainment of our Readers at this dull Season for News” in December 1759.39 Readers sometimes sent verses to newspapers to “divert some of your Readers this Dull Season.”40 A Pennsylvania Gazette reader offered Franklin a poem about winter in February 1752, noting that as they sent it, “The Frost seems going off; I wish you Joy of its Departure, for I fancy you have been somewhat scarce of Occurrences by it.” This poem, the author suggested, was also “partly at least, owing to the Frost.”41 The writer seemed to imply that either the dullness or the beauty of the season had inspired the poem. But it was also more publishable in winter when printers had need for such material. The weather, then, probably created both a greater supply and a greater demand for poetry.

Another important element in many wintertime newspaper issues were moral, instructive, and political essays. In early 1742, a “Season wherein but little News, properly so called, can be expected,” printer Thomas Fleet announced his Boston Evening-Post “shall sometimes entertain our Readers with Extracts from approved Authors, whose Writings are but little known among us.” He devoted a quarter of that issue to an essay on education.42 Fleet and John Draper of the Boston News-Letter drew extensively from the Gentleman's Magazine, the first long-running English-language magazine published in London. Indeed, in one seven-week period from December 1743 through January 1744, each issue that Fleet published featured an essay from the Gentleman's Magazine.43 This material was not event-driven and therefore did not expire with the passage of time. Perhaps even better for New England printers, many of its essays were lengthy, usually taking up the better part of a page. One can imagine printers such as Fleet and Draper setting its pages aside in reserve, like squirrels hoarding a winter cache of nuts. Some newspapers also took up essays from defunct London magazines of decades earlier, such as the Tatler and the Spectator.44 In 1741, a correspondent wrote to Andrew Bradford of the American Weekly Mercury to offer him an essay on fashion: “It now being Winter and not much News stirring, I here send you a Paper taken from the Spectator, concerning the great Hoop Petticoats which are now wore.”45 Though the Spectator had been last published nearly thirty years before, this fashion essay apparently remained relevant—at least in the colonies.

A scarcity of news not only served London authors but also created space for local writers. Some of them may have waited for moments of information scarcity, holding back essays until printers were starved for content. One senses something like that behind the assertiveness of the salutation in an essay sent to a New York newspaper in 1757: “Messrs. Printers, In the dead of Winter, please to put this in your Paper.”46 Writers understood that printers’ standards for inclusion were lower in the winter. In February 1729, before embarking on his own career as a printer, Benjamin Franklin prefaced an early essay by noting that the “Freezing of our River has the same Effect on News as on Trade” which meant that newspapers were “not always equally entertaining.” An absence of “fresh Advices from Europe” created space for his moralizing “Busy Body” essays.47 Moreover, winter likely gave some hobbyist writers the time to commit thoughts to paper. One wintertime essayist described their work as “the product of a Barren Soil, in a Barren Season.”48 Winter was sometimes called “the dull season,” a time when early New Englanders anticipated that the pace of news and labor would slow, allowing them to turn their attention to other matters.49 Literary scholars might learn much by investigating the extent to which newspapers’ seasonal demand for poetry and evergreen essays contributed to the development of early American literary culture.

In the early-to-mid-eighteenth century, printers often noted when winter disrupted communications, but they rarely anticipated complaints. Instead, newspaper printers and readers treated the seasonal absence of interesting news as an inevitable ritual and perhaps, for some, even an interesting change of pace. William Goddard offered as much in the 1762 prospectus for his Providence Gazette that promised “curious Extracts from the celebrated Writers” during any lapse of communication.50 One author wrote to the New-England Weekly Journal in 1741 to request the insertion of an enclosed essay on the properties of bulls’ blood. He or she explained, “In this Dearth of News, when even Matters of Curiosity and Amusement are so often inserted in our Publick Prints; be pleased to give a Place in your's, to the enclosed Piece. There is one End, at least, of a News Paper will be answer'd by it; For the Subject is New, if not curious, and amusing.”51 For this reader, an absence of news was an opportunity for the public to consider other sources of novelty and intellectual pleasure.

Severe winter weather invited all sorts of improvisation. On Christmas day in 1764, for example, sheets of snow fell across New England, the harbors filled with ice, and temperatures dropped to four degrees Fahrenheit.52 According to one account, by the time that the storm settled, there were four feet of snow on the ground.53 Newspapers in Boston approached this challenge in different ways. In their issues after the storm, John Green and Joseph Russell of the Boston Post-Boy pulled together old news that they had not included in previous issues.54 In the Boston News-Letter, on the other hand, printer Richard Draper decided that no one wanted to read old news and published an issue that was half as long as usual. He promised that, unlike Green and Russell, his paper would try not to “be backward” in the future. He would aim to provide only the latest news, moving forward through time.55 Benjamin Edes and John Gill simply loaded the pages of the Boston Gazette with advertisements.56 In the New-Hampshire Gazette, Daniel and Richard Fowle dealt with the dearth of news by publishing essays on idleness, frugality, accidents, follies, parenting, the God Janus, a 1627 earthquake, and lotteries, as well as some poetry and a column of “Jests.”57 Samuel Hall of the Newport Mercury published an essay on politeness, a bit of poetry, and a significant amount of advertising.58 In Providence, William Goddard printed an essay on “The Miseries of Life,” more poetry, and a discussion of the manufacturing of porcelain in Dresden.59

Even if they did not expect to encounter news, some readers might have struggled to care about this sort of material. When Thomas Green published an essay in the Connecticut Courant about the medicinal properties of tea on the last day of 1764, for example, one reader restlessly doodled in the margins.60 This was not the content that subscribers had agreed to pay for. By making information scarcer, winter created a disincentive to subscribe. It also heightened many of the other obstacles that early American newspaper businesses faced: it made paper more expensive, production and distribution more difficult, and reduced the amount of commercial exchange being advertised in newspapers. Relying on an uncertain flow of advertisements and a few hundred often-delinquent subscribers, New England newspapers were only marginally profitable in the best of times. During winter, many newspaper printers probably carried a loss. How many newspapers did the lengthy New England winters kill off? Lacking detailed account books, this question is impossible to answer. But it is clear, at least, that winters would have figured prominently in printers’ planning for the future.

By the second half of the eighteenth century, changing material conditions allowed for greater wintertime connectivity between New England and the rest of the world. A swelling settler population in British North America and then the United States, boosted by a prodigious birthrate, attracted more commerce. More ship arrivals brought more letters, more rumors, and more newspapers whose contents could be republished. Infrastructure improvements, such as the expansion of postal routes and roads, allowed printers to exchange newspapers easily with each other in hopes of finding interesting material for their own readers. A more internally integrated North America meant that fresh news in Charleston could more quickly reach readers in Maine. Additionally, by the middle of the century, packet ships began to provide a reliable source of news. Small, quick boats that travelled on regular schedules between two or more ports, and generally carrying only mail and passengers, packets were particularly useful for letter writers, who could plan to send mail on one rather than sending it aboard a commercial vessel. They were also invaluable in winter because they obeyed a schedule—departing even if they were less than full—rather than commercial considerations. After a failed experiment in the early eighteenth century, regular packet service between England and New York City began in the middle of the eighteenth century and continued into the nineteenth century.61

Through an analysis of about 25,000 New England newspaper headings’ citations to London papers, we can begin to understand how wintertime Atlantic communications evolved. During the eighteenth century, because printers took so much of their material from other printers, most of these headings were simply the name of the newspaper that the material originally appeared in or, more commonly, the city in which that newspaper was published. A typical newspaper heading from the era would have been something like “London, Oct. 12.” Analyzing the length of time between when a newspaper account was first printed in London and when it was republished in New England can provide some sense of the speed of communication.62

The lag time between a news item's origin in London and its publication in New England differed considerably between seasons (see Tables 1 and 2). For news originating in London from December through February in the early eighteenth century, just over a quarter of news items (27.7%) appeared after two months and almost a fifth (17.8%) took four months to be republished in the British American colonies. In contrast, news published in London in the spring, when a rush of ships left for the colonies, appeared much sooner. In the early eighteenth century, nearly half (48.8%) of spring news items appeared after two months and only 7.1% appeared after four months. By the late eighteenth century, nearly four times as much spring news appeared after a month of publication whereas about twice as much winter news took three or more months to be republished in New England.

Table 1:

Age of New England news arriving from London, for items originally dated from December through February.

Two Months Old or LessMore than Two Months OldMore than Three Months OldMore than Four Months Old
1720–1755 0.0% 27.7% 54.4% 17.8% 
1760–1795 2.0% 31.7% 56.2% 10.1% 
1800–1835 11.0% 55.5% 28.9% 4.5% 
Two Months Old or LessMore than Two Months OldMore than Three Months OldMore than Four Months Old
1720–1755 0.0% 27.7% 54.4% 17.8% 
1760–1795 2.0% 31.7% 56.2% 10.1% 
1800–1835 11.0% 55.5% 28.9% 4.5% 
Table 2:

Age of New England news arriving from London, for items originally dated from March through May.

More than One Month OldMore than Two Months OldMore than Three Months OldMore than Four Months Old
1720–1755 2.6% 48.8% 41.5% 7.1% 
1760–1795 7.5% 57.7% 30.6% 4.2% 
1800–1835 28.0% 66.2% 5.5% 0.03% 
More than One Month OldMore than Two Months OldMore than Three Months OldMore than Four Months Old
1720–1755 2.6% 48.8% 41.5% 7.1% 
1760–1795 7.5% 57.7% 30.6% 4.2% 
1800–1835 28.0% 66.2% 5.5% 0.03% 

Yet it was not simply that news was slower to arrive in winter. As Franklin's and Campbell's struggles with clumpy ship arrivals suggest, the eventual appearance of long-promised news did not ensure that it would all be printed. Much of the news from abroad that New Englanders sought never appeared in their newspapers at all. Indeed, throughout the eighteenth century, compared to London news dated from March through May, about forty percent less material dated from December through February appeared in New England newspapers. In a seasonless world, one would expect for these numbers to be approximately equivalent, because London newspapers produced about the same amount of news across all seasons. This data suggests that harsh winter conditions not only created a communications lag between New England and other parts of the world but also swallowed up much of the information that would have otherwise likely appeared in New England newspapers.

These patterns affected Atlantic intelligence arriving through harbors more than it did news that originated nearby and arrived through overland routes. For example, because post riders could usually make their way, if slowly, across roads in wintertime, changing seasons barely affected the amount of news that New England newspaper printers shared from Philadelphia. No matter what time of year, something originally published in Philadelphia was about equally likely to be republished in New England.63 Shorter distances allowed travelers to assess the risk of movement before leaving home. A ship leaving Philadelphia would have a much better sense of whether Boston harbor was likely to be open or closed than a ship from Europe. For that reason, the uncertainty of winter travel hampered transatlantic passages most of all.

By the late eighteenth century, readers and their printers began to view wintertime information slowdowns in a different light. Desperate to retain subscribers during winter months, printers often faced the awkward task of apologizing for the weather. Though they did not control when ships, stagecoaches, or the mail arrived, they knew that news-hungry readers might blame them for publishing an issue without much interesting intelligence even if they substituted it with essays or poetry. Indeed, one writer observed in March 1797 that printers suffered more than anyone else during news droughts: “Poor fellows! With them Silence is Guilt: they are infallibly condemned if they have nothing to say for themselves.”64 In Philadelphia, printer Eleazer Oswald explained to readers in a November issue, “The present dearth of news, and of true intelligence, will be a sufficient apology for the publication of so many pieces, unattended with not even one solitary column of useful, foreign information.”65 Alexander Young and Thomas Minns of Boston's Massachusetts Mercury apologized to readers in December 1794 for printing lengthy extracts from debates in the US Congress, explaining that a limited amount of “Foreign Important Information” compelled them to break their “rule of variegating the contents of the Mercury.”66 In late 1790, likewise, George Hough of the Concord Herald admitted “all news we believe is frozen up by the cold weather—we have not even a report with which we can serve up a paragraph for our news-hungry customers.”67 The next winter, Hough again noted the “severity of the weather,” and admitted “All the News is frozen up—the Boston post has not arrived—and we have nothing but a poor cold collation to serve up for our customers this week.”68 Compared with earlier newspaper printers, late eighteenth-century printers displayed far more anxiety about meeting their readers’ demands for foreign news during winter months.

One reason for this was that foreign news had become more relevant and exciting in the late eighteenth century. This was especially true in the 1780s and 1790s, when global revolutionary events—especially the revolutions in the French empire—gripped Americans’ attentions. During the French Revolutionary wars Americans followed the march of armies, anticipated battles, and offered opinions about likely outcomes through their newspapers. As a teenager growing up in a county in New York state adjacent to Massachusetts and Vermont, Levi Beardsley would “run through the woods over a hill (often before breakfast) after the paper, and I generally read the part containing the news, before reaching home.” As he later recalled in a memoir published in 1852, “I have a slight recollection of the siege of Toulon in 1794, when Buonaparte first distinguished himself in driving off the English. The campaigns of 1795 I recollect, the most of them from newspaper readings. Buonaparte's Italian campaign in 1796, and from that time till his final downfall and banishment to St. Helena, all the principal events are more firmly fixed in my memory than occurrences of a recent date.” Anticipating that his nineteenth-century readers, who experienced a “surfeit of newspapers,” might find this strange, he noted that “it is difficult to imagine with what avidity the little weekly messenger was sought after, and how thoroughly it was read among the neighbours.”69 In a world of such intensive reading of foreign news, its wintertime absence must have seemed to be especially burdensome.

At times, the seasonal blockage of news interrupted important storylines. In 1797 and 1798, for example, Americans impatiently awaited the results of negotiations between their envoys in Paris and the French government to resolve a diplomatic rupture between the two nations arising out of events preceding the XYZ affair. The US envoys ended their negotiations and prepared their dispatches in late October, but because ships prudently avoided leaving France for the United States during the late fall, American observers were forced to wait for months.70 As time wore on without news from the envoys, one observer noted that the nation's Francophiles “fondly believed there was nothing wanted but the communications of our commissioners to satisfy us all,” and they “reproached the tardiness of the winter that detained the joyful news.”71 In February, Boston printer Benjamin Russell complained that the absence “of news from Europe, at the present moment, is unparalleled in the barrenness of winter solstices.” Americans were left “on the tip-toe of expectation of news” from the envoys.72 It galled him to experience a shortage of foreign news at such an interesting moment. He had to wait longer still, as the dispatches did not arrive in the United States until March and were not made public for another month after that.

Indeed, as communications infrastructures had evolved, so had readers’ and printers’ expectations for them. The increasingly regular flow of news over time highlighted moments of scarcity and accustomed readers to newspapers full of intelligence. In February 1798, Charles Holt of the New London Bee groused that “We have not any great variety of news to present our readers this week. There is rather a dearth of intelligence at present.” He attributed this, in part, to the delivery of a mail with “but three solitary papers” that contained “but little information.”73 In that issue, though, Holt filled four pages of three columns each with a mix of national controversies, accounts from Philadelphia, Ireland, North Carolina, Paris, New York, New Haven, Stonington, Rhode Island, the Caribbean, and Savannah. Whether or not this material was of interest to readers, it is difficult to characterize this as a “dearth of intelligence” considering that less than a century before, Holt's predecessors had often struggled to fill their four pages with anything at all.

During March 1795, in one of these seasonal fits of boredom, a local author wrote a satirical essay called “On the Scarcity of News” for the New Hampshire Amherst Journal. Observing that there is so “rarely a scrap of intelligence worth reading” in newspapers, he proposed that printers hire an “idle person” to visit prisons and “write the history of the lives and adventures” of their inmates. Printers could also, he continued, acquaint readers with the lives of political candidates: “It must be ascertained how many mistresses a man must keep, and how many children he must maintain in each county in the State, to qualify him for public confidence.”74 This was meant as a joke, but it might have been the work of a prognosticator. In the early nineteenth century, as cities grew, verbal exchange and gossip no longer sufficed as a source of local news, and newspapers noticed that there was news all around them. Urbanization led to growing interest in reading about local matters such as crime while political parties stoked interest in national politics and scandal. Once news could be collected at a courthouse or a legislature and not just a harbor, there would never again be predictable seasonal scarcities of news.

Moreover, in the early nineteenth century, wintertime communications further accelerated. The pace of early nineteenth-century news during winter was similar to the speed of late eighteenth-century springtime news (see Tables 1 and 2). Though a disparity remained between information flows in winter and warmer weather, the speed of Atlantic winter communications grew considerably for several reasons. First, improvements to internal infrastructure and increased shipping, which began in the eighteenth century, continued into the nineteenth century. Second, new commercial packet ships launched in the late 1810s and early 1820s, offering more regularity in mail and communications.75 Third, in the 1830s, Americans finally developed a way to break apart the winter ice that collected in their harbors. Entrepreneurs developed sturdy steam ships to plow through harbor ice and tow stranded ships to safety.76 As these boats succeeded in clearing paths through ice in Baltimore harbor (the first city to make use of such an ice boat), one observer noted, “there need be no hesitation on the part of captains of vessels to approach our port in the winter season. With the aid of the ice boat they are assured of an entrance through that barrier.”77 The dream of a “free communication with the ocean at all seasons” was now possible.78 Finally, by the 1840s, the growth of railroads, canals, telegraphy, and steamships demonstrated, according to Bostonian Henry Adams, that the “old universe was thrown into the ash-heap and a new one created.”79 Just as they had in the late eighteenth century, expectations changed with the times. By March 1840, the newspaper editor Jeremiah Hughes was complaining, “We are nearly two months without information from Europe. Vessels from there have had long passages.”80 While two months would have seemed like a short winter passage for news in the eighteenth century, by 1840 it was an eternity.

In July 1866, after a few false starts, a successful telegraph line was completed across the north Atlantic.81 The Boston Evening Transcript announced, “Boston is placed in almost immediate communication with all parts of Europe.” The paper correctly predicted that this communication tool would reconfigure science and business but incorrectly imagined that it would do so by “diminishing national prejudices.”82 Communications that had once taken weeks, and before that months, could now pass under the ocean almost instantaneously. With the long, bloody Civil War ended, Americans looked to a brighter future of connectivity and progress. Americans had finally defeated winter.

A few months before the transatlantic cable line was completed, Massachusetts poet John Greenleaf Whittier published a long narrative poem that looked not to the future but to the New England past of his childhood in the early nineteenth century. In Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl, Whittier told the story of a family trapped inside their home by a blizzard for three days. They spent those days in conversation, but even after digging themselves out, it took a week before they heard anything from the outside world. Having “Read and reread” their almanac, books, and pamphlets, the family of Whittier's poem grew bored until, as he related, “At last the floundering carrier bore / The village paper to our door.” The newspaper offered their first taste of novelty in some time. With the paper, the family's thoughts turned to “warmer zones” as the paper directed their attentions to the Gulf coast, Costa Rica, and Greece. Tedious, week-old news of weather, weddings, deaths, and crime seemed miraculous after more than a week of absence. With the newspaper, Whittier wrote, “We felt the stir of hall and street, / The pulse of life that round us beat; / The chill embargo of the snow / Was melted in the genial glow; / Wide swung again our ice-locked door, / And all the world was ours once more!”83

There is a note of humor, and perhaps nostalgia, in this description of the family's joy at the restoration of their connection to the broader world after ten days without a newspaper. They had spent more than a week swapping stories and learning more about each other, but this more intimate connection seemed to offer little next to an account of events in Greece and Costa Rica. Perhaps this poem was Whittier's way of subtly sneering at his contemporaries who were celebrating the annihilation of distance that transatlantic telegraphy imminently promised. In an era that celebrated its extraordinary degree of global connectivity, Whittier lingered on an earlier season of disconnection and isolation, when Americans were grateful for even slow and uncertain communications. Having been born in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1807, he was familiar with the yearly rhythms that news had obeyed for decades in New England. During Whittier's childhood and for decades earlier, even mild winter weather could disrupt a community's connection to the broader world. For millions of northeasterners, the communications revolution of the nineteenth century involved not only greater internal connection, as historians have long understood, but also an end to the seasonality of communications and the relative isolation of winter.84 Arguably, though, it had come too late. By that point, the great topics of interest and conversation related to national politics and local affairs. Foreign news no longer dominated American newspapers as it once had.85 Even as transatlantic news began to flow more easily, Americans had become less interested in it.

Scholars such as Benedict Anderson have long suggested that newspapers allowed early modern peoples across the world to experience time in a new way. While their own subjective, daily experiences had once defined a people's temporal lives, newspapers encouraged readers to think of themselves as living in parallel with millions of others around the world.86 Scanning the columns of a newspaper, New Englanders saw events unfolding in Europe, the Caribbean, and in other parts of North America, as well as, to a lesser degree, in South America, Africa, and Asia. But seasonal variations disrupted this. With the arrival of winter, New Englanders could no longer watch their lives play out alongside distant others. The arrival of winter might have seemed to slow time down, to reduce its eventfulness, and to diminish readers’ sense of living contemporaneously with others around the world. The return of news in the spring, on the other hand, might have seemed to energize and hasten the march of time. For many, contemporaneity was seasonal.

As Whittier's poem suggests, nineteenth-century Americans generally yoked progress with connectivity and with the speed at which information, commodities, and people could move. This was why they celebrated the telegraph and the death of distance. Histories of the Atlantic world, globalization, empires, and nations often emphasize the growth of connections across time and space as a form of progress. But it is worth considering what was lost in a world of growing connectivity. At times, newspaper printers recognized that connectivity could be harmful. In January 1793, Elijah Russell of the New Hampshire Mirrour admitted “news is scarce!” but facetiously sought to convince his readers that this was, perhaps, a good thing. Violence and intemperance generated news, after all. If “every man minded his own Business,” there would be no news. On consideration, though, Russell questioned what he would print in his paper in a world of peace: “Why such Newspapers wou'dn't be worth one Copper!”87 Writing in February 1786, another printer, Thomas Waite of the Maine Falmouth Gazette, similarly joked that perhaps the imminent arrival of news after a winter drought was a mixed blessing: “Spring is approaching—a general thaw is at hand: News will thaw out—Truth will thaw out—Lies will thaw out.”88 Sometimes, no news could be good news.

There is, in fact, an important history to be told not only about progress overcoming disconnection but also about the practices, cultures, and social worlds defined by disconnection that modernization and increased connectivity slowly destroyed. In Whittier's Snow-Bound, the family's snowstorm-enforced isolation forced them to share memories. Henry David Thoreau likewise saw the perils of modernity most clearly in winter. In Walden, which bitterly mocks Americans for their addiction to news, Thoreau devotes three of his final chapters to winter and its effects on his habits. He celebrates the “merry snow storms” that prevented him from meeting anyone on his walks for “many weeks.” In response to early efforts to lay a transatlantic telegraph, he writes, “We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”89

One January day, a couple of years before he published Walden, Thoreau wrote in his private diary: “I do not know but it is too much to read one newspaper in a week, for I now take the weekly Tribune, and for a few days past, it seems to me, I have not dwelt in Concord; the sun, the clouds, the snow, the trees say not so much to me. Thou cannot serve two masters.” In the dullness of winter, unable to walk and enjoy the outdoors as much as in warmer weather, even he found himself succumbing to the temptation of the news: “All summer and far into the fall I unconsciously went by the newspapers and the news, and now [in winter] I find it was because [in warmer weather] the morning and evening were full of news for me. My walks were full of incidents. I attended not to the affairs of Europe, but to my own affairs in Concord fields.”90

For the nostalgic Thoreau and Whittier, an absence of news during winter allowed people to direct their attentions in different directions and experience novel forms of connection. Yet the gradual end of wintertime isolation and disconnection that they witnessed in the mid-nineteenth century meant that there would no longer be any respite from the attention-hoarding distractions of the news media. Perhaps, then, we should think of early New England winters as being defined not only by absence and isolation but also by reflection and renewal.


George Washington to Marquis de Lafayette, March 18, 1780, Founders Online, (accessed January 6, 2020).


“Extract of another letter from the same place, dated July 22, 1779,” Boston Independent Ledger, August 23, 1779 (hereafter Ind. Ledger).


“Poughkeepsie,” Pennsylvania Packet (hereafter Pa. Packet), January 27, 1780.


“New York”, New-York Weekly Gazette, and Weekly Mercury, January 17, 1780; “Boston,” Providence Gazette, February 19, 1780 (hereafter Prov. Gaz.); “Baltimore,” Pa. Packet, March 18, 1780.


Ind. Ledger, January 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, 1780.


Boston Gazette, January 10, 1780; “Printing-Office, School-Street, February 26, 1780,” Boston Evening-Post, February 26, 1780 (hereafter Ev.-Post); “Worcester,” Worcester Massachusetts Spy, January 6, 1780; Ind. Ledger, January 17, 1780; “Exeter,” New-Hampshire Gazette (hereafter NH Gazette), February 5, 1780; Prov. Gaz., January 29, 1780.


Bost. Gazette, January 10, 1780; “Printing-Office, School-Street, February 26, 1780,” Ev.-Post, February 26, 1780; “Worcester,” Mass. Spy, January 6, 1780; Prov. Gaz., January 29, 1780.


“Worcester,” Mass. Spy, January 13, 1780.


“Worcester,” Mass. Spy, February 3, 1780.


“Worcester,” Mass. Spy, February 17, 1780.


“Poet's Corner,” Philadelphia Pennsylvania Journal, March 22, 1780; reprinted in Norwich Packet, April 18, 1780. New England printers regularly republished this poem throughout the late eighteenth century. See Litchfield Monitor, December 27, 1785; Hartford American Mercury, January 9, 1786 (hereafter Amer. Mercury).


“To the Lovers of Literature in the County of Worcester,” Mass. Spy, November 16, 1780.


“Epigram,” Mass. Spy, March 1, 1781.


William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983), ch. 4; Christopher L. Pastore, Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014); Thomas M. Wickman, Snowshoe Country: An Environmental and Cultural History of Winter in the Early American Northeast (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 88; Strother E. Roberts, Colonial Ecology, Atlantic Economy: Transforming Nature in Early New England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), ch. 3.


Historians of early America and communications have mentioned, but seldom examined, the impact of winter weather on information exchange. See Ian K. Steele, The English Atlantic, 1675--1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 59–60; David Cressy, Coming Over: Migration and Communication between England and New England in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 237; Kenneth J. Banks, Chasing Empire across the Sea: Communications and the State in the French Atlantic, 1713--1763 (Montreal, CDN: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002), 73; and Ben P. Lafferty, American Intelligence: Small-Town News and Political Culture in Federalist New Hampshire (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2020), 111, 116, 123. The most thorough consideration of climate and communications appears in a dissertation study of letter writing in early Canada: Jane E. Harrison, “The Intercourse of Letters: Transatlantic Correspondence in Early Canada, 1640–1812” (PhD diss., University of Toronto, 2000), ch. 1.


Anya Zilberstein, A Temperate Empire: Making Climate Change in Early America (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016), 3, 24.


“New York,” New-York Gazette, January 14, 1760.


Ev.-Post, April 18, 1757.


“Philadelphia,” Independent Gazetteer, March 13, 1784 (hereafter Ind. Gaz.).


Cressy, Coming Over, 237; Steele, English Atlantic, 60.


See Harrison, “Intercourse of Letters,” ch. 1.


Steele, English Atlantic, 41–42.


Pittsfield Berkshire Chronicle, Aug. 7, 1788.


Amer. Mercury, March 22, 1804.


“New Year's Verses, Addressed to the kind Customers of the Massachusetts Gazette,” (Boston: 1774). Broadside.


“To the Printers,” Bost. Gaz., Jan. 21, 1760.


Hugh Finlay, Journal kept by Hugh Finlay, Survey of the Post Roads on the Continent of North America … (Brooklyn: Frank H. Norton, 1867), 45.


“On Monday next the 11th of December,” Boston Post-Boy, Dec. 4, 1752; “Edward Houghton,” Mass. Spy, Nov. 18, 1784; “Newport and New London Line of Stages,” Stonington Impartial Journal, Oct. 22, 1799.


Newport Mercury, February 25, 1771.


Newport Mercury, March 4, 1771.


“To our Subscribers,” New London Bee, November 28, 1798.


The New-Year Verses Of the Printers Lad, who carries the Pennsylvania Gazette to the Customers (Philadelphia: Franklin and Hall, 1752). Broadside.


Peacham (Vermont) Green Mountain Patriot, February 23, 1798.


“For the Centinel,” Boston Massachusetts Centinel, January 9, 1788.


Boston News-Letter (hereafter Bost. News-Letter), April 6, 1719, January 11, 1720.


Bost. News-Letter, July 4, 1720.


Pennsylvania Gazette, January 22, 1745 (hereafter Pa. Gaz.).


Issues of the Bost. Gaz. from January–February 1728, February and March 1731, and the winters of 1731–32, 1734–35, and 1737–38 featured a considerable amount of poetry.


Bost. Post-Boy, December 17, 1759.


Ev.-Post, January 8, 1739.


“To the Publishers of the Pennsylvania Gazette,” Pa. Gaz., March 10, 1752. Note that though published in March, the letter was dated February 15.


Ev.-Post, January 18, 1742.


Ev.-Post, December 12, 19, 26, 1743, January 2, 9, 16, 23, 1744.


Boston New-England Courant, January 20, 1724. Philadelphia American Weekly Mercury, January 15, 1741(hereafter Amer. Wkly. Mercury).


Amer. Wkly. Mercury, January 15, 1741.


New-York Gazette, February 7, 1757.


Amer. Wkly. Mercury, February 4, 1729.


Bost. Gaz., February 13, 1738.


See for example, “To the Publisher of the Boston Evening-Post,” Ev.-Post, January 8, 1739; “Winter,” Salem Gazette, March 5, 1805.


Reprinted in “Providence, October 16. 1762,” Ev.-Post, October 18, 1762.


“To the Publisher of the Weekly Journal,” Boston New-England Weekly Journal, March 31, 1741.


“Newport,” Newport Mercury, January 7, 1765.


“Portsmouth,” Portsmouth NH Gazette, Jan. 4, 1765. See also “Boston,” Bost. News-Letter, January 10, 1765.


Bost. Post-Boy, December 31, 1764, January 7, 1765.


Bost. News-Letter, December 27, 1764.


Bost. Gaz., December 31, 1764.


Portsmouth NH Gaz., December 28, 1764; January 4, 11, 1765.


Newport Mercury, December 31, 1764.


Prov. Gaz., December 29, 1764.


Hartford Connecticut Courant, December 31, 1764. This doodle is visible in the copy indexed by America's Historical Newspapers.


Steele, English Atlantic, ch. 9; Konstantin Dierks, In My Power: Letter Writing and Communications in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 46–48; Rohit T. Aggarwala, “’I want a Packet to arrive’: Making New York City the Headquarters of British America, 1696-1783,” New York History 98 (2017): 28; John S. Olenkiewicz, comp., “British Packet Sailings, Falmouth-North America: 1755–1826,” (accessed November 14, 2019).


Using the Readex database America's Historical Newspapers, which indexes newspaper articles by heading, I have created a dataset of these headings in New England newspapers for 1720 through 1835, focusing on the term “London” adjacent to a month or an abbreviation for a month (for example, “London, Sept.” or “London, September”). Because of the limits of the America's Historical Newspapers database, and because newspaper printers’ headlining practices changed by the mid-nineteenth century, I restricted the data to this period. I then controlled these results by year (for purposes of practicability, I focused on years that were multiples of five) and month, detecting how many times, for example, New England newspapers in November 1770 cited “London, Sept.” Based on these results, I roughly inferred the number of months that such news from London took to reach New England. For example, according to my dataset, fifty-three news items originating from London in September 1770 appeared in New England newspapers by November 1770, 44 by December 1771, and one by January 1771.


This observation is based on an analysis of approximately 77,000 New England newspapers’ citations to Philadelphia papers along the lines of the analysis of London citations above. From 1720 through 1835, Philadelphia newspapers dated in December and February consistently represented between 24% and 27% of all Philadelphia citations in New England. This is about what we would expect in a seasonless world, as the period from December through February represents about a quarter of the calendar.


“New-York,” New York Diary, March 11, 1797.


Ind. Gaz., November 5, 1782.


“Boston,” Massachusetts Mercury, December 30, 1794.


“Concord,” Concord Herald, December 7, 1790.


“Winter! Winter!” Concord Herald, January 25, 1792.


Levi Beardsley, Reminiscences (New York: Vinten, 1852), 67.


William Stinchcombe, The XYZ Affair (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980), 3.


Joseph Hopkinson, What is our situation? And what our prospects? A few pages for Americans, by an American (Philadelphia: s.n., 1798), 15.


“Boston,” Boston Columbian Centinel, February 10, 1798.


“New-London,” New London Bee, November 28, 1798.


Amherst Journal, March 20, 27, 1795.


Pred, Urban Growth and the Circulation of Information, 29.


“The Baltimore & Chesapeake Company's Steam and Tow Ice Boat,” Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser (hereafter Balt. Gaz. and Daily Advert.), January 29, 1833; “The Weather,” Philadelphia Pennsylvania Inquirer, January 6, 1835.


Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, Jan. 15, 1835.


Balt. Gaz. and Daily Advert., January 23, 1835.


Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918), 5.


“Foreign Articles,” Baltimore Niles’ National Register, March 7, 1840, 1.


Simon M. Müller, Wiring the World: The Social and Cultural Creation of Global Telegraph Networks (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 1.


“Evening Transcript,” Boston Evening Transcript, July 30, 1866, 2.


John Greenleaf Whittier, Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1866), 48–50.


American historians have paid far more attention to how new communications technologies contributed to greater internal integration of the United States and far less to the ways that these dual revolutions connected it to the world. See Daniel Walker Howe. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), esp. ch. 6.


On the nineteenth century as the time when American news became more oriented around national and local political reporting, see Thomas C. Leonard, The Power of the Press: The Birth of American Political Reporting (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).


Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 2006), ch. 3; Brendan Dooley, ed., The Dissemination of News and the Emergence of Contemporaneity in Early Modern Europe (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010).


Concord Mirrour, January 14, 1793.


Falmouth Gazette, February 24, 1786.


Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854; rept. Boston: Osgood, 1878), 275, 57–58.


The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: September 16, 1851–April 30, 1852, ed. Bradford Torrey (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906), 3:208.