The nation's first newspaper returned to its birthplace Tuesday for a brief public display, 300 years after it was censored and confiscated by British authorities.
The first edition of Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick appeared on Sept. 25, 1690. Four days after publisher Benjamin Harris produced the three-page newspaper, the government squelched it. Fourteen years passed before another printer brought out a newspaper, the Boston News-Letter.The British government has agreed to lend the only known copy of Publick Occurrences in existence to the Boston Public Library, which will display it for four days in honor of the paper's 300th anniversary. The library is also hosting a 2-month-long exhibition of Colonial-era newspapers.
Helen Forde, director of the Public Records Office in London, presented a facsimile of Publick Occurrences - the original is safely stowed in the library - to officials at a news conference in Boston.
"It has an extreme historic significance," said Forde.
In its first issue, Publick Occurrences stated that its first purpose was to ensure "That Memorable Occurrents of Divine Providence may not be neglected or forgotten." The newspaper makes note of both local and international news. One story reports that "the Christianized Indians in some parts of Plimouth have newly appointed a day of Thanksgiving" - with the editorial aside that "Their example may be worth Mentioning."
Such items were not likely to cause much of a stir, but the government took umbrage at other stories, said Calvin Otto, a collector of early American and English newspapers who has written a book about Publick Occurrences. An account of the doings of "barbarous Indians" seen "lurking about Chelmsford" who allegedly nabbed two white children ran counter to the government's attempt to pacify the native population, Otto said.
Another offensive item concerned the French king's rumored affair with his daughter-in-law.
Some 200 years later, Publick Occurrences had another run-in with censorship.The newspaper was reprinted in textbooks during the 1870s - but several stories were expunged to avoid references that might offend Victorian sensibilities, Otto said.