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Rare Colonial Newspaper: A 1737 Issue of The Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Oldest Regularly Published Paper in America
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A fresh example of this colonial paper in fine condition with untrimmed (deckled) edges, and a noteworthy provenance. A rare opportunity to own a very early issue of America’s first successful newspaper.

[COLONIAL PRINTING]. Newspaper. New=England, The Boston Weekly News-letter, October 13, 1737. Boston, John Draper. Complete in 2 pp., 9 ¼ x 14 ⅛ in. Subscriber’s name “Mr. Samll Cooke” penned in the margin.

Inventory #24835       Price: $4,000


A report from Philadelphia announced the arrival of two ships from Holland with 565 “Palatines” (p2/c1). New York reports on a contested General Assembly election between Adolph Philipse and Cornelius Van Horn (p2/c1). Intelligence from Boston notes that the Governor and Assembly were meeting at Salisbury, where they could confer with the New Hampshire Assembly then meeting five miles away at Hampton Falls, to discuss the boundaries of the two provinces (p2/c1). European news from Genoa, Rome, Petersburg, and London, including unprecedented and “almost incredible swarms” of cochineal insects in Kent, which did not damage the vegetation (p1/c1).

The Future Holy Roman Emperor, Francis III, Duke of Lorraine, asserts his claim to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, as arranged by the Emperor upon the death of the last de Medici ruler. Emperor Charles VI arranged for Francis to take Tuscany after the last male DeMedici ruler died, in exchange for Lorraine going to Stanislaw I, the losing claimant to the Polish throne in the War of the Polish Succession: “an Edict … containing the Act of Investiture granted to him by the Emperor … the Tenour of which is remarkable…. [C]onsidering the Instability of human Affairs, we have thought fit to provide beforehand for what will be necessary to be done in the Case… that House should become extinct by an unexpected Death. For this End we have furnish’d with full Powers, our most illustrious and most dear Cousin the Prince de Craon, to do, in such a Case, every thing that shall be necessary … we order and enjoin all the Subjects of the Great Duchy of Tuscany, the Case of that Death happening, to acknowledge us for their true and lawful Lord and Prince, to pay us in that Quality the useful Homage, and take the Oath of Fidelity, &c &c. as they shall be order’d in our Name by our said Minister Plenipotentiary, &c. &c.” (p1).

Advertisements include the sale of “a very likely Indian Man, aged about Twenty-five Years, born in the Country and bred up to Husbandry from his Infancy” and a reward offered by Captain William Mirick for two men who had run away from him, “a Negro named Peter” and “an English Man named Daniel Davis” (p2/c2).

Historical Background

A Polish civil war erupted over the successor to King Augustus II (1670-1733), and it became a general European war, when the French and Spanish Bourbons tried to check the power of the Austrian Hapsburgs. France captured the Duchy of Lorraine, and Spain regained control over Naples and Sicily. The warring sides reached a preliminary peace in 1735, but the war did not formally end until 1738, when the Treaty of Vienna confirmed Augustus III as king of Poland.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI (1685-1740) secretly persuaded Francis III, his future son-in-law, to exchange Lorraine to Stanislaw I, the losing claimant to the Polish throne, in return for Tuscany, when the last Medici Grand Duke died. In July, 1737, Gian Gastone de’ Medici died, and Francis III was invested with the grand duchy.

Francis III (1708-1765), Duke of Lorraine. Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI favored the family and planned to marry his daughter Maria Theresa (1717-1780) to Francis’ older brother, who died. Growing up in Vienna, he married Maria Theresa in 1736. Ten of their sixteen children survived to adulthood, including the Queen of France, the Queen of Naples and Sicily, and two Holy Roman Emperors. Francis became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1745, after the brief reign of Charles VII. He also became co-regent with his wife of her hereditary dominions. Although she wielded most of the power, he restored the Austrian Empire’s finances. A serial adulterer who did little to hide his affairs, he died suddenly in his carriage while returning from an opera.

The Boston Weekly News-Letter (1704-1776) founded by John Campbell, then postmaster at Boston, was the oldest regularly published newspaper in America. The only paper to precede it was Public Occurrances Both Foreign and Domestick, which published just a single issue in 1690 before being suppressed & destroyed by the Royal Governor of Massachusetts Bay (the only surviving issue is in London).

The subscriber, Samuel Cooke (1709-1783) graduated from Harvard College in 1735, was ordained, and began a forty-five year preaching career. He married Sarah Porter in 1740, Anna Cotton in 1742, and Lucy Bowes in 1762. He delivered Harvard’s Dudleian Lecture in 1767. In 1770, he preached the Election Day Sermon to the Massachusetts General Court and Council, with Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson in the audience, courageously challenging British injustice.

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