Tag Archives: Colonial History

The Revolution — As It Happened

Todd Andrlik, a history buff who works in marketing in Chicago, has amassed a significant collection of printed newspapers, going back 250 years.

Some of his collection was used in the new book Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News. It is “a coffee table book describing the War of Independence day-to-day, as Colonial readers would have read about it.”

It all started, as most things did, in Philadelphia.

Tucked into a somewhat wonky story about tax law in the Pennsylvania Gazette, dated May 10, 1764, is this item:

‘Our other Advices by the Packet are, that a Scheme of Taxation of the American Colonies has for some Time been in Agitation. That it had been previously debated in Parliament, whether they had Power to lay such a Tax on Colonies which had no Representative in Parliament…’

‘ . . . [T]his is the first known published account of a complaint regarding taxation without representation, the idea that would form the core of the American Revolution.’

The story unfolded in real time, without easy methods of communicating.

Newspapers and reporting was much different in the colonial era. There was no CNN and few actual reporters.

Often “breaking news” had happened weeks before. News sources included personal correspondence and heavy “borrowing” without attribution from other newspapers, as information slowly flowed between the Colonies.

You’re getting an appreciation for the length of time it took for this thing to unravel. It’s not a quick one-page worth of bullet points. It’s 20 to 30 years of revolution. That, to me, is fascinating — you see this gradual unfolding.” — Todd Andrlik

Fortunately for aficionados of history such as Andrlik and myself, many accounts of the Revolution have survived. You see, thankfully, in the 18th century, newspapers were printed on rag linen, woven from shredded cloth and sail-cloth. It’s durable enough to last hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Today’s newspaper stock, made from wood-pulp, isn’t the same. It degrades quickly.

For me, it wasn’t just the news pertaining to the American Revolution. It was the ads, the obituaries, the essays. All of the contextual pieces I never got in textbooks.” — Andrlik

The book includes commentary from several historians to help the reader better understand the event and period.