On August 9, 1751, James Davis issued the North-Carolina Gazette, the first newspaper to appear in the colony.
The newspaper wasn’t Davis’ first foray into publishing; he had established the colony’s first printing press two years earlier in New Bern. In that capacity he printed currency and various official publications.
The newspaper, unlike modern print papers, did not have headlines or much local news. It focused mostly on international news and the arrivals and departures of ships. The Gazette was supposed to have been published weekly but, from the issues that survive, it appears to have had no regular schedule and wasn’t published at all between 1759 and 1768.
A terrible storm destroyed Davis’s print shop in 1769, forcing him to salvage what equipment he could and rebuild his business. The Revolutionary War also presented Davis with problems in regularly issuing his Gazette, making it difficult for Davis to get paper and forcing his son, who was his assistant, to serve in the army.
Davis served as the colony’s public printer until 1782 and he kept issuing the Gazette until just before his death in 1785. The paper appeared in another form between 1786 and 1798, when it was used by another printer to promote the Bill of Rights and other causes.
Other related resources:
- A research guide to North Carolina newspapers from the State Library
- The N.C. Newspaper Digitization Project, an initiative of the State Archives, where you can see some digitized versions of the North Carolina-Gazette
- The N.C. Digital Heritage Center, a statewide digitization and digital publishing program housed at the UNC Chapel Hill and supported by DCR
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On June 24, 1749, James Davis, a printer trained in Williamsburg, Va., printed the first official publication for the colony of North Carolina. Although printers had been active in some colonies for more than 100 years, North Carolina was slow in acquiring a public printer. The establishment of a press in the colonial capital at New Bern was due in large part to the actions of royal governor Gabriel Johnston.
North Carolina delayed acquiring an official press for three reasons. First, the provincial government liked to control the distribution of information and feared challenges to its authority. Second, North Carolina did not have the dense, urban population necessary to finance the large investment required to get a printing press. Third, presses in Williamsburg and Charleston made it easy to farm out print requests to neighboring colonies.
Complaints by Governor Johnston in 1736 prompted the Assembly to begin the process of hiring a printer and acquiring the press. In 1747, Johnston appointed James Davis to the position of public printer. His first task was likely the printing of currency. In 1749, Davis printed the Journal of the House of Burgesses of the Province of North Carolina, the colony’s first official publication.
For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.