The Massachusetts Spy Moves to Worcester, Loses Readers, Never Returns to Boston

Without any mention in the issue, the 1775 April 6 edition of Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy — featuring the famous serpent “Join or Die” cartoon in the name plate — was his last from Boston.  As the colophon states, it was printed at the “South-Corner of MARSHALL’s-LANE, leading from the MILL-BRIDGE into UNION STREET,” Boston.

In the colophon, Thomas also boasted having “the greatest CIRCULATION of any in New-England.”  While the average subscriber base of New England newspapers was closer to 600 in 1775, the Patriot Boston Gazette and Massachusetts Spy saw their numbers skyrocket during the Revolutionary crisis. The Spy claimed one of the largest circulations in colonial America with 3500.

On the eve of war, 10 days after his last Boston issue, Thomas moved his presses a safe distance from Boston — 42 miles west to the country town of Worcester.

During his rush of packing and moving, Thomas apparently only had time and funds to order two advertisements in other Boston newspapers.  The first ran in the 1775 April 10 issue of the Boston Post-Boy.  The second published a day after Thomas’s actual move date, 1775 April 17, in the Boston Evening-Post.  The second ad, pictured below, “begs the continuance of the favors of his good Customers.”

Unfortunately, Thomas’s begging didn’t work.  By 1780, the circulation of the Massachusetts Spy sank to between 300 and 500, a total circulation loss of about 90 percent in five years. Click here for more details and sources of 18th century newspaper circulations.

Thomas’s advertisement in the Evening-Post also claimed the move from Boston to Worcester was temporary. “As soon as the tranquility of this unfortunate Capital is restored, he intends returning to this Place and serving them as usual.”   That never happened.

According to the American Antiquarian Society, which Thomas founded in 1812, “after the war, Thomas continued to live and work in Worcester. In partnership with former apprentices, he owned several printing offices and bookstores, as well as paper mills and a bindery, employing over one hundred and fifty people. Thomas published newspapers, broadsides, sheet music, periodicals, pamphlets, and a yearly almanac. He produced over four hundred book titles for both adult and juvenile readers, including the first dictionary printed in America and the first American edition of Mother Goose’s Melody (1786). Thomas was Worcester’s postmaster from 1775 to 1801. He joined the Order of Freemasons in Worcester in 1793 and became Grand Master of Massachusetts in 1802. In that year, at the age of fifty-three, Thomas retired to pursue his interests in the history of the young nation and in the origins of printing.”

***Speaking of revolutionary printing, a colonial-era print shop will be opening April 15, 2011, on Boston’s historic Freedom Trail. Rag Linen is honored to have a seat on the new shop’s executive board. For more details about the Printing Office of Edes & Gill, visit (we also designed their website).

The below advertisement was published in the bottom right-hand corner, page three, of the 1775 April 17 issue of the Boston Evening-Post, which turned out to be its second to last issue.  Published by Thomas and John Fleet, the Evening-Post concluded its run on April 24, 1775, with this passage: “The unlucky transactions of the last week are so variously related, that we shall not at present undertake to give any particular account thereof.  The Printers of the Boston Evening Post hereby inform the Town that they shall desist publishing the papers after this day, till matters are in a more settled state.”

1 Comment

  1. Massachusetts Provincial Congress Adjourns on the Eve of Revolutionary War | Rag Linen | Online Museum of Historic Newspapers
    March 28, 2011

    […] is a quick follow up to my previous post that featured the 1775 April 17 issue of the Boston Evening-Post. That issue, published by Thomas […]

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