Irish newspaper's world scoop
Masthead image courtesy Sinéad Gibney. Check out her blog,
Tent of blue.
August 23, 1776 was a memorable day for the Belfast
(Northern Ireland) daily, News Letter, when it achieved one of the greatest
newspaper scoops of all time. It published the full text of the American
Declaration of Independence before that famous document was delivered to King
George III and the British Parliament.
At that time, the King's soldiers were engaged in
bloody fighting against George Washington's "rebels" in New York. The US
Congress had endorsed Jefferson's Declaration of Independence on "the glorious
fourth" of July, and ordered that copies should be sent to all of the colonies.
A year earlier, these momentous events (as listed by
The History Place) had occurred:
July 5, 1775 - The Continental Congress adopts
the Olive Branch Petition which expresses hope for a reconciliation with
Britain, appealing directly to the King for help in achieving this. In
August, King George III refuses even to look at the petition and instead
issues a proclamation declaring the Americans to be in a state of open
July 6, 1775 - The Continental Congress issues a
Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms detailing the
colonists' reasons for fighting the British and states the Americans are
"resolved to die free men rather than live as slaves."
Here's how News Letter proudly recounts
the story of its "world exclusive" on its website's history page:
Today's sophisticated news gathering techniques,
which link the editorial offices by computer with worldwide news and picture
services, contrast starkly with the 18th Century when the printing of
international news depended on the arrival of packet boats from foreign or
One such arrival provided the News Letter with
what can be justifiably claimed as the first genuine "world exclusive". The
boat carrying the first copy to leave America of the Declaration of
Independence, and bound for London, hit stormy waters off the north coast of
Ireland. The boat sought refuge in Londonderry port and arrangements were
made for the declaration to be sent on horseback to Belfast, where it would
be met by another ship for delivery to King George III.
Somehow, and in the best traditions of
revelatory journalism, the News Letter editor of the day gained access to
the priceless document and duly published it on the front page of the August
23, 1776 edition. Today there is a constant demand for copies of that famous
and historical front page.
Founded in 1737, the News Letter is one of the world's
oldest English-language newspapers. The London Gazette, first published
in 1665, is the oldest, but for the first 300 years or so it was mostly published
only two or three times a week. The Belfast News Letter claims to be
the oldest English-language DAILY newspaper.
Here is what it says about its long history:
The News Letter, now in its fourth century of
continuous publication, has come a long way since it first saw the light of
day in 1737.
In those far-off days it was printed in what is
now called Joy's Entry in Belfast, and was published by the original owner,
Francis Joy, under the "sign of the Peacock" in Bridge Street.
peacock symbol has been synonymous with the newspaper ever since and appears
in a more modern format on today's masthead.
Initially a weekly paper, it became daily in
1855 and although some other newspapers originated before 1737, the News
Letter is distinguished by its continuity of publication and retention of
the original title.
On a recent visit to Northern Ireland, Her
Majesty Queen Elizabeth described the longevity of the newspaper as "an
achievement in which the people of Northern Ireland can take great pride".
There is no doubting our special place in
newspaper history, and in the daily life of the Province.
Now located at a modern publishing centre,
modern production systems include computerised typesetting, electronic page
make-up, satellite transmission services and full colour printing
These significant advances have been
successfully utilised for business, agricultural, entertainment and
lifestyle supplements alongside sister titles like the Belfast News, and
leading agriculture newspaper Farming Life.
More recently, the News Letter has played a
prominent role in the search for peace and a political settlement in