Published December 02. 2012 4:00AM
It was the 18th-century version of a tweet: a two-sentence, 25-word dispatch in a London newspaper reporting the American colonies had declared their independence from Great Britain.
The events of the Revolutionary War may seem like ye olde news to today's history students, but they were breaking news to people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and newspapers were the main source of information. Some historians theorize there would have been no American Revolution without the era's newspapers, even though they tended to be four-page publications crammed with information that was days, weeks or months old.
"Newspapers are what fanned the flames of rebellion," said Todd Andrlik, whose collection of 18th-century newspapers is the focus of a book published this month.
"Reporting The Revolutionary War" (Sourcebooks) primarily focuses on the turbulent 20-year period between the end of the French and Indian War and the conclusion of the American Revolution. The large-format book features reproductions of the actual newspaper pages from the era, with contextual essays written by three dozen historians, scholars and authors.
"For 250 years, newspaper accounts have been relegated to footnotes," said Andrlik, a marketing executive for a Chicago-area construction firm.
Over the past five years, his collection of newspapers from the 1700s has grown to more than 400, including editions of American and British publications that are among the rarest of their kind. Andrlik's book is unique because it compiles so many primary sources in a single publication, according to one Revolutionary War author and historian.
"I've seen nothing like it and I've been studying the Revolution since 1955," said Thomas Fleming, whose contribution to the book details the obstacles the Americans and British faced in negotiating a peace treaty to end the war.
Getting news into print was a hands-on, time-consuming task in the late 18th century. It could also be life-threatening, especially if a newspaper printer was on the wrong side of the rebellion.
Fleming said the American population was "amazingly literate" during the period, and the new nation's military and political leaders such as George Washington and John Adams realized how newspapers could be as important to the Revolution's success as the outcome of any battle.
He pointed out how Washington started his own newspaper to fill an information void while his army was fighting in New Jersey.
"You didn't have to hold rallies," Fleming said. "You were rallying them with this journalism."