Preserving Falmouth's Heritage Falmouth Historical Society 





About Falmouth - Retrospective—April 2021



Maine’s First Newspaper Tells Us About Life in Falmouth Two Centuries Ago


William Wooldridge of Suffolk, Virginia, recently donated an early issue of the Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser, Maine’s first newspaper.


The Gazette was published weekly beginning on New Year’s Day 1785.  We have the tenth issue published on March 5th, 1785.


The Gazette was a sign of the times.  The Revolutionary War had come to an end just two years before.  Falmouth had borne the heaviest burden of any town in Maine during the struggle for independence.  The central market and seaport—today Portland’s Old Port—were destroyed in a British attack eight months before the colonies declared independence.  The threat of another attack by British ships in the Gulf of Maine caused many families to move away from the coast and rebuilding did not begin until the war was over.  Falmouth endured more hardship by sending men, supplies and ships to support the fight.


By 1785, Falmouth was rebounding from the war.  People were returning and the town was being rebuilt.  The establishment of a newspaper was a symbol of a town on the rise.

Falmouth in 1785 consisted of the present-day cities of Portland and Westbrook as well as today's town of Falmouth.  Cape Elizabeth, including today's city of South Portland, had split off in 1765.  Portland would break away in 1786 with Westbrook following in 1814.


The paper was published by Benjamin Titcomb, son of a prominent Maine family, and Thomas Wait, a newly-arrived printer from Boston who had set up his business on Middle Street in Portland--then known as "Falmouth (Casco-Bay)" to distinguish it from the other Falmouth on Cape Cod.  Maine would be part of Massachusetts for another thirty-five years.
 
Henry Dunnack, Librarian at the Maine State Library, captured the significance of the Gazette in his Book of Maine (1920, Augusta, Maine):

On the first day of January, 1785, there appeared in the town of Falmouth the first issue of the pioneer newspaper of the District of Maine, under the name of The Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser.   It came from the press of Titcomb and Wait of Falmouth and was printed on four pages, about the size of a sheet of foolscap, with three columns to a page.  In 1786, the year of Portland's incorporation, the name was changed to Cumberland Gazette.


It is hard to realize the eagerness with which the weekly delivery of papers was anticipated in the smaller towns in the early days.  Local happenings were reported without delay by the busy newsmongers but the only connection with the outside world was found in the papers.  In 1785 the mail was carried from Falmouth to Portsmouth and from thence to Boston on horseback and inhabitants of settlements not on the direct mail route were obliged to send messengers on foot to the nearest place selected to send letters and receive mail.  In case of severe storms or unusually bad condition of the roads the postman was often delayed for two weeks and sometimes for more than a month.  In Parson Smith's diary, written in 1785, we find this entry: "The post at last got here, having been hindered near five weeks."

As comparatively few people in the smaller settlements could afford individual subscriptions, it was the custom for whole neighborhoods to unite in subscribing for a single paper, which was read in turn by the several families and then carefully preserved for future reading.  Congressional news, sometimes not more than sixteen days old, and foreign news, two or three months late, made up the greater part of the paper.  A few items of local interest were given in the form of death notices long and eulogistic and advertisements.  These varied from descriptions of proprietary medicines, sure to cure all ailments, to notices of marital difficulties.  No paper was complete without its advertisements of [West Indies] rum, gin, wines and other cordials.  Masters of runaway apprentices aired their troubles and offered munificent rewards, varying from two cents to ten dollars, for the return of their ungrateful servants.
Our issue of the Gazette is not historically significant but—like many of our artifacts—it is a tangible link to our past.  It is also a window into the lives and times of the people who lived in Falmouth 236 years ago.  For those with deep roots in Falmouth, issues of this newspaper were held, read, and debated by our ancestors.

Click here to view the document containing full-sized images of the Gazette.  Because small portions of the issue are missing or illegible, the document includes microfilm images from a fully intact copy of the same issue on facing pages.  By changing your viewer settings for View / Page Display to “Two Page View” the facing pages will be shown side-by-side.

Mr. William Wooldridge donated this issue of Gazette to the Falmouth Historical Society.  He is a retired vice president of Norfolk Southern Railway.   He has a longtime interest in state, local, and family history.  A graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia School of Law, he served in the Army during 1969-1973.  He is the author of Mapping Virginia, From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War.  He has served as a trustee of the Virginia Historical Society, as president of the John Marshall Foundation, president of the Norfolk Historical Society, and on the boards of public radio station WHRO and of the Library of Virginia Foundation.

Retrospective:  Two Pictures Recall the Life of a Falmouth Schoolmaster

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