"Messieurs Printers…At a meeting of the inhabitants of the town of Worcester…"
So-called “rebels” or “patriots” were not the only ones to use print media to their advantage during the pre-Revolution crisis. In the spring of 1774, loyalists in the shire town of Worcester, Massachusetts, felt that they were being excluded from the political process and that town meetings were being dominated by a rebellious faction that was squelching their views in open discussions and written petitions. To combat their weakened power, these loyalists wrote an open letter voicing their complaints. This letter has since become known as the “Tory Protest.” They sent it to the Tory-leaning Boston newspaper, the Massachusetts Gazette: and the Boston Weekly News-Letter, which, as can be seen here, published it on June 30, 1774. (Worcester would not have its own printing press until the arrival of Isaiah Thomas in April 1775.) This, the oldest newspaper in the colonies and the official voice of the royal government, was now being published by Margaret Draper (1727- ca. 1804), who took over the publication after the death of her husband on June 5, 1774. The loyalists also sent copies of this letter to the royal governor and copied its text into the Worcester town records. At a town meeting held later that summer, the loyalists were further humiliated when the town’s Whigs forced the town clerk, Clark Chandler (1746-1804), to blot out the Tory Protest from the town records by dipping his hand in ink and spreading it across the pages.
The Tory Protest was signed by fifty-two men, many of whom were wealthy landowners and staunch supporters of the royal government. Perhaps most notable among them was James Putnam (1725-89), a prominent lawyer considered one of the finest legal minds in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Adams (1735-1836), the future second president of the United States, studied law as an apprentice to Putnam.
The Tory Protest exemplifies the role various media played in the political protests leading up to the Revolution. This was an open letter sent both to prominent public officials and to the “public prints” of influential newspapers. The protest itself also attacked the dissemination of information through the Committees of Correspondence, calling them “a public grievance and nuisance.” The protest further denounced the covenants of non-importation and other written petitions circulated through these committees when it cited “that papers have been lately published, and are now circulating through the province, inviting, and wickedly tempting all persons to sign them; fully implying, if not expressly denouncing the destruction of all, that refuse to subscribe those unlawful combinations, tending directly to sedition, civil war, and rebellion.”