American Weekly Mercury (1719–1746) periodical - American Education
The American Weekly Mercury was established in 1719 in Philadelphia by the printer Andrew Bradford and John Copson, a local bookseller. Copson provided the capital, and Bradford, who was trained by his father, William Bradford (1663–1752), provided the expertise. A second-generation printer from England, the elder Bradford remained in New York but had a hand in the Mercury from the beginning.
Beginning with the first edition on December 22, 1719, the Weekly Mercury appeared continuously for the next twenty-six years. Free of any local competition for the first nine years of its existence, the Mercury established a large list of subscribers in and around Philadelphia. Like most newspapers in Boston and New York, The American Weekly Mercury stressed commercial, foreign, and domestic news compiled from imported newspapers. The Mercury also printed letters from subscribers and letters from the general post.
Copson left the business in 1721, and William Bradford replaced him as copublisher of the Mercury. In 1725 the elder Bradford established The New York Gazette, and the two newspapers supported each other, sharing news features and helping secure advertising in New York and Philadelphia. The father-and-son partnership lasted until 1739, when Andrew Bradford became the sole publisher.
Like many of his contemporaries, including his father, Bradford was sensitive to the threat of censorship from political and religious authorities. Officially reprimanded for his January 2, 1721, critique of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Bradford avoided punishment by immediately apologizing when he was called to appear before the council. The experience did not deter him from using the Mercury to actively support freedom of the press. In 1723 the Mercury published an editorial written by a subscriber that condemned government suppression of James Franklin (1697–1735) and his Boston newspaper, The New-England Courant.
Bradford continued to publish politically sensitive material, feeling the sting of censorship once again in 1729, when he published a series of thirty-two essays written by Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Breintnall (?–1746). Three of the essays, which closely followed the essays published in Addison and Steele’s Spectator, were written under the title “The Busy-Body” and included attacks against Franklin’s former employer Samuel Keimer (1688–circa 1739), who had recently launched a competing newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. Called to account for one of his “Busy-Body” essays, Bradford was jailed for a short duration. The Mercury defied the authorities by continuing to publish the “Busy- Body” series, and Bradford succeeded in driving Keimer out of business. He gained a stronger competitor, however, when Franklin assumed control of the Gazette in 1729.
The Mercury broke faith with the cause of freedom of the press in the 1730s when it opposed Andrew Hamilton (1676– 1741) for elected office. Hamilton was serving at the time as defense attorney for John Peter Zenger, a New York newspaper publisher accused of sedition and libel. Bradford’s father, himself a long-term proponent of freedom of the press, had already taken a position against Zenger in his own paper, The New-York Gazette, in order to secure Zenger’s government printing contracts.
Following Bradford’s death in 1742, his wife Cornelia continued to publish the American Weekly Mercury in partnership with Isaiah Warner until 1744 and then on her own until 1746.
- De Armond, Anna Janney. Andrew Bradford, Colonial Journalist. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1949.
- Sloan, William David, and Julie Hedgepeth Williams. The Early American Press, 1690–1783. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.
- Thomas, Isaiah. The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers & an Account of Newspapers, edited by Marcus A. McCorison. Worcester, Mass.: Printed by Isaiah Thomas, 1810; New York: Weathervane, 1970.