The Death of a King

Throughout the history of the United States the newspaper has been an integral part of American life and was especially influential in the nation’s early beginnings in the 18th century. Colonial newspapers were a powerful medium for spreading information, opinions, and ideology and were sometimes the sole connection many colonials had to the world outside of their isolated region. Newspapers of the colonial era were not just important in spreading information throughout the various British holdings, but were also a vital connection to the motherland across the Atlantic. A good example of the colonial newspaper acting as a tether between Britain and its fledgling colonies can be seen when one examines the death of the British monarch, King George II. King George II passed away from an aortic aneurysm on the 25th of October, 1760 shortly after drinking his morning cup of hot cocoa. The news of this sudden death spread quickly (well as fast it could in the 18th century) and eventually reached the colonial newspapers by January of the next year. Most of the colonial newspapers decided to combine the announcement of their monarch’s demise with that of the ascension of his grandson George III to the throne; in turn portraying their sadness while simultaneously expressing jubilation for their new master (1). Many of the early reporting in colonial newspapers was very clear on expressing their condolences for the George II and also in making a point to put forth their loyalty for his successor. One newspaper in particular, The Boston Post-Boy­, not only featured several columns detailing the royal funeral in London, but also mentioned in length festive celebrations filled with toasts and rifle salutes all in honor of their new king (2). All in all the reporting of the event in colonial newspapers was quite specific in conveying both grief and delight in the change of monarch.

The death of King George III also curiously generated a large wealth of unique imagery and writings in colonial newspapers. In an edition of the Boston­ Post­-Boy on January 5th, the news of the king’s death is accompanied by a large black outline of a coffin which details in its confines how the object was carried during the funeral procession and even what type of fabric it was covered by (3). The death of King George II is also chronicled in the same newspaper via a well written elegy detailing the sovereign’s life as well as the author’s sadness at his passing (4). The remainder of the newspaper contains various other writings pertaining to the dead king, all in all creating a publication almost entirely focused on George II.  This trend highlights how important the king was in the colonies as their ruler and consequently how important his demise was to his constituents in the Americas.

It is also important to note two interesting phenomenon pertaining to the death of King George II in colonial newspapers:  the origin of much of the writing and the “life time” of the story as news. Much of the colonial newspapers detailing the circumstances of the kings passing actually obtained and reprinted their information from other news sources in Britain. In example, both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the New York Gazette cited British publications as the original basis of their information pertaining to the royal death (5/6). This illustrates the close connection that colonial newspapers had to maintain with their counterparts across the ocean in order to obtain news from the home country. Another interesting trend in reference to the aforementioned news event is how long the news was actually news in the British colonies. Excluding the time it took for the news to cross the Atlantic via sail, the death of King George II only remained news and consequently an event of interest to the literate colonial public for a meagre few weeks. Approximately two weeks after the death of King George II, any mention of his passing seems to vanish from colonial newspapers. This is very telling of newspaper printers during this era as it showcases how short a lifespan news had in that period regardless of the importance of the event.

1: Boston News-Letter, 01/01/1761, pg. 1.

2: Boston Post-Boy, 01/05/1761, pg. 2.

3: Ibid, pg. 1.

4: Ibid, pg. 2.

5: Pennsylvania Gazette, 01/08/1761, pg. 2.

6: New York Gazette, 02/02/1761, pg. 2.

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4 thoughts on “The Death of a King

  1. I think it is very interesting that you pointed out how short this story was actually covered in the media. I feel like a story as big as this one would be talked about for a while, how the media sometimes likes to beat a dead horse. But maybe it was circulated verbally among the colonies long after the death but more relevant news was surfacing that required print space. Also it may have factored in that it’s the colonies that we are focusing on and not actually England where the king ruled over, the majority of the people in the colonies wanted freedom of British rule.

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  2. I noticed some of the same things that you did while researching my topic, the Battle of Culloden. Most of the articles I found were reprints from Britain as well. I can see from your post that American newspapers held a fond opinion of the British monarchs. I noticed that newspapers had a positive attitude toward Britain (and the king) as well. But your topic is significantly closer to the American Revolution than mine. It’s difficult to imagine how much things changed within a relatively short period of time.

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    • Derek,
      Thanks for your comment! From reading a bunch of other peoples posts (especially the ones dealing with events before the Revolutionary War) it really seems that Britain was an information hub for the colonies. I think it would be interesting to find out how the colonies attained their international news after their relationship with the mother country soured. I also agree with your observation that most colonial newspaper looked favorably on the King pre-revolution since during the early 18th century most colonials would have seen themselves most likely as British or at the very least British subjects. Anyway, thank your for the comment and I also liked your post on the Battle of Culloden; its a shame the Scots didnt win, I cant help but wonder what the 21st century would be like with a Scottish monarch on the British throne.

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