July 9

Americanism Redux

July 9

If you could see his hands, you’d know what he did.

Black stains fill the lines and wrinkles on his hand, fill the tiny crevices around his fingernails. 250 years ago today.

He is a printer, one of the most influential and successful owner-operators of a media company in colonial Philadelphia. 58-year old David Hall watches as today’s edition of the four-page Pennsylvania Gazette is carried to subscribers and readers from his office near the city market. Hall knows that his routine begins again today—letters, notices, reports, and more will begin to flow into his office and he will start the process of finding material for next week’s newspaper. It’s an always-turning wheel to find the information his customers will pay to read.

Next week’s Page Two is shaping up in a particular way. Hall recognizes a trend. Five stories are merging together for Page Two.

A sprawling reality governs the people in empire. Rising, falling, straining, spinning, the bonds are under constant pressure. The stories are flowing in from hundreds of miles away.

In India, the British-owned East India Company needed a “more general and comprehensive charter for the administration of justice.” Tensions and problems had marked relations between the Company’s administrators and employees on one side and “Indians” and “Indian Princes” on the other. British King George III was optimistic Parliament’s new law would improve the situation and stabilize the British East India Company’s hold on the land and its native people.

In Boston, a solid majority of the colony’s House of Representatives voted to pass “a number of decent and manly Resolves respecting the Governor’s having and receiving a support independent of the General Assembly.” The governor’s salary, it appeared, would be separated from public control, again leading to less chaotic and less troubling confrontations with local people.

In the colony of Rhode Island, off the waters of Newport, British authorities were still deciding how to punish “a number of people in disguise (who) went on board” a vessel in the harbor and seized several enormous barrels of sugar marked for export. They had also returned in an effort to steal the vessel, the product of further planning and pushing the limits of social control. Enforcers of trade laws—customs officials—had pursued and caught the violaters. Next came the unanswered question: now what to do with them?

In northern New York, another British colony, William Johnson, a wealthy landowner and skillful go-between among colonial officials, British officials, and local Natives, had convinced the Mississaugus tribe to accept gifts in exchange for not retaliating against white people for the murder of two tribal members. Johnson had a knack for walking the line between worlds.

And in the contested valley of the Mississippi River, agents from the Spanish, French, and British imperial governments were sparking warfare involving five Native tribes with violence reaching into the Ohio River valley. The horizons were sinister lines on a bloody chessboard where people were the pieces and Powers were the players.

Hall will edit, arrange, and design this content for next week’s edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. For now, on today, these accounts are heading his way.


David Hall had co-owned and co-operated the Pennsylvania Gazette with Benjamin Franklin for many years. Franklin sold out his share of the media company to William Sellers in order to pursue other things. Hall and Franklin had remained close friends.

Both Hall and Franklin had an unspoken agreement that they would avoid entanglement in the harshest advocacy of rights by the British colonies. They stayed out of the worst conflicts over tax policies, political representation, abuse of governmental and military powers, and more. But by today 250 years ago, in 1772, Hall was especially more open to feeling upset over British imperial authority and was more willing to express those feelings. Franklin—not so much—he had hopes that ill-will could be tempered and bruised feelings could be healed.

Hall’s outlook had steadily changed, though he’d kept and continued an affinity for the British Empire and Pennsylvania’s existence as a British colony. It’s just that he was more curious about the nature of things, quicker to consider, faster to explore, and committed with even greater intensity to share information so that others could do the same.

Answers weren’t clear. Solutions weren’t obvious. The strain, however, wasn’t going away.

You Now

There is a difference between life happening and life known to be happening, believed to be happening, discovered as happening.

Maybe the most remarkable fact of David Hall’s upcoming Page Two is the extent to which his readers could, if they chose, become acquainted with life across thousands of miles. The choosing is a conscious act, then and now. Of course, to choose isn’t a guarantee of understanding; it may not be a guarantee of accuracy, for that matter. Yet nothing will happen if the choice isn’t made. It too will be a form of pretending, of asserting without merit that nothing happens elsewhere beyond the tip of my nose and the reach of my hand. Like David Hall, your hands have stains that show yourself.


Do you rely on your version of David Hall? How has your Hall come down to, or gotten to, today?