Revolutionary Men–Benjamin Edes

Perhaps it’s my journalism background that’s behind my affinity for the role newspapers have placed since our country began in acting as the mouthpiece for the people. To me, there’s no better smell than that of printer’s ink, and old hot type boxes have long been a fascination. I only recently discovered that uppercase and lowercase letters were so named because of the location of the type boxes in a newsroom print shop. The smaller letters, which were used most often, were kept in an easy to reach lower box, called a case, while the larger letters were kept in an upper case. Each page of type was assembled by hand, a letter at a time, and then disassembled once the papers were printed. With my journalistic training and my obsession for old print shops, it’s no wonder one of the men I found most fascinating in the struggle for freedom from England was Benjamin Edes. Allow me to share his life with you.

Benjamin Edes

Benjamin Edes was the publisher of the Boston Gazette, the newspaper which sparked and financed the Boston Tea Party. Born in 1732 in Massachusetts, he got married in 1754 to Bostonian Martha Starr. In partnership with John Gill, he became proprietor of the Gazette in 1755. Although the Gazette had been in operation since 1719, it wasn’t until Edes took over that it became the mouthpiece for the Revolution. He was a founding member of the Sons of Liberty, who, according to some accounts, maintained an office above the newspaper office.

The Sons of Liberty protesting the Stamp Act.

They were a secret society of American patriots, who had grown out of a previous organization called the Loyal Nine, a secret and well-organized Patriot society. Members of the Sons of Liberty assembled at Edes’ home prior to the Boston Tea Party and donned their costumes in the newspaper office at the corner of Court Street and Franklin Avenue. To his dying day, Edes kept the names of the participants secret. 

During the height of the early agitation between England and the colonies, The Gazette printed and distributed 2,000 copies of the paper each week, far surpassing any other publication of the day.  The image on the masthead of a bird being freed from its cage registered with many as the colonists attempted to free themselves from the tyrannical rule of Britain. 

Front Page of the Boston Gazette in 1773. Image courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Benjamin Edes fought British policy by levying written attacks on such policies as the Stamp Act, the tea tax, the Townshend Acts, and other measures placed on the colonists. The paper broke the news about, among other things, the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.

The Boston Tea Party

The paper was a mouthpiece for Samuel Adams and other patriots who kept the fires of the Revolution high. During the opening phase of the Revolution, with a bounty on his head, Edes fled to Watertown, where he continued to publish the Gazette and featured articles penned by such notaries as Samuel Adams, John Adams and John Hancock, becoming the most outspoken newspaper in the country and a leading voice for American Independence. The Royal Lt. Governor, Andrew Oliver said of the paper “The temper of the people may be surely learned from it.” 

Benjamin’s son, Peter, was convinced his father would be hanged if he had fallen into the hands of the British. He wrote of his fears thusly: “If my father had been like some other men, he might have been worth thousands on thousands of dollars; but he preferred the liberties of his country to all.” 

The paper continued to publish until 1798. He died in poverty in 1803 and is buried in Boston. 

The Boston Gazette newspaper office and Benjamin Edes figure prominently in the story line of the second book in my Revolutionary Women series, A British Courtesan in America. Although the main characters in the story are the products of my imagination, I like to place my characters deeply into the events that were happening in their location during the time period of the book, and make reference to actual people who were so pivotal in shaping our country. If I can blur the lines between real and fiction, I’ve done my job.