A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Talk of the Town, 18th Century-Style

Thanks to the generous support from the following organizations:

Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the Revolution

Rhode Island Society of Colonial Wars

Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the American Revolution

General Society of Colonial Wars

a set of the earliest 101 broadsides in the RIHS collections dating from 1693 to 1777, which were previously not fully catalogued, are now fully accessible to researchers through our online catalog.

Broadsides are generally printed on one side of a sheet of paper and were either posted in public places or offered for sale.  They were used in early America by the government, businesses, and individuals as a way to disseminate information to the public.  They covered every topic conceivable from issues of general concern such as election results, proposed new legislation, and calls to arms to lighter subjects such as social events and theatrical performances.  The most famous example of a broadside is the printed version of the Declaration of Independence.  It was posted in a prominent location in the community to be read by all. The Society holds two Rhode-Island imprints of the Declaration and they were catalogued as part of this project.

The RIHS broadside collection is a truly unique resource.  Just like posters are used today, the majority of broadsides were created as ephemeral items to be posted outside for all to see for a specific purpose and then discarded.  As a result, very few examples of each broadside have survived to the present day.  Of the broadsides cataloged thus far, 46 of them are the only known copies in the world, 8 are one of only 2 copies known to exist, and 17 of these were unknown to scholars in 1949 when John Eliot Alden published his master bibliography: Rhode Island Imprints, 1727-1800. (New York, R.R. Bowker Company).

The broadside depicted here reveals the building tension between the American Colonies and the English Parliament that led to the American Revolution.  The broadside reports on the results of a Town Meeting of the citizens of Newport on January 12, 1774.  At that meeting, the citizens resolved to oppose the duty on tea by the English Parliament and the attempts by the East-India Company to forcibly land the tea at American ports in order to collect the tax.  They characterized it as “a violent attack upon the liberties of America.” The note at the bottom provides further proof of the widespread discontent among the colonists with England.  That town meeting apparently drew one of the biggest crowds despite the extreme cold and all of the resolutions passed without a single dissenting vote.  Only two copies of this broadside are currently known to exist—one at the RIHS and the other at the New York Public Library.

— Karen Eberhart, Special Collections Curator


Image Citation:

Newport (R.I.)  Colony of Rhode-Island, &c. At a town-meeting held at Newport, the 12th day of January, 1774. Henry Ward, Esq; moderator. [Newport, R.I.]: Printed by Solomon Southwick, [1774].  Alden #543.  Call No.: G1157 Broadsides 1774 No.3

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This entry was posted on 17 February 2010 by in Collection Notes, News and tagged , , , , .

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