Founded on 28 October 1771 as a weekly, the Pennsylvania Packet and the General Advertiser became the nation’s first daily newspaper on 21 September 1784. Twelve years later, it would be the first paper to publish George Washington’s farewell address.
John Dunlap, who immigrated from Ireland when about eight years old, learned the printing trade from his uncle. He founded the Packet as a broadside (a “small” 9×15 inch paper printed on one side) and gave it the motto “Whatever men do, is the burden of our speech.”
During the run up to the Revolutionary War (1775-76), Dunlap published semi-weekly and “warmly supported the cause.” Perhaps that is why he became “printer to Congress” and thus was the first publisher of the Declaration of Independence.
When the British occupied Philadelphia (1777–1778), Dunlap shifted production to Lancaster, PA. That’s an astounding 60 miles away as the crow flies.*
On the 4th of July he published an editorial — very rare in those days — on the evacuation of the city by the British troops. It marks a feature of the newspaper press of that time that the publisher never alluded in the Packet to his enterprise in removing his office and publishing his paper while the city was occupied by the enemy, nor to his return at the earliest day possible.
The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in the Philadelphia State House (now Independence Hall) on 04 July 1976. While Dunlap was publishing the Packet in Lancaster, it served as the home (capitol) of the Continental Congress for one day (27 September 1777).
In the late summer of 1777, the Redcoats again advanced on Philadelphia, and after Washington’s disastrous defeat at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, the Continental Congress evacuated the city. Delegates fled 65 miles to the west and on September 27, 1777, met inside Lancaster’s county courthouse. Faced with the difficulty of finding suitable lodging and continued concerns about their safety, the delegates’ official business consisted mainly of deciding how quickly they could leave Lancaster. After the legislative equivalent of a cup of coffee, the Continental Congress adjourned its one-day session inside the courthouse, which was destroyed by a fire in the 1780s, and continued to move west.
Dunlap sold the Packet in 1783 to D.C. Claypole, who had been his apprentice and then partner. It was Claypoole who fairly quickly turned the paper into a daily, although the paper retained the name Dunlap & Claypoole.
In 1795, Claypoole changed the name of the paper to American Daily Advertiser. He retained the role as “publisher of the official paper of the government.”
Originally published in David C. Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796, Washington devoted much of the address to domestic issues of the time, warning against the rise of political parties and sectionalism as a threat to national unity. In the area of foreign affairs, Washington called for America “to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” Although the ideas expressed were Washington’s, Alexander Hamilton wrote a large part of the address. James Madison drafted an earlier version of the address in 1792.
An example of the Packet in 1787, no longer a broadsheet (now multiple pages, printed on each side).
*A 50-60 mile journey was slightly beyond the average distance a colonist could travel in one day on the same horse at a trot of 8-12 miles per hour. This would have normally been a (minimum) two-day ride by horseback, longer if pulling a wagon with a printing press (assuming it needed to be moved).