Many of the craftsmen who printed our nation’s Colonial, Continental and early American currency were patriots who risked life and liberty in the quest for freedom before, during and even after the Revolution.
Some were imprisoned; others were forced to evacuate their presses as British forces took over their cities. At least two participated in the Boston Tea Party. One was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
These are their stories.
John Peter Zenger, 1696 to 1746
New Yorker John Peter Zenger, who died 30 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, provided the foundation for our First Amendment right to freedom of the press.
In late 1733 Zenger branched out from printing pamphlets on his Broad Street press to publishing a newspaper — the New York Weekly Journal, the only paper printed between Philadelphia and Boston.
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From the start, Zenger attacked the corrupt Colonial administration. On Dec. 3, 1733, he printed that Gov. William Cosby had permitted the French to spy on the city’s defenses and allowed only favored people to attend council meetings. Cosby was not amused and charged Zenger with “scandalous, virulent and seditious reflections upon the government.” However, neither the grand jury nor the council would indict him.
Undeterred, Cosby convened a select group of sympathetic councilmen who accused Zenger of “raising sedition.” Zenger was arrested Nov. 17, 1734, and imprisoned for several months awaiting trial.
At his trial, which began Aug. 4, 1735, Zenger pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, astonished the jury by admitting that Zenger had printed the offending words but said he had “committed no crime.”