As if caring for five children under the age of seven wasn’t enough for the newly-widowed Hannah Bunce Watson, American revolutionaries needed the support of her Connecticut newspaper, the Courant.
Hannah Bunce Watson was born on Dec. 28, 1749 in Lebanon, Conn., and married Ebenezer Watson, the Hartford printer who published the Connecticut Courant. It was a second marriage for both of them. Ebenezer Watson died suddenly of smallpox in late 1777, creating a dilemma for American patriots.
The Courant was crucial to maintaining popular support in New England for the American Revolution, as the British had shut down all the newspapers in Boston. Plus, New York’s newspapers were all Loyalist and printed nothing but pro-British news. The Courant was the only paper large enough to provide reliable news to patriots in the Northeast.
Hannah Bunce Watson knew little about printing, but she went ahead publishing the Courant to support the war effort. She made 20-year-old George Goodwin a business partner, as he had already worked for the newspaper for 12 years. They ran stories about battles, short local news items, analyses of colonial politics and criticisms of the British Parliament.
Hannah Bunce Watson may have been one of the first women to edit a newspaper in America, but the Courant didn’t have much in the way of recipes and fashion. She published only nine non-news stories during the two years she ran the paper.
A year later, Tories set fire to the mill that produced paper for the Courant. Watson and Goodwin managed to print a half-sheet paper the day after the fire — and announced it would have to close soon.
The loss of the paper mill was a blow not just to the newspaper but to the patriot cause. It produced writing paper — crucial to communication in that era — as well as newsprint. The British had made sure paper in all forms was scarce in America by cutting off imports.
Sarah Ledyard was the widow of Ebenezer Watson’s partner in the mill. She and Hannah Bunce Watson decided to appeal to the Connecticut Assembly. They asked the Connecticut Legislature for a loan to rebuild the mill. Within a day, lawmakers agreed to establish a state lottery to raise funds for the paper mill. It was rebuilt in the spring, and the Courant continued publishing without interruption.
Despite all the demands on her, Watson managed to find time for a courtship with Barzillai Hudson. They married in 1779, and he took control of the newspaper. In 1837 the Connecticut Courant became the Hartford Courant. It is to this day the largest daily newspaper in Connecticut.
Hannah Bunce Watson died on Sept. 27, 1807. She was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.
If you enjoyed this story about Hannah Bunce Watson, you may want to read about another early American printer, Ann Smith Franklin, here. This story was updated in 2018.