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American Revolution Began in New Hampshire
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A new kind of history book

 

But Todd Andrlik says there is hope yet for Portsmouth. That’s because he doesn’t get his best history from textbooks or TV specials. Andrlik reads newspapers, very old newspapers. He has collected and read hundreds of antique papers that lay out the details of the American Revolution day by day as it unfolded. He is currently assembling photocopies of actual articles drawn from 275 newspapers. The best of the 18th century primary sources will be published in a book tentatively titled Reporting the Revolution planned for release in 2012. Andrlik has asked 30 historians, this writer included, to annotate the original articles with a collection of short essays.

Andrlik discovered John Wentworth’s official proclamation about the New Castle raid reprinted in a copy of the Boston Evening Post. He says he was fascinated to discover a battle he never knew existed in which colonists stormed “The Castle” as it was called, and stole the king’s munitions. I caught up with Andrlik by cell phone recently. A marketing director by trade, he was stuck in a traffic jam somewhere between downtown Chicago and his home in the suburbs.

“I’m not a degreed historian,” Todd Andrlik admits, “but I’ve always had an itch for history.

Andrlik was researching his wife’s Civil War ancestry in Illinois in 2007 when he stumbled onto his first early newspaper featuring an account of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. He was shocked to see a vintage paper in perfect condition.

“I was a marketing and PR guy. I went to business school,” he says. “I didn’t know the history of paper making. So I learned about the rag-content paper, and how newspapers prior to 1870 are often in better condition than yesterday’s New York Times.”

Andrlik immersed himself in the collectible newspaper trade and studied up on paper conservation techniques. He partnered with the former head of conservation at the Folger Shakespeare Library, he says, to restore old papers. He often works with the Library of Congress and other institutions to help them source and procure papers for their collections.

“One thing begat another,” Andrlik continues, and over time his passion shifted from the Civil War to the American Revolution. That “love affair” with old print led to this current project to create a sourcebook of early newspapers that he calls “a first draft of history” including the 1774 raid on Fort William and Mary. The sourcebook, covering the period from the controversial Sugar Act through Washington’s resignation, is built on articles taken from prominent papers like The New Hampshire Gazette, first printed in Portsmouth in 1756.

“I was reading things that hadn’t been read in centuries, Andrlik says. “I felt like I was there in the 18th century experiencing it for the first time. It was exhilarating. Newspapers were the main media of the period. They were the unifying tool of the colonies.”

Not all of the 275 issues will appear in the sourcebook, but those who purchase the book will receive an access code to the entire collection online with more than 1,000 scanned newspaper pages. Reporting the Revolution, Andrlik estimates, should run about 400 pages in print, “coffee-table style” from Sourcebooks, Inc., an independent Illinois publisher. He hopes it will appeal to educators intent on teaching from primary sources. There was less editorializing in those days, he says, and no journalists as we known them today. Editors were essentially aggregators of the news who reprinted private letters, government documents, and local accounts in an era when most papers went to press only once each week.

“There’s a lot of drama, a lot of cliff-hanging,” Andrlik says. “You get the preliminary details of a battle, and you have to wait another week for the next newspaper. It’s riveting if you put yourself in their shoes. It has kick-started my interest in American history. News is history in its purest sense.”

 

Copyright © 2011 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site SeacoastNH.com. His 10th history gift book, America’s Privateer: Lynx and the War of 1812, is now available at select local shops and online as a “collectible” item in the author’s Amazon.com bookstore.

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