Michigan’s first newspaper appeared two hundred years ago. The first – and possibly only – issue of The Michigan Essay; or, the Impartial Observer was printed on August 31, 1809. James M. Miller published this four-page paper, printing it on the press of Father Gabriel Richard.
“A Shaky Start and a Short Life…”
The paper promised to publish a new issue every Thursday. There is no evidence, however, that volume 1, no. 2 was ever printed. A shaky start and a short life were common for pioneer papers. In those days, the only thing harder to come by than a steady supply of newsprint was a good supply of paying subscribers. The Michigan Essay set its subscription for Detroit residents at five dollars per year, payable half-yearly in advance. For more distant subscribers, the price was reduced to four dollars per year.
Terms of the Michigan Essay
“…With the Utmost Impartiality”
The first issue consisted of news clipped from international and national papers, with news dating as far back as early May. The only local information was the publisher’s introduction of this new paper. “The Public are respectfully informed that The Essay will be conducted with the utmost impartiality; that it will not espouse any political party; but fairly and candidly communicate whatever may be deemed worthy of interest – whether foreign, domestic or local.”
A Long and Robust Newspaper Industry
After this title disappeared, Michigan did not have another newspaper until the Detroit Gazette began publishing in 1817. Although the Michigan Essay seems to have died a sudden death, Father Richard’s press continued to be used for many years, printing some of the first laws and documents of the Michigan Territory.
While the Michigan Essay may be important simply because it was the state’s first newspaper, it began a long and robust newspaper industry. In the decades that followed, newspapers tracked the population as people migrated west and north, documenting the varied events, interests and concerns of Michigan’s residents.