Born in Boston August 23, 1751; died of yellow fever in Philadelphia,

September 14, 1798

Publisher and printer of the Gazette of the United States, 1789-1798


Newspapers had a significant effect on politics during the formation of political parties in the 1790s, particularly in Philadelphia, where federalist and anti-federalist printers became editor/publishers and aired their ideologies in each issue of their publications. One such printer, John Fenno, edited and published the Gazette of the United States, which functioned as a mouthpiece for the federalist government. Fenno can be regarded as representative of the passionate, loyal editors who used their newspapers to gain support for their political beliefs.

Fenno's letters to John Ward, a friend who was a lawyer in Boston, describe a busy life of allegiance to the federalist cause entwined with a commitment to family. Fenno's major concerns were family and federalism—and money connected those concerns. Finding enough money to maintain a large family was an ongoing challenge, as was finding enough money to keep the Gazette rolling off the press, spreading the federalist gospel. Without the income from the Gazette, the family could not survive, but the Gazette took Fenno away from the family much of the time.

Letters written by Fenno and other relatives to each other show a strong attachment among family members and a great passion for life. The letters give a glimpse of life in the 1790s and beyond through descriptions of daily activities and concerns. The family of John and Mary Fenno was ill fated, with none of thirteen children living to be older than 43, and many dying as children. However, their letters contain an underlying optimism and hope for the future.

John Fenno died of yellow fever in 1798, after he had risen to prominence as an editor and community leader, at a time when newspaper editors in Philadelphia, through their war of words, continued to help shape America’s political system.



Links to further Fenno information

American Antiquarian Society

Chicago Historical Society

Early American Newspapers

Fenno-Hoffman Papers, William L. Clements Library

Massachusetts Historical Society