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Eighteenth Century Virginia Newspapers (VA-NOTES)

The capital city of Williamsburg was the only place in Virginia that had a newspaper until the eve of the American Revolution. William Parks published the first issue of the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg on 6 August 1736. With a few interruptions, Parks and his several successors published weekly newspapers in Williamsburg until the capital of Virginia moved to Richmond in 1780. Each of the Williamsburg printers used the same title, Virginia Gazette, even when two or three competing printers were publishing newspapers simultaneously, which was the case from 1774 to 1776.

On 9 June 1774, William Duncan began publishing a weekly newspaper in Norfolk, which was the first Virginia newspaper to be printed outside of Williamsburg. Duncan and his successor, John Hunter Holt, issued the imaginatively titled Virginia Gazette, or the Norfolk Intelligencer, until 20 September 1775, after which the royal governor of Virginia, the earl of Dunmore, confiscated the printing press. Dunmore issued a few occasional issues of a small format Virginia Gazette between November 1775 and January 1776.

All of the issues of the Williamsburg editions of the Virginia Gazette that had been located by the end of the 1940s are indexed in Lester J. Cappon and Stella F. Duff's massive two-volume Virginia Gazette Index, 1736-1780, which the Institute of Early American History and Culture published in Williamsburg in 1950. The index is comprehensive, including personal and place-names, subject entries, and even indexes to advertisements. Some valuable marriage and death notices appeared in the Williamsburg Virginia Gazettes, but obituaries of the kind common in the twentieth century rarely appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. The Virginia Gazette Index does not include entries for Duncan's, Holt's, or Dunmore's newspapers published in Norfolk.

A valuable companion volume to Cappon and Duff's Virginia Gazette Index is Robert K. Headley Jr., Genealogical Abstracts from 18th-Century Virginia Newspapers (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987). As the title indicates, this volume includes information from all of the newspapers published in Virginia during the eighteenth century, but it is not an index. It contains abstracts of newspaper entries that contain information about the births, marriages, and deaths of Virginians and of their family relationships to one another.

Because of the paucity of birth, marriage, and death records for many portions of Virginia during the eighteenth century, Headley's Genealogical Abstracts is an excellent addition to the reference shelf for all Virginia students of family history.