From Treason to Truth
14 South Front Street
Working out of a small shop at 14 South Front Street, printer Benjamin Towne debuted the first issue of The Pennsylvania Evening Post (TPEP) on January 24, 1775. The four page paper created an outsized impact on society at the time. Long considered the first daily paper in the country, TPEP also achieved status for its front-page printing of The Declaration of Independence on July 6. 1776. Such lofty accolades were in contrast to the character and motivations of the man behind the print.
Once described as “more persistent than principled”, Benjamin Towne was nevertheless dedicated to publishing consistent and succinct newspapers. An enterprising man with a hard work ethic and a hefty dose of greed, Towne navigated the political climate brought on by the Revolutionary War and subsequent occupations of Philadelphia by both the British and American troops. Towne was even mentioned by founding fathers - in several letters by Ben Franklin and in correspondence to General George Washington in regards to his printing capabilities.
Towne, however, was a trouble maker and rabble rouser, posting politically charged manifestos and labeling his enemies as Tories, Whigs or turncoats in order to eliminate his competition. He was charged as the catalyst for a mob-like attack on a fellow printer, James Humphreys Jr, in 1776 leading to Humphries’ exodus from Philadelphia. William Goddard, a fellow printer and prior associate of Towne, accused him of several acts of deception including the robbing of printing tools, ruining his reputation, reading his private correspondence, and ultimately destroying his publication of The Chronicle so “that he [Towne] might rise on its ruins”.
These deeds shaped Towne’s reputation as a distrustful opportunist, culminating in a charge of treason in 1778 that was later redacted for reasons unknown. Little can be said to shine a positive light on the actions of Towne. Allusions to his character were of a decidedly negative nature, and following the charge of treason, his printing business lost its funding and community support. In the last years of Towne’s life until his death in 1793, he was hawking his paper in the street to passersby for a dwindling fee.
More than two centuries later, The Pennsylvania Evening Post was reborn in March of 2015 with the bimonthly issuing of The Philadelphia Evening Post. Enter Josh Kinney – a Philadelphia native with a passion for history and a drive similar to that of Towne. However, the two diverge when it comes to motive and inspiration. Kinney’s paper had the goal of creating something nostalgic, organic, and tactical that could be shared within and by the community. Having a physical paper that could be touched and shared offline was an important aspect of the revitalization project.
Built around the idea of revival and rebirth, the modern version of The Philadelphia Evening Post provided an outlet for those in the community to share family stories and historical interests without being overshadowed by political discussion or volatile news. Many Philadelphia locals participated in Kinney’s vision, submitting childhood narratives, family legend, and local myths alike. One such story featured a heartwarming tale of community; a neighborhood in Kensington gathered what funds they could to provide a blind little girl with the Christmas she had wished for in a letter to Santa. Another Christmas tale revealed a neighborhood Santa to be Bernard “Bonpapa,” a Jewish immigrant from Belgium who took refuge in Philadelphia during World War II. The paper also included business ads displayed by their respective neighborhoods and interviews with local musicians.
While funding for Kinney’s TPEP resulted in its closure in May 2016, its physical aspect and positive effect on the community has helped keep it alive in spirit. It may have taken over 200 years, but The Pennsylvania Evening Post went from a tool of divisiveness and greed to a place for the community to reflect on and share the treasured stories that make up Philadelphia.