CT Journalism Hall of Fame: Hannah Bunce Watson

Hannah Bunce Watson was 27, mother of five children all under age 7, when her husband’s death from smallpox catapulted her into the job as the publisher of the Hartford Courant in 1777.

She was one of the first female publishers in America. The next woman to take the helm at the Courant was Marty Petty, who was named to the job in 1997.

At the time of Ebenezer Watson’s death, the Courant had the largest circulation on the continent and was considered one of few independent voices, since Boston papers had been shut down by the British and only Tory papers were being published in New York.

Hannah Bunce Watson, left with children to raise and an estate to settle, had no background in publishing a newspaper.

But she took on a partner and kept the paper publishing on its regular schedule – a schedule that was threatened when the paper mill burned down in 1778, only four months after her husband’s death.

This was not a crisis for The Courant only; it was a blow to the patriot cause, reads one history account.  “The British had closed down every patriotic press they could lay hand on, and had cut off imports of paper.

If the Courant went, Americans would lose their largest remaining “patriotic journal.”

While cutting back the paper’s size, Hannah Watson and Sarah Ledyard, widow of Ebenezer Watson’s partner in the paper mill, appealed to the Connecticut Assembly for help – and had the mill rebuilt that spring.

Hannah Watson continued as publisher of the Courant, and in 1779, she married her next-door neighbor, Barzillai Hudson, who became a partner in the newspaper and took over publishing duties with another partner.

Within a few years, the paper, “attained a financial stability that was the envy of other newspapers of the era, “reads one history account.

But even throughout its darkest days, The Courant never missed an issue – thanks in large part to Hannah Bunce Watson

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