James Rivington, journalist, publisher, spy?

James Rivington (1724 – July 1802) was an English-born American journalist who published a loyalist newspaper in the American colonies called Rivington’s Gazette. Some scholars in the 1950s determined that despite all outward appearances, Rivington was a member of the American Culper Spy Ring.

Rivington was one of the sons of the bookseller and publisher Charles Rivington and inherited a share of his father’s business, which he lost at the Newmarket races. In 1760 he sailed to North America and resumed his occupation in Philadelphia. In 1761, he came to NYC and opened a print-shop at the foot of Wall Street.

In 1773 he began  to publish a newspaper, the first of a number of newspapers throughout the NorthEast. Initially impartial, as the Revolution loomed he began siding with the British and advocating drastic restrictions on the Americans. Many of the colonists cut off communication with him. His press and home were eventually invaded and his letter press letters melted down into bullets by the Americans for the Revolution. He and his family fled the city and returned to England where he became the King’s official printer.

In 1777, after the secure British occupation of that city, he returned with a new press and resumed the publication of his paper under the title of Rivington’s New York Loyal Gazette, which he changed on 13 December 1777, to The Royal Gazette, with the legend ““Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty”.  Rivington opened a drug shop along with his press.

He would have been the last New Yorker suspected of playing the part of a spy for the Continentals, but he furnished General George Washington with important information. Rivington’s silent partner was Robert Townsend, alias “Samuel Culper, Jr.,” one of the principal agents of the American Culper Spy Ring. They sent information to the American troops hidden on book cover boards. The carriers of the books having no idea they were sending messages.

The date Mr. Rivington changed side is unknown, but no one knew of his role until after his death and when he stayed after the Revolution in NYC, his businesses were shunned and he died in poverty.

James Rivington is portrayed by actor John Carroll Lynch on the AMC period drama Turn: Washington’s Spies.

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