A town crier is defined as “an officer of the court who makes public announcements and royal proclamations.” As early as the 15th and 16th century, the town crier was the main news source of the townspeople.
One of the first official American Town Criers was Peter Logan, a black slave who purchased his family’s freedom in the late 18th century. The former slave and ship carpenter set up a home for his family and became a respected member of society as Town Crier.
Logan’s family lived in their home with five other freed slaves. In addition to serving as Town Crier, Peter Logan operated his own boot and shoe black business. He also served as the Town Piper during Christmas.
In London, the first two Town Criers of the Forest City area to serve the townspeople were part of the 1830’s settlement of blacks. They have been identified as George Washington Brown and Don Kean, both black freemen.
Delivering news to the people by messenger was started with Spartan Runners in the early Greek Empire. As European colonization spread, the position of town crier was distinguished as a way to serve news to the illiterate. The Criers were dressed in elaborate colonial clothing. The safety of the town crier was ensured by the court, which issued a “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” law. The law came into affect to protect the criers who delivered unfavorable news.
The job of town crier in Britain can be traced back as far as 1066, with the news of Britain’s invasion by King William I after the Battle of Hastings. The tradition of town crier is still alive in Hastings, with the annual town criers’ competition. The official sound of the town crier is “Oyez!” which translates as “Hear This!” The outcry is accompanied by the ringing of a bell to gather the crowd’s attention.