Th Press in the United States, Part II

The following is a transcription (Part II of III) of an article by Lawrence Wroth in his “Notes for Bibliophiles” column in the New York Herald Tribune, which ran 70 years ago.

The Press in the United States: A Perfect Tercentenary Exhibition, Part II
[August 27, 1939]

In this department for August 13, we proposed to set up an exhibition of first and notable issues of the Colonial American press, celebrating in this way the beginning of printing in the United States by the press established at Cambridge, Mass., in 1639. Because of the wide dissemination of those first issues of the presses of the Colonies, a perfect, or nearly perfect, collection of them could be made for exhibition purposes only in the imagination. It is in the imagination, therefore, that we proceed with our borrowing for the purposes of our display of some of the rarest books known to the collector. We have already brought together, in our earlier installment, the “firsts” of the presses of Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.

Printing began in Connecticut with the establishment of a press at New London in 1709 by Thomas Short. The first issues of Short’s press in that place and year were a separate “Act (for emitting Bills of Public Credit)” and a broadside entitled “By the Honourable Gordon Saltonstall Esq. Governour . . . of Connecticut . . . A Proclamation for a Fast.” The first of these could be contributed to the exhibition only by the Yale University Library; the second, by the Massachusetts Historical Society. The most important of the early issues of the Short press and one which would occupy a prominent place in the exhibition is “A Confession of Faith . . . Consented to . . . at Say-Brook September 9th, 1708.” This celebrated “Saybrook Platform” was printed in New London in 1710, though it seems likely that its publication did not occur until a year later. Short’s successor in New London was Timothy Green, one of whose early publications was the “Acts and Laws of Connecticut” of 1715. Timothy was a descendant of Samuel Green, the well remembered printer of Eliot’s Indian Bible and other important works of the Cambridge press. Beginning their devotion to printing with long service to the earliest press of the United States, the Green family is found active in the operation of establishments in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland down to the year 1839, almost 200 years of continuous service to the craft by the members of a single family, an unusual American record.

James Franklin’s conflict with the Massachusetts authorities, arising out of certain publications in his “New England Courant,” was responsible for the establishment of the press in Newport, whither he and his wife, Anne, removed in the year 1727. Their earliest publication of that year, John Hammett’s “Vindication . . . of his separating from the Baptists” has disappeared completely from knowledge. The earliest extant Newport imprint, therefore, would be the copy of Poor Robin’s “Rhode-Island Almanack for the Year 1728” (printed in 1727), which would be represented in the exhibition by copies from the almanac collections of the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library. Various libraries would be able to produce works that issued from the Newport press in 1728. The Rhode Island Historical Society has two or three items of that year including James Honeyman’s “Faults on All Sides,” a copy of which is also found in the John Carter Brown Library. This seems to be the most extensive book up to that time issued from the Newport press.

Printing began in Providence in 1762, when William Goddard established his press there and issued, first, a broadside announcing the fall of Morro Castle at Havana, and second, a circular for a theatrical performance. Neither of these can be shown in the exhibition because copies of them have not been located in any collection of today. The earliest issues of the Goddard press in Providence now to be found are a broadside “In Memory of Obadiah Brown” and a prospectus soliciting subscriptions to the “Providence Gazette,” which began publication on October 20, 1762. Both these pieces are known in unique copies in the Rhode Island Historical Society.

The prohibition of the press in Virginia by special orders of the King, in 1682, was effective in its operation for nearly fifty years. It was not until 1730 that William Parks, then public printer of Maryland, added to his duties the same office under the Virginia government and opened an establishment in Williamsburg. His earliest publications were “All the Publick Acts of Assembly in Virginia” of 1730; an edition of “The New Virginia Tobacco Law,” and a ready reckoner known as “The Dealer’s Pocket Companion.” None of these imprints is known today in an actual copy. The earliest of his issues of that year known to exist is the unique “Charge to the Grand Jury” by Governor Gooch, which is found in the Archives of Fulham Palace and, if shown, would have to be loaned to our exhibition by the Bishop of London. The other known publication of that year is “Typographia, an Ode on Printing,” by John Markland. This is the earliest American contribution to the literature of typography. The only recorded copy of the poem is found in the John Carter Brown Library. That library could also contribute to the exhibition a copy of the “Virginia and Maryland Almanack for 1732,” the earliest extant copy of an almanac published south of Pennsylvania, though Parks began his almanac publishing three years before the date of this item with John Warner’s “Almanack for the Year 1729,” published in Annapolis in 1728.

The first printers of South Carolina were George Webb, Eleazer Phillips jr., and Thomas Whitemarsh, all three of whom appeared in Charleston at about the same time as the result of actions at cross purposes by the Assembly and the Governor and Council. Late in 1731 a compromise was brought about as the result of which all of the three printers were given employment. Whitemarsh and Phillips established newspapers in 1732, but before this important service had been performed George Webb had brought out at least two pamphlets which must be regarded as the first issues of the press in South Carolina. Copies of these were discovered by Douglas C. McMurtrie a few years ago in England. They comprise a small pamphlet entitled “Anno Quinto Georgii II. Regis. At a Council . . . Tuesday, Oct. 19, 1731,” and a broadside proclamation by the governor dated “Nov. 4, 1731.” For the exhibition we are discussing it would be necessary to borrow both these pieces from the Public Record Office in London, where we have already found so many unique early American imprints, more especially, of course, such as relate to the governmental affairs of the colonies. Philips and Whitemarsh died in 1732 and 1733 respectively, and after his first publication of 1731, George Webb disappeared from the scene. The press was put upon a firm basis in South Carolina only when Lewis Timothy, a Huguenot who had been a journeyman of Franklin’s, went to Charleston in 1733, and took up the work begun by Whitemarsh, a former associate in Philadelphia.

In our display of South Carolina printing we would want to see also “An Essay on Currency,” which Timothy published in 1734 and which, until the discovery of the two Webb imprints, was regarded as the earliest issue of the South Carolina press in book or pamphlet form. That work would have to be borrowed for the exhibition from the Charleston Library. The most striking of the publications of the early Carolina press is unquestionably the edition of the “Laws of the Province of South Carolina,” compiled by Nicholas Trott and printed by Lewis Timothy in 1736. This was one of the earliest English-American books to be printed with a rubricated title-page.

To secure a proper representation of the work of the first printer of North Carolina, James Davis, of Newbern, it would be necessary again to go to the Public Record Office, that great repository of documents relating to England and her colonies, where would be found his first imprint, the “Journal of the House of Burgesses,” of September, 1749. All the North Carolina imprints which antedate the volume containing the Acts of Assembly, published in 1751, are to be found only in the Public Record Office. The “Collection of all the Acts of Assembly of North Carolina,” of Newbern, 1751, is the earliest publication of the North Carolina press existing in any considerable number of libraries.

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