The Press in the United States, Part III

The following is a transcription (Part III 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 III (Conclusion)
[September 10, 1939]

In this department for Aug. 13 and 27 we indulged ourselves with the idea of setting up, with books borrowed from many libraries in this country and England, an exhibition of the first and unusual issues of the Colonial American press to celebrate the tercentenary of its establishment at Cambridge, Mass., in 1639. In those two articles we discussed the early presses of Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina. We continue with the story of the other colonies in which the printing press was found before the conclusion of the Revolution.

The press in New Jersey was established in 1754. Its earliest issue was “The Votes and Proceedings of the Assembly of New Jersey” of April, 1754, issued in the year named by James Parker, who had just moved his establishment to Woodbridge, in that colony. Again the Public Record Office in London would have to be drawn upon for a copy of this first New Jersey imprint for display in our exhibition. We have already spoken of Parker in connection with printing in New York, as one of the most skillful and enterprising printers of the colonies.

The press in New Hampshire was begun by Daniel Fowle, a printer of Boston, who, in 1754, issued a pamphlet entitled “The Monster of Monsters,” by Thomas Thumb, which was held to reflect upon the Massachusetts Assembly. After his pamphlet had been condemned and burned by the hangman and Fowle had been reprimanded, jailed, and ordered to pay costs, he turned his back upon Boston and settled with his press in Portsmouth, N. H. The earliest issue of his press in that place was the prospectus of a newspaper. No copy of that prospectus is now known, so that the first number of the newspaper itself, dated Oct. 7, 1756, must be regarded as the earliest known production of the New Hampshire press.

A journeyman printer named James Adams, after several years of service, left the firm of Franklin & Hall, of Philadelphia, in 1761, and went to Wilmington, Del., where, soon afterward, he announced that he had published a schoolbook, a ready reckoner, the “Wilmington Almanack for 1762” and a piece called “The Advice of Evan Ellis to his Daughter when at Sea.” No copies remain of the ready reckoner or the spelling book, but two at least of the known imprints of Adams’s first year are represented by actual copies. Four libraries, among them the Wilmington Institute Free Library and the American Antiquarian Society, are known to possess copies of the “Almanack,” and the John Carter Brown Library has a broadside entitled “The Advice of Evan Ellis to his Daughter when at Sea,” printed by James Adams in Wilmington, which, in all probability, is from the edition in question. Perhaps the best known issue of the Wilmington press in the eighteenth century was the celebrated “Discovery, Settlement and present State of Kentucke,” by John Filson, which James Adams printed in 1784, though the great map of Kentucky that went with it was engraved and printed in Philadelphia.

Though James Johnston went to Georgia in 1762 and received the appointment of printer to that colony, it is probable that he was not equipped with press and type at that time. At any rate, it was not until April, 1763, that he began the publication of a newspaper, and it was only in June of that year that he printed a group of acts of the Georgia Assembly, some of which had been passed four years earlier. It is generally assumed that the first of these to be mentioned in Johnston’s advertisement—that is, “An Act to prevent Stealing of Horses and Meat Cattle”—is the earliest Georgia imprint other than the “Georgia Gazette.” Copies of this act and of others of the group are found in the John Carter Brown and the Massachusetts Historical Society libraries.

The first press in Louisiana was set up in New Orleans at that critical moment in the history of the colony when France was in process of ceding it to Spain. The earliest piece brought out by Denis Braud, the first New Orleans printer, was a broadside of 1764 entitled “Extrait de la Lettre du Roi, a M. Dabbadie.” This was a notification to the Director General of the colony that Louisiana had been ceded to Spain—tragic news for the French settlers of Louisiana. The only known copy of that broadside is described by Douglas C. McMurtrie in “Early Printing in New Orleans” as in the Louisiana collection of Edward Alexander Parsons, of New Orleans. The early history of the press in Louisiana is of unusual interest because of its participation in the political changes of a period through which the country was, in turn, French, Spanish, French and American.

If we are to pay attention to present-day boundaries, the press in Vermont began in Westminster in 1780 with a Thanksgiving proclamation for that year printed by Judah Padock Spooner and Timothy Green. The beginnings of Vermont printing, however, are more interesting than this, for the first Vermont press was actually established in New Hampshire in the town of Dresden, now called Hanover. At that time Vermont was claiming as hers both banks of the Connecticut River, and Dresden lay on the eastern bank of the river, within the debatable territory. Here in the fall of 1778 the newly established Vermont Republic brought Alden Spooner, a printer of New London, and during the next two years that printer took an active part in the struggle of the Vermont settlers against the governments of New York and New Hampshire in carrying on what was known as the New Hampshire Grants controversy. A thanksgiving proclamation dated Oct. 18, 1778, and a sermon preached by Eden Burroughs, entitled “A sincere Regard to Righteousness and Piety,” are the earliest known issues of the Dresden press. A copy of the thanksgiving proclamation could be displayed only by courtesy of the Dartmouth College Library, but either the Library of the University of Vermont or the John Carter Brown Library could be called upon to lend a copy of the Eden Burroughs sermon.

A short-lived printing establishment was set up in Florida when, in 1783, William Charles and John Wells, sons of a loyalist printer and newspaper publisher of Charleston, S. C., fled before the American occupation of that city under Gen. Nathaniel Green. Together with many other South Carolina loyalists, they went to the British colony of East Florida and at St. Augustine began the publication of “The East Florida Gazette” in February, 1783. In 1784 two pamphlets are known to have come from the press. Probably the first of these was Samuel Gale’s “Essay II, On the Nature and Principles of Public Credit.” The other was the “Case of the Inhabitants of East Florida,” which is a presentation of the claims to compensation of the loyalists, an unhappy group who had hardly settled and taken up land in East Florida when they found the country ceded by Great Britain to Spain as the result of the Treaty of Paris. It would not be impossible to make a good showing of these early Florida imprints. A few numbers of “The East Florida Gazette,” the first St. Augustine newspaper, are found in the Public Record Office, London. The New York Public Library and the John Carter Brown Library have copies of the “Case of the Inhabitants of East Florida.” The only known copy of Gale’s “Essay II” in the St. Augustine edition, is in the possession of Mr. Thomas W. Streeter, of Morristown, N. J., who also owns a copy of the “Case of the Inhabitants.”

An exhibition of printing in the colonies would be incomplete without reference to certain foreign presses which operated in different parts of the country, especially in Pennsylvania, where the German element was always strong, and where, toward the eighteenth century came great numbers of French refugees from Santo Domingo. The printing establishment of Christopher Sauer, the elder, was responsible for the publication, in 1743, of “Biblia, Das ist: Die Heilige Schrift Altes und Neues Testaments,” the second Bible known with certainty to have been printed in America and the first to be published in a European language. The press of the Seventh Day Baptists Monastery, at Ephrata, Pa., began about the year 1745 a long series of books of great interest in the religious and social history of the Pennsylvania Germans. Among these was “Der Blutige Schau-Platz,” printed by the Ephrata brothers for the Mennonites of Pennsylvania. Completed in 1748, this book of 1,512 pages was the largest issue of the press in colonial America.

Among the notable French presses of Philadelphia was that established by Fleury Mesplet in 1774, and used by the Continental Congress for its propaganda addressed to the French of Canada. Later in the century, after the Santo Domingan revolution, the press of Moreau de St. Mery issued a number of extremely interesting political and sociological books. In Philadelphia, and in Boston also, French newspapers were published in the eighteenth century, and many pamphlets of interest to refugees from the West Indies and from France were issued.

The exhibition we have discussed in these three articles in “Notes for Bibliophiles” would represent material of fundamental, social and literary interest in the life and history of the United States, and would celebrate the beginnings of one of the most important present-day industries of the country.

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