N.B. All text in black excerpted from Lawrence C. Wroth's The Colonial Printer. Curatorial remarks are in red.

Part 1. The CONTENT

A glance at the most recent volume of the American Bibliography shows that for the hundred and sixty-year period between 1639 and 1799, the late Charles Evans listed as the product of the colonial press almost 36,000 separately printed books, pamphlets, broadsides, and newspapers, counting a year's issue of a newspaper as a single item. In the compilation of this list Mr. Evans made no attempt to record those printed blank forms which were unquestionably one of the staples of the American press, nor was it possible for him to record the innumerable advertisements, notices, and posters that were carried out of memory by the winds or left to the mercy of sun and rain on wall and door after their ephemeral purpose had been served. For the colony of Massachusetts alone, Worthington C. Ford* has recorded some 3400 ephemeral pieces in his Broadsides, Ballads, &c. Printed in Massachusetts. In that bibliography, Mr. Ford made no attempt at a comprehensive record of blank forms, including only the first appearance of a form and occasionally other issues that seemed to possess unusual significance. With the best intention of including every piece that came from the press, a bibliographer would still have only partial success in compiling a complete list of imprints of any period or place, for, in general, it is safe to say that where one printed item has been preserved, three or four have perished through neglect and natural causes. The Colonial Printer, p. 215
*Acting Director of the John Carter Brown Library 1917-1922, Wroth's predecessor.


36) Know all men by these presents. New York, 1695.

In examining the records of the colonial communities, one is appalled by the amount of legal and official business that was transacted in this new country, but whoever else may have been the sufferer by this frequent lawing, it is certain that it was not the printer. The necessity of keeping on hand a supply of official blank forms for the use of all who might have need of them was by no means a hardship to the printer; on the contrary, there is evidence that he regarded the profits from the sale of this staple as the "velvet" of his business. The very first thing known to have been printed in English America was the Freeman's Oath of 1639, a form containing propositions to which each man in the Massachusetts colony must give his assent as a condition of citizenship. The Colonial Printer, p. 224


37) John Markland. Typographia: an ode on printing. Williamsburg: William Parks, 1730.

In the dedication to the Maryland Laws of 1700, the new condition is mentioned with gratitude; and again in 1718, the publisher of the compilation of that year refers to the previously existing situation in which the Laws were found only in "Ill-Written Manuscripts, Lodged in the Hands of particular Officers, and not more than Twelve or Fourteen of them in the whole Province." In Virginia this appreciation of an important function of the printer found expression in an ode in which the author spoke exultantly of a forthcoming publication, the Collection of all the Acts of Virginia, Williamsburg, 1733 (Item 1), which was to contain:

…Virginia's Laws, that lay
In blotted Manuscripts obscur'd
By vulgar Eyes unread,
Which whilome scarce the Light endur'd
Begin to view again the Day,
As rising from the Dead.

The Colonial Printer, pp. 227-228


38) Benjamin Banneker. Benjamin Banneker's Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia almanack and ephemeris, for the year of Our Lord, 1792. Baltimore: William Goddard and James Angell, 1791.



39) Benjamin West. Bickerstaff's Boston Almanack. For the Year of Our Lord, 1772: Being leap year. Boston: John Fleeming, 1771.

The fame of Poor Richard has been so great since the days of his first appearance that the layman thinks of his work as comprising the sum of colonial calendar making, but Poor Robin, Abraham Weatherwise, Theophilus Grew, John Warner, Benjamin West, Nathaniel Ames, Benjamin Banneker the negro scientist, and numerous other pseudonymous and undisguised writers prepared almanacs of excellent quality for the printers of their communities to issue regularly in the fall of each year. For reasons universally understood, almanac publication has provided a study of undying interest in every land the sun shines on. For the American student who strives to understand the present and to forecast the future by an intimate knowledge of the past, that room of 15,000 almanacs in the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester is at once a monument and a shrine. The Colonial Printer, p. 230


40) The Independent Whig. Philadelphia: S. Keimer, 1724.

A type of publication too much neglected by historians, general and special, is the colonial periodical. As in the case of the newspaper, the American periodical took over the form and manner already established for this kind of publication in England. Indeed, the earliest example of the periodical publication to be presented to American readers was a reprint of The Independent Whig of London, issued weekly for twenty numbers in Philadelphia in 1724. Franklin's contemptuous references to Samuel Keimer, its publisher, have belittled an interesting and eccentric figure in American literary history. But though we may quarrel with the youthful judgments of Franklin as unnecessarily harsh where his rivals were concerned, it is impossible to avoid acknowledgment of his beneficent influence upon every aspect of the American printing trade. To Franklin must be given credit for the first conception of an original American monthly magazine. The Colonial Printer, pp. 236-237


41) The American magazine and historical chronicle. Boston: Rogers and Fowle, 1745.

In September, 1743, The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle, initiated by Rogers & Fowle of Boston, and conducted with the cooperation of printers in other cities, began a life of three useful years, "the first real magazine," one learns from the introduction to Beer's Checklist, "to live beyond a few numbers." During the remainder of the century the periodicals most representative of the place and time seem to have been The American Magazine, published by William Bradford of Philadelphia, and edited by the Reverend William Smith; Isaiah Thomas's two ventures, The Royal American Magazine and The Massachusetts Magazine; The Pennsylvania Magazine, published by Robert Aitken, and edited by Thomas Paine; The Columbian Magazine, begun by Matthew Carey and carried on by various publishers of Philadelphia; and Carey's later and very successful periodical, The American Museum (Item 5). All these, save Isaiah Thomas's Massachusetts publications, were enterprises of the Philadelphia press. The Colonial Printer, pp. 237-238


42) Samuel Davies. Religion and patriotism the constituents of a good soldier. Philadelphia: James Chattin, 1755.

Another staple issue of the colonial press was the printed sermon. In the middle and southern colonies the printed sermon was only an occasional publication, though it is true that, regardless of section, sermons preached at the opening of the Assembly, on patriotic anniversaries, or on other occasions of public interest, frequently found their way into print. Controversial sermons, too, found support from the adherents of both parties to the controversy, wherever it might rage, but in general, the sermon was not a notably important staple of the printing houses south of New England. In that section, however, it bulked large among the extra-governmental issues of the press. The Colonial Printer, pp. 239-240


43) Richard Burn. Le juge à paix, et officier de paroisse, pour la province de Quebec. Montreal: Fleury Mesplet, 1789.

The Short-Title Catalogue of English books from 1475-1640 records twenty-seven different issues of The Boke of Justices of Peas and ten issues of Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's Newe Boke of Justices of the Peas, translated from the Anglo-French work, Office et auctoryte des Justices de Peas. During the ensuing century in England, this ancient handbook of procedure, forms, and elementary legal principles continued to be issued in various improved, revised, and emended editions, and in the colonies, the printers of the eighteenth century issued at intervals various versions of this useful vade mecum for the unprofessional judge and notarial officer … The popular "Burn's Justice" (Item 34) is even found as Le Juge à Paix, issuing from the Montreal press of Fleury Mesplet in 1789. In this edition of the old manual we see the completed circle: after some centuries of existence as an English handbook it has returned, somewhat altered, to the language of its origin for use among the Canadian descendants of the people for whom it was originally composed. The Colonial Printer, pp. 240-241


44) Giles Jacob. Every man his own lawyer. New York: Hugh Gaine, 1768.

Certain very general principles of law found publication in such compendiums as Every Man his Own Lawyer, announced by Franklin in 1736, issued by Hugh Gaine in 1768, and by John Dunlap of Philadelphia in the next year… J. Archer's Every Man his Own Doctor of London, 1673, found its American counterpart, at least in title and in purpose, in John Tennent's Every Man his Own Doctor, or The Poor Planter s Physician, which appeared first at Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1734, and again in Philadelphia, in 1734 and in 1736. It was incorporated, in 1748, in the Philadelphia edition of George Fisher's American Instructor. When announcing the issue of this medical handbook in 1736, and a concurrent issue of Every Man his Own Lawyer, Franklin loosed his pawky humor in declaring that these books would soon be followed by Every Man his Own Priest. The Colonial Printer, pp. 242-243


45) Robert Biscoe. The merchant's magazine; or factor's guide. Williamsburg: William Parks, 1743.

One of the first things printed by William Parks after he set up his press in Williamsburg, in 1730, was The Dealer's Pocket Companion. This book was a forerunner of Robert Biscoe's Merchant's Magazine, which the same printer brought out in 1743, and of the same class with Falgate's Dealer's Companion, printed by Andrew Steuart in Philadelphia in 1760. The Colonial Printer, p. 243


46) The young clerk's vade mecum. New York: H. Gaine, 1776.

Another variation of the business manual was the work issued first by William Bradford in New York, in 1705, with the title, The Young Man's Companion, and published frequently thereafter by him and others as The Young Secretary's Guide, or as The Young Clerk's Vade Mecum. These books have a certain distinction as prototypes of the arithmetical school-book, but they were more than this in that they taught also the art of business letter writing, and of making out bills and bonds, and other requirements of the young in the world of commerce. The Colonial Printer, pp. 243-244

holy jesus

47) The history of the Holy Jesus. Boston: J. Bushell and J. Green, 1749.

Certain other staples of the press, especially of the New England press, are so well remembered that there is need to speak of them here only as types. Latin grammars and school-books of all sorts, primers, New England and Royal, Psalters with and without the music, catechisms, moralized chapbooks illustrated by hideous woodcuts—these were the commonplace items of publication that have their special historians and bibliographers and, above all, their collectors. No fewer than 112 editions of arithmetical school-books, to take one type as an example, came from the American press between 1705 and 1799. The Colonial Printer, p. 245


48) William Billings. The New-England psalm-singer: or, American chorister. Boston: Edes and Gill, 1770.

The generously broad pages of the Urania, measuring 4 ½ x 9 1/2 inches allow a long staff with well-spaced notes and beneath them the words engraved in a firm and well conceived italic. Its style should have influenced the general form of this product, but for some reason most of the makers of music books continued to be satisfied with rather ugly, crowded pages, primitive as to lettering and notation. William Billings, with his elaboration of the mode of psalm singing; Andrew Law, with an entirely new musical notation in certain of his books; and Daniel Read are a few of those whose books in this category had importance in the life of the country of their publication. Some of the chief engravers of the century were employed in the making of the plates from which the many editions of these works were printed and in the embellishment of their title-pages. Paul Revere, for example, engraved the music and the frontispiece of Billing's New-England Psalm-Singer, of Boston, 1770. The Colonial Printer, pp. 248-249


49) John Winthrop. A declaration of former passages and proceedings betwixt the English and the Narrowgansets, with their Confederates. [Cambridge: Stephen Daye, 1645].

The writing of history seems, indeed, to have been a spontaneous form of expression for American men of letters from the earliest days. It seems almost as if they visualized themselves as actors in a great social experiment of which every stage and event should be kept in memory. It should be said, at this point, that by the "writing of history" I mean really the "writing of histories," of self-conscious studies which record and interpret events in the past experience of the people for the information of posterity… A Declaration of Former Passages and Proceedings betwixt the English and the Narrowgansets, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1645, is a statement which records and interprets a series of events in the hope of justifying to the English at home action taken by the community, which, without such explanation, might well have been misunderstood. The Colonial Printer, pp. 255-256


50) Thomas Prince. A chronological history of New-England in the form of annals. Boston: Kneeland & Green, 1736.

Other apologies of this sort, using the stronger meaning of the word, came in the early days from the press, but soon there were being compiled "histories" of the sort we are chiefly concerned with, writings intended as records for the information of present and future men. Mortons's New-England's Memoriall, of Cambridge, 1669; Hubbard's Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians (Item 58), Boston, 1677; Increase Mather's Brief History of the Warr With the Indians, Boston, 1676, are notable products of the Massachusetts press, not mere tracts or pamphlets but formal records of past events against which the activities of the present might be projected and examined. From the Boston press came, in 1736, Thomas Prince's Chronological History of New-England; from the Williamsburg establishment of William Parks there was issued in 1747 the most elaborate production of this kind in the first half of the century, Stith's History of Virginia. The Colonial Printer, p. 256.


51) Anne Bradstreet. Several poems compiled with great variety of wit and learning, full of delight. Boston: John Foster, 1678.

The first original poem of the country of any size was Michael Wigglesworth's Day of Doom, harsh theology expressed in vehement verse, printed in Cambridge in 1662. Benjamin Tompson's New England's Crisis, a group of poems on events of the Indian wars, brought out by John Foster, of Boston, in 1676, has been called "the first collection of American poems to be printed in what is now the United States." Two years later, in 1678, the same printer issued Anne Bradstreet's Several Poems, the first American edition of her Tenth Muse Lately Sprung up in America, London, 1650. Foster's edition of Mrs. Bradstreet's poems marked, in this country, the entrance of women into the field of letters. The poems of Tompson and Mrs. Bradstreet, serious though they might be, were sufficiently different from Wigglesworth's grim versifying to convince us that even then New England, so generally and so carelessly misinterpreted in our generation of revolt against the Puritan discipline, was not devoid of the grave sanity of her later periods. The Colonial Printer, pp. 257-258


52) Ebenezer Cooke. Sotweed redivivus: or the planters looking-glass. Annapolis: William Parks, 1730.

The Sotweed Factor by Ebenezer Cooke was probably the most original poem to come from an American press of the times. This vigorous satirical piece was first published in London in 1708, probably republished in Annapolis about the year 1728, and, under the general title, The Maryland Muse, again printed in Annapolis in 1731, this time in company with The History of Colonel Nathaniel Bacon' s Rebellion in Virginia, Done into Hudibrastick Verse. Its second publication in America was preceded by that of its continuation, the Sotweed Redivivus, in Annapolis in 1730. The Colonial Printer, p. 259


53) Marcus Tullius Cicero. M.T. Cicero's Cato major, or his discourse of old-age. Philadelphia: B. Franklin, 1744.

The translation by Richard Lewis of Holdsworth's Latin satire on the Welsh, the Muscipula, printed in both languages in Annapolis in 1728; John Markland's ode on printing, Typographia (Item 37), of Williamsburg, 1730; Poems on Several Occasions by "a Gentleman of Virginia," Williamsburg, 1736; the translation of Cato Major, printed by Franklin in Philadelphia in 1744, are locally printed and locally written pieces that indicate the tastes and feelings of the men of learning of these communities. The student of American ideas finds in these and similar issues of the colonial press fascinating material for the comprehension of spiritual tendencies. The Colonial Printer, p. 259


54) Brother Lamech and Johann Peter Miller. Chronicon Ephratense. Ephrata, 1786.

It happens that more than once in these pages mention has been made of Der Blutige Schau-Platz, the book of the Mennonite martyrs translated from the Dutch of Tieleman van Braght and printed at the Ephrata Monastery in 1748 on a partnership agreement, at the behest of the Pennsylvania Mennonites. The resulting volume of 756 leaves was the largest book produced in the colonies before the Revolution; that it may also be judged the ugliest does not take away merit from the pious souls who conceived, or from the pious but unhappy men who executed, the great project. The story of its printing takes us into another world than that of the bustling, commercial seaport towns of the colonies, to a quiet village of the interior where, in a Seventh Day Baptist Monastery, were reproduced the conditions of the communal religious life of another age and continent. The naive authors of the Chronicon Ephratense, Brothers Lamech and Agrippa, tell of the printing of the great work under the oversight of their rigorous taskmaster, the Superintendent of the Community. The story comes into a history of the colonial press, for, huge and unlovely though it may be, the Mennonite Martyr Book (Item 30) was in some particulars its most remarkable product. The Colonial Printer, pp. 259-261


55) Conrad Beissel. Zionitischen Stiffts I. Theil. Ephrata: Drucks und Verlags der Brüderschaft, 1745.

Some years after the founding of the Ephrata Monastery a press was established in the cloister, and one of its first known issues, in 1745, was Beissel's Urständliche und Erfahrungsvolle Hohe Zeugnüsze, which is described as a work of mystical theology full of abstruse oddities. It had appeared originally under the title Zionitischen Stiffts, or rather, had been about to appear with a preface by Israel Eckerlin when Beissel quarreled with his editor, expelled him from the brotherhood, burnt the preliminary sheets of the book, and issued it with a new title and preface. Lovers of their Lord, these enthusiasts were also good haters of their fellow men when events gave rise to the harsher emotions. The Colonial Printer, p. 262


In examining the American book of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, one finds little in its appearance or physical characteristics to distinguish it from the normal English book of the same period. There is no question, of course, that the London printer who set about the production of a fine book possessed, to begin with, a degree of experience in bookmaking and an acquaintance with notable specimens of the craft not often part of the equipment of the pioneer American printer. The Londoner had also the advantage of proximity to the paper-mills and type foundries of Holland and to the engravers of that country and of his own. His luxury books, in consequence, were of considerably greater dignity and beauty than anything the colonies could or did produce…Bookmaking of this sort was a thing apart; the American printer had neither the experience, the resources, nor the incentive in the form of market demand to attempt its emulation in his own productions. Such work was not expected of him, and the fact that he did not produce it requires neither apology nor extenuation. But it is doubtful whether the normal book—the quarto or octavo book of verses, the sermon, or the political tract—found in the London shop was greatly superior to the book of a similar character that came from the well-established shops of the larger American towns. The Colonial Printer, pp. 267-268


56) Samuel Willard. A compleat body of divinity in two hundred and fifty expository lectures on the assembly's shorter catechism. Boston: B. Green and S. Kneeland, 1726.

There have been from early days several ways of printing in two or more colors, but it is probable that in the eighteenth century in America it was done by the laborious method described by Moxon, …This procedure added greatly to the cost of the job, and it must have been the element of cost, as well as the need of highly skilled pressmen to carry out the details, that made it unpopular with the American printers. But when the largest publication project of the first half of the century was brought to a close in Boston in 1726, the printers signalized their pride in the volume produced, or, perhaps, their relief at its completion, by a fine display of red on its tall, well-ordered title-page. This book was the Rev. Samuel Willard's Compleat Body of Divinity, published by subscription through Benjamin Eliot and Daniel Henchman, and printed in the separate establishments of Bartholomew Green and Samuel Kneeland. It is a volume of 500 leaves in folio, which, were its origin not declared in its imprint, would surely be attributed to the shop of a competent London printer. The Colonial Printer, pp. 280-281


57) Catholic Church. Missale romanum ordinarium. Mexico: Antonio de Espinosa, 1561.

One of the noblest books ever printed in America, not forgetting the product of these days of mechanical typographical appurtenances, was the Missale Romanum, a folio which came from the press of Antonio de Espinosa in Mexico City in 1561. A beautifully conceived book, rubricated throughout in proper liturgical style, it is also a typographic tragedy. Midway of the volume the printer's supply of pigment began to give out, and from that point onward his pure red begins to grow paler and paler until, towards the end, it becomes the very ghost of itself, and a brownish, muddy ghost at that. But as no American printer of the north ever attempted so grand a book as Espinosa's missal of 1561, none ever had so great an achievement to rejoice over, or so great a tragedy to mourn. The Colonial Printer, pp. 281-282


58) William Hubbard. A narrative of the troubles with the Indians in New-England, from the first planting thereof in the year 1607. Boston: John Foster, 1677.

According to a statement by John Eliot, Foster engraved an ABC book, no copy now known, for the use of the Indians, and there is evidence that the seal of Massachusetts found in Increase Mather's Brief History of the War with the Indians, of Boston, 1676, was of his workmanship. In this same year appeared the book first mentioned in this connection, Hubbard's Narrative, in which is found a whole sheet woodcut map, entitled A Map of New-England, Being the first that ever was here cut. In view of Foster's known skill, or lack of it, as a wood-cutter, and his known printing of Hubbard's book, the attribution to him of this print goes without serious question. The Colonial Printer, p. 284


59) Benjamin Church. The entertaining history of King Philip's War, Newport: Solomon Southwick, 1772.

Paul Revere of Massachusetts was another of these [engravers], as were Amos Doolittle and Abel Buell of Connecticut. Revere's engraving showed him to be a more indifferent artist than silversmith. His engravings for Thomas Church's History of King Philip's War, Newport, 1772, and his plates for Rivington's edition, New York, 1774, of Hawkesworth's New Voyage [of Captain Cook] round the World are poor even for the time and place. His engraving of Benjamin Church in the first of these books has provided generations of bookmen with amusement, for he has simply copied the portrait of the English poet, John Churchill, slung a powder horn around the subject's neck and called it Colonel Benjamin Church. The Colonial Printer, pp. 290-291


60) An Impartial history of the war in America. Boston: Nathaniel Coverly and Robert Hodge, 1781.

Indeed the portrait engraving of the century represented the lowest point of accomplishment. From impressive work in the engraving of architectural details and elevations, maps, plates for military handbooks, and a varied general product, John Norman descended into the depths with his series of portraits of American Revolutionary leaders in the Boston, 1781-1784, edition of the Impartial History of the War. Regarding the namby-pamby features he has given our leading soldiers, one wonders whether, after all, it was not really the French who won the war. And yet most collectors try in vain to form a complete set of the book. The third volume is almost unobtainable. The Colonial Printer, p. 291




61) Andrew Fyfe. A compendious system of anatomy. Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1792.

Towards the end of the century we find Isaiah Thomas of Worcester issuing a folio Bible, illustrated with fifty plates by such finished engravers as Samuel Hill, John Norman, and Joseph Seymour. Several other Bibles of this decade drew upon these and other engravers to an extent that must have suggested to them the approach of a Golden Age. But the finest group of American engravings of the century fittingly forms part of its greatest typographical triumph, the Dobson edition, 18 volumes, Philadelphia, 1790-1797, of the third edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Item 11). A great number of engravers were employed in illustrating this book—re-edited in America, printed in America with American-made types—and the result makes it clear that the art of engraving for the book in this country had come of age. A further description of the Encyclopedia forms the concluding section of the present chapter and of this book on the colonial printer, but mention should be made here of the separately printed article from it which was published as A Compendious System of Anatomy in which appeared twelve plates engraved with special skill and delicacy by R. Scot, of Philadelphia. The Colonial Printer, pp. 291-292


The first American book on anything like such a scale, Dobson's Encyclopedia marks the end of printing in America as a household craft and the beginning of its factory stage of development. One inevitably contrasts Dobson's achievement in eighteen substantial quarto volumes with the inconspicuous Bay Psalm Book with which, a century and a half earlier, Stephen Daye had made his tentative but courageous beginning in the printing of American books. The comparison is too facile, too superficial, to possess real value without amplification, but it shows at least a striking economic, typographical, and social development over the period in which, everywhere, the old world took on the aspects of the present industrial civilization. The Colonial Printer, the end.