The Popular Press in New Hampshire, 1756-1800
That art which is the preserver of all arts,” wrote Isaiah Thomas in The History of Printing in America, first published in 1810, “is worthy of the learned and the curious.” A Boston printer, the first press historian, and the founder of the American Antiquarian Society, Thomas knew the value of the printed word. The matter which came from the colonial and early republic presses embodied the social, religious, and political thought of the times. The form taken for these thoughts included almanacks, books, sermons, and most especially newspapers and pamphlets. These latter were inexpensive and easy to produce. Hence most of the early printers in New Hampshire concentrated on the printing of newspapers and filled their shops with pamphlets.
New Hampshire followed the trend of other colonies: first establishing presses in the larger seaports and towns, then in the smaller colonial towns. Portsmouth, Exeter, and Concord were the first towns to have printing presses, followed by Dover, Keene, Amherst, Hanover, Haverhill, and Walpole. A list of early New Hampshire printers is indexed by town.
Portsmouth was the first town in New Hampshire to have a printing press, in 1756. Owned and operated by Daniel Fowle (1715-1787), the press concentrated primarily on printing the newspaper, The New Hampshire Gazette. Fowle also printed state laws and a few pamphlets, and is credited with printing the first book in New Hampshire, Good News From a Far Country.
Fowle’s apprentices included:
- Robert Fowle (1743-1802), who joined his uncle in partnership in 1764, later moved to Exeter and set up a printing business.
- Thomas Furber, who established a newspaper, The New Hampshire Mercury and Weekly Advertiser, with the encouragement of zealous Whigs who thought Daniel Fowle’s paper too much under the influence of the crown. A year later he took on Ezekiel Russell as a partner. In less than a year, the company became embarrassed by lack of production and the partnership was dissolved.
- Benjamin Dearborn, who, in May 1776, began publishing the New Hampshire Gazette in place of Daniel Fowle. Dearborn published the paper for a few years during the Revolution, and altered its name to The Freeman’s Journal.
- John Melcher, who moved to Exeter and formed a partnership with George Jerry Osborne in 1785. By 1788, however, their partnership had dissolved and Melcher went on to become printer to the State.
Other Portsmouth printers were Charles Peirce, Robert Gerrish, William Treadwell, and Samuel Hart.
Exeter was the second town in New Hampshire to have a press. In 1774, Daniel and Robert Fowle severed their business association due to differing political views. Daniel expressed Whig sympathies, whereas Robert had Tory leanings. Robert took the press previously owned by Thomas Furber and set up shop in Exeter where he established a newspaper and did some work for the government. He was suspected of printing counterfeit money, however, and he fled to New York. His younger brother, Zechariah Fowle, took over the printing duties.
Other prominent printers in Exeter include:
- Henry Ranlet (1762-1807): Besides his newspaper, The American Herald of Liberty, Ranlet printed many books and pamphlets. He was one of the earliest of country printers to supply his office with the types for musical characters, and issued as many as ten or twelve volumes of collections of vocal and instrumental music.
- John Lamson (1769-1807) opened a printing office in 1790. He had been a partner of Ranlet in 1787. He then took Thomas Odiorne (1769-1851) on as an associate.
Other printers in Exeter were William Stearns and Samuel Winslow.
The third town in New Hampshire to have a printing press was Concord. On September 8, 1789, George Hough (1757-1830), a native of Connecticut, began printing pamphlets there. On January 6, 1790, he published the first newspaper in Concord, The Concord Herald and New Hampshire Intelligencer. Hough also printed almanacs and state papers.
A rival of George Hough, Elijah Russell (1769-1803), was a former printer in the Herald office. On October 29, 1792, Russell first published The Mirrour, which existed until 1799. Russell also published a literary and miscellaneous weekly, called The New Star. He later formed a partnership with Moses Davis, who had started to publish The Republican Gazetteer at the end of 1796 and together they continued to publish both of Russell’s titles and what came to be called Russel & Davis’ Republican Gazetteer.
A Note on Sources
The Milne Special Collections and Archives department of the University of New Hampshire Library maintains a large collection of Early New Hampshire Imprints. This collection contains several published items from all of the printers mentioned above, as well as works by later printers. Microfiche copies of newspapers for this era are located in the Microforms department at the University of New Hampshire’s Dimond Library, while a few hard copy issues of selected titles can be found in the New Hampshire Newspapers Collection (MC 2) in Special Collections.
The following books contain useful information on the history of printing:
- Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.
- Bernard Bailyn and John B. Hench, The Press and The American Revolution.
- Charles Henry Bell, History of the Town of Exeter, New Hampshire.
- Charles E. Clark, Printers, The People, and Politics.
- Charles E. Clark, The Public Prints.
- James Lyford, History of Concord.
- Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America.
- Lawrence C. Wroth, The Colonial Printer.
Exhibit created by James M. Roth.