J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

“For Paper truly, every one’s a Lover”

This advertisement appeared in the 30 Mar 1767 edition of the Boston Post-Boy:

The Bell Cart will go through Boston before the End of next Month, to collect Rags for the Paper Mill at Milton, when all People that will encourage the Paper Manufactory, may dispose of them; the best Price will be given. They are taken in at Mr. Caleb Davis’s Shop at the Fortification; Mr. Andrew Gillespie’s near Dr. Clark’s; Mr. Andrass Randale’s near Phillips’s Wharf; and Mr. John Boies’s in Long Lane; Mr. Frothingham’s in Charlestown; Mr. Williams’s in Marblehead; Ellson’s in Salem; Mr. John Harris’s in Newbury; Mr. Daniel Fowle’s in Portsmouth; and at the Paper Mill at Milton.

Rags are as Beauties, which concealed lie,
But when in Paper, how it charms the Eye;
Pray save Rags, new Beauties to discover,
For Paper truly, every one’s a Lover:
By th’ Pen and Press such Knowledge is display’d,
As wou’dn’t exist if Paper was not made.
Wisdom of Things, mysterious, divine,
Illustriously doth on Paper shine.
The same ad, minus the one word “truly” in the verse, had appeared in the 9 March Boston Gazette.

At this time the paper mill in Milton was being operated by James Boies (1702-1798), who had come to Boston from Ireland as a mariner, and his partners. According to one John Boies writing in 1834, those partners restarted an abandoned mill with the help of a furloughed soldier named Hazelton in 1760. That was an especially impressive feat because, the same letter said, Hazelton died in the Battle of Québec—which occurred in 1759.

I can’t pin down how that John Boies of 1834 connects to the James Boies in Milton, or to the John Boies who collected rags on Long Lane in Boston. But one John Boies started a paper mill in Waltham sometime in the 1780s.

The advertisement above has a similarly murky history. In Journalism in the United States, from 1690-1872, Frederic Hudson quoted one very much like it from the 6 Mar 1769 Boston News-Letter. But the News-Letter wasn’t published that day.

In 1889, William J. Taylor’s The Story of the Irish in Boston quoted a similar advertisement, crediting the 23 Mar 1769 News-Letter. That issue actually existed, but I couldn’t find the ad in the copy reproduced by Readex. It’s possible that the ad appeared in some copies but not others. The printers may have run this notice whenever they needed to fill a certain amount of space. They always needed a good supply of paper, after all.

The Boston Paper Collective in Charlestown still makes paper by hand. I did some of that work myself a few weeks back. The collective periodically announces papermaking workshops for anyone who wants to get their hands wet the old-fashioned way.

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