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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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Isaiah Thomas’s Second Job

In mid-1765 Isaiah Thomas was sixteen years old and apprenticed to the Boston printer Zechariah Fowle. But he was nowhere near Boston. Having worked for Fowle since he was seven, the teenager had gotten fed up and run away.

In Thomas’s own words later, “he went to Novascotia, with a view to go from thence to England, in order to acquire a more perfect knowledge of his business.” Benjamin Franklin had blazed that trail.

In Halifax, Thomas found work with “a Dutchman, whose name was Henry.” This was Anthony Henry, who was actually born in France of German parents. Henry had come to America as a fifer in the British army and settled in Halifax in 1760, taking over the colony’s main print shop the next year.

According to Thomas:

He was a good natured, pleasant man, who in common concerns did not want for ingenuity and capacity; but he might, with propriety, be called a very unskilful printer. To his want of knowledge or abilities in his profession, he added indolence…
Thomas clearly had no more respect for his new boss than for his previous one. He also deemed Henry’s shop antiquated and poorly equipped. But working there gave the teenager a taste of autonomy—Henry appears to have given him free run in printing the weekly Halifax Gazette.

On 1 November, the Stamp Act went into effect in all of Britain’s North American colonies. According to A Bibliography of Canadian Imprints by Marie Tremaine, the issue of the Halifax Gazette published on that date appeared on stamped paper. Its printer’s notice stated, “Advertisements are taken in and inserted as Cheap as the Stamp Act will allow.”

Later that month Thomas was a little more forthright about his opposition to the new law as he reported, “the People of this Province are disgusted with the Stamp Act.”

TOMORROW: And that was enough to get him and his boss in trouble.

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