When Isaiah Thomas reached Halifax in early 1765, he didn’t have much. That’s what happens when you leave your apprenticeship early. Having worked for printer Zechariah Fowle for nine years, the sixteen-year-old knew he was taking a risk.
According to his grandson Benjamin Franklin Thomas, “He used to say, not without satisfaction in the contrast with his affluent condition in later life, that his linen was reduced to one check shirt, and that the only coat he had he sent to a tailor to turn, and the tailor ran away with it.”
But we know that Thomas built up his wardrobe quickly. In 1846 the Portsmouth Journal and Boston Courier reported that builders had discovered a document inside an “old building belonging to Mr. Supply Ham.” It was “a marble covered memorandum book” with the inscription “Isaiah Thomas His Book 1766,” and its text recorded the young printer’s travels and compensation:
Left Mr. Fowle the 19th of September 1765, and sat sail the next Day about 10 o’clock for Halifax, and arrived there on the 24th Day about 10 o’clock, which was just four Days from the Time I left Boston.Thomas later said that friends in Boston recognized his work in Furber and Russell’s newspaper. He suggested that was the quality of his typesetting, but it may have been his woodcuts. Or Daniel Fowle may simply have written to his brother Zechariah that his wayward apprentice had reappeared, hungry for work. In any event, the Boston printer invited young Isaiah to return.
Went to Mr. [Anthony] Henry’s and engaged work with him for 3 Dollars per month and he to find me Boarding, Washing, &c. Work extremely scarce.
Received of Mr. Anthony Henry the following Articles, viz.
1 Pair of Broadcloth Breeches 0 15 0
Two pair of Stockings 7 0
1 pair of Shoes 8 0
Two Check Shirts 16 0
1 Pistereen 1 0
1 Bottle of [torn] 1 0
Two Dollars in Cash 10 0
To 1 yard of Black Shallon 4 0
To 1 yard of Blue Ditto 3 9
Halifax Currency 3 5 9
Work’d with Mr. Henry 5 months, 3 Weeks and 3 Days. Sailed from Halifax the 19th day of March, 1766, and arrived at Old York [Maine] the 27th (at Dark) of said Month.
Work with Mr. [Daniel] Fowle of Portsmouth [New Hampshire] 13 Days.
Friday, April 10, 1766. Came to work with Messrs. [Thomas] Furber & [Ezekiel] Russell for eight Dollars per month and my Board.
Received of Messrs. Furber & Russell 5 yards & half of Black Serge at 9 Shillings Lawful money per yard 2 9 6.
Thomas’s grandson wrote, “On his arrival at Portsmouth the people were celebrating with great enthusiasm the repeal of the Stamp Act.” But 27 March was too early for that. The young printer might have stayed in Portsmouth through that town’s celebration in May, but it’s also possible that he returned to Boston just in time for its big celebration on 19 May, and the memory got garbled.
According to Benjamin Franklin Thomas, back in his old master’s shop the teenager “gets along quietly for a few weeks. In July 1766, on the day of the funeral of Jonathan Mayhew [11 July], whom the whole town followed to his grave, he has fresh trouble, but the difficulty is compromised and he lives with him once more. He remains but a few weeks and then, with the full consent of his master, leaves his service finally.”
Isaiah Thomas’s next stop: Wilmington, North Carolina.