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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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Francis Wrigley, Philadelphia Journeyman

Yesterday I shared the New Year’s greeting for 1783 that Philip Freneau composed specifically for Francis Wrigley to share with his customers.

Wrigley was a journeyman printer working for the Philadelphia newspaper Freneau edited, The Freeman’s Journal. Wrigley’s death notices say he was eighty-five years old when he died in October 1829, meaning he had been born in 1744.

According to William McCulloch, a younger Philadelphia printer who corresponded with Isaiah Thomas, Wrigley was born in England. In Some Degree of Power: Preindustrial American Printing Trades, 1778-1815, Mark A. Lause suggested that Benjamin Franklin himself sent Wrigley across the Atlantic with a letter of recommendation. (But again, we Americans like to credit Franklin with everything.)

During the Revolutionary War, according to Wrigley’s obituary, he “printed for the Old Congress while [it was] sitting in Philadelphia, and accompanied them from this city to Baltimore [in 1776], where he printed the ‘Old Continental Money,’ which was at that time in circulation.”

In 1785 Wrigley set up his own print shop and sold ink and stationery on South Street in Philadelphia. The following year, he supported a strike by the city’s journeymen printers demanding a wage of six dollars per week. That effort was successful, and shortly afterward he and other printers formed the Franklin Society, a mutual-aid society for the profession.

Wrigley worked with various partners in the subsequent decades. In the early 1790s Philadelphia was the national capital, and that brought a boon of printing jobs, both governmental and political. At other periods he worked from less prominent, and probably cheaper, addresses. Wrigley specialized in printing books rather than newspapers and periodicals.

Hezekiah Niles noted his passing in Niles’s Weekly Register:
Died, on the 28th ult. at Philadelphia, our venerable friend Francis Wrigley, printer, in the 86th year of his age. He printed for the old congress, was one of the best pressmen of his day, and, perhaps, performed as much personal labor in the printing business as any man that ever lived. He was remarkable for the goodness of his heart, and fidelity and kindness to all men, but especially to those of the craft—very gentle and patient with young apprentices, as the senior editor of the Register experienced, and affectionately remembers.
Those biographical details help to explain why in late 1782 Freneau wrote one New-Year’s verse for Wrigley and another for “the Lad who carries” the Freeman’s Journal. In his late thirties, Wrigley was no longer a “Lad.” And he was also notable for being a nice guy.

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