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, September 01, 2020

Finding the Printer “E. Oswald”

I flagged this essay by Michelle Orihel at the Age of Revolutions blog for sharing just shy of two years ago, but here’s an extract at last:
In May 1793, the Democratic Society of Pennsylvania published its constitution as a pamphlet entitled, Principles, Articles, and Regulations, Agreed upon, Drawn, and Adopted by the Members of the Democratic Society in Philadelphia. The title page listed E. Oswald as the printer. I initially assumed that Eleazer Oswald [shown here] printed the pamphlet. A well-known Philadelphia printer, he edited the newspaper The Independent Gazeteer, and later joined the Democratic Societies in both Pennsylvania and New York. However, when researching his life, I learned that Oswald had sailed for England in the summer of 1792. He did not return to the United States until November 1793. He could not have printed the constitution. His wife did—E. for Elizabeth Oswald.

In her husband’s absence, Elizabeth took charge of the family’s newspaper and printing business. A common practice in the eighteenth century, wives and daughters often worked in print shops. For example, Benjamin Franklin recounted in his Autobiography that his wife Deborah “cheerfully attended me in my business, folding and stitching pamphlets, tending shop, purchasing old linen rags for the paper makers, etc. etc.” (It is worth noting that by relegating the rest of his wife’s work to the “etc., etc.” category, Franklin rendered women’s work paradoxically invaluable and invisible in a text that famously celebrated his own work ethic and path to success.) . . .

Elizabeth Oswald came from a family of printers. Her father was John Holt, the well-known patriot printer in New York, and her mother, Elizabeth Holt, ran the New York Journal for two years after her husband died in 1785. Less than a decade later, while Eleazer was away, his wife advertised in the Independent Gazetteer on several occasions that she had received a new and complete assortment of printing types that her husband had sent from England. Elizabeth specifically noted that she specialized in printing “blank checks, circular letters, &c. executed upon a new and beautiful Scripts.” After Eleazer died in 1796, Elizabeth carried on publishing the newspaper for a short period, just like her mother had done after her father’s death. She eventually sold the newspaper to Joseph Gales, but maintained the printing business. One year later, she died of “the prevailing disease” of yellow fever. Her obituary described her as an “amiable lady,” “a valuable member [of society],” and “a tender and affectionate mother.”
Prof. Orihel studies the politics of the 1790s and explores new teaching techniques for the benefit of her students at Southern Utah University.

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