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, April 10, 2011

Isaiah Thomas Slips Out of Boston

On 2 Oct 1775, printer Isaiah Thomas wrote from Worcester to Daniel Hopkins, a minister and Massachusetts General Court representative from Salem. Thomas was protesting how the legislature had canceled its multiple subscriptions to his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy. He described how in the previous April he had slipped out of Boston at the urging of the colony’s politicians:

A few days before the late memorable Battle of Lexington, I applied at Concord, to a number of the Hon. Delegates, then sitting in [the Massachusetts Provincial] Congress, among whom was the Hon. President [John Hancock], to ask their Opinion, if it was not proper, as public matters then were, for me to remove my Printing Office out of Boston, as I found the Liberty of the Press, in that devoted Capital, daily declining, and myself growing more and more obnoxious to the Enemies of our once happy Constitution, and more particularly so to our then Military Masters, (some of whom had carried their Resentment so far as Twice to endeavour to assasinate me, for no other reason, as I humbly conceive, than doing the little in my power, in the way of my Profession, towards supporting the Rights and Privileges of my Countrymen.)

The Hon. Gentlemen informed me that they thought it was highly requisite I should immediately remove myself and printing materials out of Boston, as in a few days it might be too late. I accordingly went and, as soon as could be, packed up my Press and Types, and in the dead of night stole them out of town.—

Two nights after this the Troops went to Lexington, and the next evening Boston was entirely shut up:—I escaped myself the day of the battle and left every thing my tools excepted behind me. Some of the Delegates, of the Hon. Congress, in a day or two after desired me to get my Press ready for Printing, as they had several things to be done.
Among the documents Thomas printed that spring was A Narrative, of the Excursion and Ravages of the King’s Troops Under the Command of General Gage, on the nineteenth of April, 1775—the legislature’s official (and one-sided) report on the Battle of 19 Apr 1775.

This season brings a new opportunity to see a colonial-era press and learn about printing in Revolutionary times. On 15 April, Gary Gregory (who stands in for Thomas in the thumbnail above) will open the Printing Office of Edes & Gill in the Clough House, next to the Old North Church in Boston’s North End.

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