Several months ago I made the decision to begin focusing my collecting efforts. Many book-collectors center their efforts upon an individual author or illustrator; because of my interest in the material history of the book (as well as its content, of course), I’ve decided to use this opportunity to explore how the specific context of a book’s manufacture influences its appearance (and hence reception). To accomplish this, I have set myself the goal of gathering all of the imprints – books, pamphlets, almanacs, newspapers, forms, and other ephemera – of a single printer. The printer I’ve selected (for rather nostalgic reasons) is the firm of Samuel and Ebenezer Hall, the first print shop in Salem, MA (my hometown), which operated from 1768 to 1775 and after the war from 1781 to 1785. The Halls’ shop has the distinction of being the third printing press in the colony of Massachusetts – making their imprints important pieces of early American history and also, unfortunately, rather rare. Like all truly worthwhile collecting goals, it is likely never to be fully realized – a fact with which I am at peace; for the hungry book-collector, the pursuit is, after all, just as rewarding as the possession.
This week’s book is a recent addition to my Hall collection -- a birthday gift from my fiancée. The full title is A Sermon, Preached May 11, 1785, at the Ordination of the Reverend Joseph McKeen, to the Pastoral Office Over the First Church of Christ in Beverly. The sermon was written and delivered by Joseph Willard, A.M., “President of the University in Cambridge” (that is, Harvard). The printer’s imprint simply states: “Massachusetts: Printed by Samuel Hall, in Salem. mdcclxxxv.” The date -- 1785 -- puts this book at the very end of Hall’s second tenure in Salem (more on this below) and suggests that it was one of the last jobs to issue from his Salem shop (at least three more Hall imprints -- none of which are in my collection [yet] -- are dated later in 1785). Willard’s sermon was never again reprinted. It is possible that the holograph manuscript copy of the sermon is extant in Harvard’s “Papers of Joseph Willard, 1768-1804” archive, but I have not had the opportunity to investigate this further.
The book is a slim volume comprised of a half-title, full-title with imprint, 54 pages of content, and a blank flyleaf at the back. The pages measure 13cm x 20cm and are of a fairly well-made stock bearing 2.75cm chain-lines (no watermark). It may be expressed collationally as 4o: [A4]-G4:: $1. Occasional footnotes are marked, as was the custom at the time, with the following non-alphabetic symbols: * ¶ † § ‡. There may be a clue as to how the book was printed in the appearance of two sets of footnotes on pages 24 and 25 -- facing across the E4/D1 opening (see above). None of the citation symbols are used across the two sets of footnotes; this may have simply been an effort to make referencing the notes easier for the reader and to avoid confusion across the two pages, but it may also suggest that the two sheets (E and D) were in their formes at the same time and so the type from the one was not available for use in the other. If this latter scenario is true, it hints at the expedient and efficient nature of Hall’s operations (rather than stopping the printing process to break up a forme and distribute the type back to the case, his compositors were able to stay ahead of the press by, at the very least, one-sheet’s worth of labor).
Decorative borders appear above and below the half-title text, above the start of the contents, and at the end; the fact that this final length of border is markedly shorter (see above) suggests the border was actually assembled by the compositor from component pieces of decorative type (a fact confirmed by the appearance of pieces of the border in another Hall imprint in my collection also dating from his second Salem tenure). Running pagination appears centered at the top of the page, with Arabic numerals set off in square brackets (a common feature in all of Hall’s works, though some earlier book use curved brackets). Having earlier books of his to which I might compare this text has proven instructive: the setting of the type in Willard’s sermon, the ample spacing of the lines, clean elegance of the layout, and remarkably few typographic errors or problems with casting-off all speak to the advanced professionalism typical of Hall’s work at this late stage of his career. The only immediately evident error I can spot appears in the catchword on p. 10 (B1v): the catchword reads “prisoned;”, but the first word on p. 11 (B2r) is “soned;”, being a continuation of the last word on p. 10 (“impri-”) (see below).
Towards the middle of the spine there are three equidistant stab-marks (see below), hinting
that the text was originally stitched together as a pamphlet when first sold. It was apparently later bound (possibly in paper) but then subsequently disbound; some traces of the binding glue and cords are still evident on the edge of the spine.
There is some very slight foxing on the outer sheets; there is no marginalia, with the exception of a modern hand that has penciled the date (“1785”) on the half-title, an erased pencil note in the top outside corner of the title-page (probably a bookseller’s price mark), and a tiny inked check-mark just after the name “McKeen” on the title-page (possibly a mistaken cataloger’s mark?).
Willard (1738-1804), a native of Maine, served as President of Harvard from December 19, 1781 to his death on September 25, 1804. His life was marked by numerous vocations, including as a sailor, mathematician and astronomer, Greek tutor, and, for a good while, minister. From November 25, 1772 up to his appointment at Harvard on December 19, 1781, Willard served as the pastor of the First Church in Beverly; his tenure was, of course, marked most notably by the Revolutionary War, during which he was an outspoken patriot (later a member of the Federalist Party) and outspoken advocate for the principle of religious faith as a matter of personal choice, rather than state mandate. During the war, in 1781 (the year of Yorktown), he delivered a sermon titled The Duty of the Good and Faithful Soldier and in 1800 he delivered a noted Latin oration in commemoration of George Washington. Beside a number of sermons from both his time as a minister and his time at Harvard, Willard did not publish much -- only some official materials for Harvard, a book on spherical geometry, trigonometry, and astronomy, and, while still a student, an astronomy almanac in 1766. He also prepared materials for a Greek grammar which was never published but which -- had it been published -- would have had the distinction of being the first such book in America.
McKeen (1757-1807) -- about whom I can find little information prior to his installation in Beverly -- remained at the First Church until 1802, when he and his family moved to Brunswick, ME where he took office as the first president of the newly-founded Bowdoin College.
As befits the ordination of a new minister, Willard’s sermon strikes a balance between hopefulness and caution. He takes for his text 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” This final charge -- “a sound mind” -- is particularly important to Willard as his refrain becomes a meditation upon the positive results felt by a minister when he “experiences the genuine influences of the gospel upon his mind”. Willard expands upon this at length, citing the many benefits to the minister and the congregation to be derived from following with rigor the words of the gospels. He then moves into a meditation on the second charge -- “love” -- and itemizes all of the qualities of love a minister must feel toward God, Christ, his congregation, and mankind, and the ensuing effects of that love on the behavior of other Christians. Finally, he shifts into a caution against “superstition”, “gloom”, and “austerity”. The goal, he proclaims, is to become “a rational Minister of the gospel”, to avoid “enthusiasm”, but to also “strictly guard against being cold and lifeless in religion.” The last part of the sermon is directly addressed to McKeen (“I now turn myself to the person, at whose request I stand in the desk, at this time”) and it ends with Willard quoting from his own earlier address to the First Church at the time of their decision to embark upon the project of finding a new minister.
Following Willard’s sermon there appears “The Charge” (that is, the formal commission) delivered by “the Reverend Mr. Swain of Wenham” (about whom I can find no further information). This runs from pp. 48-50. On pp. 51-54 there appears a brief oration, “The Right Hand of Fellowship”, by Reverend Barnard of Salem. This digression, only loosely relevant to the installation of McKeen, offers a topically relevant argument on the nature of freedom of religion and the equality of all (Christian) denominations before both God and the law of the new country: “In those countries where universal toleration is enjoyed, without invidious distinctions, the various sects live together like brethren, and exhibit in their conduct towards each other, the fairest examples of moderation and good will.” Barnard quotes approvingly from the third article of the Declaration of Rights appended to the 1780 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (which, along with the Virginia Constitution, was largely the model for the 1789 federal Bill of Rights amendments to the U. S. Constitution) -- “No subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by LAW!” -- and cites this as the reason the members of the congregation enjoy the privilege “of thinking for yourselves and expressing your sentiments, unawed by Penal Statutes”.
It seems fitting that the book concludes with this gesture of praise toward a founding principle for the governance of the new American nation, particularly given the important role the book’s printer -- Samuel Hall (1740-1807) -- played in making that nation possible.
The following account of Hall’s venture appears in Isaiah Thomas’s indispensable The History of Printing in America, With a Biography of Printers & an Account of Newspapers (Weathervane Books edition, 1970). Thomas’s hefty tome first appeared in 1810, making him a contemporary of many of the men and women about whom he writes (including Hall); Thomas himself had been active in the late colonial/early American printing industry, operating the first press in Newburyport (opened 1773), which suggests that many of his remarks about both the history of the printers and their personalities and dispositions bear credible attention:
He was born in Medford, Massachusetts, served an apprenticeship with his uncle, Daniel Fowle, of Portsmouth, and first began business in Newport, in 1763, in company with Anne Franklin, whose daughter he married.
He left Newport in March, 1768, opened a printing a house in Salem in April following, and began publication of The Essex Gazette in August of that year. In three or four years after he settled in this town, he admitted his brother, Ebenezer Hall, as a partner. Their firm was Samuel & Ebenezer Hall. They remained in Salem until 1775. Soon after the commencement of the war, to accommodate the state convention and the army, they removed to Cambridge, and printed in Stoughton Hall, one of the building belonging to Harvard University.
In February, 1776, Ebenezer Hall died, aged twenty-seven years. He was an amiable young man, and a good printer. He was born in Medford, and was taught the art of printing by his brother.
In 1776, on the evacuation of Boston by the British troops, Samuel Hall removed into that town, and remained there until 1781, when he returned to Salem. He continued in Salem until November, 1785; at which time he again went to Boston, and opened a printing house, and a book and stationery store, in Cornhill.
In April, 1789, he began printing, in the French language, a newspaper, entitled Courier de Boston. This was a weekly paper, printed on a sheet of crown in quarto, for J. Nancrede, a Frenchman, who then taught the language of his nation at the university, and was afterward a bookseller in Boston; but his name did not appear in the imprint of the paper. Courier de Boston was published only six months.
After Hall relinquished the publication of a newspaper, he printed a few octavo and duodecimo volumes, a variety of small books with cuts, for children, and many pamphlets, particularly sermons. He was a correct printer, and judicious editor; industrious, faithful to his engagements, a respectable citizen, and a firm friend to his country. He died October 30, 1807, aged sixty-seven years. (176-8)
Hall’s book and pamphlet-printing operations were certainly lucrative, but it was the publication of almanacs and, most of all, newspapers that (as with most printers in the period) kept his business above water. In his section on “Newspapers in Salem”, Thomas writes:
The Essex Gazette was the first newspaper printed in Salem. No. 1 was published August 2, 1768; and it was continued weekly, on Tuesday, crown size, folio, from small pica and brevier types. In the centre of the title was a cut, of which the design was taken from the official seal of the county. The principal figure a bird with its wings extended, and holding a sprig in its bill; perhaps intended to represent Noah’s dove; and this device was far from being ill adapted to the state of our forefathers, who having been inhabitants of Europe, an old world, were becoming residents in America, to them a new one. Above the bird a fish, which seems to have been intended as a crest, emblematical of the codfishery, formerly the principal dependence of the county of Essex, of which Salem is a shire town. The whole supported by two aborigines, each holding a tomahawk, or battle axe. Imprint, ‘Salem: Printed by Samuel Hall, near the Town-House, Price 6s. 8d. per annum.’
It was afterwards ‘printed by Samuel and Ebenezer Hall.’ The Gazette was well conducted, and ably supported the cause of the country. (274)
When Hall returned to Salem in 1781 he began publication of the weekly Salem Gazette on October 18; the last issue (vol. 5, no. 215) appeared on November 22, 1785. In December, Hall returned to Boston and continued the newspaper under the new title The Massachusetts Gazette.
In 1927, Harriet Silvester Tapley published a monumental study derived from many years investigating the holdings of the American Antiquarian Society, the Salem Athenaeum, and the Essex Institute’s library. The book, Salem Imprints 1768-1825 provides the most comprehensive bibliography of Salem imprints, along with biographical and historical accounts of the bookshops, booksellers, printers, publishers, bookbinders, libraries, and newspapers of the city; I use Tapley’s bibliography as my check-list for collecting Hall imprints. Of course, because he is the founding figure of Salem printing, Hall receives a great deal of attention in Tapley’s research. Here are some of the choice extracts from his biography, which fill out a bit some of Thomas’s general comments:
When young Samuel Hall announced the opening of a printing office in Salem, in April, 1768, the event was of more than ordinary interest. Fascination of the types which has allured mankind since printing was invented, must have thrilled very many in the town of Salem when the ‘art preservative of all arts’ was set up in their midst, crude as was Hall’s outfit at the beginning. He was then twenty-eight years of age, a native of Medford, and a practical printer qualified by experience. He had learned the trade in the printing office of his uncle, Daniel Fowle of Boston, who became the first printer in New Hampshire, having established the New Hampshire Gazette at Portsmouth in 1756. He was now coming directly from a connection in business with the Franklins of Newport, R.I., as unusual as had ever befallen an eighteenth century master of the types.
James Franklin, brother of Benjamin Franklin, had married Anne Smith in his native Boston, and, in 1732, after a serious conflict with the authorities in Massachusetts Bay Colony, established in Newport the Rhode Island Gazette. He died in 1735, and the business was successfully carried on for years by his widow under the imprint of ‘The Widow Franklin,’ or until her son James was old enough to be of assistance. The son learned his trade at his uncle Benjamin’s office in Philadelphia. He returned to Newport as a partner with his mother, and in 1758 established the Newport Mercury, but death took him in 1762, at the age of thirty-five, and again the mother was left to carry on the business alone. Just here Samuel Hall appears, at the age of twenty-two, to have become a partner of the widow Franklin, and the newspaper was published under the proprietorship of Franklin and Hall from August, 1762 to April, 1763. Again death intervened, taking the senior partner, Anne Franklin, on April 19, 1763, at the age of sixty-eight years, and according to the issue of the Mercury, April 25, Samuel Hall assumed full ownership of the printing plant, even before the estate was entered for probate.
Thus, at the age of twenty-three, Hall had a chance to test his capacity for business, and that he was equal to the responsibility involved, the success of the Mercury amply testifies. Rev. Anson Titus, who has given the subject of the Franklin family much study, write: ‘Samuel Hall may be regarded as the spiritual heir of James Franklin. He stood by the failing form of son and widow, and was not distant from the daughters, who drooped and faded in young womanhood.’ There is an air of mystery in the life of Samuel Hall, which is suggested by Isaiah Thomas [see above] when he wrote in his ‘History of Printing’ that Hall married a daughter of the widow Franklin. No record of such marriage can be found, but Thomas’s statement is corroborated by a clause in
Hall’s will, making a bequest to Mr. Thomas Barnes of Brookfield and his wife Elizabeth Barnes, ‘she being next of kin to Samuel Hall.’ Mr. Titus finds that Elizabeth Hall married Thomas Barnes in 1784 and died May 11, 1831, aged seventy-six years, which would place her birth in 1755. Added credence is given Thomas’s statement from the fact that he [Thomas] knew Hall well and was intimately associated with the Fowles, having lived in their family when a young man.
The Franklin daughters assisted in the printing business at Newport. They were said to be correct and quick compositors at the case, having been instructed by their father when children. Thomas, in 1810, states: ‘A gentleman who was acquainted with Anne Franklin and her family informed me that he had often seen her daughters at work in the printing house, and that they were sensible and amiable women.’ However, two years before Hall located in Salem, on June 9, 1766, he was married to Miss Mary Hurd of Boston, by the Rev. Charles Chauncey, D.D., pastor of the First Church, Boston. During the remaining years of his residence in Newport, Hall made a place for himself in the community that the publisher of a newspaper would naturally command. In 1765, he as admitted to the Redwood Library Company, ‘on account of his late service to the amount of £100, old tenor.’
Hall was thus well qualified to become a pioneer in the establishment of a newspaper in the town of Salem, growing as it was in population and importance. It has been stated by Mr. Matthew A. Stickney in his ‘Almanacs and Their Authors,’ published in the Historical Collections of the Essex Institute in 1866, that Hall was persuaded by Capt. Richard Derby to remove to Salem.... The young man embraced the opportunity thus presented, appreciating the advantage to be derived from a newspaper pledged to the interests of the Colony in a seaport town like Salem. Moreover, Hall was a staunch patriot, and the excitement over the Stamp Act, followed by the tax on tea which had been imposed the year before his arrival, no doubt were factors in determining his course. He had the whole of the old County of Essex for a field. There twere then six newspapers in Boston, but none elsewhere in the entire Province of Massachusetts Bay. (5-7)
Indeed, Hall enjoyed the Salem market entirely to himself up until the arrival in 1774 of his first competitor -- the Tory monarchist Ezekiel Russell (perhaps because of his political views, “Russell’s business was never flourishing”, as Tapley remarks ).
Tapley locates Hall’s shop on Main Street (today’s Essex Street), a few doors up from the Town House (today the headquarters of the bank Salem Five). The shop was the ground-floor of a house built in 1726 by Nathaniel Ropes; Hall lived on the second-floor. From this spot he published newspapers, books, pamphlets, and almanacs, sponsored two mail lines, and operated a stationery business with forms, blanks, ledgers, and other paperwork. After 1771 he expanded to sell other books, imported goods such as ink chests, quills and pens, paper, playing cards, slates. In 1774, the building -- and nearly all of Hall’s equipment (£60 worth of material) -- were destroyed in the (first) great Salem fire. Hall gives the following account in his newspaper (issued the week after the fire only because of “the kind assistance of our Friends and Brother Printers from Boston”):
...in the Fire on Thursday last we had only a few minutes’ time to save Part of our Printing Materials from the Flames, which were carried and thrown into the street in utmost confusion.
Following this, another house was built on the spot (it was since moved to Barton Square). Hall, however, moved his operation to “Mr. Blaney’s Brick Building, where the Custom House was sometime since kept”; this building was a two-story structure located near the corner of what is today Washington Street and Norman Street. The next year he relocated to Cambridge.
Tapley provides a detailed analysis of both the content of Hall’s publications and his business operations; she also notes his personal life in Salem (he attended the Third Church, for example, and in 1773 held the office of “collector of pew taxes”) and his involvement in both local and national politics during those turbulent years. Hall’s brother, Ebenezer, moved to Salem from Medford in 1772 and went into business jointly with Samuel. While in Salem, Ebenezer married into the wealthy Orne family, wedding Mary, the daughter of Captain Josiah Orne. As noted above, Ebenezer died on February 14, 1776 during the firm’s first year in Cambridge.
During his first seven years in Salem, Hall was responsible for approximately 45 pamphlets, mostly religious or political, though some were scientific (Andrew Oliver’s influential Essay on Comets in 1772) and others civic (Rules for Regulating the Salem Hospital, 1773). Most were around 50 pages or less, though 4 were over 100 pages; the longest was the 1775 Easy Plan of Discipline for the Militia, by Timothy Pickering (169 pages and 14 plates), which was also Hall’s most significant contribution to the military-side of the war effort. As Tapley notes, “Samuel Hall’s removal from Salem was greatly regretted” (35).
When he returned from Boston in 1781, Hall was again free of competition; Russell had closed shop in 1780 and a short-lived operation run by Mary Crouch closed one week before Hall re-opened in Salem. Hall purchased Crouch’s equipment and moved them briefly to a location “near the Court House”; by the end of 1782 he had moved again to a new location in Salem “two doors above where it now is kept to a new building opposite the store of Messrs. Appleton & Ropes.” From this, his fourth shop in Salem, Hall continued to expand the scope of his business, also retailing small household goods and groceries. It was also from this location that Willard’s Sermon would have been printed, published, and sold. During this time his output included over 20 titles, in addition to broadsides and his newspaper. Eventually, his business buckled: exponentially rising taxes, meant to help pay off the debt incurred by the war, could not keep pace with the subscription levels he realized in Salem and he resolved to return to Boston for good. He left Salem with a stirring and rather emotional valedictory in his paper, recollecting the many friends and favors the town had given him and pledging that he would “always endeavor to promote the interests and reputation of the town of Salem.” He was considered by his contemporaries, Tapley notes, “one of the most successful printers of his time.... He became known universally as an industrious, accurate and enterprising master of the art, a judicious editor and an excellent man.... In his mature newspaper work he advocated liberal opinions with firmness and discretion, and always commanded the confidence and respect of the best men in the community.” (64) In 1799 the Salem Gazette, under new management, described Hall as “a printer well known not only for the neatness and accuracy of his editions, but for the liberality and integrity of his mind.”
Hall died in Boston on October 30, 1807; his wife, Mary, died in Boston in February, 1817. The Columbian Centinel, on the day after Hall’s death, described him as one of the oldest and most correct printers in Massachusetts and ran the following obituary:
He edited a truly republican newspaper from the commencement to the termination of the war. Incorruptible integrity and extraordinary equanimity of mind were prominent traits of his character. He advocated undeviatingly the rights of the colonies as opposed to the unjust claims of the mother country; and while he admired, he uniformly supported those patriotic characters who formed our national constitution, and whose administration produced the highest happiness to their constituents and will render their names immortal.... The country had no firmer friend, in the gloomiest period of its history, as well as in the days of its young and increasing prosperity, than Samuel Hall.