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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Pilgrims and the Printing Press

Before we leave Thanksgiving behind us for another year, let’s recall that one of the items brought to the New World on the Mayflower we believe was a printing press, a large iron piece of which was used to shore up a splitting beam on the voyage.

The Mayflower Compact was handwritten, but this replica of the 1669 printed copy shows the printing press was just as instrumental at founding, and preserving, an equitable nation as the bonds of commonwealth established by the Mayflower Compact.

This 1723 printing of the Thanksgiving proclamation by the Lieutnant Governour and His Majesty’s representative in Massachusetts Bay boldly ends with the typical flourish GOD Save the King. While the Pilgrims may not have quite gone along with that, they might have been still more amazed at the level of freedom which a free press achieved, and would continue to thrive in a democracy the likes of which they never conceived.

Here is the Massachusetts Spy out of Worcester in 1775, only a few weeks after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, when “God Save the King” was replaced by “Liberty or Death!”

Here we have a less incendiary newspaper from Northampton, Mass. in more placid times of 1826, and from Holyoke, Mass. in 1882, when we see the dawn of the 20th Century brought advertising to a more prominent place in the media. The Holyoke Transcript, later the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram, has followed the path of many newspapers of the last twenty years and is now defunct.

Today we are losing our newspapers with alarming rapidity, but communication continues in its myriad forms. Keeping an open mind rather than choosing to read only news which pleasures but does not challenge, and opinion in which we are already in agreement is the worst form of tyranny, because it is self imposed. We seem to need to re-learn that every once in a while through the centuries.

These printing press photos are from Sturbridge Village. Go have a look at the printer plying his trade.


Unknown said...

A great reminder of the necessity of a free press in a democracy--& interesting history about the Pilgrims & the printing press.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, John. I love old printing presses, they represent to me a symbol of the creation and expansion of this country as much as a blacksmith's forge, a gunsmith shop, or a 19th century cotton mill. Printers have taken as much a risky stance on matters as writers or rebels have. Silencing dissent through the ages usually began with demolishing the local printing press.

Gary Gregory said...

Dear Jacqueline,

Indeed it was the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Cambridge that brought the first wooden English Common printing press to the American Colonies in 1639. The Reverend Jose Glover sailed along with the press from England and died on the voyage. so the press was set up an by a man named Stephen Daye and was kept at the college at Cambridge (Harvard) The Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony never had a large enough settlement to require or bare the expense of a press and a printer.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Gary, for that clarification on the old myth, and a bit of fascinating history.

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