This post is about the sincerity with which people up and down the social scale applied political thought to personal action in the revolutionary world. Here I’m referring to William Rind, one of Williamsburg’s printers, who lived at the Ludwell-Paradise House on Duke of Gloucester Street, and probably there printed his edition of the Virginia Gazette.
Neither one of the well-known (and well-heeled) “Founders” who led provincials into secession from the British Empire, nor one of the almost-as-celebrated (and probably almost-as-apocryphal) men and women of the lower sorts who pushed the elites into rebellion, Rind was one of those folks whom often get lost in the historiographical scrum over who mattered most in the American Revolution. His American Revolution seems not to have been one imposed from the top down, nor one instigated from the bottom up, but perhaps was one that developed from the middle out (I’ll direct any more considered inquiry of the role of printers in the Revolution and Early Republic to my friends Joe Adelman, Jeff Pasley. and Todd Andrlik). In any case, Rind was a particular favorite of the patriots in Williamsburg and seems to have taken the lofty motto he chose for his newspaper–“Open to all Parties but Influenced by None”–quite seriously, as the letter below suggests.
This unpublished letter (until recently stuck in a drawer at Eyre Hall on the Eastern Shore) was written in February 1769 in response to a complaint from a Northampton County patriot, Severn Eyre, that Rind had not been quick enough about printing an essay criticizing the new governor, Lord Botetourt. While unique in a number of respects, it is of especial interest for the window it opens–however briefly–into a particular moment in the lives of people who lived in this place during the constitutional crisis. Rind and his assistant, William Lumley, permit us to follow them on a cold winter’s day from Blovet Pasteur’s shop (next to the Raleigh Tavern), down the street to Rind’s office, into Lumley’s trunk, and then inside Rind’s own head as he considers the practical issues of printing a newspaper and its connection to his political faith. It allows us a glimpse into the ways political thought informed the daily lives of people such as Rind, and does so in a way that helps us attend to the complex intersection of constitutional abstraction, political culture, and individual behavior in Revolutionary Williamsburg, which makes studying that time and place so terribly interesting.
I received yours of the 22d ultimo by which I am sorry to see you have taken offence at my not publishing the Piece signed Curtius sooner. It would have been very inconvenient to me to have printed it then, as it would have put me to the Expence of giving a Supplement, at a Time I was so scarce of Paper, as to be afraid I should be obliged to stop my Gazette for want of it. You say, “you know the Piece was delivered into my own Hands ….” What Wm Lumley, who lives with me, Subjoins to this will, I doubt not, convince you that you was misinformed in that Point, as also that no “Court Sycophant” (having never been a Favourite of the Great) nor any Person out of my House, had ever Seen it till it was printed. I have ever made it a Rule to consult no Man what Pieces I shall publish, and shall ever adhere to it. But, I think, the Authors should give their Names to the Printer for his private Satisfaction, which should by no means be divulged, when the Pieces are of such a Tendency as to create him Enemies, and as he is ignorant in anonymous Pieces whether they come from Friends or Foes, the Consequences may be often hurtful to him. I do not expect any Gentleman will insure me his Vote; but I hope you will do me the Justice to believe that I act up to my Motto, and I think I have often proved it, Sometimes to my great Loss; both by the Expense of printing 2000 Supplements a Week, and by losing many subscribers, who prefer old News, to new Pieces, of what Nature soever. I will therefore still hope for the Continuance of your Friendship, which I desire no longer that I shall be thought to maintain a free Press. I am, with Gratitude and Respect, Sir,
Your much obliged humble
Sir Williamsburg, Feby 11th 1769
The piece signed Curtius was left at Mr. B. Pasteurs Shop, where I happened to step in, when he gave it me. I know not whether it was the same Day that it was left with him, or the next.
I opened it in the Shop, & seeing it was a Piece for the Press, I put it into my Pocket without reading it. When I came home I shewed it to Mr. Rind, & we both read it; & then I took it into my own Room, & locked it up in my Trunk, with some other Pieces; & there it has remained til given to the Compositor to set for the Press. These particulars I could very safely make Oath to, were it necessary.
I am very respectfully
Sir, Your unknown hbl Sevt
[Eyre Family Papers, VHS]
9 thoughts on ““Having never been a Favourite of the Great”: A Revolutionary Printer’s Commitment to His Principles”
This is a modified and updated version of a post from my previous blog, Revolututionary Williamsburg, which I no longer update.
Was curious about other papers that might accompany this, so I did online searches of Va Hist Soc catalog based on your reference to source “[Eyre Family Papers, VHS]” — is VHS acquisition to recent that material hasn’t yet been catalogued?
It’s on loan to the VHS, so that might be an explanation, but I helped with the deposit, knowing the family, and transcribed every document in the collection. I’d be more than happy to share the entire file with you, if you like.
Wow – that would be splendid, generous above and beyond – thank you!
PS: If I remember correctly, Rhys Isaac used Severn Eyre’s diary from the Stamp Act era, maybe in his book on Robert Carter, and if memory serves showed some protest slogans as illustrations? I think CW’s Rockefeller library had it on film?
Rhys used an sketch about George Grenville that was in a journal Severn had kept for his book on Landon. We had it digitized and then returned it to the family. There’s not a lot in it of note, but I can send that to you, too.
I general question about the writing of the time. Were there any rules to capitalization? If so I have not been able to figure them out.
Michael, there was yet no standardized grammar or even spelling in 1769 when Rind and Lumley wrote these pieces. Consequently, early modern writing tends to be highly idiosyncratic with such things as capitalization and punctuation.
It seems even worse than idiosyncratic – it seems not only to be different from individual to individual but from sentence to sentence.