Parker, James (1714-1770)
James Parker (1714-1770)
Printer, postmaster, and journalist
Dedication. James Parker dedicated a good part of his life to the written word, establishing printing houses in three colonies and founding several newspapers. Considered one of the best printers in colonial America, Parker gave a measure of respectability to the field of journalism and developed a reputation for accurate reporting. Some historians maintain that as a newspaper editor he was the superior of both William Bradford III and Benjamin Franklin.
Youth. Parker was born in Woodbridge, New Jersey, the son of a cooper. When his father died in 1727, Parker traveled to New York City to become the apprentice of Bradford, but he ran away from his master before his eight years of service had expired. Arriving in Philadelphia, the energetic youth impressed Franklin, who gave him a job in his printing establishment. In February 1742 the two men formed a six-year partnership, and Franklin supplied Parker with a press and type for starting a newspaper in New York.
New York. On 4 January 1743 Parker founded his first newspaper, the New-York Weekly Post-Boy, to compete with the New-York Gazette, published by his former master Bradford. The following December, Parker became public printer of New York, and when Bradford’s publication ceased operations in November 1744, Parker renamed his paper the New-York Gazette, Revived in the Weekly Post-Boy. Over the next several years it grew in popularity until it became the foremost newspaper in the colony. Readers respected Parker’s ethics and sense of honor, especially after he publicly apologized to some respectable Quakers for publishing two forged letters that criticized them. By 1746 Parker had become librarian of the Corporation of the City of New York. In 1753 he once again changed the name of his paper, calling it the New-York Gazette; or, The Weekly Post-Boy. He then turned the management of his New York press over to William Weyman and returned to New Jersey.
Connecticut. During this time Parker published four short-lived periodicals, became the printer to Yale College, and received an appointment (through his old friend Franklin) as postmaster of New Haven, Connecticut. On 12 April 1755 Parker and his silent partner, John Holt, established the Connecticut Gazette, the first newspaper in the colony. The next year Parker became comptroller and secretary of the general post offices of the British colonies, and in 1758 the New Jersey assembly made him public printer.
Apprentices and Journeymen. Almost everything Parker set out to do ended in success. Aside from his newspapers he tried his hand at printing almanacs as well as works of poetry, fiction, history, religion, and science. His only notable failure during this period was the New American Magazine, published in Woodbridge between January 1758 and March 1760. Nevertheless, Parker was undaunted; indeed, many of his apprentices and journeymen showed some of the same industriousness. Among these men were William Goddard, the first to establish a printing press in Providence, Rhode Island, and Hugh Gaine, editor of the New-York Mercury.
Illness. In his later years Parker suffered from severe gout, and he centered his activities more and more in New Jersey. In 1762 he terminated his partnership with Holt, who then became the sole publisher of the Weekly Post-Boy. Parker opposed the Stamp Act (“the fatal Black-Act”) and began the first newspaper in New Jersey, the Constitutional Courant, on 21 September 1765 in protest. The paper bore the imprint “Printed by Andrew Marvel, at the Sign of the Bribe refused, on Constitution-Hill, North America.”
Death. On 20 February 1770 Parker wrote to Franklin that his gout had become so debilitating he was “drawing nigh to the Grave with a good deal of Rapidity.” Nevertheless he continued his course as a voice piece for the Patriot movement. Two months earlier he had printed an anonymous essay addressed “To the Betrayed Inhabitants of New York,” which the General Assembly declared “a false, seditious, and infamous libel.” Parker was charged, but he died on 2 July 1770 while the case was pending. He left his presses (two each in New York and New Jersey and one in Connecticut) to his son, Samuel. His former partner, Holt, eulogized him as a man who “left a fair Character” and was “industrious in Business, upright in his Dealings, [and] charitable to the Distressed.”
William H. Benedict, “James Parker, the Printer, of Woodbridge,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, new series 8 (July 1923): 194–199;
Larry R. Gerlach, Prologue to Independence: New Jersey in the Coming of the American Revolution (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1976);
Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America. With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, 2 volumes (Worcester, Mass.: Isaiah Thomas, 1810).
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