Goddard, William (1740-1817)

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William Goddard (1740-1817)


Newspaper publisher and postmaster

Family Affair. One of the most active publishers in the late colonial era, William Goddard had the aid of his mother, Sarah, and sister, Mary Katherine, in his newspaper ventures. Without their financial and managerial savvy it is unlikely that Goddard would have kept afloat any of his three newspapers. Although historians have traditionally focused on Goddards career, they have ignored the fact that his mother and sister were accomplished printers in their own right.

Early Opportunities. William Goddard was born on 20 October 1740 in New London, Connecticut, and received some schooling during his youth. His father was a wealthy doctor and postmaster. In 1755 Goddard started an apprenticeship in the New Haven shop of James Parker, one of the most successful printers in the colonies and comptroller and general secretary of all the post offices in British North America. John Holt actually managed the shop where the Connecticut Gazette was published, and he became so impressed with Goddards sense of responsibility that he sent him on a survey of local post offices. Three years later young Goddard went to work for the New-York Weekly Post-Boy, another Parker paper. In New York he learned the finer points of printing books and almanacs as well as postal administration.

Making a Name. When Goddards apprenticeship expired in October 1761, he moved to Providence, Rhode Island, to seek his fortune. The city had a strong appeal to him. Not only was it a growing commercial center, but it was also home to some of his mothers wealthy relatives. Sarah Goddard advanced her son the money necessary to open his first shop and, along with his sister, came to Providence to assist him. On 20 October 1762 the three Goddards started the weekly newspaper Providence Gazette and Country Journal, the first in the city. They also printed almanacs and pamphlets, including one of the first verbal attacks on the Stamp Act. In 1764 William Goddard received an appointment as local postmaster.

Overcoming Disappointment. Despite their hard work the three Goddards suffered financial difficulties that ultimately caused them to suspend publication of the Providence Gazette on 4 May 1765. Part of the problem stemmed from a lack of subscribers and competition from rival newspapers in Newport. While Goddard went to New York and became the silent partner of his old employer Holt, his mother stayed on in Providence and managed the post office and print shop. In August 1766 she gathered enough subscribers and advertisers to successfully revive the Providence Gazette. Like her son, Sarah Goddard was strongly opposed to certain British government policies and soundly criticized the Townshend duties.

New Venture. Goddard stayed briefly in New York before starting anew in Philadelphia with Joseph Galloway and Thomas Wharton, two of the citys most influential citizens. There on 26 January 1767 they began the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser Journal The Whig Party used the paper as their mouthpiece against the proprietors of the colony. Although Goddard did not get along well with his partners, they managed to convince him to sell his Providence paper so that he could invest more in the Philadelphia one. Once again Sarah and Mary Katherine came to Williams assistance and worked in his print shop. In fact they managed the paper on a day-to-day basis while he traveled to collect overdue subscription fees. When Sarah died on 5 January 1770, her obituary noted her virtue, ingenuity and abilities.

Dispute. By 1770 the Pennsylvania Chronicle had a circulation of twenty-five hundred, making it one of the most successful colonial newspapers. Nevertheless, Goddard did have his problems. He and a rival Philadelphia printer, William Bradford III, conducted a newspaper war that degenerated into personal insults. Meanwhile, Galloway and Wharton, had sold their shares of the paper to Robert Towne, who in turn made every effort to make Goddard sell out. After Goddard publicly criticized Galloway and Wharton he found himself jailed for debt in September 1771. Upon his release three weeks later, he decided to leave the colony and start another paper elsewhere. While Mary Katherine continued to produce the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Goddard started the Maryland Journal; and the Baltimore Advertiser on 20 August 1773.

Rescued Again. For a third time Goddard started a newspaper and needed outside assistance to keep it in circulation. His frequent travels, poor health, and work for the local committees of correspondence kept him preoccupied. As a result he decided to close the Pennsylvania Chronicle on 8 February 1774 and bring his sister to Baltimore to work on the Maryland Journal.

Revolutionary Service. Goddard supported the revolutionary movement wholeheartedly but never received the recognition he thought he deserved. The Continental Congress used his suggestions in constructing a national postal network and appointed him surveyor but did not grant him the position of postmaster general as he had hoped. His attempts to obtain a colonelcy in the Continental Army also proved fruitless. Meanwhile, Mary Katherine was named postmistress of Baltimore, the first woman in the nation to be appointed to federal office.

Sibling Rivalry. Like her mother, Mary Katherine took a stagnant business and revived it. For three years she successfully ran the newspaper while her temperamental brother was kept busy with his duties as surveyor. Once William returned to Baltimore, however, he embroiled the Maryland Journal in controversy by publishing two pieces local authorities considered unpatriotic. Nevertheless the Continental Congress recognized Mary Katherines ability by appointing her chief printer in Baltimore after the Congress moved there following the British occupation of Philadelphia in September 1777. After the war Goddard took sole control of the paper and married Abigail Angell; together they had five children.

Falling Out. In 1784 William and Mary Katherine printed competing almanacs, and Goddard maintained that his sisters volume had been published by a certain hypocritical Character for the dirty and mean Purpose of Fraud and DECEPTION. Consequently, Mary Katherine had no further contact with her brother. She hoped to continue in her position as postmistress, but in 1789 the new postmaster general replaced her with a man because more travelling might be necessary than a woman could undertake. She appealed personally to President George Washington and the U.S. Senate, but her petition met with failure. She made a modest living as a bookseller and storekeeper until her death in 1816. William Goddard died the next year on 23 December 1817.


Ward L. Miner, William Goddard, Newspaperman (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1962).

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