Daniel Fowle Prints First NH Paper
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Written by Steven Fowle

ACtually an engraving of a young Ben Frankling, but since there are no images of Daniel Fowle, we borrowed it / SeacoastNH.com

NH LITERARY LIONS

He was jailed in Massachusetts, so he came to Portsmouth in 1756 and started the NH Gazette. Today a single copy of his newspaper can be worth hundreds of dollars and one of his brother’s descendants has taken over the family business and his written this homage to the man that brought publishing to the Granite State.

 

 

 


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Daniel Fowle
(1715-1787)
New Hampshire’s first printer

Daniel Fowle earned a place in history by establishing New Hampshire’s first newspaper, 250 years ago this October. For nearly 30 years he tended it, helped by apprentices setting type, and his enslaved black assistant Primus pulling the bar of the old press. Leaving aside such excitements as the Stamp Act, Lexington and Concord, and the American Revolution, it is a tale richer in drudgery than drama. But the incident that brought him to New Hampshire had drama enough.

Daniel and his wife were interrupted at dinner one evening in October, 1754 by the Messenger of the Lower House of Assembly. Daniel, an industrious Boston printer, was 39; his wife, the former Lydia Hall, was ten years younger. Lydia was from "a good family;" related by marriage to the Governor of New Hampshire Benning Wentworth.

Arriving at the Old State House, Daniel found the members irate about a pamphlet titled The Monster of Monsters, which boys had been peddling on the streets of Boston. It was a lurid allegorical tale that portrayed the upper and lower houses of government as competing ladies’ clubs. Lawmakers were seen scheming to raise money for drinking and gambling by exhibiting to the public, at great risk, a ravenous beast with "more Heads and Horns than any Beast described in the Apocalypse." In the context of the times the "Monster" clearly represented a tax on rum. Members were described in detail and modeled after prominent individuals. Their appearance was mocked, their vices described, their weaknesses exposed, their intelligence insulted, and their sexual orientation questioned. When the boys selling the pamphlet were asked where it had come from, the urchins replied, "It dropped from the moon."

Daniel was alternately interrogated and harangued. He admitted to having "bought two Dozen, and sold them out of my shop, and should not tho’t any Harm if I had sold an hundred of them." One inattentive legislator, thinking he heard Daniel contradict himself, said, "You do not Know when you Lie." Daniel responded, "Begging your Pardon, Sir, I know when I Lie, and what a Lie is as well as yourself."

Daniel denied printing the pamphlet, but, "determin’d to show no Contempt of Authority," he admitted he "had seen some of it printing off," and that it might have been in his brother Zechariah’s shop, where Daniel’s assistant Primus sometimes helped.

That was enough. Shortly before midnight, Daniel found himself in Boston’s cold, stinking, rat-infested stone prison, with "but one window, and that without any thing to keep off the weather," surrounded by "murderers, thieves, common cheats, pick-pockets, &c."

Zechariah went free after a doctor certified that he was laid out with the colic. Primus, a slave, was apparently beneath notice, as was Isaiah Thomas, a six-year old boy then recently apprenticed to Zechariah.

Absent was the pretence of established legal procedure. This vexed Daniel to no end. In his cell he began making notes on the whole affair. "See if the like can be found," he wrote, "unless when Tyranny prevail’d, and Liberty, the Glory of our [English] Constitution, was oblig¹d to hide its Head!"

After five days Daniel was released with a reprimand‹for having been under suspicion. His outrage persisted. He published a pamphlet of his own: A Total Eclipse of Liberty; a detailed account of the proceedings. He later sued the provincial legislature. When the suit failed he fired off a second pamphlet. And with that, he washed his hands of Massachusetts, its arbitrary legislature, and its eclipsed Liberty.

In the summer of 1756 Daniel brought his press, his wife Lydia, and his right-hand man Primus to Portsmouth, where, on October 7, 1756 he printed the first New Hampshire Gazette, the state’s first newspaper. Lydia died five years later, at 36. She had lost her two children as infants, and suffered a miscarriage during the stressful Monster of Monsters incident.

Daniel lived to be 72. By then the Gazette had been turned over to a former apprentice, then partner, John Melcher, who also inherited the rest of Daniel’s estate. It included a few chests full of old newspapers, "the wearing apparel of the deceased (much worn)," and "a basket with a Christening blanket & sundry matters in the womens way." -- and Primus. Primus survived his owner by five years. He lived to be 90‹and lives on still in a few brief stories that highlight his own tenacious spirit.

Zechariah went on to appear in another historical footnote. For a time he published The Massachusetts Spy, with help from his sometime apprentice, sometime partner Isaiah Thomas. Thomas soon took over The Spy, and with it became the printer the British hated most. Thomas later wrote that Daniel Fowle, in the Monster of Monsters incident, made "deep impressions Š upon my mind in favor of liberty of the press."

Copyright (c) Steven Fowle. All rights reserved. Steve fowle is the editor and owner of the New Hampshire Gazette.