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Primus Fowle Ran First NH Press

Primus loyalty to Lydia  

Steven Fowle, editor of the revived New Hampshire Gazette and a “collateral descendent” of Daniel Fowle, offers a 21st century interpretation of the funeral scene. He suggests that Primus may simply have been overcome with grief due to his attachment to Lydia Fowle, who died so young. (She was just 36, while Primus may have been in his early 60s at her death.) He further speculates that Primus may have been a part of Lydia's dowry. There is no indication that Daniel Fowle owned any slaves before he married Lydia in 1751. Lydia's father, Hugh Hall, was a man of property, and had been a trader in the West Indies, a key market for African slaves. If Primus had been owned by Hugh Hall, he might have known Lydia from her birth.  

Nathaniel Adams notes that Daniel and Lydia arrived in Portsmouth in 1756 with one male and two female slaves. Lydia, we know from Daniel Fowle's writing, was not in the best of health. The trip north, and separation from her friends and family, may have been difficult for Lydia, and for Primus, and might help explain his unbowed attitude toward his master, when Lydia died just five years later.  

The move north was prompted by an incident Daniel found rather traumatic. In October of 1754 he was taken from his dinner table in Boston, interrogated by members of the Massachusetts legislature, and put into prison, “on mere suspicion” of publishing a scathingly satirical pamphlet entitled “The Monster of Monsters.”  

Daniel spent five days in jail, and might have stayed longer, but the authorities were having second thoughts and Lydia was deathly ill. Daniel later published a spirited pamphlet about the incident, entitled A Total Eclipse of Liberty.  

“Primus appears for the first time that we know of in A Total Eclipse,” Steve Fowle says today. “Daniel tells the legislators that his brother Zechariah printed The Monster of Monsters, not him,” Steve Fowle says. “But he admits that he loaned Zechariah his 'negro.'”  

Daniel Fowle died childless in 1787, leaving his entire estate to his former apprentice and adopted son John Melcher. A detailed list of Fowle's estate survives. It includes several trunks of old newspapers, “the wearing apparel of the deceased (much worn),” and “a basket with a Christening blanket & sundry matters in the womens way,” but no mention of Primus. Melcher was “encumbered” with the care of the elderly Primus. He thus became the caretaker of a slave who may have helped him learn the printing trade.  

NH's first printing press 1756

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