by Gerry Mahoney
Even before the Treaty of Paris brought Revolutionary War hostilities to a close large number of people began seeking a better life by moving from Massachusetts to Maine. As a group these people were young, literate and possessed a strong desire for self-improvement. They left a state where newspapers and printed material were plentiful to a place that had none. Those who settled in the Kennebec Valley, however, fared better and the many vessels that called Hallowell their home port ensured that newspapers and other periodicals would be available there on a regular basis. So many coastal schooners, packet boats and other vessels called at Hallowell during the early years that Hallowell soon established a reputation that the latest news from around the world would arrive there first, even before Falmouth received it.
The first newspaper printed in the District of Maine was the Falmouth Gazette founded in 1785 by Thomas Baker Wait (age 22) and Benjamin Titcomb (age 23). The Gazette flourished despite the fact that the printing business was a costly affair. Printing presses, moveable type and type cases had to be imported from England, and ink (crushed chimney soot mixed with varnish) and newsprint (made from rags) were expensive.
Hallowell grew rapidly as a trading center and in 1794 attracted Howard S. Robinson to town. Robinson initiated the first Hallowell newspaper, The Eastern Star. Its lofty aim (The Public Will, Our Guide; The Public Good, Our End) did not generate wide circulation and it ceased publication after one year.
The next printer to arrive in Hallowell was Peter Edes, who established a printing office near the Court House in what is now Augusta. According to R. Webb Noyes (A Bibliography of Maine Imprints to 1820) “Peter Edes has been justly called the most important figure in the early history of printing in this state, because he was the son of Benjamin Edes, the famous journalist of the American Revolution, because he was later associated with that celebrated Boston press of Benjamin Edes & Son, and because being one of the first printers of Maine, he brought to his work here a certain degree of prominence and reputation which others of his craft did not possess.” He established The Kennebec Intelligencer in 1795, whose name he later changed to The Herald of Liberty. Edes published medical texts for Benjamin Vaughan, as well as “The Rural Socrates”, a book on progressive agricultural practices. His heavily footnoted work and handsome bindings established a high professional standard for others to try to equal.
In 1796 Thomas
Baker Wait and John Kelsey established the “Tocsin” (from the French “A Ringing
Bell”). Despite their early experience
in Falmouth the paper did not last. It did, however, provide a vehicle for
local merchants to advertise their wares.
An entry from the February 4, 1797 edition of the “Tocsin” reveals:
“Nathaniel Cogswell has taken the store lately occupied by Capt. John
Molloy. In addition to textiles,
hardware, crockery, tea and coffee Cogswell offers a wide selection of books:
spelling books, singing books, testaments and works by Bunyan, Goldsmith,
Fielding, Richardson (Pamela, Clarissa) and Robinson Crusoe. (Daniel Defoe).”
Cogswell apparently somehow obtained a type case and retained Howard A. Robinson to publish the first novel printed in the District of Maine: “Female Friendship, or the Innocent Sufferer–A Moral Novel”. This book had been first printed in York, England, with the subtitle “Virtue Alone is Happiness on Earth”. This book is a reflection of the fact that during the colonial period and early years less than ten per cent of the publications printed in America were protected by copyright. Printers soon realized that either through subscription or sale they could make a small profit printing books that had been previously published. Hallowell printers and merchants are noted to have produced 179 such “imprints” in the years that followed, many of which still can be found in Hubbard Free Library.
In 1810 a Water Street merchant, Nathaniel Cheever, began publication of “The American Advocate”, a paper which claimed to represent Republican/Democrat political philosophy. The Advocate was transferred to S.K. Gilman who continued to publish it with Danforth Livermore until 1835.
In 1802 Ezekiel Goodale, age 20, came to Hallowell opened a book binding business and also sold books from his home. In 1814 he opened a printing office and bookstore (“The Hallowell Bookstore-Sign of the Bible”). By 1821 he was established in #1 Kennebec Row, and published “The Hallowell Gazette” there until it closed in 1827. The Gazette claimed a Federalist persuasion; the bookstore was the largest on Water Street and supplied textbooks to schoolmasters throughout central Maine.
Although a number of prominent citizens had established a subscription library in Hallowell around 1800 no other library existed. Goodale sought to remedy this situation by opening “The Hallowell Circulating Library”. For a small fee young people could borrow books from the bookstore. Historian Charles Nash reported that the library contained 1290 volumes. R. Webb Noyes described it as follows: “Catalog of the Hallowell Circulating Library, consisting of novels, biography, travels, reviews, romances, history, poems, periodicals, plays, voyages, miscellaneous works etc.; to which all works of merit in the various branches of literature are added as soon as published”. Ezekiel trained a large number of the apprentices who later established newspapers throughout Maine, including Charles Nash and H.K. Baker.
H.K. Baker, age 14, arrived in Hallowell from Skowhegan in 1821 to learn the printing trade. At age 21 he became editor of the Hallowell Gazette, then editor of The American Advocate. He lived in Hallowell for the rest of his life, living almost the entirety of the 19th Century, and serving his city, county and state in many capacities. His connection with Hubbard Free Library was a longstanding one. Early in life he befriended Elijah P. Lovejoy, whose brother J.C. Lovejoy was once Preceptor of Hallowell Academy. Elijah Lovejoy was a printer and an anti-slavery advocate who became a martyr to the cause in Alton, Ill. J.C. Lovejoy published an anti-slavery newspaper, “The Liberty Standard” for a number of years in Hallowell.
Late in life H.K. Baker reflected on his career as a printer with the following recollection:
“To tell the truth, the wonder is
that editors do as well as they do. They
have to express opinions on all sorts of questions, some of which they know
little, and of some they know nothing.
Hallowell has been a kind of graveyard of newspapers. All that have flourished and faded cannot at
this late day be enumerated in their order.
The first was probably “The Eastern Star”, about 100 years ago. Next came the “Tocsin”, 1795-1797. The “American Advocate, from 1810-1835. The “Hallowell Gazette, 1813-27. The “Genius of Temperance”, 1828. The “Maine Free Press”, about 1834-36. The “Free Press and Advocate”, 1836-37. The “Kennebecker,”,1839. The “Maine Cultivator,” 1839, then
“Cultivator and Gazette,” afterwards “Saturday Gazette.”. The “Liberty Standard “ in the 40’s and
50’s. The “Free Soil Republican”,
1850. The “Kennebec Courier” about 1860,
and a temperance paper by J.C. Lovejoy, about 1850 or later.
We cannot say, as Paul said of the martyrs, “Those all died in faith, but they died, most of them insolvent. The owners lost money, or their creditors, or both. Few have any idea what it is to publish a paper. The writer was in the fire a number of years and knows whether it burns.
A metropolitan paper, with a staff of editors, reporters and runners, with plenty of capital, is one thing. A poor fellow who is publisher, editor, printer, collector and bookkeeper and has it all to do himself, is another. Try it and see if you get your courage singed. There is room in the graveyard of weeklies for a few more. Abbott Lawrence said 95 our opf 100 traders fail. Newspapers come to grief nearly in the same proportions.
Some brave folks in recent years have attempted to answer the query “Any News?’ In the 90’s “The Local Voice” answered the call, and more recently “The Hallowell Record” produced some fine editions and have recalled a wonderful tradition.