This article tells the story of William Brown, a native of Twynholm Parish, who set up the first printing press in Canada, and who founded the Quebec Gazette, still in publication (as the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph) claimed to be the oldest newspaper in North America. This essay was published in "The Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River" in 1895.

The Origin of Printing on the the Shores of the St. Lawrence 

IN the year 1749 a learned Swede, Peter Kalm, professor in a Swedish University, a disciple of the great Linnaeus, visited the United States and Canada. He informs us, in the interesting volumes of travel which he subsequently published, that there was then no printing press in Canada. He was told, though, that at one time there had been one. This bit of information appears, however, to have been not in accord with fact. Kalm adds: "All books are brought from France, and all the orders made in the country are written, which extends even to the paper currency. They pretend that the press is not yet introduced here, lest it should be the means of propagating libels against the government and religion. But the true reason seems to be in the poorness of the country, as no printer could put off a sufficient number of books for his subsistence; and another reason may be that France may have the profit arising from the exportation of books hither."

Whatever the cause may have been, and all seems to indicate that reasons, of state policy were the true cause, a public press was an absolutely unknown quantity in Canada from the foundation of Quebec, in 1609, until after the conquest by the British arms and final cession in 1763. It had been very different over the border in the New England provinces. Within twenty years of the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers a press had been established at Cambridge in 1638, by Steven Daye. At first, and for many years, small works of a Godly character were its only output. Gradually matters of a more worldly nature were served by it. But it was not until 1704 that such a secular object as a newspaper made its appearance, and met with sufficient public support and appreciation. It is believed that as early as 1545 a printing press was operated in the city of Mexico.

Well, in the year 1763 — it being made known to the world that Canada was to be irrevocably attached to the British Crown — it occurred to one William Brown, a young printer in Philadelphia, that Canada might be a new field worth trying. Canada was still under military rule. After a short correspondence with the then Governor General, James Murray, for the double purpose of making sure that his scheme would not only be permitted but favored by the authorities, he did not hesitate to put his small savings into the venture.

William Brown, like so many other leaders among men, pioneers and benefactors of their race, was a native of Scotland. He was born in Kirkcudbrightshire, province of Galloway, in 1737. His father, John Brown, was laird of Nunton, in the parish of Twynholm, and of Langlands, in Borgue. William, being a younger son, was sent to paternal relatives in Virginia, to make his fortune as best he could. In 1751-2-3 we find him studying the classics and mathematics at William and Mary College, in Williamsburgh. The year following he had entered a counting house as clerk, but soon there came the seven-years' war; the defeat of Braddock at Monongahela was followed by commercial dislocation and a financial crash which brought an end to Brown's incipient career as a bank clerk.

Unemployed, stranded, and with but slender means in hand, young Brown bethought himself of a trade, which possessed greater elements of stability than banking in those tempestuous times. The printing business, moreover, seemed to him congenial. He accordingly directed his steps towards Philadelphia, with a view of there acquiring the art of printing. He first served as apprentice in the celebrated establishment of William Bradford, which then existed at the corner of Black Horse alley. It is traditional, however, that he finished his time with Franklin & Hall, then publishers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

In 1758 he had transferred his services to William Dunlap, a printer who was also largely interested in bookselling. Dunlap had married a relative of Benjamin Franklin's wife, and through this family connection had recently been appointed postmaster of Philadelphia. In 1760 he was for a short time partner to James Rivington in the book-selling business in New York. Their book store was at the lower end of Wall Street. Brown soon withdrew, returned to Philadelphia, and together with a nephew, John Dunlap, became business managers of the elder Dunlap's concern. In that capacity we find him next residing for two years in Bridgetown, Barbadoes, winding up a bookselling and printing enterprise which Dunlap had there. It was on his return from Barbadoes, in 1763, that he formed the project of trying his fortune in Canada. He selected as partner one Thomas Gilmore, a native of the north of Ireland, a relative of Dunlap's, who generously bolstered up the venture of his two young friends to the extent of £450.

On the 6th of August he left Philadelphia for Boston. He informs us, in his "diary," that he met with disappointment in not finding there a vessel bound for Quebec. He had no choice left but to purchase a horse and make his way as best he could towards Quebec, via Albany, Lake Champlain, Montreal and down the St. Lawrence to Quebec. Brown's diary is replete with details of this journey, now of great interest, but space prohibits quotations. While Brown was proceeding overland, Gilmore was sent to London to purchase the press, type and paper for the new Quebec printing office, the whole to be brought out by the first vessel the following spring.

Brown, after adventures which would be well worth repeating, finally reached Quebec on the 30th of September, 1763. The ensuing autumn and winter months he devoted to perfecting himself in the knowledge of French, canvassing for subscriber, distributing his prospectus, and making things ready for the installation of the press. He had secured a small house "in Parlour Street, in the Upper Town, a little above the Bishop's Palace." Gilmore arrived early in June, with a brand-new hand press and excellent type, which he had secured from Kenrick Peck, of London. He was also provided with a sufficient supply of paper, ink and other necessaries. On the 2ist of June, 1764, the first number of the Quebec Gazette was offered to the public.

It will thus be seen that to these citizens of old Philadelphia is due the honor and glory of having planted the first press in its sister colony on the shores of the St. Lawrence, in the now vast and prosperous Dominion of Canada. A word of the worthy William Dunlap, Franklin's relative, who was in a way the sponsor and financial backer of Brown and Gilmore's venture, may not be out of place. By trade he had been a job printer, bookseller and paper manufacturer, and, in 1758, successor to William Franklin as postmaster of Philadelphia. Dunlap had also a printing and bookselling establishment in Barbadoes. He was also interested in the Barbadoes Mercury. His agent there was George Esmond, who so neglected his patron's interest that, in 1765, Dunlap had to go there himself, and there he spent two years in vain attempts to obtain a settlement of his affairs. While in Bridgetown, although advanced in years, he decided to devote himself to the ministry of the Church of England, commenced his theological studies, and, in 1767, went to London to be ordained. He then returned to Philadelphia, his wife having, meanwhile, become insane. John Dunlap, his nephew, took charge of the interests which he still retained in the Philadelphia printing and bookselling establishment. This firm continued to furnish supplies of printing paper, stationery, etc., to Brown and Gilmore in Quebec until the outbreak of the Revolutionary war. These goods were usually forwarded to them by sailing vessels via the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. But they looked for more than inert supplies from Philadelphia. I quote from a long half-business, half-affectionate letter written by Brown to the Rev. William Dunlap, on April 29, 1768:

" * * * Having been long embarrassed with Canadian Boysas menial servants about the Printing Office, who will not engage for any considerable time and as soon as they find themselves useful augment their wages and become intolerably insolent, we are at last come to a Resolution of trying to get a Negro Boy, wherefore we beg you will endeavour to purchase one for us, between 15 and 20 years of age fit to put to Press, who has had the Small Pox, is country born and can be recommended for his Honesty; we would not begrudge a pretty good Price for such a likely Negro: or if you should be inclined to part with your Boy Priamus we would be glad to have him and would be glad to give what would be judged a reasonable price for him. We pray you may try and procure us one so that he may reach us here in the fall; and as soon as you shall be certain of him or determined to part with your own we beg you may lose no Time in acquainting us of the Price, which we will immediately remit to you on a Bill on York (sic) as we shall keep the cash ready till we hear from you. Should it be too late for an opportunity from Philadelphia there has always been vessels from York in August and Sepbr, and we doubt not that there will be this Year. * * *" In a P.S. he adds: "If you are so lucky as to get us a Negro, before you embark him we beg he may be insured."

William Dunlap evidently took the most kindly, even fatherly, interest in his two protégés in Quebec, judging from the many letters he wrote them, several of which are in my possession. A son named Tomy appears to have been at this period with the printers in Quebec, for he more than once refers to him. He always subscribed himself, "I am, dear gentlemen, Your affectionate W. Dunlap." His confidence in them was not misplaced, for that very year they repaid him in full his advance of £450 with interest at six per cent. There being none or few regular banks in existence in the North American provinces, remitting money was both a difficult and costly matter. Opportunities of purchasing a bill of exchange on a good, solvent firm or individual were few and far between. About this time, 1768, W. Dunlap severed his connection with business to become rector of the parish of Stratton in King and Queen's county, Virginia, where, I presume, he ended his varied earthly career.

Brown & Gilmore had calculated on a subscription list of at least 150; when the first number appeared, only 110 had given in their names. General Murray subscribed for ten copies and two other officials five each. Among these no names not more than a dozen French names can be found, most of these were priests. The paper was printed on a folio sheet, with four double-column pages, one column being English, the opposite one a translation into French. A cut of the Royal Arms headed the paper, to one side of which was the title, "The Quebec Gazette," while on the other was the French title, "La Gazette de Quebec." At the foot of the fourth page was the colophone, "Quebec, printed by Brown & Gilmore, at the printing office in Parlour Street, in the Upper Town, a little above the Bishop's palace, where subscriptions for this paper are taken in; advertisements of a moderate length (in one language) inserted for five shillings Halifax, the first week and one shilling each week after; if in both languages seven shillings and six pence Halifax, the first week and half a dollar each week after; and all kinds of printing done in the neatest manner, with care and expedition." It appeared once a week, on Thursdays.

The two first pages contained foreign European news, seldom less than six weeks or two months old; occasional items relating to the neighboring Provinces and extracts from their newspapers; then followed scanty allusions to matters of local interest; the third and fourth pages were filled with official proclamations, government and private advertisements, many of which convey curious and important information. Brown appears to have been the business head — editor and manager — of the concern; he and Gilmore had evidently been trained at an excellent school; witness the correctness and neatness of their work. Brown was the essence of regularity and precision in all his work; his diary, his letters, his office books, dating from his arrival in Canada until his death, detailing every business transactions of the printing office and every item of his own personal expenses from 1763 to 1789, are written most carefully in rounded hand; they are all preserved among the collections of the writer of this sketch.

Broadsides, pamphlets and small volumes soon followed the appearance of the "Quebec Gazette;" the first was the "Presentment" of the first Canadian grand jury, a small quarto of forty-two pages, an important and unique document; but one copy is known to exist, and that is to be found in the writer's collection. The second volume was "Le Catechisme da Diocese de Sens in 1765;" a unique copy is in the possession of the Honorable Judge Baby of Montreal.

A curious and now excessively rare book, printed by Brown & Gilmore in 1767, is the "Nehiro-Irinui," a small 8vo. of 96 pages, printed with great neatness and fine type, but entirely in the Montagnais language. It is a prayer book, catechism, etc., composed for the Indians of the Saguenay Valley by their celebrated and saintly missionary. Father La Brosse, a Jesuit, whose life-work and death are the subject of more than one legend, repeated with reverence to this day among the Indians and peasants of the lower St. Lawrence. Miss Machar of Kingston and Gananoque, familiar to many readers under the "nom de plume" Fidelis, has recently rendered one of these La Brosse legends in charming verse. J. C. Pilling in his "Bibliography of the Algonquian Languages," published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1891, gives a good description of Father La Brosse's writings and works. The labor of composing and revising the proofs of such a book must have taxed the patience and time of the printer to their very utmost, yet he charged but £45 for 2,000 copies of 6 sheets, 8vo.

Enough of the early issues of the Quebec press — more would cease to interest the general reader. Brown & Gilmore remained in partnership for nearly ten years when, in 1773, Thomas Gilmore died. During the two or three years preceding his death he had been unable to withstand the temptations attending prosperity, he had fallen into loose habits, neglected his work, overdrawn his account — in fact, had become a thorn in Brown's side.

Brown continued the business alone, but in a very careful and conservative manner. At this time much sympathy was felt throughout Canada for the victims of the Boston massacre and their families; subscriptions were collected for the latter. Brown contributed £50 to this fund, a very handsome sum in those days.

Then came the time when the old French province was invaded by the Congressional army, when the citadel city of Quebec remained the last foothold of England in Canada. Brown's sentiments of loyalty to the British crown and institutions were too deep rooted to permit him to sympathise with men whom he considered to be rebels. He shouldered his musket and served devotedly as a militiaman, on the walls of the city, at the battle of the 31st of December, 1775, when Montgomery was killed, and until the end of the siege in May following, when the retreat of the besiegers under General Wooster became a rout. After the beginning of the siege in December, 1775, all affairs were at a stand-still and the "Quebec Gazette" ceased to appear until the August following, when the country had recovered, to some extent, its normal condition.

It was at this time that a second press made its appearance in Canada. The printers were Fleury Mesplet and Charles Berger, both printers originally from old France. They had settled in Philadelphia; there they had been picked up by Franklin who, together with Samuel Chase and John and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, had been deputed to Canada as Commissioners of Congress, for the purpose of inducing the French Canadians to espouse the Revolutionary cause. It was deemed that French printers would be important factors in disseminating the offers and blandishments of Congress, and with that object in view these two men and a press followed on the heels of the Commission. The Commissioners perceiving their mission a failure, wisely recrossed the borders, but left behind their printers, press and materials. These two worthies first opened an office in Quebec, and their first output was a volume of French hymns. Soon after they returned to Montreal, where they printed several small works of a religious character. Meanwhile, Charles Berger disappears from the scene, leaving Fleury Mesplet alone to prosecute his trade. He signalized himself, in 1778, by publishing the first French newspaper in Canada, "La Gazette Litteraire," also a small almanac for 1778 and 1779, both of extreme rarity. At this time his labors were violently interrupted; he was accused of republican sympathies, sedition, etc., and thrown into prison in Quebec. There he remained incarcerated in the Recollet convent until the peace of 1783, when the mother country and her daughter agreed to live apart. Mesplet, set free, lost no time in recriminations, but founded the "Montreal Gazette," which, although still extant, had at first a very fitful and uncertain existence in the hands of several masters, viz.: Mesplet, L. & J. Roy, Edward Edwards, James Brown a nephew of William Brown, and others

Meanwhile our friend William Brown and his Quebec Gazette continued the even tenor of their ways. The large number of troops stationed in or coming through Canada during the war, and when peace came, the renewal of commercial activity brought subscribers, printing orders, and gold into his strong box. Previous to 1779 annual sheet calendars had been found amply sufficient for the needs of the country. Brown now judged that almanacs would be appreciated by the public, and that year was issued the Quebec Almanack for 1780, the first of that most important series of almanacs which continued to appear year after year until 1841. The older numbers are now exceedingly scarce — they are valued by collectors at from fifteen to twenty dollars apiece — all are rare and much sought after on account of the curious and important records they contain.

William Brown died suddenly on the 22d of March, 1789, aged about fifty-three. He was buried in St. Matthew's Cemetery, John Street, Quebec. He had never married. Four years before his death he had prevailed on his widowed sister in Scotland, Mrs. Isabel Brown Neilson, to confide to him the future of her son Samuel. Subsequently John followed his brother. Although but mere boys at the time of their uncle's death, they continued to manage his printing business, the Gazette, his government contracts, in a word, his large estate, in their own behalf and also for the benefit of other heirs in Scotland, for Brown had died intestate. Samuel survived his uncle but four years. He died in January, 1793. His death was a distinct loss to the Province, for few men are endowed with more practical and brilliant qualities than he had. He was a particular favorite at the Chateau Saint Louis and in social circles. H. R. H. Prince Edward (Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria) honored him with his friendship — he was then colonel of the 7th Fusileers in garrison at Quebec. It is said that Samuel Neilson contracted the cold which caused his death while enjoying a tandem sleigh drive with the prince. Andre Michaud, the botanist, mentions him in his memoirs as being a man of surprising scientific attainments.

The young Neilsons showed enterprise and push enough, first, to found the "Quebec Magazine," in 1791, a monthly issue (some numbers illustrated); it died for want of support after its third volume, shortly after the death of Samuel; second, to buy out the stock in trade, press, etc., of a small rival sheet which had been in existence a few years in Quebec. They sent this material and one of their foremen, named Louis Roy, to found a printing office and newspaper at New Ark, on the Niagara River, the new capital of the new province of Upper Canada, in 1793- The "Upper Canada Gazetteer American Oracle, " April 18, 1793, was the result of their enterprise, the pioneer press of the west. Louis Roy, however, left alone to himself, disappointed his patrons, abandoned his post, and returned to Montreal the year following. G. Tiffany picked up the work where Roy had dropped it, and continued the publication of the U. C. Gazette until its transfer to York (now Toronto) in 1799, where it was printed by W. Waters and T. G. Simons. These printers proved unequal to the task. This gave John Neilson, of the Quebec' Gazette, a second opportunity of opening a branch printing establishment in Upper Canada. He selected for that purpose his trusted foreman, John Bennett, and supplied him with a fair equipment from his office. Bennett started from Quebec in June, 1801. It took him one month and three days to reach York. On the 20th of August he wrote to John Neilson:

"* * * I waited on the Governor (Sir Peter Hunter, nick-named Blue Peter), when His Excellency appointed me "King's Printer for Upper Canada," and Sheriff MacDonell sent with me to demand the types from my predecessors, who had not the least wind of the business. Mr. Simons is a young man of some abilities, and much believes in York's future, but it appears his sentiments were rather inimical to government. Waters, whom I have now to assist me, is as honest, good-natured a fellow as I would wish to see, only he likes to take a hearty twist at the bottle, etc. * * * Simons has acquired a genteel property since he has been in government employ, and Waters is also possessed of some."

Bennett took over the publication of the Upper Canada Gazette, and set immediately about printing the first volume of the " Journals of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada," in 1801, a quarto of 74 pages. The "Statutes" followed in 1802; a beautifully printed "Almanack"' for 1803, etc., etc.; all which are of exceeding scarcity. Bennett, unfortunately by contamination, or natural inclination, drifted into habits similar to those of his assistant, Waters. He neglected his business; he became involved in all sorts of trouble; finally, John Neilson, in 1807-8, had to come to York to close in disgust his connection with the printing business in Upper Canada.

At the end of last century, G. and Sylvester Tiffany continued printing at Niagara. Their paper was known as the ''Constellation." They issued an almanac in 1802. The other pioneers of the press, on the banks of the St. Lawrence, were: H. Myles, who founded the "Kingston Gazette" in 1810, at Kingston, now represented by the " aily News." The same printer started the "Prescott Telegraph" in 1823. The "Brockville Recorder" was originated in 1820.

The population of both Canadas now increased with rapid strides, and with it innumerable presses and periodicals of all sorts — some possessed of vitality; others of the mushroom tribe, and ephemeral in nature, arose, lived and vanished in every new village.

To return to the old Quebec press. After the death of his brother Samuel, in 1793, John Neilson continued the publication of the Quebec Gazette. Under his editorship and management it gained in influence and importance; addressing itself in its French and English columns to both nationalities, with no serious rival in sight, it became a power in the land, while, at the same time, it was the vehicle of government proclamations and mandates. John Neilson was elected to the legislature in 1817, and he occupied a seat in the councils of the nation until his death. His great abilities, his integrity, his devotion to the public weal, his eloquence, his powerful editorials in his paper, soon brought him to the front rank among the public men of his day. Thrice he was deputed to London by his fellow citizens to watch over their interests, and on one occasion to present petitions for redress at the foot of the throne. He died in 1848, aged 73, regretted, loved and revered by all.

The Quebec Gazette celebrated its centennial sixteen years after his death, in 1864. Thirty-one years have since then elapsed, and the Quebec Gazette continues to appear. Its last number, now before me, is dated Wednesday, May 1,1895, No. 12,371, vol. cxxiv. For some years past it has been practically the weekly edition of the Quebec Chronicle, and owned by the same proprietor. It is twenty-three years older than the London Times, and now one of the oldest newspapers in the world. It may be of interest to the readers of this historical sketch to know that its writer has in his collection a complete file of the Quebec Gazette, from its prospectus and first number, on June 21, 1764, up to 1850, the subsequent years are unfortunately not quite so complete. Such as it is, this long series of files of the same newspaper, covering nearly a century and a half of time, is believed to be unique.

It is safe to state that the preceding pages embody more facts relating to the origin of printing in Canada than has yet been given to the public by any other writer on this subject.

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