Bradford, William (1663-1752) (DNB00)


BRADFORD, WILLIAM (1663–1752), the first printer in Pennsylvania, was the son of William and Anne Bradford of Leicestershire, where the family had held a good position for several generations. He is usually said to have been born in 1658, and on his tombstone the date is 1660, but both dates are contradicted by the 'American Almanac' for 1739, printed by himself, where, under the month of May, the following entry appears: 'The printer born the 20th, 1663.' He learned his art in the office of Andrew Sowles, Gracechurch Street, London. Sowles was an intimate friend of William Penn and George Fox, and his daughter Elizabeth married Bradford. It says much for the enlightened forethought of Penn that he induced Bradford to accompany him in his first voyage to Pennsylvania, on which he sailed 1 Sept. 1682. Bradford returned to London, but he set out again in 1685, hoping to embrace within his operations the whole of the middle colonies. In 1692 he was printing for Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, and in 1702 also for Maryland. The earliest issue from his press is an almanac for 1686 (printed in 1685), entitled 'America's Messenger,' of which there is a copy in the Quakers' Library, London. In 1686, along with some Germans of the name of Rittenhouse, he erected on the Wissahickon, near Philadelphia, the first paper-mill ever established in America. Apart from almanacs his first publication was in 1688, a volume entitled 'The Temple of Wisdom,' which included the essays and religious meditation of Francis Bacon. Of this book there is a copy in the Quakers' Library, London. The honour of being the first to propose the printing of the Bible in America is usually assigned to Cotton Mather, but in 1688, seven years before Mather, Bradford had entered upon the project of printing a copy of the Holy Scriptures with marginal notes, and with the Book of Common Prayer. In 1689 he was summoned before the governor and council of Pennsylvania for printing the charter. During the disputes in the colony caused by the proceedings of George Keith, Bradford, who sided with Keith, was arrested for publishing the writings of Keith and Budd, and his press, type, and instruments were seized. Not only, however, were they restored to him by Fletcher, governor of New York, during his temporary administration of Pennsylvania, but at the instance of Fletcher he went to New York, where, on 12 Oct. 1693, he was appointed royal printer at a salary of 40l., which was raised in 1696 to 60l., and in 1702 to 75l. In 1703 he was chosen deacon of Trinity Church, New York, from which he received 30l. on bond, to enable him to print the Common Prayer and version of the Psalms, and when the enterprise did not pay the bond was returned to him. In 1725 he began the publication of the 'New York Gazette,' the first newspaper published in New York, which he edited until his eightieth year. He was also appointed king's printer for New Jersey, as appears from the earliest copy of the laws of that state printed in 1717. He died on 22 May 1752 at the age of eighty-nine. He was buried in the grounds of Trinity Church, New York, where there is a monument to his memory. His character is thus summed up in the 'New York Gazette' of 25 May 1752: 'He was a man of great sobriety and industry, a real friend to the poor and needy, and kind and affable to all. He was a true Englishman. His temperance was exceedingly conspicuous, and he was a stranger to sickness all his life.'

[New York Gazette, 25 May 1752; New York Historical Magazine, iii. 171-76 (containing catalogue of works printed by him), vii. 201-11; Simpson's Lives of Eminent Philadelphians, 1859, pp. 124-9; Penington's An Apostate exposed, or George Keith contradicting himself and his brother Bradford, 1695; the Tryals of Peter Boss, George Keith, Thomas Budd, and Wm. Bradford, Quakers, for several great misdemeanours (as was pretended by their adversaries) before a Court of Quakers, at the Session held at Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, 9th, 10th, and 12th day of December 1692, printed first beyond the sea, and now reprinted in London for Rich. Baldwin, in Warwick Lane, 1693.]

T. F. H.