Printing arrived in North Carolina in 1749. At this time, only a few cities in what is now the United States supported presses. These included Boston, New London, and Newport in New England, and stretching down the coast, New York, Philadelphia, Annapolis, Williamsburg and Charleston. The colonies of Delaware and New Jersey had previously employed printers, but none were currently active. In every colony south of Boston, printing only began with a colonial government essentially subsidizing a printer by offering an annual salary and an exclusive contract to print government business.
In this respect, North Carolina was no different. Predominantly rural with only a handful of small towns, the colony clearly did not offer the same commercial prospects for printing as did urban centers such as Boston and Philadelphia. Government business was the only source of profit for a potential printer. Many colonial leaders recognized the value of printing, but it was the governor Gabriel Johnston who gave impetus to the process to finally bring a printer to North Carolina. When he took up his duties in 1734, he found that the colony’s laws were hand copied after each session and the manuscripts distributed to each of the twelve counties. Few courts could boast a complete collection of the laws in force and almost none were in complete agreement. At Johnston’s encouragement the Assembly began the task of reviewing the laws and preparing a comprehensive set for publication. After a failure to get the collection printed outside the colony, a new Assembly set about attracting a printer to North Carolina.
James Davis officially began his duties as North Carolina’s printer in September 1749. For most of his thirty-three year career, Davis was the only printer active in the colony. Before the end of the Revolution, Davis never had more than one competitor at any one time. Within a generation, the situation was quite changed. By 1810, at least ten printers were active in the state with three newspapers in Raleigh, two in New Bern and others in Edenton, Wilmington, Fayetteville, Elizabeth City and Halifax.
The “Dawn of Printing in North Carolina” exhibit, curated by North Carolina Collection graduate assistant, Emily Powell, explores the work of several of the men, including James Davis and François-Xavier Martin, who pioneered the craft of printing in North Carolina. This exhibit will run in the North Carolina Collection from March 1st – June 1st, 2104. Contact Fred Harrison firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
For further information contact NCC Exhibits Curator Fred Harrison at 252-328-0249 or 252-328-6601.