December 21

On this great day in American history a weary shipload of travelers thankfully disembarked upon these shores in the year 1620. Among them were two printers, William Brewster and Edward Winslow, both of whom were to become leaders of the Plymouth Colony and who are recorded as the first members of their craft to set foot upon continental United States.

William Brewster had been a man of some wealth in England, having been in the diplomatic service. When in 1607 a group of people out of sympathy with the religious authorities in England journeyed to Leyden in Holland and established the Pilgrim Church in that town, Brewster went with them. It was there he decided to be a printer.

William Bradford, in his account of the Plymouth Plantation, wrote of Brewster:

“After he came into Holland he suffered much hardships; after he had spent most of his means, having a great charge and many children; and, in regard of his former breeding and course of life, not so fit for the many imployments as others were; especially such as were toilsome and laborious. But yet he ever bore his condition with much cheerfulness and contentation. Towards the latter part of those twelve years spent in Holland his outward condition was mended, and he lived well and plentifully. For he fell into a way, by reason he had the Latin tongue, to teach many students who had the desire to learn the English language, to teach them English. . . . He also had means to set up printing, by the help of some friends, and so had employment enough, and by reason of many books which would not be allowed to be printed in England they might have had more than they could do.”

A number of the books which Brewster printed in Holland were considered to be objectionable in England. King James I personally attempted to coerce Holland for allowing him freedom to print. In 1619 Brewster’s types were seized and he found it necessary to become a fugitive to avoid imprisonment.

Brewster, receiving in the Colony the title of Elder, was assistant to the Pastor and became one of the leaders of the group. His library, which contained some 300 volumes at his death in 1644, was an important factor in the development of the Pilgrim settlement.

Of the other printer, Edward Winslow, very little is known of his activities in the craft. It is probable that he worked in the printing office of Brewster in Leyden. In any case, along with his fellow printer he did not concern himself with printing after reaching the New World. He had charge of all negotiations with the Indians and became the official correspondent of the Colony with the London backers of the group. He was the first of the Pilgrims to return to England, doing so to represent their interests in the homeland. Fifteen years after the landing while on a visit he was imprisoned by Archbishop Laud for baptizing infants in the Colony without being ordained. One of Brewster’s sons became Governor of Plymouth Colony from 1673 to 1680. Another descendant was Admiral John Winslow, who commanded the Union vessel Kearsarge in its battle with the Confederate raider, Alabama.

Although there were two printers in the Bay Colony in 1620, the colonists had to wait until 1638 before a press was established by Stephen Day, setting back the first printing in the United States by nineteen years. But the leadership supplied by the printers was undoubtedly of even greater value to the survival of the Pilgrim party than the benefits of a press.

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