February 21

“I thank God,” wrote Sir William Berkeley, royal governor of Virginia, in 1671, “there are no free schools, nor printing an I hope we shall not have, these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them. . . . God keep us from both!”

In such a climate, the First Colony necessarily had to do without a press long after Massachusetts had introduced the art in 1639. In 1682, when Lord Culpeper had replaced Berkeley, a merchant named John Buckner, bringing a printer—William Nuthead—and a press to Jamestown, proceeded to prepare an edition of session laws. The Virginia Council took umbrage at this act, meeting on February 21 to upbraid both Buckner and Nuthead. The record of that meeting follows:

“At a Councell held att James Citty February 21: 1682/3. . . . Mr. John Buckner being by his Excellency Thomas Lord Culpeper ordered to appear this day before him & the Councell to answer for his presumption, in printing the acts of Assembly made in James Citty in November, 1682, and several other papers, without lycence, acquainted this board, that he several times commanded the Printer not to let anything whatever passe his presse, before he had obtained his Excellencies lycence, and that noe acts of assembly are yet printed, only two sheetes, wch were designed to be presented to his Excellency for his approbation of the print: This board having seriously considered, what the said Mr. John Buckner has said, in his defence, are well satisfied therewith, but for prevention of all troubles and inconveniences, that may be occasioned thorow the liberty of a presse, doe hereby order that Mr. John Buckner and William Nulhead [sic] the Printer enter into bond of one hundred pounds sterling with good security, that from and after the date thereof, nothing be printed by either of them, or any others for them of what nature soever, in the aforesaid presse or any other in this Colony, until the signification of his Maj’ties pleasure shall be known therein, which his Excellency hath promised to acquaint his Majesty with.”

The following September the Virginia Council order was transmitted to the Lords of Trade in England, who decided that printing be prohibited in the Colony.

Such stringent requirements effectively halted the establishment of a press in Virginia until 1730 when Williams Parks set up a printing office in Williamsburg after leaving Annapolis in the neighboring colony of Maryland. Printer Nuthead removed his press from Jamestown and began printing in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, in 1685, being the first printer in that colony.


  1. John Lancaster says:

    Another proofreading note (since you appreciated Emily Martin’s yesterday): apparently you’re using a word processor that supplies accents to whatever looks to it like a French loan word (e.g. cafe becomes café) – here the old spelling “passe” has become “passé” (a nice pun). I too am a compulsive proofreader (sometimes even for pay) – and I too greatly appreciate this blog, and Alexander Lawson’s writing.

  2. John Lancaster says:

    Well – I guess whatever processes the comments also adds the accents! I had left them off the first instance of each repeated word in my first comment.

  3. ASL archivist says:

    Thanks John. Keeps the critiques coming. Tis true, there was a plugin under the hood forcing diacritics where it thought them appropriate. I’ve made an adjustment and from now on I’ll just have to be mindful of adding those accents in by hand. Thanks again for reading and don’t forget ASL Archive’s brother blog, Typocurious.

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