March 28

By decree of the Council of the Colony of Georgia on March 28, 1763, it was “Ordered That the Secretary of the Province do deliver such Laws to the Printer as the Commissioners shall direct to be printed taking his Receipt for same.” Just over a week later, James Johnston, a printer from Scotland, printed at Savannah the first issue of his newspaper, the Georgia Gazette. The art of printing had come to the last of the original thirteen British Colonies in America.

Over a year had passed since a resolution had been made which stated among other things: “And whereas James Johnston, lately arrived in this province from Great Britain, recommended as a person regularly bred to and well skilled in the art and mystery of printing, hath offered to set up a printing press in the town of Savannah, if some encouragement and assistance were given to him by the publick, to defray part of the heavy charges and expenses attending the procuring materials and other necessities for setting up the same.”

It is probable that Johnston had not bothered to secure equipment until he was assured of being named the official public printer. Since Georgia was the most remote of the colonies, it required a considerable length of time to be ready for printing. Nothing is known of Johnston’s career prior to appearing in Georgia. He had been born in Dumfries, Scotland in 1738 and had presumably been apprenticed to the craft in his native country. His first work in Georgia certainly was competently produced. He apparently worked alone in his printing office, as the Gazette carried advertisements for an apprentice and a journeyman for its first five months of existence.

Johnston’s first official printing for the colony was An Act to prevent stealing of Horses and neat Cattle, which had been passed in 1759. This nicely printed job represents the first imprint other than the Gazette. The July 7, 1763 issue of Johnston’s newspaper carried a letter from London, dated March 27th, which informed his readers of an event which was to considerably influence their lives: “I cannot, however, omit mentioning a matter much the subject of conversation here, which if carried into execution, will in its consequences greatly effect the colonies. It is to quarter 16 regiments in America, to be supported at the expense of the provinces. The money it is said will be levied by an act of parliament, and arise on a stamp tax, excise on rum distilled on the continent, and a duty on foreign sugar and molasses &c. . . .”

When, thirteen years later, the colonies were in open conflict with Great Britain, Printer Johnston was fully on the side of the loyalists. Thus his business was placed in jeopardy. He ceased publication of his newspaper in January of 1776. There is no known printing from Georgia for over a year from that time. In 1778 his name appeared on a list of those “attainted and Ajudged guilty of High Treason Against this State.” However, before much could be made of this charge, Savannah was taken over by British troops, and Johnston again began to publish his newspaper, under the revised title of Royal Georgia Gazette.

At the close of hostilities, Johnston was banished from the state for a period of three years and his property confiscated. In 1783 he returned, again to publish his paper, this time with the title of Gazette of the State of Georgia, which appeared in January 1783. Later Johnston brought his son Nicholas into his business, continuing until the latter’s death in 1802. The elder Johnston lived in retirement for six more years, dying in 1808.

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