March 30

In a gloomy cabin aboard the ship, Nelson, enroute to England, William Parks who had been Public Printer of both Maryland and Virginia, wrote his will as he lay dying of pleurisy on this day in 1750. He died two days later and was buried in his home soil from whence he had departed in 1728 in order to set up a printing office in Annapolis.

Of the twenty-four years in which Parks labored as a colonial printer, twenty of them were spent in Williamsburg, Virginia. His biographer, Lawrence C. Wroth, writes of his belief, “That Franklin alone excepted there was no printer of his place and period whose service was greater or more distinctive in character than that rendered to the colonies of Maryland and Virginia by this pioneer printer.”

William Parks had already published two newspapers in England before he set up his press in Annapolis. He brought to the American colonies the traditional intelligence and skills of a literate printer. The first product of his press was an edition of The Acts of Assembly. In September 1727 he established The Maryland Gazette, the first of four newspapers which he was to publish in America. This was the first newspaper to appear south of Pennsylvania. In its eight years of existence it was an independent journal which in no way reflected its owner’s quasi-official standing as Public Printer of the province. It has remained an important source for historians who wish to trace the day-to-day events in the history of the period.

Parks also published literary works, including satire and poetry, and maintained a book shop, a traditional sideline with colonial printers. In 1730 he set up another press in Williamsburg, Virginia, becoming Public Printer of that colony in 1732. He continued to hold the same office in Maryland, but was accused in 1837 of neglecting his duties. Finding that the Virginia business was more lucrative, he moved his equipment there from Annapolis. His first important imprint from Williamburg was Typographia, An Ode on Printing, by John Markland, which is the first separate work on printing to be produced in America. A single copy remains, in the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University.

Another American first of Parks’ was a book on sports entitled, A Compleat System of Fencing: or the Art of Defence, in the Use of the Small Sword, by Edward Blackwell, printed in 1734. In 1742 he produced the first cook book in America, The Compleat Housewife; or accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, written by E. Smith in England, and adapted by Parks for American use. In 1737 he established the Virginia Gazette, the first newspaper to be published in the colony.

In 1744 Parks increased his stature as a man of great initiative by building the pioneer paper mill of the South, of which little is now known. None of his wide-ranging activities achieved financial success. After his death his heir, a daughter, was left with practically nothing after the debt of six thousand pounds had been liquidated by the sale of Parks’ equipment.

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