October 28

One of the rarest of the imprints of Colonial America was produced on this day in the year 1778 in Boston Harbor. Entitled Déclaration addressee, au nom du Roi, à tous les anciens François de l’Amérique Septentrionale, it issued from the press carried on board Languedoc, ship of the line in the fleet of Vice Admiral N. le Compte d’Estaing. The ship had completed a transatlantic voyage to aid the struggling colonies in their fight for freedom. The Déclaration was printed “de l’Imprimerie de F.P. Demauge, Impremeur du Roi & de l’Escadre.” The New York Public Library owns the only known copy.

Almost as rare is a piece of printing produced by the printing office of another French fleet which arrived off Newport, Rhode Island in 1780, carrying some 6,000 soldiers. This press, l’Imprimerie Royale de l’Escadre, was carried on board Le Neptune. From it was struck off, in 1781, the Calendrier Français, Pour l’Année Commune 1781, of which but two copies are known to exist. For a short period after the French fleet had anchored at Newport, the press was transported to the town, thus becoming one of the early colonial presses.

The Calendrier Français, an almanac, is the first volume of its kind to be printed in the French language in continental United States. It also represents the first Roman Catholic almanac to be printed in Rhode Island and possibly in the United States.

There are but four known works printed by Imprimerie Royale de l’Escadre, the press of Le Neptune. The largest was the first edition of Voyage de Newport Philadelpie, by Chastelloux. Although the work has frequently been reprinted there are but seven copies of the original known to bibliographers. While it was known that the press also printed a newspaper, La Gazette Française de Newport, no copy has yet been found.

Unfortunately there exists no description of the equipment used to print aboard the naval vessels of the late 18th century period. Unquestionably the amount of space devoted to such an enterprise must have been limited indeed. There was never sufficient room even for the crews, since warships frequently were over-complemented for their size in comparison to merchant vessels.

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