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Lawrence G. Starkey

The story of the establishing of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Press, the first printing house in England's North American colonies, has been told and retold many times during the past one hundred and forty years, but the known facts about its founding are still relatively few, singularly open to various interpretations, and really not materially augmented over those set down by Isaiah Thomas in the first edition of his History of Printing in America (1810).

Especially lacking are details about the financing of the original printing house established at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the autumn of 1638. Writers on the subject have been understandably reluctant to accept as sole founder and benefactor of the Cambridge Press the Reverend Jose Glover, Non-Con-formist clergyman of Surrey, who died at sea in the summer of 1638 while conveying the press and other printing equipment and supplies to Massachusetts. There is, indeed, some evidence that others besides Glover helped to procure the press and fonts of type for the new colony.

Speculation about these circumstances by writers on the Press seems to stem almost completely from two entries made by the third president of Harvard College, Leonard Hoar, in the early records of the college. In 1674 Hoar, attempting to list for posterity various benefactors of Harvard in its early days, wrote down seven names as follows:

Benefactors to the first ffont of
Letters for printing in Cambridge.
Their names collected p L H 1674


Page 268
Major Thomas Clark
Capt James Oliver
Capt Allen
Capt Lake
Mr Stoddard
At a different time, but during his twenty-seven months as President, Hoar collected and entered the following information:

Mr Joss: Glover gave to the Colledge a ffont of printing Letters.

Some Gentlemen of Amsterdam gave towards the furnishing of a Printing-Press with Letters gave [sic] fourty nine pound & something more.[2]

The purpose of this note is to correct a widely-accepted legend that identifies the seven names on the list made by Hoar with the "Gentlemen of Amsterdam." Both of Hoar's entries were printed by Thomas in 1810, but Roden seems to have been the first to make this identification with a misleading passage in his Cambridge Press (1905), pp. 10-11:

At his [Glover's] own expense he provided a font of type and procured funds from friends in England and Holland for a complete printing establishment, '£49 and something more' being donated by seven men whose names were collected by Leonard Hoar in 1674: Major Thomas Clarke, Captain James Oliver, Captain Allen, Captain Lake, Mr. Stoddard, Mr. Freake, and Mr. Hues.
An examination of the actual information as preserved in the manuscript records at Harvard shows that Roden came to the wrong conclusion. The list of names and the entry about the benefactors of Amsterdam are not even preserved in the same volume of records; thus there is no physical connection between these two scraps of information, and the sum of £49 is wrongly associated with the seven English names.

G. P. Winship has helped to perpetuate this false identification, first in an article in 1938[3] and again in a further consideration of the Cambridge Press in 1939.[4] Finally, in 1945, when Mr. Winship wrote his extensive monograph


Page 269
on the Cambridge Press, he printed the two excerpts from the early Harvard records and then wrote the following:
The two entries made at different times must refer to the same gift, and this gift must have been made before a press was set up in the colony. . . . There are circumstances which render an Amsterdam contribution toward a New England venture at the time explicable. . . . Holland had long been the principal purveyor of type and supplies to English printers. The Dutch ports were the most frequented commercial centers of northern Europe, and their normal trading advantages were strengthened for English merchants by the large numbers of disaffected fellow countrymen who were living in the Low Countries. Taking these factors into account it would not be surprising if a group of shipmasters and supercargoes engaged in the Massachusetts Bay trade, happening to sit together of an evening, agreed that it might be a profitable speculation to help to establish a printing shop overseas where the illicit Puritan printing that was being suppressed in Holland could be done without danger of interference. Circumstances can be imagined which might have led such a group to contribute generously to such a proposal.[5]

Although thus conjecturally connected by Winship, there is nothing implicit in the entries to suggest that the seven names might be identified as the gentlemen of Amsterdam. Furthermore, none of the scholars who have written about the Cambridge Press seem to have investigated the list to see if the names may not be identifiable. Actually, such an investigation provides proof that the names are not those of the gentlemen of Amsterdam. Instead, at least four of them can be positively identified as residents of New England many years after the printing house at Cambridge was established. Major Thomas Clark was actually an Overseer of Harvard College during Hoar's administration;[6] Captain James Oliver was a resident of Massachusetts and had given money to Harvard about twenty years before Hoar recorded his name;[7] Mr. Stoddard was both an Overseer of the College and its Librarian: he had not yet been born when the Cambridge Press was founded.[8] There was a Captain John Allen who lived


Page 270
in Massachusetts at this time, although identification of him as a benefactor of Harvard College cannot be definite.[9] Mr. Freake cannot be positively identified, although two English brothers, Ralph and John Freck, are known to have given books to the Harvard Library not long before Hoar's administration.[10] Lake and Hues do not seem to appear in early Massachusetts records.

There seems no doubt, then, that in light of this information all previous speculations that Hoar's two entries refer to the same gift are erroneous.



In College Book No. I, p. 34, a manuscript which is kept at the Houghton Library of Harvard University. Printed in Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, XV (Collections—1925), 20-21.


In Colledge Booke No. 3, p. 5, also in the Houghton Library. Printed in the Colonial Society's Collections, XV, 174-75.


"Facts and Fancies and the Cambridge Press," The Colophon, n. s., III (1938), 531-57. On pp. 554-55, Winship prints the two entries, but omits the name of one of the seven benefactors: Mr. Stoddard.


"A Document Concerning the First Anglo-American Press," The Library, 4th ser., XX (1939), 51-70.


The Cambridge Press, 1638-1692 (1945), pp. 334-36.


Major Thomas Clark was an Overseer of Harvard College in 1674-75, when he is listed as being present at meetings. He is listed once by his correct military title and once as 'Thos. Clarke Esqr.' Harvard Colledge Booke No 3, p. 67; printed in the Colonial Society's Collections, XV, 231-32. Clark bequeathed an annuity to Harvard which amounted to £4. This is noted in Colledg Book No. 4, pp. 47-48; printed in the Colonial Society's Collections, XVI, 410-13.


James Oliver had given £10 'toward the repair of the Colledge' about 1654. His gift is noted in Colledge Booke No. 3, pp. 16, 47. He died in 1682. Printed in the Colonial Society's Collections, XV, 185, 213.


Solomon Stoddard was appointed Librarian of Harvard College on 27 March 1667. He had been a fellow in the College the previous year. Beginning in 1667, he was also an Overseer of Harvard. Colledge Booke No. 3, pp. 43, 52; printed in the Colonial Society's Collections, XV, 210, 218. Stoddard was a member of the Harvard class of 1662.


A Captain John Allen who died in 1673 is mentioned in Massachusetts records. See the Colonial Society's Collections, XVI, 874.


Although Mr. Freake cannot be identified with any certainty, on p. 31 of Colledge Booke No. 3 it is recorded that a 'Mr Ralfe ffreck' gave some books to the library and that 'Mr John ffrecks' gave books to the value of £10. Samuel E. Morison in his Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century (1936), I, 285-86, mentions gifts of both of these brothers to the Harvard Library. Ralph gave the College, Bryan Walton's Polyglot in nine languages (6 vols., London, 1655-57) which was one of the proudest possessions of the early Harvard Library. In 1667 the College sent him in return a copy of the first edition of Eliot's Indian Bible, which was inscribed in part to him as 'a Noble benefator [sic] to the abouesayd Colledge.' Ralph Freck passed the copy on to the Bodleian (both Frecks were Oxford graduates) where it is still preserved.