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November 18, 2017

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Weaving patriot’s story from history of printers

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

How might have a teenaged printer's "devil" helped the cause of liberty in the American Revolution?

Apprentice printers ("devils") trained for several years under a master printer before they became journeymen. Nicholas Power (1760-1811) likely began his apprenticeship with printer to the state of New York, John Holt, before his mid-teen years and well before the Revolution began.

I might tease out new information on Power as an apprentice if I integrate related studies into my research. Layton Barnes Murphy's 1965 Ph.D. dissertation for the University of Michigan, "John Holt, Patriot, Printer and Publisher," is available online through ProQuest Dissertations & Theses ( Leona M. Hudak wrote Early American Women Printers and Publishers 1639-1820 (1978).

John Holt, Power's master printer, resided during the Revolution in New York, in Kingston (Ulster County), and in Poughkeepsie (Dutchess County). Holt published his weekly "New-York Journal; or, the General Advertiser," in New York until Aug. 29, 1776. Murphy notes that when the British moved into Manhattan, Holt barely escaped. His move upriver to Kingston coincided with his appointment as state printer and his receipt by the state of the confiscated press and types of Loyalist New York printer, Hugh Gaine. Holt resumed publication of his newspaper in Kingston July 7, 1777; he published his last Kingston issue Oct. 13, 1777, four days before British soldiers sacked the city and destroyed his press, leaving him "only 'one wearing apparel,' three beds, his account books, most of his paper stock, and the Gaine types" (Murphy, 11). Holt and his staff removed what remained of his equipment to Poughkeepsie to repair the press and to print his newspaper and New York State business. Holt published his first newspaper from Poughkeepsie May 11, 1778; he continued publication in Poughkeepsie, with interruptions for lack of paper and financial support, until 1782, when he stopped to print New York State Laws. After the British evacuated, Holt revived his newspaper in New York on Nov. 22, 1783. The printer to the state of New York Holt needed his apprentices to print his newspaper and proceedings of the Legislature and the laws and journals as required by the state. The New York Legislature met regularly at Poughkeepsie and Kingston between 1778 and 1783; its meetings necessitated extra work for State Printer Holt and his apprentices.

Murphy (18) notes that publisher Holt and two papermakers in August 1776 implored state legislators to "prevent papermakers from being compelled or permitted to go upon military service." Perhaps Holt made the same plea regarding his apprentices. Public papers of George Clinton show that on June 3, 1778, Gov. Clinton exempted 18-year-old Nicholas Power from Dutchess County militia duty with John Holt and William Copp, for "rebuilding houses [etc.] destroyed by the enemy in October 1777." Clinton likely exempted Power, Copp, and Holt to repair damage to the presses so New York's state printer could do his work. Nicholas Power likely apprenticed until he reached his majority, in 1781. Once he completed his apprenticeship, Power was free to work as journeyman printer wherever he chose. Power likely chose to stay with Holt. After the Revolution, 23-year-old journeyman Power returned to New York. He was journeyman to Holt's widow, Elizabeth, printer to the state of New York until March 10, 1785 (Hudak, 512).

The records that describe his likely print work during the Revolution do not name Apprentice Power. Hudak and Clinton's papers mention Power only briefly. However, by integrating my research with Murphy's study of John Holt and Hudak's work on women printers, I can flesh out Power's story.

Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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