William Parks, Colonial printer (1685 - 1750) MP

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: England
Death: Died in At sea
Cause of death: Died unexpectedly on ship from Virginia to England
Occupation: Printer, editor, tavern keeper, property owner
Managed by: Mark A. Davis
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About William Parks, Colonial printer

"William Parks might be the most astonished person of all to learn that his “Virginia Gazette” survives intact nearly 270 years after he published the first four-page edition on Aug. 6, 1736." (4)

Brief Biography

Contributed by David Rawson

William Parks was the first authorized printer in Virginia, the first "public printer" for the colonial government (1730–1750), publisher of the first authoritative collection of Virginia's laws (1733), and proprietor of its first newspaper, the Virginia Gazette (1736–1750). Born in England, Parks began producing official documents for the Maryland colony in 1726 and became its official printer the next year, with responsibility for all government publishing. In 1728, he expanded his business to Virginia, working as the public printer for both colonies from 1730 until 1737, when Maryland authorities accused him of neglecting his work and terminated his contract. In Virginia, his work was praised and it often flattered the local gentry. More importantly, it marked a shift by the colonial government from manuscript to print media while also enabling the growth of a public sphere in Virginia, especially through the publication of the Virginia Gazette. Responding to a story in that newspaper, a member of the House of Burgesses accused Parks of libel in 1742, but the General Assembly determined the story was true and so dismissed the charges. In the meantime, Parks published the Virginia Almanack, served as Williamsburg's postmaster, and built a large estate of property in Maryland and Virginia. His paper mill was the first south of Pennsylvania. Parks died in 1750 aboard a ship bound for England, where he was buried.

Notes

A license for a tavern at Hanover Courthouse was issued in 1733. When William Parks, editor of the Virginia Gazette, purchased Hanover Tavern in 1743, it was part of a 550 acre plantation at the courthouse. Today, Hanover Tavern occupies a site consisting of 3.5 acres.

John and Eleanor Parks Shelton, parents of Patrick Henry’s wife Sarah, owned the Tavern from 1750-1764. (1)

Patrick & Sarah (Shelton) Henry lived and worked at the tavern from 1757-1759; Patrick tended bar and played the fiddle to entertain the customers. (2)

Notes about the "The Colonial Printer" from http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-05211-3.html

A cultural biography that traces the important early American printer and newspaper publisher's path from the rural provinces of England to London and then to colonial Maryland and Virginia. While incorporating much new biographical information, the book widens the lens to take in the print culture on both sides of the Atlantic-as well as the societal pressures on printing and publishing in England and colonial America in the early to mid-eighteenth century, with the printer as a focal point.

After a struggling start in England, William Parks became a critical figure for both Annapolis and Williamsburg. He provided the southern United States with its first newspapers as well as civic leadership, book printing and selling, paper, and even postal services. Despite Jefferson's later dismissal of his Williamsburg newspaper as simply a governmental organ, Parks often pushed the limits of what was expected of a public printer, occasionally getting into trouble and confronting the kind of control and censorship that would eventually make evident the need for press freedoms in the new republic. It has often been asserted that, had Parks not died unexpectedly and relatively young, his reputation would have rivaled that of Franklin as a printer, entrepreneur, and man of affairs.

Sources

  1. http://hanovertavern.org/tavern/history/tavern-history/tavern-history
  2. Profiles in Colonial History  By Aleck Loker, 2008. Page 81
  3. William Parks: The Colonial Printer in the Transatlantic World of the Eighteenth Century. By A. Franklin Parks. Penn State Press, Feb 1, 2012 - Antiques & Collectibles - 234 pages William Parks: The Colonial Printer in the Transatlantic World of the Eighteenth Century]. Page 182
  4. Virginia's first newspapers

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William Parks, Colonial printer's Timeline

1685
1685
England
1706
1706
Age 21
Shepherdstown, Jefferson County, Virginia
1750
April 1, 1750
Age 65
At sea
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