Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Sower, Christopher

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SOWER, Christopher, printer, b. in Laasphe, near Marburg, Germany, in 1693; d. in Germantown, Pa., 25 Sept., 1758. He wrote his name Christophe Saur on his German publications. He was a graduate of a German university, and studied medicine at Halle. He came to Philadelphia in 1724 and settled in Lancaster county as a farmer, but removed in 1731 to Germantown, where, in the same year, he built a large dwelling (see engraving) for his residence. In order to supply the needs of his countrymen who were liberally educated, especially in theology, he first supplied them with Bibles and religious works from Germany. In 1738, having obtained a printing-press and materials, he issued an almanac, in German, of twenty-four pages, which was continued by his descendants till 1798. In 1739 he brought out the first number of “Der Hoch-Deutsch Pensylvanische Geschichts-Schreiber,” a religious and secular journal, a small folio, nine by thirteen inches, which attained a circulation of nearly ten thousand, and had great influence among his countrymen. It was the first of its kind that was published in a foreign language in Pennsylvania. This was followed by a number of larger works and in 1743 by a quarto edition of the Bible in German, Luther's translation, which was limited to 1,200 copies of 1,284 pages. It was three years in press, the largest work as yet issued in the colonies, and was the first Bible printed in this country, with the exception of Eliot's Indian Bible. Thereafter his publications were very numerous, both in English and German. In the same year he began printing he established the first type-foundry in this country, and a manufactory for printer's ink. He afterward made his own paper, bound his own books, and was the inventor of many things of practical use in his business. He is supposed to have invented cast-iron stoves, which he at least introduced into general use. In addition to farming and printing, he practised his profession, and manufactured tall eight-day clocks. He was also active in all public measures, and frequently represented his countrymen in their intercourse with the government. Upon his death, his business and his estate were inherited by his son, Christopher, b. in Laasphe, Germany, 20 Sept., 1721; d. in Methatchen, Pa., 4 Aug., 1784. He was liberally educated, and when he was twenty-six years old became a minister, and was associated with the Rev. Sanders Mack in Germantown, in the oldest Dunker church in this country. Five years later he was chosen overseer, or bishop, and continued the duties of his office in connection with his secular business until his death. Upon taking charge of the business, he so increased it that for many years it was the largest book-manufactory in the country. In 1763 he published a second edition of the great quarto Bible, in 1776 a third, all in German. These editions were issued previous to the publication of an English Bible in the American colonies. A part of the unbound sheets of the edition of 1776 was seized by the British during their occupation of Germantown and used for littering horses. Copies of all the editions are in the Lenox library, New York city, the Library company of Philadelphia, and the Historical society of Pennsylvania. He did his own type-founding, wood-engraving, paper- and ink-making, and binding, carrying on also a large business in his father's medical preparations, which he sent to various parts of the country. He was one of the founders of the Germantown academy, to which he largely contributed. He also was an opponent of slavery, and his advocacy of the doctrines of universal peace caused him to be misunderstood, so that during the Revolution, though he did not espouse the British cause, he was arrested and imprisoned. On a second arrest for not conforming to an edict, of which he seems to have been ignorant, he was taken from his bed, maltreated in various ways, and led before the provost as a spy. His large property was confiscated, but instead of having recourse to the law, he said: “I made them to understand that I should permit everything to happen to me that the Lord should ordain.” The remainder of his old age was spent, except when visiting churches within his jurisdiction, at Methatchen, where, assisted by a faithful daughter, he supported himself at binding and selling remnants of his publications. He died in poverty. No one in his denomination has been held in higher veneration, and his benevolence to the poor families of the soldiers earned him the title of the “bread father.” He was an eloquent speaker, and his reputation as a writer extended throughout the colonies. — His son, Christopher, b. in Germantown, Pa., 27 Jan., 1754; d. in Baltimore, Md., 3 July, 1799, was engaged in business in Philadelphia during the war, and afterward led an unsettled life. — The second Christopher's great-grandson, Charles Gilbert, b. in Norristown, Pa., 21 Nov., 1821, removed the establishment to Philadelphia in 1844, where he continued publishing, first in his own name, then successively as Sower and Barnes, Sower, Barnes and Potts, and Sower, Potts and Co. In 1888, one hundred and fifty years after it was founded by Christopher Sower, the house was incorporated as the Christopher Sower company by a charter granted by the state. Charles G. Sower remains as president of the company.

Appletons' Sower Christopher - 1731 Germantown house.jpg