Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Thomas, Isaiah

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THOMAS, Isaiah, printer, b. in Boston, Mass., 19 Jan., 1749; d. in Worcester, Mass., 4 April, 1831. At the age of six years he was apprenticed to Zachariah Fowles, a ballad-printer, and was employed setting type. After eleven years' apprenticeship he travelled from the West Indies to Nova Scotia, and, returning to Boston, entered in 1770 into partnership with his former master in the publication of the “Massachusetts Spy.” In three months this relationship was dissolved, and he continued the paper alone, choosing for his motto “Open to all parties, but influenced by none.” As he was a Whig, the policy of the paper gradually changed, and it became the organ of that party, publishing many spirited attacks on the British government. In 1771 Gov. Thomas Hutchinson ordered the attorney-general to prosecute Thomas; but the grand jury failed to find cause for indictment. As the Tories became more incensed against the independence of the “Spy,” a few days before the battle of Lexington, in which he participated, he packed his press and types and took them by night to Worcester. His other property was destroyed. On 18 April he engaged with Paul Revere and his associates in giving information of the march of the British, and he afterward resumed the publication of the “Spy” in Worcester, where it is still (1888) published. In the year 1776-'7 it was issued in Boston. Mr. Thomas was connected with the paper until 1801. In 1786 he procured from Europe the first font of music-type that was brought to this country, and he was the first printer here to use such type. He was engaged at Walpole, N. H., in book-publishing and printing the "Farmer's Museum," and in 1788 opened a book-store in Boston under the firm-name of Thomas and Andrews, also establishing branches of his publishing business in several parts of the United States. The "Massachusetts Magazine" was published by the firm in eight volumes, from 1789 till 1796. He printed at Worcester a folio edition of the Bible (1791), Watts's “Psalms and Hymns,” and most of the Bibles and school-books that were used in this country at that date. In 1812 he founded the Antiquarian society of Worcester, of which he was president and a liberal patron. He gave from his important collection nearly 8,000 volumes to its library, besides tracts, and one of the most valuable files of newspapers in the country, and he presented land and a hall, with a provision equal to $24,000 for its maintenance. The library now contains about 90,000 volumes, including the Mather collection. William Lincoln, in his “History of Worcester” (1837), says of him: “His reputation in future time will rest, as a patriot, on the manly independence which gave through the initiatory stage and progress of the Revolution the strong influence of the press he directed toward the cause of freedom, when royal flattery would have seduced and the power of government subdued its action.” Thomas also published the “New England Almanac,” which had something of the flavor of Benjamin Franklin's “Poor Richard.” It appeared in 1775, and was continued under several titles until 1817. Alleghany college, Pa., gave him the degree of LL. D. in 1818. He was the author of a valuable “History of Printing” (2 vols., Worcester, Mass.). See a memoir of him by his grandson, Benjamin F. Thomas (Boston, 1874). — His nephew, Ebenezer Smith, journalist, b. in Lancaster, Mass., in June, 1780; d. in Cincinnati, Ohio, in August, 1844, learned printing with his uncle in Worcester, and in 1795 established himself as a bookseller in Charleston, S. C., where, from 1810 till 1816, he edited the “City Gazette.” He removed to Baltimore in 1816, served in the Maryland legislature in 1818-'19, and went in 1829 to Cincinnati, where he edited the “Daily Advertiser” from that year till 1835, and then the “Evening Post” till 1839. He was the author of “Reminiscences of the Last Sixty-five Years, commencing with the Battle of Lexington, etc., and Sketches of his own Life and Times” (2 vols., Hartford, 1840), and “Reminiscences of South Carolina” (2 vols., 1840). — Isaiah's grandson, Benjamin Franklin, jurist, b. in Boston, Mass., 12 Feb., 1813; d. in Salem, Mass., 27 Sept., 1878, was graduated at Brown in 1830, studied law in Cambridge, and was admitted to the bar in 1833. He served in the legislature in 1842, and was probate judge for Worcester county from 1844 till 1848, in which year he was a presidential elector on the Whig ticket. He was a judge of the supreme court of Massachusetts from 1853 till 1859, when he resigned and resumed his practice. He was in congress from 4 July, 1861, till 3 March, 1863, serving on the judiciary committee and the special committee on the bankrupt law. In 1868 he was nominated by the governor for chief justice of Massachusetts, but the nomination was not confirmed by the council. He was president of the American antiquarian society, and received the degree of LL. D. from Brown in 1853 and from Harvard in 1854. Judge Thomas published a “Digest of the Laws of Massachusetts in Relation to the Powers, Duties, and Liabilities of Towns and of Town Officers” (Worcester, 1845), and several pamphlets, including, besides the memoir of his grandfather mentioned above, “A Few Suggestions upon the Personal Liberty Law and ‘Secession,’ in a Letter to a Friend” (1861). — Ebenezer Smith's son, Frederick William, journalist, b. in Charleston, S. C., in 1811; d. in Washington, D. C., 30 Sept., 1866, became a cripple at the age of four years. He was educated in Baltimore, Md., where he studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1828. In 1830 he removed to Cincinnati and assisted his father in editing the “Advertiser,” in which appeared his song, “'Tis said that absence conquers love.” He became an associate editor of the “Democratic Intelligencer” in 1834, and of the “Evening Post” in 1835. From 1841 till 1850 he was a clerk in the treasury department in Washington, D. C., for which he selected a library. In 1850 he returned to Cincinnati, entered the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal church and preached in that city. Subsequently he was professor of rhetoric and English literature in the University of Alabama, and in 1858 resumed the practice of law in Cambridge, Md. In 1860 he took charge of the literary department of the Richmond “Enquirer,” and afterward became editorially connected with the “South Carolinian” of Columbia. He travelled extensively through the southern states, was a successful lecturer, and occasionally took part in politics. In addition to contributions to magazines, in prose and verse, he was the author of “The Emigrant, or Reflections when descending the Ohio, a Poem” (Cincinnati, 1833); “Clinton Bradshaw, a Tale” (Philadelphia, 1835); “East and West, a Novel” (1836); “Howard Pinckney, a Novel” (1840); “The Beechen Tree, a Tale told in Rhyme, and other Poems” (New York, 1844); “Sketches of Character, and Tales founded on Fact” (Louisville, 1849); and “John Randolph of Roanoke, and other Sketches of Character, including William Wirt; together with Tales of Real Life” (Philadelphia, 1853). — Another son of Ebenezer Smith, Lewis Foulke, poet, b. in Baltimore county, Md., in 1815; d. in Washington, D. C., 26 May, 1868, assisted his brother in conducting the “Commercial Advertiser,” and the “Evening Post,” in Cincinnati, and, after the latter was discontinued in 1838, studied law. He then edited the “Daily Herald” in Louisville, Ky., removed in 1841 to St. Louis, Mo., and subsequently to Washington, D. C., where he practised law until his death. He was the author of “Inda, and other Poems,” the first book of poetry that was published west of the Mississippi (St. Louis, 1842) and two tragedies — “Osceola,” which was successfully performed in Cincinnati, St. Louis, and New Orleans (1838), and “Cortez, the Conqueror” (Washington, 1857). — Ebenezer Smith's daughter, Martha McCannon, author, b. in Baltimore, Md., 15 Nov., 1823, is the author of “Life's Lesson” (New York, 1846), and “Capt. Phil, a Story of the Civil War” (1882). — Another daughter, Mary von Erden, author, b. in Charleston, S. C., 8 Dec., 1825, has been a computer in the office of the U. S. coast and geodetic survey in Washington, D. C., since 1854. She is the author of a novel entitled “Winning the Battle” (Philadelphia, 1882).