Monday, 23 January 2012

Samuel Kneeland of Boston

For last few years I have been fascinated with the history of the book. I first became aware of the significance of this subject when I read Richard Sher's masterful The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America (University of Chicago, 2007). Sher awakened me to the importance of eighteenth-century publishers and how lucrative this profession could be. I soon realized the value of Sher's book for my own research as I was finishing up my dissertation on John Erskine. After reading Enlightenment and the Book, I re-wrote my thesis, and dedicated a final chapter to establishing Erskine as the premier evangelical disseminator in the Atlantic world. While Sher's work on the history of the book as it pertains to the Enlightenment is ground-breaking, there are only sparse references to evangelicalism and publishing. I wanted to know more about this elusive topic. To my surprise, hardly anyone has written about the publishers of evangelical works in the eighteenth century. In the case of Erskine, I found that he worked with the Gray publishing firm in Edinburgh to produce most of his works as well as many of the posthumous writings of Jonathan Edwards.

After finishing the dissertation on Erskine, which has since been published as a monograph, I did research on religious printers and publishers in eighteenth-century America. Thanks to tools like the indispensable English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), I came across Samuel Kneeland (1697-1769). Although he was a leading printer and publisher in colonial Boston, to my amazement, no one has ever written a scholarly article or book on him. Last year I conducted research on Kneeland and submitted an article to the journal Printing History. Today, I received my gratis copies of "Samuel Kneeland of Boston: Colonial Bookseller, Printer, and Publisher of Religion," which is in Series Eleven of the January 2012 issue of Printing History. The article should be available very soon on Academic One File.

This is the opening paragraph of the article:

Samuel Kneeland is one of those characters in the history of the book in America who we know played a vital role; yet, very little has been written about him. Related to the prolific Green family of printers, he forged relationships with leading colonial booksellers like Daniel Henchman, printed for the colony of Massachusetts Bay, and published several key religious texts. In the following article, the objective is to shed light on Kneeland's overall contribution to the colonial book trade, identifying those for whom he printed, at what price, and the kinds of literature that he put forward. From an anlysis of Kneeland's life and business, we can gain a further understanding of the history of the book in eighteenth-century America from the perspective of Kneeland, one of the premier bookseller-printers in Boston.

I go on to describe Kneeland's significance as a printer, bookseller, and publisher of religious works. Kneeland formed partnerships with his uncle Bartholomew Green (1667-1732) and later his cousin, Timothy Green (1703-63). The latter firm of S. Kneeland and T. Green established the New-England Weekly Journal in 1727 and claimed the rights to print (1736) and later own (1741) the Boston Gazette. After Kneeland and Green bought the rights to publish the Boston Gazette, they combined it with the New-England Weekly Journal to become the Boston Gazette, or New England Weekly Journal, perhaps the first newspaper merger in colonial America. American religious historians will recall that the Boston Gazette provided news of the revivals associated with the Great Awakening. Articles in the newspaper, for instance, alerted readers to the travelings of George Whitefield, including upcoming his speaking engagements in America. After Green left the firm to go to his hometown of New London, Kneeland sold the Boston Gazette to Benjamin Edes and John Gill, who altered the title of the paper slightly and began a new issue in April 1755.

Besides printing newspapers, Kneeland also printed and published several key religious works. He printed best-sellers like Philip Doddridge's The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, Solomon Stoddard's The Safety of Appearing at the Day of Judgment, Thomas Prince's A Chronological History of New-England, George Whitefield's Sermons on Various Important Subjects, and John Flavel's Token for Mourners. Perhaps most importantly, he printed many of the writings of Jonathan Edwards, including The Life of David Brainerd and Freedom of the Will.

Kneeland also was a publisher, which meant that he underwrote the costs of publications himself. Publishing was a risky venture, but it had a greater potential for profits than a set fee charged by printers. In the article, I provide an appendix that lists the known works published by Kneeland. In his early years, Kneeland published familiar authors like Cotton Mather, Thomas Foxcroft, Samuel Checkley, Richard Baxter, and Matthew Henry. As the revival fires of the Great Awakening heated up, he published George Whitefield, Jonathan Dickinson, and Thomas Prince. Most notably, Kneeland underwrote Jonathan Edwards's seminal Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746). By the time that Kneeland retired, he could claim over nine hundred imprints bearing his name as printer or publisher.

If you are interested in reading more about Kneeland, please contact William T. La Moy, the editor of Printing History, for a hardcopy of the article. Alternatively, when the article appears on Academic One File, you could download a copy of it.

Jonathan Yeager

1 comment:

Robin Kneeland Willcox said...

There is a family history of the Kneelands in the US (and earlier), printed just before the turn of the [last] century, and archived here:

This particular Kneeland is delighted that you are researching Samuel Kneeland - yes, one of the many regular folk that plugged along in the Colonies without much fanfare. Would love to read what you have come up with.

Many thanks, Robin Kneeland Willcox, S. Hamilton, MA