James Parker (publisher)
Woodbridge Township, Province of New Jersey
|Died||July 2, 1770 (aged 55–56)
Burlington, Province of New Jersey
|Resting place||First Presbyterian Cemetery|
|Residence||Colony of New Jersey|
|Occupation||Printer; Benjamin Franklin's Apprentice|
|Known for||publisher in colonial America|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to a typical eighteenth century colonial print shop.|
James Parker (1714 – July 2, 1770) was a prominent colonial American printer and publisher.
Parker was born in 1714 in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey. When he was eleven-years-old, his father died. Parker apprenticed himself on a servant indenture on January 1, 1727 for eight years to William Bradford, the colonial printer in New York City.  The agreement terms were that Bradford was to feed and provide for Parker in exchange for labor the boy would do. Bradford was also to train Parker the skills of the printing trade. Parker became a liability instead of an asset for Bradford when there was little printing work available. He decided in April 1733 to sell the remaining 21 months left on Parker's servant indenture and advertised the sale of his indenture. Parker ran away on May 17 before Bradford had a chance to sell the remaining indenture. Parker became a "wanted man," and Bradford advertised a reward for his capture in his New-York Gazette newspaper. The runaway ad described Parker as "an Apprentice lad....by trade a Printer, aged about 19 years; he is of a fresh Completion with short yellowish hair." A reward was offered, which was doubled a short time later. 
Parker ultimately went to Philadelphia and started working for Benjamin Franklin. He worked for Franklin as a journeyman. Franklin persuaded him to return to New York to fulfill his servant indenture agreement with Bradford. After completing his servant indenture agreement (with penalties), Parker returned to Philadelphia, where he lived with Franklin for several years. Franklin saw talent in Parker. In 1741, Franklin financed Parker, as a silent partner, in setting up his own printing business in New York City, with a six-year franchise agreement. Franklin provided printing equipment, a press, an assortment of types, and a third of the maintenance costs, in exchange for a share of the profits. Franklin saw this as an opportunity to take over the business monopoly of the aging seventy-seven-year-old Bradford in the Province of New York. Parker's new newspaper was called the New-York Gazette and Weekly Post-Boy. As the circulation grew, the paper gained a good share of Bradford's subscribers. Parker eventually became the official printer for both the King of England and the government of New York province.
Sometime in the 1750s Parker decided to go back to Woodbridge to set up a print shop. At the time the colony of New Jersey had two capitals. The capital for what had historically been East Jersey was at Perth Amboy, New Jersey; the capital for West Jersey was at Burlington, New Jersey. When people from Perth Amboy needed to have printing jobs done, they went to New York City, but the people from Burlington went to Philadelphia, since that city was more convenient for them. Parker's new Woodbridge printing office was close to Perth Amboy, so he offered his printing services to those in the eastern part of New Jersey and western New York. Parker's Woodbridge printing office became the first permanent print shop in New Jersey.
Parker had a variety of civic and community interests. He was a captain of a troop of horse guards in Woodbridge, a church member lay reader, comptroller of the general post-offices of the British colonies and postmaster with John Holt. He also became judge of the court of common pleas of Middlesex County, New Jersey.
Parker was in journalism in the colonies of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. He had several printing businesses in his lifetime. Parker not only published newspapers and official government documents, but also published magazines, poetry, fiction, history, science, almanacs, and religious material. He was also a printer for Yale College in Connecticut in the mid-eighteenth century.
Works attributed to Parker as the printer are:
- The Votes and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Province of New Jersey (April 17, 1754 – June 21, 1754)
- Independent Reflector (1752–3), edited by William Livingston
- Occasional Reverberator (1753), four issues
- John Englishman (1755), ten issues April 9 to July 5
- Instructor (1755), ten issues March 6 to May 8
- New American Magazine (1758–60), edited by Samuel Nevill
- History of New Jersey (1765), written by Judge Samuel Smith
Later life and death
Parker took over Bradford's position as the official government "public printer" for New York on December 1, 1743. He was the government "public printer" for New Jersey in 1758. Parker had several controversial issues during the tenure as the government "public printer" of New York and New Jersey. His clients included many of New York City's elite. Parker even acted as Franklin's agent in the business of Franklin & Hall when Franklin went to Europe.
Parker's New York printing business was handed down to his nephew Samuel Parker in February 1759. This business was ultimately taken over by Holt in 1760. Holt was the manager of the Connecticut Gazette that Parker started as the first newspaper in that colony. In 1770, Parker printed a controversial paper by Sons of Liberty leader Alexander McDougall for which he was arrested, however he died shortly thereafter before the settling of the case. Parker suffered many years from gout and died at a friend's house in Burlington, New Jersey, July 2, 1770. Towards the end of Parker's life, many of his business partners took advantage of his poor health and directed most of the profits of the business into their own pockets without sharing with Parker as they should have.
Holt's obituary in the New York Journal (July 5, 1770) says that Parker "was eminent in his Profession", "possessed a sound judgment and extensive knowledge", "was industrious in Business, upright in his Dealings, charitable to the distressed." Holt stated his one time business partner "left a fair Character." Parker's will showed that he bequeathed his three printing press businesses (Burlington, New Haven, Woodbridge) to his son.
In his day Parker was considered a better printer than William Bradford or Benjamin Franklin in the American Thirteen Colonies. He was the general manager of the first public library in New York city. Parker established the first newspaper in the colony of Connecticut, the Connecticut Gazette (April 12, 1755). He also founded the Constitutional Courant, the first newspaper in New Jersey.
- Alexander Purdie (publisher)
- William Hunter (publisher)
- William Parks (publisher)
- Joseph Royle (publisher)
- John Holt (publisher)
- Elizabeth Timothy
- Jane Aitken
- McKerns 1989, p. 539.
- Bond 2012, p. 72.
- Malone 1934, p. 226.
- Dyer 1982, p. 3.
- Dyer 1982, p. 4.
- Dyer 1982, p. 5.
- Moore 1898, p. 260.
- Troeger & McEwen 2002, p. 34.
- Bond 2012, p. 73.
- Malone 1934, p. 227.
- Wroth 1964, p. 34.
- Paltsits 1920, p. 3.
- Dyer 1982, p. 133.
- Dyer 1982, p. 140.
- McKerns 1989, p. 540.
- McKerns 1989, p. 539 v. 43 "The outstanding printer of his day, surpassing both William Bradford and Benjamin Franklin, Parker set up printing houses in three colonies.".
- Malone 1934, p. 227 "In his day he was in eminence and efficiently the equal of any printer in English-America. He was a better printer than Bradford or Franklin.".
- Ashley 1985, p. 348 "In his day he was considered the equal of any printer in English North America, surpassing both William Brdford and Benjamin Franklin.".
- Keep 1909, pp. 72–76.
- Korty 1965, pp. 61–62.
- Ashley 1985, p. 348, v. 43.
- Ashley, Perry J. (1985). American newspaper journalists: Ill. Gale.
- Bond, Gordon (2012). North Jersey Legacies: Hidden History from the Gateway to the Skylands. The History Press. ISBN 978-1-60949-556-5.
- Dyer, Alan (1982). A Biography of James Parker, Colonial Printer. Whitston Publishing Company, Incorporated. ISBN 978-0-87875-202-7.
- Keep, Austin Baxter (1909). The Library in Colonial New York. De Vinne Press.
- Korty, Margaret Barton (1965). Benjamin Franklin and eighteenth-century American libraries. American Philosophical Society.
- Malone, Dumas (1934). Dictionary of American Biography, volume XIV. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
- Moore (1898). American Printer and Lithographer. Moore Publishing Company.
- McKerns, Joseph P. (1989). Biographical Dictionary of American Journalism. Greenwood. ISBN 978-0-313-23819-2.
- Paltsits, Victor Hugo (1920). John Holt, Printer and Postmaster: Some Facts and Documents Relating to His Career. Public Library.
- Troeger, Virginia B.; McEwen, Robert James (2002). Woodbridge: New Jersey's Oldest Township. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-2394-1.
- Wroth, Lawrence C. (1964). The Colonial Printer. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-28294-7.
- Find-a-Grave: tombstone of James Parker