John Dunlap, Charlottesville’s First Printer

The Philadelphia printer John Dunlap (1747-1812) is best known for having printed the so-called “Dunlap Broadside”—the first printing of the Declaration of Independence—of which the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library is privileged to possess two of the 26 known copies.  Less well known is Dunlap’s distinction as the person responsible for bringing printing to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1781.  On the eve of July 4th, and in celebration of having acquired our very first John Dunlap Charlottesville imprint, here is the story of Dunlap’s brief career as Charlottesville’s pioneer printer.

Title page of U.Va.’s newly acquired 1781 Charlottesville imprint, the first and only item from Charlottesville’s first press to have entered the U.Va. Library collections.

Eighteenth-century American printers were eager for significant business and steady cash flow, which were more easily obtained through newspaper publishing and government printing contracts than through other printing work. John Dunlap did well on both accounts. He immigrated from Ireland to Philadelphia in 1757 and, after serving an apprenticeship in his uncle’s printing establishment, took over the business. In 1771 Dunlap launched the weekly Pennsylvania Packet, or the General Advertiser. Taking advantage of his Philadelphia location and the urgent need for public printing during the American Revolution, Dunlap secured printing contracts not only for the state of Pennsylvania, but also for the Continental Congress.

The two-line imprint crediting John Dunlap and James Hayes as Charlottesville’s first printers. Although undated, this work was printed during September and October of 1781.

In August of 1780, Dunlap expanded his public printing portfolio to Virginia. Directed by Virginia’s House of Delegates to engage a public printer, then-Governor Thomas Jefferson recommended acceptance of the proposal submitted by Dunlap and his business partner (and former apprentice) James Hayes. That fall a press and supply of printing types was dispatched to Richmond, where Hayes was to establish and manage a printing office. But its opening was delayed when the shipment fell into British hands. A second press was sent from Philadelphia to Richmond, and Hayes was at long last able to begin printing in April 1781.

A two-page opening from the Acts Passed at a General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia (Charlottesville, 1781).

The following month, however, the arrival of British forces under General Cornwallis prompted Virginia’s state government to flee Richmond, first to Charlottesville, and then to Staunton. Hayes packed up his printing equipment and followed. But in late June, near Charlottesville on his way back from Staunton, Hayes was captured by the British and then released on condition that he not print “until properly exchanged.” This was soon arranged, and in July 1781 Hayes set up his press in Charlottesville. It remained in operation into October, but by early December Hayes had relocated the press to Richmond. All the while Dunlap remained in Philadelphia.

The list of acts contained in the 1781 Virginia session laws printed in Charlottesville.

In its three months of operation, the first Charlottesville press is known to have printed at least four items: two broadsides, the 52-page Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia for 1781, and the 1781 Virginia session laws. It is a copy of this last publication—a 20-page folio publication titled Acts Passed at a General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia—that has now been acquired by U.Va.  Given the constraints under which Hayes is known to have operated, it is tolerably well printed, bearing the Virginia seal on its title page above the two-line imprint:  CHARLOTTESVILLE: Printed by John Dunlap and James Hayes, Printers to the Commonwealth.

John Cook Wyllie’s bibliographical description of the 1781 Virginia session laws (Charlottesville, 1781) with (at bottom) a census of copies known ca. 1960.

All four known 1781 Charlottesville imprints were printed by Hayes in his role as public printer, and all are very rare. It is likely, however, that Hayes printed a few other items, e.g., broadsides, printed forms, and other jobbing work, during his Charlottesville sojourn. Some day we may be able to identify these through careful typographical analysis. The history of Charlottesville’s first press has yet to be written–this précis is based on unpublished research by former U.Va. Librarian John Cook Wyllie, which is available for consultation in the Small Special Collections Library.

Following Hayes’ departure, Charlottesville would remain without a printing press for another four decades, until Clement P. and J.H. McKennie established a newspaper, The Central Gazette, in 1820.

Patron’s Choice: Massive Resistance and Harry F. Byrd

This week we are pleased to feature a guest post by researcher Dr. Candace Epps-Robertson, who teaches in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures at Michigan State University. Dr. Epps-Robertson worked with our collections remotely, requesting digital images of materials, mostly from the voluminous papers of Senator Harry Flood Byrd.

As a scholar of rhetoric during the Civil Rights Movement the questions that guide most of my research are usually quite simple: How were arguments made and how did they circulate? These questions drive my work in the area of Virginia’s Massive Resistance period. My research into this bleak moment of Virginia’s history comes as a result of my work on Prince Edward County, Virginia’s five-year public school closures in resistance to Brown vs Board of Education (1954). While Massive Resistance, on the books at least, subsided after 1959, Prince Edward persisted through the refusal to integrate public schools. To better understand how local leaders were able to close schools I trace and examine how segregationists introduced discourse to strengthen connections and mobilize efforts for an audience supportive of the notion that the preservation of segregation was a civic duty. One of the architects of the discourse of Massive Resistance was Senator Harry Flood Byrd whose papers exist in The Albert and Shirley Small Collections.

The late Senator Byrd had a thirty-three year political term in the Commonwealth, serving as governor from 1926 until 1930 and senator from 1933 until 1965. In many ways his position on segregation was no different from that of other supporters; however the power base he held in Virginia’s government secured him a larger audience. My quest to understand the history, context, and arguments made by Byrd brought me to this archive.

Thus far, my research in Byrd’s papers has all been done remotely. As a researcher whose work depends quite heavily on archival work, working entirely from digital copies from U.Va.’s Special Collections was a new adventure for me. I enjoy both the physical hunt for documents as well as the serendipity of the archive, but the detailed finding aid, and helpful assistance of the library’s staff, has made the long-distance research move with ease.

One of the many documents that has helped me understand Byrd’s means of crafting arguments is his April 28, 1961 press release on Prince Edward. In response to Attorney General Kennedy’s attempt to stop state funding being used for tuition assistance for White students to attend segregationists academies Byrd uses this moment to praise Prince Edward as a “gallant” county “fighting against great odds to protect a principle it believes to be right.” He continues by portraying Prince Edward, and Virginia, as victims, citing that Kennedy’s proposal was an “attempt to punish an entire State because the action of one county displease the U.S. Attorney General.”

Harry Flood Byrd's press release regarding  the "intervention by the Attorney General of the United States in the Prince Edward County School District" (MSS 9700. Images by U.Va. Library Digitization Services)

Harry Flood Byrd’s press release regarding the “intervention by the Attorney General of the United States in the Prince Edward County School District” (MSS 9700, Papers of Harry Flood Byrd. Images by U.Va. Library Digitization Services)

Detail of Byrd's press release.

Detail from Byrd’s press release.

While Byrd holds Prince Edward up as a model community for its demonstration, he simultaneously paints the entire Commonwealth as a victim at the hands of an intrusive federal government. Byrd’s press release continues with a somewhat ironic warning against bitterness in what he sees as being a struggle for unity: “Such action will sow the seeds of intense bitterness throughout Virginia and the South when unity is needed as rarely before.” This document, like many of Byrd’s speeches, press releases, and correspondence, serves as a means for helping us to understand both the history and discourse of Massive Resistance. The language was as much about maintaining state’s rights as it was demonstrating the resilience needed to protect the South’s way of life at all costs.

Detail from Byrd's press release.

Detail from Byrd’s press release.

When I’m asked why I devote research to a moment in our nation’s history that is so painful and ugly my response is simple: We must understand how race has operated historically through language and having access to archival sources is paramount to this. If we understand how racist discourse has functioned and if we continue to trace how it morphs, we can better prepare ourselves to dismantle and challenge the discourse of race. Archives, especially those with strong digital components and support, can aid us in our quest to dissect words and movements over long distances so that our struggle doesn’t have to be limited by travel funding or leaving campus on a research sojourn across the country.

Detail from the closing page of an anti-integration pamphlet also used by Professor Epps-Robertson in her research (Broadside 747. Image by U.Va. Libraries Digitization Services)

Detail from the closing page of an anti-integration pamphlet also used by Professor Epps-Robertson in her research. (Broadside 747. Image by U.Va. Libraries Digitization Services)


This Just In: A Happy Reunion!

Here at U.Va. Thomas Jefferson looms large both on, and under, Grounds.  It is only fitting that the Small Special Collections Library holds one of the world’s best collections of Jefferson manuscripts.  Some form part of the U.Va. Archives, for Jefferson founded the university and served as its first Rector from 1816 until his death in 1826.  Others have been placed in our care by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello.  Still more have been acquired over the years through the generosity of many donors, who have either entrusted their Jefferson manuscripts to us or given funds for new acquisitions.

Jefferson is estimated to have written some 19,000 letters during his lifetime.  A great many survive, and a significant number of Jefferson letters and documents remain in private hands.  Given our finite resources, Special Collections can by no means acquire every Jefferson manuscript that comes on the market.  Instead we patiently seek items of high research value, especially the previously unknown and unpublished.  Our latest Jefferson acquisition arrived just last week, and it fits the bill perfectly: an early and highly significant manuscript, previously unknown and unpublished, which is the mate of a manuscript already at U.Va.

Our newly acquired Thomas Jefferson manuscript: the bottom half of a leaf containing his draft revision (ca. November 1769) of the rules under which the Virginia House of Burgesses conducted its business. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

But the story begins in 1988, when Special Collections learned of an unrecorded Jefferson manuscript being offered in an upstate New York auction.  The document, for which we were high bidder, was identified by editors at the Papers of Thomas Jefferson as the top half of a leaf, written on both sides, containing Jefferson’s draft revision of the rules by which Virginia’s House of Burgesses conducted its business.  Jefferson began his political career in 1769 when, at the age of 26, he took a seat in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg.  In November of that year he was appointed to a committee chaired by Edmund Pendleton, who assigned Jefferson the task of drafting new rules for the House.  Jefferson’s draft was refined in committee before being approved by the House of Burgesses on December 8, 1769.  These rules guided its deliberations in the crucial years leading up to the American Revolution.

In 1997 U.Va.’s incomplete manuscript was published in volume 27 of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, where it was described as Jefferson’s “earliest surviving documentary contribution as a public official to promoting the orderly conduct of legislative business, a subject of enduring interest that culminated during his vice-presidency with the publication in 1801 of his Manual of Parliamentary Practice, which still helps to guide parliamentary procedure in the United States Congress today.”  In some respects it also prefigures Jefferson’s later committee assignment, in June of 1776, to draft another key document: the Declaration of Independence.

Proof that the document’s top and bottom halves were once joined: from left to right, note how the dot of the i and ascenders of the letters h, h and b align perfectly across the divide. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Last month, on the opening night of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, I was called over to a dealer’s booth, where a modest scrap of paper was placed in my hands.  It was none other than the missing bottom half of Jefferson’s 1769 draft!  Negotiations were quickly concluded, and last week the two halves were happily, and permanently, reunited.  Once the newly acquired manuscript is fully studied and published, we will know far more about this key episode in Jefferson’s nascent political career and the development of his political thinking.

Reunited at last! The top half is cataloged as MSS 10803; the newly acquired bottom half is presently being accessioned. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Coincidentally, an exhibition of some of our best Jefferson manuscripts is on view under Grounds through June 8.  Curated in cooperation with Monticello staff, “Thomas Jefferson Revealed” briefly surveys Jefferson’s pre-presidential years and his life at Monticello.  Highlights include a ledger recording Jefferson’s Williamsburg book purchases from 1764-1766; his annotated copy of the London, 1787 edition of Notes on the State of Virginia; a lock of Jefferson’s hair taken on his deathbed, and a letter describing his last hours; and the manuscript autobiography of Isaac Jefferson, a Monticello slave.