Notes for Isaiah Thomas, Jr.

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The only son of Isaiah Thomas, Sr., Isaiah Thomas, Jr. was born in Boston, MA and was one of the incorporators of the American Antiquarian Society in 1812. He also served as the Society's treasurer from 1813 until his death in 1819. He was remembered as 'a man of large intelligence and fond of books, wrote with ease and rapidity, of excellent conversational powers, fond of and devoted to his home and family.' Thomas was taught the business of printing by his father and started his career as a bookseller in 1792 at the age of nineteen. Five years later he married Mary Weld, the daughter of a wealthy Boston merchant.
In 1799 he became the co-publisher of the Massachusetts Spy, sharing the masthead with his father until 1801, when he was made the sole publisher and editor. Thomas bought out his father's large printing, paper making and publishing business in 1802 when Isaiah Thomas, Sr., retired. In 1810 the younger Thomas moved to Boston, and continued to issue the Spy and the family's almanac, as well as to print books such as Bernhard Faust's A New Guide to Health (1810) and Charles Robbins's The Drum & Fife Instructor (1812). Thomas's business interests were adversely affected by the War of 1812. He sold the Spy in that year and tried to expand his bookselling business by opening shops in Connecticut, Maine, and Maryland. He continued to issue a variety of almanacs and books. Copies of many of his publications are preserved in the imprint collection of the American Antiquarian Society.
Thomas died in Boston in the summer of 1819 following an accident. His father noted in his diary on June 25th, 'My son died, aged 45 years, occasioned by the wounds he received by a Fall the Evening before. Two days later, Isaiah Thomas, Jr., who left a widow and nine children, was buried in Worcester. His father wrote, 'My son's remains were deposited in my tomb in the North burying ground this morning at 8 o'clock. Prayers by Dr. Freeman at the house of Eben T. Andrews - from whence the corpse was carried to the burying ground.'

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Born in Boston January 19, 1749, Isaiah Thomas was the youngest of five children. His irresponsible father died young , leaving Thomas' mother, Fidelity, in difficult financial circumstances. According to Thomas, she kept a small shop to help support the family, but made the common error of selling property for continental paper money, further impoverishing her family.[1] Consequently, when Isaiah was six, he was indentured as an apprentice to Zechariah Fowle, a childless printer. Fowle was lazy and untalented, leaving as much of the work as possible to young Isaiah. Fortunately for the child and the reading public, Samuel Draper, Fowle's partner from 1758 to 1761, taught Thomas a great deal about printing. By the age of sixteen, Thomas was virtually running Fowle's shop, but after a "serious fracas" with Fowle set off in pursuit of better training and a more attractive situation.[2] Ranging from Nova Scotia to Boston (and a brief reunion with Fowle) to South Carolina, his wandering returned him to Boston in 1770 with a new wife.
Shortly after the wedding, Thomas learned that his wife, Mary Dill, had borne an illegitimate child and entertained the affections of several men before marrying him. He divorced her for subsequent infidelity in 1777, and happily married Mary Thomas Fowle in 1779. After Mary's death in 1818, he married Rebecca Armstrong, but separated from her three years later.[3] Thomas was known by some to be "a tall, attractive man, well-mannered, neat, an excellent printer, popular with his contemporaries, especially the women."[4] Others described him as contentious, and he went through numerous business partnerships.
Nevertheless, he made his own success by a mixture of skill and good business sense. In 1770, he began printing the Massachusetts Spy, which began as neutral but became a radical patriot newspaper of the American Revolution. In this regard, he upheld family tradition; his great-great-grandfather, Evan Thomas, protested customs duties and sold beer above the crown's set price.[5] Isaiah's personal revolutionary tendencies were strong: when he worked in Nova Scotia, he crossed the royal authorities by printing criticism of the Stamp Act. Yet, ever the businessman, Thomas continued to print popular material despite the fact that the Spy had the largest circulation in New England.
[1] Isaiah Thomas. The History of Printing in America: with a biography of printers & an account of newspapers, ed. Marcus A. McCorison (Barre, Mass.: Imprint Society, 1970), 154-5.
[2] John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), s.v. "Isaiah Thomas," by Richard F. Hixson.
[3] John Tebbel. A History of Book Publishing in the United States, v. 1, (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1972), 64, 71.
[4] Ibid., 62.
[5] Ibid., 60.

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