Nonetheless, Parks had an effect on Williamsburg. Right from the start his Gazette had the professional touch of a master craftsman. The earliest edition in existence, No. 6, is full of accounts from England, including news of the ministry, unrest in Persia, and this juicy crime item:
"We have an Account from Bristol, that last Wednesday Morning, one Mrs. Norman, who kept a Huckster Shop on St. Phillips Plain there, was found murdered in her own Shop, in a very dismall manner, she having several Marks of Violence about her Head, which, in all probability was the Cause of her Death, of of which a large Quantity of Blood issued."
There was not much local news in Parks Gazette. What little there was appeared primarily in advertisements of recent ship arrivals, shops opening, runaway slaves, deserted spouses, and strayed horses.
By todays standards The Virginia Gazette of 1736 would look gray and ponderous. There were no headlines, no photographs, no fancy page makeup. But there was news, and for a town that never had a newspaper before it was welcome.
It was also well produced. The writing was clear and to the point, though modern readers may find it difficult to plod through the long "s" formation that resemble an "f."
There were few typographical errors, which is a statement any newspaper then or now would like to make. But it was even more difficult in the 1700s. There were six variations of the "s" ligature, and most nouns were upper-cased regardless of whether they were proper nouns.
Advertising was crucial to The Virginia Gazette. Parks ran an "Advertisement, concerning Advertisements" on Oct. 8, 1736, which concluded with this promotion:
"And as these Papers will circulate (as speedily as possible) not only all over This, but also the Neighboring Colonies, and will probably be read by some Thousands of People, it is very likely that may have the desird Effect; and it is certainly the cheapest and most effectual Method that can be taken for publishing any Thing of this Nature." The same holds true today.
A typical day for William Parks had him working ten hours, perhaps more if he was printing his weekly Gazette on his sheet-fed handpress. It was a laborious process of setting the type by hand, picking letter by letter from a box of matrices.
Once the type was set it was locked into place in a metal form. The type was inked and paper was laid across. The form was rolled into the press, where the pressman "pulled" an impression by yanking with both arms the big handle of the press. This pressure forced the press to screw down on the paper and imprint the type on the paper sheet. Around 200 sheets an hour were printed this way, then hung to let the ink dry.
Hours were dictated largely by daylight, although some type was composed by candlelight. This led to errors and an occasional mishap in which trays of painstakingly set type were "pied" or spilled.
Colonial printers were hampered by a scarcity of type that slowed the printing of books because only a few pages could be set at a time before the letters were reused.
Weather frustrated many a printer, Parks included. Winter cold slowed the mails on which the Gazette was so dependent for news. When no dispatches arrived, Parks would offer that as an excuse for printing a shorter sheet. Spring and fall were the busy time during which the General Court convened in Williamsburg. Summer and winter were comparatively dull, and this is reflected in the Gazettes of the period.
Censorship also posed problems, and from three sectors: the English government, local authorities, and an offended public.
The last major problem faced by colonial printers was a shortage of paper. This was handmade stuff, consisting of ground-up rags. It was tough and durable but varied in quality.
During 1736-1744 Parks imported his paper from Pennsylvania, except for finer stock shipped from England for publishing books and other more permanent pieces.
In 1743 at the urging of Benjamin Franklin, Parks set about building his own paper mill in Williamsburg. Over the next four years Franklin sold Parks 11,382 pounds of rags. Appeals were often printed asking readers to save their old clothes for paper-making purposes. Old shirts, caps, dresses, handkerchiefs and gowns were brought and subsequently returned to the reader in a different form.
Parks watermark, with the distinctive "WP" and crown, was later recovered during the restoration of Williamsburg. It remains perfectly intact more than 200 years later, despite the intricacy
of the watermarks fragile wires.
By 1776 the paper mill in Williamsburg had apparently ceased operations, and printing paper was being imported from Philadelphia by water. It was risky and uncertain, since colonial ships were fair game for British men-of-war.