The stature of William Parks in journalism history can be measured in part by the number of "firsts" to his credit:
- First newspaper in Maryland.
- First public printer in Virginia.
- First newspaper in Virginia.
- First publications of literary works in Virginia.
- First paper mill south of Pennsylvania.
- First postmaster of Virginia.
Lawrence Wroth described it best. "The establishment of four pioneer newspapers in as many towns, the publication of the collected laws of two American colonies, the fostering of literary tradition in these colonies by his encouragement of native writers are projects that speak clearly of unusual enterprise in one who after all was a provincial printer, or as we should describe him nowadays, a country printer."
1766-1779: The Revolutionary Era
If there ever was a heyday for newspapers in Virginia and Williamsburg, it was during the Revolution. Albeit partisan, The Virginia Gazette and other colonial newspapers reported well the news of the growing unrest between the Crown and the colonies.
Fully 10 years before the Declaration of Independence, there appeared carefully worded accounts. The repeal of the Stamp Act in March 1776 brought great rejoicing to the colonies and was covered locally in The Virginia Gazette on June 20, 1776.
"On Friday last, a good deal of Company being in Town at the Oyer and Terminer Court, our Gratitude and Thankfulness upon the joyful Occasion of the Repeal of the Stamp Act and the universal Pleasure and Satisfaction it gives that all Differences between the Mother Country and her Colonies are so happily terminated, was manifested here by general illuminations "
Following the death of William Parks in 1750, his associate in business, William Hunter, bought the printing shop and with it the Gazette. Hunter went on to distinguish himself in the tradition of William Parks.
He served jointly with Benjamin Franklin as deputy postmaster general for all the colonies. He also printed in 1754 the first published writings of George Washington, "The Journal of Major George Washington," who at the time was 22 years old.
Hunter was the brother-in-law of John Holt, noted printer of Connecticut and New York in Revolutionary times. Hunter died in 1761 and was succeeded by another brother-in-law, Joseph Royle. Hunters will stipulated that Royle manage the business for himself and Hunters infant son, William Hunter Jr.
Already things were heating up politically and competitively. A loyalist clergyman, the Rev. John Camm, could not get his pamphlet printed because the printer, Royle, objected to its "Satyrical Touches upon the Late Assembly."
Yet when Col Richard Bland set out to reply to Camms pamphlet, Royle was a willing printer.
This selective suppression of views went badly for Royle. There grew a controversy between him and The Maryland Gazette over accusations that Royle refused to print attacks on the local government.
At the urging of Thomas Jefferson and others, William Rind moved from Annapolis in 1766 to set up a rival Virginia Gazette.
Jefferson recalled years later that "we had but one press, and that having the whole business of the government, and no competitor for public favor, nothing disagreeable to the governor could be got into it. We procured Rind to come from Maryland to publish a free paper."
Royle died shortly before Rind came to Williamsburg, and it turned out to be a fortuitous death for the new fellow. Rind was elected public printer by the House of Burgesses, giving him an economic foothold in the form of printing documents and laws. As it turned out, the Assembly three years later spread the wealth to both Gazettes when it ordered them to print a large volume of the Acts of Assembly then in force.
Alexander Purdie succeeded Joseph Royle as publisher of the original Virginia Gazette. In 1767, Purdie took into the business John Dixon, who by marriage was related to Royles widow.
Purdie, dissatisfied with the partnership, withdrew to set up his own Virginia Gazette. The first issue appeared Feb. 3, 1775.