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A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.

No. 6

  • The first Brooklyn Newspaper.
  • Thomas Kirk,
  • William Hartshorne, the veteran of United States printers
  • Early type-setting experience.
  • The Long Island Patriot, Mr. Birch.—S. E. Clements.—Judge Rockwell.
  • Peculiarities of printing the paper and serving subscribers.

Among the most significant hints of the difference between these days of 1862 and the days from 1830, and so on backward to 1800, would be those furnished by looking over some volume of news papers published between the two last-mentioned dates. To people who have not availed themselves of the opportunity of such an examination, it would be almost incredible what a "great gulf" there is between the Press of the present day, and a New York or Brooklyn newspaper of that aforesaid period.

As we have never been able to procure or get sight of a copy of the very first newspaper established in Brooklyn, we have long ago made up our mind that there is probably no copy of that paper in existence. Still, there may be some preserved somewhere, in old records or perhaps garret rubbish—and they may turn up yet, to gladden the eyes of antiquarians, and give point to local contrasts and reminiscences. We have now within reach of the hand that is writing these lines a copy of the "New York Mercury,"1 printed in 1760, some fifteen years before the commencement of the Revolutionary War, and "containing the freshest advices foreign and domestick,"—but, as we said, although there are many files and odd numbers of old New York and New England newspapers preserved in one place and another, there are none, as far as we have yet been able to trace them, of any of the aforementioned first newspapers printed in Brooklyn. Or possibly the publication of these lines may succeed in bringing to light some odd number or numbers of such antique print.

The first newspaper printed in Brooklyn was in 1799. It was called the "Courier and Long Island Advertizer."2 The venerable Wm. Hartshorne,3 (a most worthy member of the craft preservative of all crafts,) to whom we are indebted for our information, was present at the first issue of this paper. Of its history, appearance, peculiarities, &c., we are unable to give any detailed account at present—except that it was published, and had a job-printing office attached to it, for some six or seven years; and at the end of that time its proprietor, Mr. Thomas Kirk,4 either abandoned the publication of the "Courier" altogether, or else, for some reason or other transformed it into another paper, called the "Long Island Star."

One old aboriginal Brooklyn newspaper, however, we have seen, that was published as far back as 1806, by parties who seem to have been competitors with Mr. Kirk. This is called the "Long Island Weekly Intelligencer," conducted by Robinson & Little.5 The printing office announces itself as at the corner of Old Ferry and Front streets. [By Old Ferry our readers will understand the present Fulton street.] This number publishes the list of letters remaining in the post office uncalled for for the previous three months. The list comprises about fifty letters.

It must have been in 1808 or 9 that the old "Long Island Star" was first issued by Thomas Kirk.6 It was a small weekly, and gave what would now be called very meagre gleanings of current news, old political intelligence, jokes, scraps of items, and advertisements of local wants, etc. Among others, may be noticed the hiring of slaves, both male and female. For we suppose our readers are aware of the fact that it is but a little while since slavery existed here in this very town, and all through Long Island, and all over the State.

Scant and poor, however, as was the literary nutriment presented by one of these old weekly issues, it was eagerly sought for by the limited reading public of those days, and welcomed and conned over with perhaps just as much satisfaction as the full-blown modern daily or weekly now is by their readers. Those were the days when "literature" had not become the dissipation which our modern days have created it.

We have spoken of William Hartshorne—he was the veteran printer of the United States. His quiet life, and his never having taken a part in momentous affairs of any kind, make it impossible that he should ever have a biography—but he deserves one full as much as more eminent persons. He died a little over a year ago, at the age of 84, having lived in Brooklyn some 65 years. He came here from Philadelphia, a little before the close of the last century. He remembered well, and has many a time described to the writer hereof, (who listened with a boy's ardent soul and eager ears) the personal appearance and of Washington, Jefferson, and other of the great historical names of our early national days.

Mr. Hartshorne had a very good memory, with an intellect bright, even in his old age, and was willing, to an appreciative listener, to give copious reminiscences of the personages, things, and occurences, of 70, 60, or 50 years ago, and so on downwards to later times. In worldy circumstance, he held that position in life which consists of poverty nor riches. He had the old school manner, rather sedate, not fast, never too familiar, always restraining his temper, always cheerful, benevolent, friendly, observing all the decorums of language and action, square and honest, invariably temperate, careful in his diet and costume, a keeper of regular hours—in bodily appearance a small man, hair not very grey, and though not at all of robust habit of body (indeed rather fragile), and of a trade considered unhealthy, he lived to the extended age of eighty-four years.

In 1831 Mr. Hartshorne occupied part of an old Revolutionary building in Fulton street, east side, third door below Nassau St., in the basement of which he had a small printing office of a few printers' stands, &c., where he set up type for a weekly newspaper (printed up stairs), and he also kept a small stationary store. It was in the just mentioned year that the writer hereof, (then a boy of 12 years,) received from Mr. H. in the little office in the basement of that old Revolutionary house, with its brick walls and its little narrow doors and windows, the first instructions in type-setting—the initiation into the trade and mystery of our printing craft.

What compositor running his eye over these lines, but will easily realize the whole modus of that initiation?—the half eager, half bashful beginning—the awkward holding of the stick—the type-box, or perhaps two or three old cases, put under his feet for the novice to stand on, to raise him high enough—the thumb in the stick—the compositor's rule—the upper case almost out of reach—the lower case spread out handier before him—learning the boxes—the pleasing mystery of the different letters, and their divisions—the great 'e' box—the box for spaces right by the boy's breast—the 'a' box, 'i' box, 'o' box, and all the rest—the box for quads away off in the right hand corner—the slow and laborious formation, type by type, of the first line—its unlucky bursting by the too nervous pressure of the thumb—the first experience in 'pi,' and the distributing thereof—all this, I say, what jour. typo cannot go back in his own experience, and easily realise?

Of William Hartshorne, for the fifteen or twenty years previous to his death, the old man was often to be seen walking slowly in pleasant weather, through Fulton street, or some neighboring thoroughfare, with broad-brim hat, his cane, and chewing his quid of tobacco. For our own part, we used always to stop and salute him, with good-will and reverence. And so, age and decay creeping on, after a stretch of longevity very remarkable for a printer, in December 1859, the venerable man died, probably the oldest, most remarkable, and certainly one of the most upright and intelligent, of the working printers of the United States.

We don't know at what year the publication here in Brooklyn of the "Long Island Patriot" was commenced,7 but we remember the paper well, and held for a time the distinguished position of one of the juvenile devils, so important to its concoction and general manufacture. This was after our initiation by Mr. Hartshorne. Of the previous fortunes of the "Patriot," we know not, except that it was the original Democratic organ of Kings County. We remember Mr. Birch, its first proprietor, very well, and we remember the paper equally well—for the male parent hereof was one of its steady patrons from the beginning. The paper was left for its subscribers with great care, each one's name being written on the edge. We remember seeing the aforesaid male parent's name plainly written on the "Patriot" as it was left every week at the house. This paper, and those previous, and indeed for a while afterwards were all printed on old-fashioned wooden hand-presses, an edition of a few hundred copies being considered fully satisfactory. It was not an uncommon thing for the editor and proprietor of the paper to serve them with care to the subscribers through the town with his own hands.

Early in Jackson's administration, Mr. Birch sold out his concern to Samuel E. Clements,8 a very tall and eagle-nosed Southerner, who was also appointed post master, and occupied for his printing establishment and his post office, the old revolutionary building aforementioned. The "Patriot" (the name was changed not long after to the "Brooklyn Advocate,") continued to be the Democratic and Jackson organ. Political excitement and partizan fury ran just as high then as now. It was the time of the great contest between Old Hickory and the United States Bank.9

In addition to the above reminiscences of the press, and of its publishers and printers here in Brooklyn, we may mention, that the late Judge Rockwell succeeded S. E. Clements as editor of the "Patriot," and continued it as a Democratic weekly paper—and that subsequently a Mr. Douglass purchased the paper and changed its name—as above mentioned—to the "Brooklyn Advocate."10

Mr. Hartshorne was at one time appointed by a vote of the Common Council to the post of city printer, and continued for several years to print the pamphlets, blanks, handbills, etc. for the city departments.

Between '30 and '40, two or three attempts were made to establish daily papers in Brooklyn, but they only lost money to their projectors.


1. The New York Mercury was published by Hugh Gaine from 1752 until 1783. [back]

2. The newspaper's full title is the Courier and New York and Long Island Advertiser. Thomas Kirk began publishing it on June 26, 1799. [back]

3. William Hartshorne was a printer and mentor to Whitman. For more on their relationship, see Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman: the Song of Himself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 34–35. [back]

4. Thomas Kirk was an Irish–born printer, publisher, and bookseller in Brooklyn. He began publishing the Long Island Star on June 1, 1809. Kirk's newspapers were among the first published on Long Island. [back]

5. The first issue of the Long Island Weekly Intelligencer appeared on May 26, 1806. The newspaper lasted only a few months. [back]

6. The Long Island Star was first published on June 1, 1809. In 1811, Alden Spooner bought the paper from Thomas Kirk and subsequently published it until 1819. [back]

7. The Long Island Patriot was first published on March 7, 1821 by George L. Birch, who later served as Post Master of Long Island. The Patriot's ownership changed several times during its run until it was suspended in 1839. [back]

8. Samuel E. Clements had worked as a journeyman under George Birch until he became editor of the Long Island Patriot in 1829. In 1831, Whitman briefly worked for Clements at the latter's printing office. For more on their relationship, see Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 33–34. [back]

9. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson, nicknamed "Old Hickory," vetoed a bill that would recharter the Second Bank of the United States. The fight over the bank played out through much of Jackson's presidency (1829–1837). [back]

10. The Long Island Patriot became the Brooklyn Advocate in 1832 and in 1833 became the Brooklyn Advocate and Nassau Gazette. James A. Bennet was the publisher. Douglass is unidentified. [back]

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