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trouble from this quarter. In consequence of an essay, signed Mucius Scavola, published in the Spy of November, 1770, he was summoned, by Governor Hutchinson and his Council, to appear at the Council-Chamber. He promptly refused obedience to the order. His answers to the messenger,
which were written down at the time, discover a knowledge of his personal rights, a resoluteness of purpose, and an intrepidity of character, that strongly indicated the course he would afterwards pursue in the coming contest. From a defect of authority in the Governor and Council, further proceedings were suspended until the sitting of the Superior Court, when a vigorous attempt was made to procure an indictment; but it was defeated by the independent spirit of the grand jury. A proceeding by information was the next course; but the general intelligence of the people frowned upon this odious engine of government for shackling the press. These attempts at prosecution were renewed the next year under pretence of punishing some supposed libels upon the King; but the assistance of friends relieved him from the danger. A proffer of professional services from the distinguished James Otis was gratefully received by Mr. Thomas, and manifests the interest felt for his security by that statesman of mighty mind, and by other patriots of the revolution.
At this period there were three other papers, published in Boston, but neither of them had a patronage equal to that of the Spy. Upon its first publication the subscription list contained less than two hundred names; but, such was its popularity, that in two years it had more patronage than any other paper in New England.
Questions of political science and constitutional law were now no longer confined to the forum and halls of legislation, but became daily. themes of discussion in the mechanic's shop, at the farmer's fireside, and in the town meeting. The exigencies of the times called for a journal, conducted by one whose education, habits, and modes of thinking should har
monize with those of the great body of the people, where every one could find his own feelings and principles reflected without the expositions of the learned.
Such a paper was found in the Spy, and such an editor in Mr. Thomas. The ability, prudence, and fearless decision exhibited by him in this department, give to his character an elevation and dignity, that few only can attain. It is here his name stands out in bold relief, and claims the applause of mankind.
Considering his youth, his limited means for acquiring learning, and the portentous state of the times, it must have required a mind of no ordinary bearing to sustain itself in so unequal a conflict. On one side, was most of the learning and wealth of the province, together with the patronage of the government in favor of the existing state of things, and branding, with the reproach of sedition and rebellion, every movement for liberty; on the other, a people of staid and religious habits, enjoying most unlimited practical freedom, contending, not against any actual, ostensible oppression, but merely for principles and abstract right. Thus circumstanced, this youthful apostle of liberty took the field. Although his paper was the medium of communication for some of the ablest writers of the day, and was directed, in some measure, by the leaders of the popular party, yet all the responsibilities rested upon the editor and publisher, and a single act of imprudence, or even of indiscretion, might have involved him in serious consequences. It is apparent from an examination of the files of the Spy at that period, that the editorial matter came from his own pen. Matters of fact, without the tinsel of ornament, and plain argument, without the sophistry of the schools, were the simple instruments, by which the tempest of popular indignation was roused; and a virtuous community required no other trident to set bounds to the swelling storm. In a review of that period, as he himself has justly observed, “common sense in common language, is as necessary to influence one class of
citizens, as learning and elegance of composition are to produce an effect upon another. The cause of America was just, and it was only necessary to state that cause in a clear and impressive manner, to unite the American people in its support.” During that time of appalling gloom, when the people of Boston were goaded to resentment by the provisions of the Port Bill, the editor of the Spy continued the publication of his paper in that city. His manner of defeating the attempts to overawe the freedom of the press manifested a wisdom, a fertility of expedients, and a patriotic integrity, that insured him the highest confidence. A numerous standing army held unlimited control of the metropolis, and repeated outrages on the part of the soldiery were not discountenanced by the public officers. Mr. Thomas had rendered himself obnoxious to the British, and threats of vengeance were thrown out against him and his printing-office. Timely information was given him of intended violence, which induced him to pack up privately a press and printing apparatus, and send them in a boat across Charles River under the care of General Warren, the martyr of Bunker Hill.
Early in the spring of 1775, arrangements were made for sending detachments into the interior to destroy the military property, which the people were preserving against the approaching contest. The vigilance of the friends of liberty in town, had faithfully transmitted information into the country of the intended expedition to Concord. The editor of the Spy was concerned in furnishing this information, in consequence of which, he left Boston at day-break, on the morning of the memorable 19th of April, and joined the Provincial militia in opposing the King's troops at Lexington. The next day he arrived at Worcester, opened his printing-office, and recommenced the publication of the Spy, May 3d, 1775.
This event formed an era in the history of the country, as well as in the annals of the town, where he thenceforward re. sided. It was the first printing ever performed in the interior
of New England. The Provincial Congress were now in session at Watertown, and it was proposed by them to remove this press to that place; but it was afterwards determined that it should remain in Worcester, and that the Spy should be transmitted by post-riders to Watertown and Cambridge. Until presses were established in those places, Mr. Thomas executed the printing for the Congress. The labors of Mr. Thomas were not confined to the Spy. He established the first newspaper in Newbury port, as early as 1773, which he soon after transferred to other hands. In 1774 he published in Boston, the “ Royal American Magazine," a monthly periodical. Besides the usual variety of general literature, this work contains a faithful summary of the public transactions of Boston during that eventful year, and great value is added to the work by the public documents preserved in its pages, and which are not elsewhere to be found. The small amount of property contained in the package sent across Charles River, upon his flight from Boston, was all that he rescued from five years of unremitted toil in the cause of freedom ; the residue fell a prey to the soldiery, or was carried off with the plunder of the army.
With unwearying fidelity to the cause of his country, he persevered in vindicating her rights to the end of her struggle for independence. In July, 1776, he participated in the first celebration of that great event, at Worcester. The charter of American liberty was first publicly promulgated by him, standing upon the porch of the town-house. It was received with the united acclamations of a vast multitude of citizens, who, under the open canopy of heaven, superadded to that of the National Congress their solemn pledge to support it with fortune, honor, and life. After the war, when the government began to assume a more permanent form, he extended his business, not only as a printer, but as a bookseller. The first paper-mill and book-bindery in this country were established by him. For several years, he employed seven printing-presses
in Worcester; and in Boston and its vicinity with Mr. Andrews, a partner in business, he furnished employment for nine more. He established the first newspaper in Walpole, New Hampshire, and in Brookfield, Massachusetts; and at these places, and also at Albany and Baltimore he was concerned in extensive bookstores. From these sources, much of the literature of the country was supplied. The systematic manner, in which the details of this mass of business were conducted, gave him an elevated character for skill as a merchant. In 1802, he withdrew from the more active avocations of his past life, and sought leisure and opportunity for literary pursuits.
In 1810 he presented to the public his “History of Printing,” in two volumes octavo, including a history of newspapers, with biographical sketches of the ante-revolutionary printers and booksellers in New England. This work manifested great research, persevering industry, and no inconsiderable share of learning. It passed the ordeal of the reviewers both in this country and Great Britain, and is received as a standard authority upon the subjects treated of in its pages. During the long period in which he contemplated the preparation of this work, and while engaged in its progress, he was continually laying aside for preservation, every book, pamphlet, and file of newspapers, that came in his way, which might aid him in this undertaking, or prove of future use to the historians of his country.
He likewise took unwearied pains, and expended large sums of money, in procuring from abroad valuable materials for the same object. To collect and preserve whatever could tend to illustrate the genius and exact condition of society at different epochs in its advancement from one state of improvement to another, was ever a favorite employment of Mr. Thomas, and formed a prominent habit of his life. Hence his library comprised many rare works, of which no other copies could be found, and which, but for his care, would have been lost to the world. It also contained the most valuable collection of Amer