The Lawyer's Pedigree
This broadside was the first item Isaiah Thomas ever set in type and had printed for Zecheriah Fowle. Thomas was only 6 and did not know how to read, write or spell. Fowle provided an 18 inch high bench for his young apprentice to be able to reach the type cases.
Since he could not read, he could only proceed by comparing the pieces of type with the printed copy before him. It took him two days to set the 56 short lines of the ballad but even that showed genius if, as he intimates, he received no help in selecting the italics and distinguishing the “d” from the “b”. 1
The Lawyer’s Pedigree was a ballad on broadside, which was a very common form of entertainment and was on of Fowle’s main sources of income from his shop.
The tune mentioned in the corner, “Our Polly is a Sad Slut” comes from “The Beggars’ Opera” written by John Gay in 1728. 18th Century musicals tended to be very frank in their sexuality. Though the words in “The Lawyer’s Pedigree” are not as overt, the original words to the melody are a bit more forward:
Nor heeds what we have taught her.
both hoops and gowns
With scarves and stays
and gloves and lace
1. Clifford K. Shipton, Isaiah Thomas: Printer, Patriot & Philanthropist (New York: Leo Hart, 1948), 6
2. J.J. Woodward, The British Drama: A Collection of Most Esteemed Tragedies, Comedies, Operas & Farces in the English Language, Vol I (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippencot & Co., 1859)
Exact Title: The Lawyer's Pedigree
Publisher: Zechariah Fowle
Place of Publication: Boston, Massachusetts