At seven years old, Isaiah Thomas was placed in an apprenticeship with the printer Zechariah Fowle in Boston. Fowle was a poor printer, and it was not long before Thomas had learned the trade and conducted business better than his master.
When he was sixteen, Thomas left his apprenticeship in Boston illegally to learn his trade in the very center of the English-speaking world – London. Unfortunately he did not quite make it. In 1765, he left Boston and sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia. In Halifax he worked for the town’s only printer, Anthony Henry, who also turned out to be inept at his business and soon left the newspaper, The Halifax Gazette, in the care of Thomas.
Thomas was in Halifax when the Stamp Act was enacted, which imposed a tax on anything printed. Thomas, like many printers at this time, hated this action by the Royal government, as it was very harmful to business. Thomas published many articles against the Stamp Act, printed the tax stamp upside down, and even created images of the devil attacking the stamp, before he resorted to cutting all the stamps off of his supply of paper. For his actions he got into trouble with the local authorities and was forced to leave Nova Scotia after only seven months. Nonetheless, Thomas’s actions illustrate just how much influence colonial printers held.
The two images from The Halifax Gazette shown here illustrate some of the ways Thomas spoke out against the Stamp Act. One replicates the Pennsylvania Journal, which came to Halifax via a sailing vessel and which showed black mourning bars and a skull and cross bones illustration to signify the potential death of the paper. The other shows a woodcut of the devil attacking the Stamp Act. This woodcut was created by Thomas himself.
Exact Title: The Halifax Gazette or the Weekly Advertiser
Author/Creator: Isaiah Thomas
Place of Publication: Halifax, Nova-Scotia