The Lawyer's Pedigree



Background Notes

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: 

“Our Polly is a Sad Slut!
Nor heeds what we have taught her.
I wonder if any many alive
Will ever rear a daughter.
For she must have
both hoops and gowns
And hoods to swell her pride
With scarves and stays
and gloves and lace
And she will have men beside
And when she’s dressed
With care and cost
All tempting, fine and gay
As me should serve a cowcumber
She flings her self away.”2

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)

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
The Lawyer's Pedigree
Zechariah Fowle
Place of Publication: 
Boston, Massachusetts