October 1991

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By Their Books

Ye Shall Know Them


Robert G. Koch

It is interesting to speculate about Rochester from the Check List of local publications up to Rochester's incorporation as a city, in 1834. Rochester's first printed piece seems to have been Petitions for a Division of the Counties of Genesee and Ontario (for 1816-1820), as these giant counties began to spawn the smaller western New York counties that we know.

An 1816 Hartford, Connecticut, volume on Napoleon's campaign in Russia is attributed, secondarily, to Everard Peck of Rochester, probably as a boost to Peck's new bookbinding and book-selling business here.

Some other works are also attributed to Rochester before the book that "appears to be the first actually printed in Rochester," The Whole Duty of Women: A New Edition with Considerable Improvements, appeared in 1819. It was still another American edition of a 1753 British book—not, I think, a feminist tract. The following year Peck brought out The Life and Adventures of James R. Durand,…1801 to 1816, in which time [as the subtitle reads] he was impressed on Board the British Fleet and held in detestable bondage for more than seven years. The book of course reflects the recent war with Great Britain.

Then there's a Farmer's Calendar or Ontario and Genesee Almanac for the year of our Lord 1820: Being bisextile or leap year; the 20th year of the Nineteenth Century, and of American Independence,… the 44th year. Calculated for the latitude and longitude of Canandaigua (Ontario County, State of New York). Latitude 42 degr. 48 min. north—longitude 77 deg. 20 min. west; and will serve for any of the adjacent parts, without any essential difference. It could be purchased by the thousand, gross, dozen…with "Great allowance made to wholesale purchasers."

It is interesting that a Western Agricultural Almanac for 1822 was calculated for the latitude and longitude of Rochester (Monroe County), yet it would also serve for "any part of the Western District of the State of New York." By 1825 these calculations also served "the Province of upper Canada [read, Ontario], or [the] eastern part of Ohio." How printing and marketing could relocate emphases!

In 1821, the 45th year of the new nation, guides for those lacking various kinds of confidence were issued here. For example, The Young Christian's Guide, or Suitable Directions, Cautions, and Encouragements to the Believer, on his first entrance into the Divine Life, and English Grammar, adapted to the different classes of learners, which carried the assurance that, "They who are learning to compose and arrange their sentences with accuracy and order are learning, at the same time, to think with accuracy and order."

The following year, these two causes were at least partially amalgamated in The New England Primer, improved for the more easy attaining the true reading of English, to which is added the Assembly of Divines Catechism. There was also The Fashionable Letter Center: Art of Polite Correspondence…

A Treatise On Bowel Complaints: Intended for the Use of Physicians, Families, Parents, Masters of Vessels, etc. in the United States, was an appropriate entry from "Genesee fever" country.

Sermons, Biblical treatises, theological dissertations, and church matters are featured throughout the late 1820s and early 30s.

In 1824, we find Masonry. An Address to the Masons, on the Importance and Utility of forming Associations; spreading Light among Uninformed Brethren; securing their Funds from Failures, and establishing Academies, but three years later William Morgan's unfriendly revelations on Masonry appeared and in the same year the Narrative of the Facts and Circumstances Relating to the Kidnapping and Presumed Murder of William Morgan, etc. The following year, 1828 and again in 1829, amid other publications in the anti-Masonic tide is, not unsurprisingly, The Anti-Masonic Almanac…(with information on "childish mummery practiced by that pretended ancient and honorable institution while assembled and at work in their secret conclave.")

As Rochesterville worked its way toward incorporation as a boom town city, it was chastened by Rochester, A Satire, said to be Scotch dialect verse, some of it scurrilous; and a farce, The Falls of the Genesee, printed at Clinton, New York, and featuring Mr. Lovegold, a mill proprietor; Jonathan Nipclose, a millwright; Murphy O'Muddy, a man-servant; Mrs. Lovelace, and others.

The important agricultural periodical, The Genesee Farmer and Gardener's Journal was born in these years. Accounts of Indian wars, records of the local African American church, the launching of the Rochester Athenaeum, political pamphleteering during the rise of Jacksonianism, Thanksgiving sermons (in December), and temperance tracts were all part of Rochester printing and publication.

Then in 1834, alongside another almanac, sermons, a Eulogy on the life and character of La Fayette, and The Complete and Fashionable Letter Writer, appeared the Charter and Directory of the City of Rochester, which also listed "statisticks, population, city officers, public buildings, institutions, fire department, etc."

We'll look in again sometime on how printing and publishing in Rochester can be used to read the community's pulse and blood pressure during a later era.

© 1991, Robert G. Koch
Index to articles by Robert G. Koch
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