North Carolina’s First Official Printing Press

A facsimile of The Journal of the House of Burgesses (1749), printed by James Davis. from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library

A facsimile of The Journal of the House of Burgesses (1749), printed by James Davis. from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library

On June 24, 1749, James Davis, a printer trained in Williamsburg, Va., printed the first official publication for the colony of North Carolina. Although printers had been active in some colonies for more than 100 years, North Carolina was slow in acquiring a public printer. The establishment of a press in the colonial capital at New Bern was due in large part to the actions of royal governor Gabriel Johnston.

North Carolina delayed acquiring an official press for three reasons. First, the provincial government liked to control the distribution of information and feared challenges to its authority. Second, North Carolina did not have the dense, urban population necessary to finance the large investment required to get a printing press. Third, presses in Williamsburg and Charleston made it easy to farm out print requests to neighboring colonies.

Complaints by Governor Johnston in 1736 prompted the Assembly to begin the process of hiring a printer and acquiring the press. In 1747, Johnston appointed James Davis to the position of public printer. His first task was likely the printing of currency. In 1749, Davis printed the Journal of the House of Burgesses of the Province of North Carolina, the colony’s first official publication.

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