A Woman's Touch: Ann Franklin, Printing Pioneer

Ann Smith was born in Boston, Mass. in 1696 to puritans Samuel and Anna Smith. For some context, this means she grew up during Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713) and witnessed the 1721 smallpox outbreak in Boston which killed 850 and infected approximately 6,000 in a population of just 11,000 people.
In a pivotal decision, on February 4th, 1723, she married James Franklin at the New North Church (Congregationalist), in Boston. Franklin, elder brother to Benjamin, founded the New England Courant in 1721 & the Poor Robin Almanacs. He was already a muckraker when she married him, as he had been jailed for four weeks in June 1722 for printing a report suggesting the Mass. Legislature was colluding with Newport pirates. His publications were notable for their use of proverbs, poetry, controversy and satire. He vocally opposed smallpox inoculation methods thereby crossing the powerful Cotton & Increase Mather. Younger brother Benjamin was indentured to him to learn the printing trade until he ran away to Philadelphia in September of 1723.
When the New England Courant was suppressed in Boston in 1727, James and Ann moved the press and the family to Newport, R.I. (pop. 4500) under the encouragement of his brother John, who was an establish chandler in the town. Thus the couple established the first printing press in the Colony of Rhode Island.
They used an English Ramage press that James brought from London to Boston, with type, in 1717. The original wooden press can still be viewed today at the Newport Historical Society  Museum on loan from the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association. It was on loan to the R.I.H.S. in 1959 when it graced the cover of Rhode Island History:

Women and children often worked in typesetting because of the intricacy of the hand work. Howard M. Chapin attributes the typesetting of A Perpetual Almanac to Ann’s “nimble hands” although the imprint carries her husband’s name. The R.I.H.S holds the only known copy of this broadside.

Alden 14 [1730?] Collection of the R.I.H.S.
On February 4th 1735 James died leaving Ann with four children and the printshop. Eight out of the ten known colonial women printers came to the trade by widowhood. As the owner of the only press in the colony, in 1738 she wrote to the General Assembly and petitioned for a contract to print the state documents. In 1730 James had petitioned for an annual salary and received one of £20. Ann never did.
Petition for printing, 1738, Petitions, Vol. 3, #82. Collection of the R.I. State Archives
“The petition of Ann Franklyn widow of James Franklyn late of  Newport aforesaid Printer Deceased Humbly sheweth That Whereas your Petitioner being left with Several Small Children which is a great Charge to her, & having not Sufficient Business at the Printing Trade Humbly Prays your Honours will grant her the favour to Print the Acts of the Colony & what other things that shall be Lawfull and necessary to be printed, in order for your petitioners Support & Maintainance of her family she having no other way to Support her Self.”
From 1735 to 1748 she ran the press with the assistance of two of her three daughters, less her son James Jr. who was apprenticed to Uncle Benjamin in Philadelphia. During this time Ann produced approximately 50 imprints including the Acts of the General Assembly for which she submitted individual bills to the State.
Zebulon Advised. Alden 46 (1738) (detail) Collection of the R.I. Historical Society
Ann added a new Caslon English typeface used in 1745 and a new Caslon Pica typeface used in 1746. She acquired at least 9 new type ornaments in her tenure. But two ornaments can be attributed to Ann alone, including one woodcut. We can not be sure Ann produced the woodcut herself but it may be.–it only appeared from her press on this one publication, Fair Rosamond (Newport: 1746.)
Alden 74, Reilly 1528. Collection of the American Antiquarian Society
Son James Jr. returned to Newport in 1748 at age 17 to “take over” the family business. They worked together until his death at age 30 in 1762, shortly after he began the Newport Mercury newspaper. She then partnered with printer Samuel Hall until her death in 1763.
The family had joined Ezra Stiles’ congregation in Newport and it is remarkable that in his records he notes her occupation as “printer”.
Stiles, Ezra. Schedule of Mortality, Newport, 1761-64.  [MSS 9001-S] Collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society
Her important role in the community was memorialized by her partner Samuel Hall who ran a fitting printer’s tribute to her in their newspaper the Newport Mercury on 27 April 1763. Note the traditional mourning borders usually reserved for other materials such as pamphlets.
Newport Mercury 27 Apr 1763.
Ann Franklin outlived all of her children. Her Rhode Island legacy is as a trailblazing woman of printing.
~Phoebe Bean, Librarian

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