When New York Feared The French

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In 1693 the people of New York had more to worry about than a fiscal crisis, as the newly revealed documents on these pages attest. The British colonies were in the fourth year of King William’s War—a bloody struggle that had already seen fierce wilderness fighting and the savage destruction of Schenectady by the French and their Algonquian allies. Now New Yorkers feared that a daring blow was to be aimed against Manhattan. Benjamin Fletcher, the royal governor, called upon the citizenry to rally to the colony’s defense, store up provisions, and pray for the success of English arms. The expected assault never materialized, but the colony remained jittery until the Peace of Ryswick officially ended hostilities between England and France in 1697.

These three documents, which illuminate that early moment of New York’s history, are part of an extraordinary collection of some of the first materials ever printed in that colony. They have just been acquired by the New-York Historical Society and are the work of William Bradford, the first printer in the colony of New York. Bradford, inspired by the teachings of George Fox, left England to join the Quakers in Pennsylvania in 1685. In his eight years there he became embroiled in so many civil and religious disputes that, when Governor Fletcher called him to New York, his presses and paper had been confiscated and he was languishing in jail. He managed the move, however, and served as New York’s official printer until 1742, ten years before his death. His output included New York’s first paper currency (1709), the first American Book of Common Prayer (1710), and New York’s first newspaper, the New-York Gazette (1725). But surviving examples of the documents he printed are rare, and the total of eleven that the New-York Historical Society has acquired constitute a unique find indeed.