A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Pushing Paper: Collections Highlight

For Rhode Island one of the most important events of the late 18th Century was the opening of paper mills in Providence. This was significant because early Rhode Island printers such as John Carter (1745-1814) and Bennett Wheeler (1756-1806) no longer had to rely on England or Boston for paper for their printing presses.  This was particularly exciting during the years of the American Revolution (1775-1783) when the British blockades would have otherwise silenced the political voice of Rhode Island citizens.

In the R.I.H.S. Manuscript Collection is a treasure that helps illuminate the Providence paper trade specifically during the years 1781-1789. An unassuming ledger of the business of the Thurber Brothers to be found found in MSS 9001-T.

Paper Mill Title

The ledger records sales for a paper mill and shows the high demand for their product. Most interestingly, it is here we can connect the paper mill with the local printers as we find accounts for both John Carter and Bennett Wheeler buying large quantities of paper.


Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785) was a great proponent of the paper mills as he recognized the independence this would give Rhode Island’s politicians and intellectuals. He had been instrumental in enticing Providence’s first printer, William Goddard (1740-1817), to town to start printing in the summer of 1762.

In early 1764 the first company was formed in Providence for the manufacture of paper. While production did not start until 1765, Hopkins was able to have his pamphlet The Rights of Colonies Examined, printed locally in November of 1764 which criticized both the Stamp Act and the British Parliament.


Carter took over Goddard’s press in 1767 and continued to print until his death in 1814. In 1780 Carter helped the war effort by printing for the new state with publications such as: “State of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations. In Council of War, August 2, 1780 : whereas Charles Holden, Esq; Commissary of Purchases, hath represented to this council, that it is impracticable…to collect a large quantity of the articles of grain, beef and pork…” These types of publications could then be widely distributed as the Council of War issued news to the citizens.

We can assume from the records that these items were printed in Rhode Island on Rhode Island’s own paper.

Many other examples of John Carter’s printing  up to 1775 can be viewed in our Online Broadside Gallery.

~Phoebe Bean, Librarian


Sources: Chapin, Howard M. “Early Rhode Island Paper Making.” In: The Americana Collector, vol. 2 (May 1926), p. 303-309.


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