Tuesday, January 18, 2011

John Fleeming - Part One

   Let's turn our attention now to John Fleeming*, Dr Church's brother-in-law and the man to whom Church addressed the intercepted ciphered letter.

Boston 1768
   John Fleeming arrived in Boston on August 20th, 1764 aboard the sloop "Ann" from Glasgow. Nothing is known of his life before that and we do not know just how old he was when he arrived in Boston. ( John Mein, his future partner, arrived in Boston  in October, 1764, also from Glasgow.) Almost immediately upon his arrival, Fleeming became partners with a fellow Scot, William McAlpine, who had a small printing shop and bookstall in Marlborough Street. McAlpine's and Fleeming's names appear jointly on the title pages of a number of books printed in 1765 and 1766. They also printed books for John Mein. It is not known why Fleeming's partnership with McAlpine ended or why Fleeming, rather than McAlpine, became partners with Mein. What is known is that Fleeming returned to Scotland, purchased printing materials, hired "three or four journeymen" and returned to Boston on October 31, 1766. It appears from reviewing the court records of Longman's suit against Mein (see the Mein posts) that Fleeming had a half interest in these printing materials. It must be noted that Mein's book selling and lending business was entirely owned by him and Fleeming had no partnership in this. Easy credit was available in the mid eighteenth century since the principal would often be carried as long as the interest was paid and mein and Fleeming appear to have taken advantage of it.
   The Mein and Fleeming partnership was first established in a house in Wing's Lane, before a subsequent move to Newbury Street, "almost opposite the White Horse Tavern." The print shop was on the ground floor and Mein and Fleeming, both bachelors, and some of their employees lived on the second floor.

Newbury Street -
  Although we do not know the exact terms of the partnership and the precise relationship between the partners, the Mein and Fleeming partnership flourished. Mein  proved to be an excellent entrepreneur and, unlike other Boston publishers, advertised extensively and with a flourish. His frequent full page display in all the newspapers testified to his belief in the power of advertising. At the peak of their success, Mein and Fleeming had employed seventeen people in all of their enterprises. Even when the business was in decline in 1770, an inventory of the printing office revealed it was a two press shop and possessed no fewer than sixty five cases of type. Mein would later testify in England that he made between L40 and L60 per week from the bookstore and his stock was worth between L6000 and L7000 Sterling.
   Mein's acquisition of a printer partner profited him in another way. In his book selling business, he faced the Bostonians' belief that imported books were better than locally printed ones. The partners solved the problem practically, but hardly ethically. They falsely printed books with a London imprint that were actually printed in their printing shop. Modern researchers have established that the Scottish type that Fleeming brought back from his trip to Scotland is so distinctive and unlike anything that London publishers used "as to make its presence valid evidence of Mein and Fleeming printing even when their imprint does not appear..." It also speaks to the technical skill of John Fleeming and the quality of his presses and type.

   In 1767 Mein and Fleeming were in their ascendancy; the next logical step for them was to publish a newspaper. They published a prospectus in October of that year in which they proposed printing what became the Boston Chronicle because  they were being "repeatedly urged by a number of GENTLEMEN OF TASTE  to start a newspaper." The superior quality as well as success of the Boston Chronicle has been discussed in earlier posts. It appears that its content was almost exclusively the responsibility of Mein and that Fleeming was responsible for the printing and technical matters involved in publishing the newspaper. Mein has been characterized as an editor and publisher, not a printer. Some historians believe that the Chronicle was started as a government propaganda tool, but I don't believe that that was the case. It became a thorn in the side of the Whigs due, I believe, to Mein's personality and personal beliefs.
   The strongest evidence of an early link between Mein and Fleeming and the British authorities was the firm's appointment as stationer to the Board of Customs Commissioners on April 5, 1768. This sudden change, vociferously but vainly, protested by the previous stationers, Green and Russell (publishers of The Boston Weekly Advertiser) is taken by some as an official subsidy. The records of the Customs Board over the next seven years show that they paid Mein and Fleeming L819 for "Incidental Expenses" for stationary and "Salary as Stationer." Whether this was a subsidy or simply good business since one would assume that Fleeming's technical expertise would probably have produced a superior product for the Board is a matter of opinion. And, the Board continued to buy from Fleeming long after Mein was forced to flee Boston and the Boston Chronicle ceased publication.
   The success of the Chronicle as evidenced by its frequent sellouts and the decision to publish it more frequently as well as John Mein's "wars" with the Boston merchants and Whigs have been "chronicled' in the Mein posts. That Fleeming stood by his partner throughout his struggles is fairly well established. Whether or not he fired his pistol in the infamous incident that forced Mein to flee Boston had become moot for Fleeming since, after his partner's escape from the mob, he was not further bothered or molested by the mob or the Boston Whigs.  
   We should report what happened on October 28th, 1769 just after Mein and Fleeming escaped from the mob. Since the mob was thwarted in its attempt to exact revenge from Mein, they turned their attention to another victim. They seized one George Galer, suspected of informing on smugglers to the Customs Board. As later reported in the Chronicle, Galer "was stripped naked, put in a Cart, where he was first tarred, then feathered, and in this condition, carried through the principal streets of the town, followed by a great concourse of people." The way to the Liberty Tree, the spot to which victims of the mob's summary justice were usually taken, led along Newbury Street past the Chronicle office. There the mob amused itself by throwing rocks at the office building and breaking windows. An apprentice pressman, perhaps in panic and fear, fired a gun from the second floor. No one was hit; perhaps it was a blank charge. Nevertheless, the mob did not take too kindly to being fired at and stormed the printing office. Strangely, little damage was done. Some books were thrown about and two guns were taken, but the presses and the type fonts were, oddly enough, left undisturbed. The mob did not find anyone in the building; for the young man, fortunately for his own sake, and anyone else who might have been in the building made their escapes.

   No mention is made of Fleeming later that day. He probably also took refuge in the guardhouse with Mein and quietly returned home when the mob had dispersed. He made no mention of the altercation he and Mein had with the mob in any subsequent issue of the Chronicle, but  he did mention the Galer incident.
  Part Two of Fleeming's story will resume his story in Boston after the departure of his partner, John Mein.

* Some historians have insisted on spelling this as "Fleming." Fleeming, a literate printer, always spelled his name "Fleeming." Fleeming is an old Scottish name and I see no reason to spell it like Fleming, another old Scottish name.