Scarce Autograph of Founding Mother Mary Katherine Goddard, the First Female Postmaster, and First Female Publisher in America

Perhaps the only example of her autograph in private hands, relating to her publishing business.

Purchase $8,500

Among the most influential women of the Revolutionary War era, she actively espoused the patriot cause

In 1762, 22 year old William Goddard opened the first newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island, and the next year began publishing the annual West’s Almanack. A few years later his sister Mary Katherine Goddard and mother...

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Scarce Autograph of Founding Mother Mary Katherine Goddard, the First Female Postmaster, and First Female Publisher in America

Perhaps the only example of her autograph in private hands, relating to her publishing business.

Among the most influential women of the Revolutionary War era, she actively espoused the patriot cause

In 1762, 22 year old William Goddard opened the first newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island, and the next year began publishing the annual West’s Almanack. A few years later his sister Mary Katherine Goddard and mother Sarah Goddard came to join him. Mary Katherine forewent many of the usual activities for young ladies to work as a typesetter, printer, and journalist.  Although the younger William was ostensibly in charge, he traveled a great deal, and it was his sister and mother who were the true publishers of these publications. The mother/daughter team took over altogether in 1766 when William went to Philadelphia, and the women made their print shop a hub of activity at a time when newspapers exerted great political influence.  They added a bookbindery, and in addition to the Gazette and almanac, published pamphlets and occasionally books. They were the first woman publishers in America.

In Philadelphia William began another print shop and newspaper, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser. The women joined him there in 1768 and helped run the paper. After Sarah Goddard’s 1770 death, Mary Katherine kept the business running, as William was frequently jailed for public outbursts and rabble-rousing articles in the paper.  His sister’s contrasting business ability is clear in that, according to William Goddard’s biographer, “the shop [became] one of the largest in the colonies.” In May 1773, William left Philadelphia to start a paper in Baltimore, the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser, which was the first newspaper in that city, while Mary Katherine ran the Philadelphia newspaper until the following February, when the Philadelphia Chronicle was discontinued.  Moving to Baltimore, she once more took over her younger brother’s newspaper while, according to his biographer, “William busied himself in setting up an intercolonial postal system in opposition to the official British one.” With her mother dead and her brother prioritizing his political inclinations, Mary Katherine Goddard finally officially assumed the title of publisher of the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser.  She put “Published by M.K. Goddard” on the masthead on May 10, 1775, the first woman in America to place her name before the public as publisher. She ran the newspaper until 1784.

Then came a second milestone; in 1775, when the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General of the United Colonies (and soon, the United States), it named Goddard as the first, and only, female postmaster in America. Goddard’s dual position as postmaster and publisher in the major city of Baltimore gave her enormous influence; she was probably the most influential woman in America during the Revolutionary era, and used that influence to promote the patriot cause. Her Journal was one of the first newspapers to report the battles at Lexington and Concord that started the Revolution.  An editorial of June 14, 1775 proclaimed, “The ever memorable 19th of April gave a conclusive answer to the questions of American freedom. What think ye of Congress now? That day…evidenced that Americans would rather die than live slaves!”

When independence was declared in 1776, the signers of that document would have been executed for treason were their identities known. Copies of the Declaration of Independence were printed and circulated without signatures. In 1777, recognizing the excellence of her newspaper, Congress granted Goddard the honor of publishing the first copy of the Declaration of Independence with all the signatories listed.

She remained postmistress until 1789 when the first Postmaster General under the U.S. Constitution decreed that the head of the Baltimore postal system must be a man. So Goddard opened a bookstore, probably the first woman in America to do so.

Autograph document signed, Philadelphia, May 30, 1771, being a receipt directly related to her newspaper publishing. “Received of James Gibbins Fifteen Shillings in full for the Pennsylvania Chronicle for William Goddard. Mary Katherine Goddard.”

Our research has discovered only a handful other autographs of Goddard at any venue, and those are in institutions. There are none in records of public sale going back 40 years, nor have we seen one, or found anyone who has. This is an extraordinary discovery.

Purchase Now $8,500

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