Peter Edes, Bangor's First Printer

Peter Edes (1756-1840), the first printer in Bangor, one of the first publishers in Maine, was a patriot in the American Revolutionary War. His residence in Bangor was brief, but his family's impact on the Revolution and his own testimony were pivotal in the struggle for independence.

Peter's father Benjamin was co-owner, with John Gill, of the Boston Gazette and Country Journal, beginning in 1755. The** PLEASE DESCRIBE THIS IMAGE ** Edes and Gill print shop became a gathering place for Bostonians opposed to British rule, and the Boston Gazette published articles by John Adams, James Otis, John Hancock, Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams, and other patriots. In 1773, when Peter was seventeen, a number of Boston residents met at the Edes home to change into Indian costumes before dumping tea into Boston Harbor in what became known as the Boston Tea Party. (The China punch bowl used to serve punch to the party-goers remained in the Edes family until 1871 when it was given to the Massachusetts Historical Society.)

Peter Edes Diary Two years later Peter, too young to be a soldier, witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill from a vantage point on Copp's Hill. His enthusiastic reaction to the battle brought him to the attention of British troops, who arrested him two days later on charges of possessing firearms. Peter and his fellow prisoners were held captive for over three months, and his diary of that experience remains a testimony to the mistreatment of prisoners of war during the eighteenth century.

Once he was released, Peter continued to work as an apprentice at his father's shop in Boston until 1779, when he, his father, and his brother became partners. In October, 1784, he opened his own business at the American Exchange Towers on State Street. He started with job printing of pamphlets and books, and in late 1785 he began publishing a weekly newspaper, The Exchange Advertiser. The last issue was published in December, 1786.

On March 1, 1787, Peter began printing the Newport Herald in Newport, Rhode Island. In addition to the newspaper, he published state documents and political tracts aimed at encouraging Rhode Island to endorse the United States Constitution, and other job printing.

The Newport Herald suspended publication in 1791, due to financial difficulties, and Edes returned to the Boston area. For several years he did job printing, including printing for local booksellers. These imprints included John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and the first American edition of Charles Perrault's Fairy Tales, a volume that included "The Little Red Riding-Hood," "Cinderilla," and "The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots." Possibly the most influential imprint was the first American edition of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. (Susan B. Anthony donated her copy to the Library of Congress.)

Sketch of Printing PressPeter began printing the Kennebec Intelligencer in north Hallowell (now Augusta), Maine on November 14, 1795. This was later renamed the Kennebec Gazette and, later still, the Herald of Liberty. In North's History of Augusta, Edes was was described as "spirited, energetic and industrious, small in stature, with spindle shanks, his legs being quite deficient of calves, and as he dressed, according to the fashion of the time, in small clothes with long stockings to the knees, this defect was quite noticeable." In time, two other printers moved to the Augusta area. Because Peter's printing equipment was aging and the type was wearing down, he was not able to compete against these newcomers. He began seeking a new location. He considered Bath, but decided that Bangor would be better. A letter he wrote to Samuel Dutton about establishing a shop in Bangor is now in the archives of the Virginia State Library. In 1815, Peter Edes became the first printer in Bangor. He brought his press and types with him. The load, weighing four tons, required a team of six oxen and had to be taken over the Kennebec bridge one part at a time. The trip took twelve days and cost $143, which Edes apparently considered quite reasonable.

The first issue of the Bangor Weekly Register was dated November 25, 1815. The printed pages were 16 1/2 by 10 inches, with four columns to the page. The $2 annual subscription could be paid in "wheat, cheese, butter, eggs or cash." Despite these easy terms, the business was not a success. Edes was especially unhappy that he could find few newspaper subscribers outside of Bangor. He was too far away from Boston's booksellers to print books, although in 1816 he did print two books by Joseph Whipple, The History of Acadie, Penobscot Bay and River, and A Geographical View of the District of Maine. His daughter Maria assisted him in type-setting, while his wife Elizabeth and daughter Mary Ruth ran a school for young ladies, the first of its kind in the area.

The History of Acadie, Penobscot Bay and River Bangor Weekly Register

On August 2, 1817, Peter announced that the printing business at 43 Main Street (today the location of Rebecca's Gift Shop) and his house on Ohio Street were for sale. In December the business was bought by James Burton, Jr., who changed the newspaper's name to the Bangor Register and continued publishing it until 1831. Burton and his partner, John S. Carter, made the business more profitable by printing and selling lottery tickets.

Peter Edes moved his family to Baltimore where his son Benjamin owned a print shop. He worked for Benjamin, doing type-setting and keeping account books, until 1832. Both Peter's wife and his son Benjamin died that year of cholera in September of that year. At the age of 76, Peter returned to Bangor to live with his daughter, Maria Edes Sargent, until his death on March 29, 1840. On his return to Bangor he said, "Had I known how affairs would have turned out with me I would never have left Bangor, and would have preferred wading up to my knees in snow." He was the oldest printer in the United States at the time of his death, according to his obituary in the Baltimore Sun. Peter Edes is buried in the Sargent lot of Mount Hope Cemetery, along with his daughters Maria Sargent and Martha Edes.

Editorial Chair Printing Press

The printing press Peter brought to Bangor on an ox cart was eventually given to the Bangor Historical Society, along with the editorial chair that had been used by both Peter and his father. Both were stored in the Bangor Public Library and were destroyed in the 1911 fire. In 1930, a monument to Peter Edes was installed in what was then called Maltby Park, in front of Hammond Street Congregational Church. This location was chosen because it was in sight of his former home at 23 Ohio Street. On the monument is a replica of the first printing press used in Bangor.

Memorial Plaque

Known Imprints of Peter Edes

Sources of information:

Baltimore Sunobituaries
Bangor Public Library photograph collection.
Bangor Weekly Register,
vol. 1, no. 1, November 25, 1815.
Boardman, Samuel Lane. Peter Edes, Pioneer Printer in Maine, a Biography. Bangor, Printed for the DeBurians, 1901.
Edes, Peter. A Diary of Peter Edes, the Oldest Printer in the United States: Written During his Confinement in Boston, by the British, One Hundred and Seven Days, in the Year 1775, Immediately after the Battle of Bunker Hill. Bangor: Samuel S. Smith, 1837.
Fassett, Frederick G., Jr. A History of Newspapers in the District of Maine. Orono: University of Maine Studies, Second Series, No. 25, 1932.
Gilmore-Lehne, William J. U.S. Communications History Project One: Women and American Print Communications, 1638-1820.
Griffin, Joseph, ed. History of the Press of Maine. Brunswick: Bowdoin, 1872
Maine InfoNet
Massachusetts Historical Society
Online Catalog
Mount Hope Cemetery: Heritage in Stone
North, James W. The History of Augusta, Maine. Augusta: Clapp & North, 1870.
Smith, Edgar C. "The Edes Family." Sprague's Journal of Maine History, v. 9 no. 1, p. 32-35.


Whipple, Joseph. The History of Acadie, Penobscot Bay and River ... Bangor, Peter Edes, 1816.

BAIRNET wishes to thank the staff of the Bangor Public Library Reference Department for their assistance in compiling this information.

Updated 07/14/2009