the document in different resolutions

From the collection of the Deutsches Historisches Museum:

First Printing in German of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, July 4, 1776


Reimer Eck*

German Language Printing in the American Colonies up to the Declaration of lndependence (part 2)



view Sauer's first almanac

II. The Beginnings and Christopher Sauer the Elder

The first German-language printing in the colonies was done by the American printing pioneers Andrew Bradford and Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia who contracted for some small printing jobs for the communities of German sectarians that had started to immigrate to Pennsylvania from the end of the seventeenth century onwards. Throughout the eighteenth century German immigrants preferred Pennsylvania because it soon possessed an established and prosperous German community and was particularly hospitable to German immigrants due to its ethnic and religious tolerance as was the intention of the colony's founder, William Penn. German-language printing was to concentrate, here in Pennsylvania until the Revolution. The majority of the German-language reading public would live here for a long time. Here the printing of the Declaration of Independence in German would involve the considerable German minority of the colonies into the decisive revolutionary process of modern times.

The beginnings of German language printing fall into the years between 1728 and 1737. Aside from the contracted printing of some hymnals and collections for the sectarians Bradford tried his hand at a German almanac for the years 1730 to 1732 and Benjamin Franklin published a German newspaper in 1732 that ceased publication after two issues.

In 1738, Christopher Sauer entered the scene of colonial German printing, a scene that he and his successors would dominate or at least thoroughly influence until the Revolutionary period. Johann Christoph Sauer was born in 1695 in Ladenburg on the Neckar as son of a minister of the Reformed Church. Then Sauer lived in Laasphe, which belonged to one of the small Hessian principalities that gave shelter and support to various groups of Inspired and Radical Pietistic sectarians. Throughout his life Sauer would stay in loose contact with these groups without ever definitely joining any of them. In 1724, Sauer immigrated to Pennsylvania where in 1734 he settled down in Germantown. Originally Sauer had learned the trade of a tailor, but he soon proved that he had further considerable mechanical and artistic skills. Before making his name as a printer in the colonies, he enjoyed a considerable reputation as clockmaker. Further he sold patent medicines and books imported from Germany. Furthermore he tried his hand at bloodletting. Since 1735, Sauer attempted to procure the equipment for a printing shop from Germany. After having failed with his plea in Halle at the central Institution of the German Lutheran Mission overseas, he finally managed to get hold of the then unused smaller press that had formerly been used by the radical pietists in Berleburg. Probably with the press he also received German printing type. Most probably a former acquaintance, the inspired religious author Christoph Schütz from Frankfurt was instrumental in these transactions. Sauer managed to produce printer's paint himself and soon he was able to sell this product to other printing houses. It seems to have been more difficult to procure a sufficient amount of paper for the new shop. The Philadelphia area was a center of colonial paper production but the paper trade was controlled by Benjamin Franklin who observed the establishment of a new German printing shop in Germantown with limited enthusiasm.

The German printing type was bought from the Egenolff-Luthersche Schriftgiesserei in Frankfurt/Main. Thus Sauer was the first printer in the colonies to print in German Fraktur, so that his printing in typeface and setting came comfortably close to what the German immigrants were used to from home. The Egenolff type was widely used in Protestant Germany at the beginning of the eighteenth century, which added to the popularity of the products of Sauer press. Franklin had to use his usual Caslon Antiqua, or Roman letters, which must have appeared rather strange to his German reading public. Dr. Heinrich Ehrenfried Luther, owner of the Frankfurt type foundry, was very proud that his type had been introduced into the new world. Repeatedly he presented German American books printed in his type to influential personalities in Europe. One of the beneficiaries of this generosity was the Hanoverian Prime Minister Gerlach Adolf Freiherr von Münchhausen, who also corresponded with Luther in the matter of soliciting German immigrants for the colonies. We should note that Luther and von Münchhausen belong to the small group of distinguished Germans that was visited by Benjamin Franklin during his short trip to Germany in 1766. The various gifts of specimens of German-American printing that Luther sent to Hanover invariably ended up in the collections of the Göttingen University library, which von Münchhausen considered to be one of his favorite foundations. Thus the library at Göttingen obtained a rather distinguished collection of very rare German-American imprints. Some of them have remained unique copies to this day.

One of these is Christopher Sauer's first almanac for the year 1739. For forty years, the Sauers printed and published this almanac that in later years is supposed to have had a circulation of up to 10000 copies.

Almanacs proved to be the mainstay of colonial printing. This goes for the Sauers as well as for Franklin and his English-speaking colleagues. Except from a few ports along the coast, the colonies were settled by individual farmsteads that often lay far apart. It is this large rural population that year after year needed a constant supply of almanacs. The annual calendar proper contained weather forecasts, the times of the rising and setting of sun and moon, information on the chapters from the Holy Scriptures to be read on Sundays plus sundry practical advice for the farming community. A more official part gave tables of interest on money lent, exchange rates for the various foreign currencies circulating in the colonies, distances of the major towns in miles and the dates when the regional courts and fairs met in various places. Generally the almanac contained some advertising, in particular what books imported or printed in the shop could be procured from the printer, and finally some reading matter was added in the vane of proverbs and sayings and short fables similar to what Benjamin Franklin had made famous throughout the colonies in his "Poor Richards Almanac". At times these additional pages were also spiced with some political advice.

In his first year as printer, Sauer also produced a German primer of which no copy has survived, and he began to print a large hymnal of more than 800 pages for the Seventh Day Baptist Community in Ephrata, Pa. As a newcomer to the trade, Sauer had his initial difficulties and he learned his new business the hard way. At the same time he was given some professional advice by members of the Ephrata Community who had worked before in Germany as type-setters and proof-readers. Thus Sauer gained so much experience in printing, that his shop very soon became the most productive and influential among the Germans in the colony.

In 1739, Sauer also started to print a German newspaper that was published in Germantown under varying titles by the Sauer family until 1777. The most famous and ambitious product of the early Sauer press was the Germantown Bible issued in the year 1743 in a large quarto edition. It was the first Bible to be published in the colonies in a European language. Since Sauer added some Apocrypha to the received canon of Luther's translation, he was severely criticized by the Reformed and Lutheran ministers in the colonies. He even had to change the original title page where he had referred to the Apocrypha as a "usual supplement. Still the established churches continued to recommend German imports of the Bible to their parishioners. Twelve hundred copies of the Germantown Bible were printed, and it took twenty years until his son, Christopher Sauer II, had to print a new edition, a third was printed during the Revolution in 1776. The printing of a large Bible must have put considerable strain on the resources of the Sauer Shop, in particular because the Bible did not sell as well as originally expected. It seems that Sauer procured most of his printing paper on credit from Benjamin Franklin. Franklin's ledgers show, that even later, in the years 1744 until 1748, Sauer ran up a considerable debt of 66 £ Sterling. In June 1749, Sauer paid this dept by handing over to Franklin 40 £ worth of German type, the rest of the debt he paid in cash. By that time Sauer no longer had the monopoly on German printing-type in the colonies. Since 1745, the Ephrata Brethren ran their own press, and since 1747, Gotthard Armbrüster, most probably supported by Franklin capital, printed German almanacs, pamphlets and newspapers in Philadelphia. The distrust the established German churches maintained against the separatist Sauer gave several lucrative printing jobs to Benjamin Franklin and the German presses supported by him. Thus Franklin printed the first German reformed catechism in 1742, still in Roman letters, in 1749, he printed the first German Lutheran Catechism, and in 1748, Gotthard Armbrüster printed the first English Grammar for Germans. In his brief partnership with Johann Böhm from 1749 to 1751 Franklin produced some particularly beautiful German books, like Johann Arndt's "Bücher vom wahren Christentum", a richly illustrated book of more than 1300 pages, the copper prints having been produced in Germany.

In the same period, Christopher Sauer's press produced religious works, sermons, hymnals, textbooks for religious instruction and naturally almanac and newspaper. For his political outlook and attitude one - today very rare - print seems to be representative. In 1743, he printed a collection of the original charts of rights and privileges guaranteed by William Penn to the inhabitants of the colony, a series of documents he would refer to when political matters had to be discussed. In religious matters Sauer remained a separatist in the truest sense of the word, always wary of the established churches and in particular of any unification schemes among the German Protestants, regardless of who represented the proposing side. In political matters Sauer was a staunch supporter of the small Proprietary Quaker Party that dominated Pennsylvania politics and adhered to the principles of rigorous individual religious freedom and pacifism. Serious, sincere, religious and conservative in outlook and conviction, Sauer and his newspaper were a thorn in the flesh of any progressive politician in the colonies. Benjamin Franklin and his political allies fought many a journalistic fight with Sauer and it would take some time until a majority of the strong German element in the colony would support political progress.




view history calendar

view Benjamin Franklin's catechisms

* Special Subject Librarian (Anglo-American language and literature), Project Manager at the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, co-editor of the bibliography "The First Century of German Language Printing in the United States of America"



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