James The Printer


James the Printer, aka James Printer, is a name familiar to some living in Grafton and surrounding towns.
He was the son of Naoas, brother of Tukapewillin and Annaweakin - all from Hassanamessit (a place of small
stones), aka Grafton, MA. When he was young, he was educated at the Indian charity school in Cambridge
and by 1659, he had become an apprentice to Samuel Green in the printing/publishing business - well
before Isaiah Thomas's time! Green was known as quite a prolific historian and many town library history rooms
have at least one of his volumes. Though Harvard was established decades earlier, Harvard incorporated
its charter in 1650, calling for “the education of English and Indian youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness.”

“Harvard completed building the Indian College in 1655 — a two-story brick structure intended to house twen-
ty scholars. The Indian College was the fourth building erected in the “Yard” and was situated near the
southern end where Matthews Hall now stands. Within the new Indian College, Harvard installed a press that
had previously been housed in the College president's house since 1638. From 1661 to 1663, John Eliot, "the
Apostle to the Indians," printed a translation of the Bible into the Wampanoag language-- the first Bible
printed in North America. John Eliot's translation remained in use some 200 years later. Between 1655 and 1672,
printing presses at the Indian College produced books and pamphlets, along with primers, catechisms, grammars,
and tracts— one-eighth of which were in Wampanoag. James Printer, a Nipmuc Indian who had attended
Harvard several decades earlier, worked the presses.” (History of the Indian College, Harvard Press)
Printer, a Nipmuc whose descendants owned land on Brigham Hill Road in Grafton long after his death
and John Sassamon, a Wampanoag, had graduated prior to the 1650 Charter and the 1655 actual Indian
College being built. In fact, the Indian College graduated only one Native American in the next several years as
others left early, died of disease or were killed. Within fifteen years, its promise to the Indians had been com-
pletely abandoned and English students were housed there. The Indian College two story brick building was
torn down in 1698.
 

 Printer and Sassamon had been extremely well-educated and had been schooled in Latin, as well as six of the
seven arts which included: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry,and Astronomy, and also Three
Philosophies (Metaphysics, Ethics, and Natural Science), and in Greek, Hebrew, and Ancient History. In addi-
tion, they had to be able to recite and translate Cicero and Virgil in Latin, and Isocrates, Xenophon, and the New
Testament in Greek.

James the Printer apprenticed and developed great skills in the printing field while balancing the ever-growing
divisiveness and conflict between his two worlds - Indians and whites. In fact, even those Indian tribes, of which
there were many, who were friendly to the colonists were mistreated as King Philip’s War broke out in
June 1675 in Rhode Island. By mid July, the metacomet in Packachoag (Worcester-Auburn area) had attacked Mendon and
killed five or six white colonists. Most Indians were killed, driven off and exiled to Deer Island where they starved and
froze to death or were sold into slavery. James the Printer, in allegiance or at least in a confused state as
to his allegiance to King Philip, the metacomet (Indian chief) left his printing apprenticeship during the conflict.
 

Another prolific author, Increase Mather, produced a record on July 8, 1676 after the war had concluded with
King Philip’s death, stating “Whereas the council at Boston had lately emitted a declaration, signifying, that such
Indians as did, within 14 days, come into the English, might hope for mercy, divers of them did this day return from
the Nipmucks. Among others, James, an Indian, who could not only read and write, but had learned the art of
printing, notwithstanding his apostasy, did venture himself upon the mercy and truth of the English declaration, which
he had seen and read, promising for the future to venture his life against the common enemy. He and the others
now come in, affirm that very many of the Indians are dead since this war began; and that more have died by the
hand of God, in respect of diseases, fluxes and fevers, which have been amongst them, than have been killed with the sword."
 

James the Printer's amor patriae was recognized as the understandable factor which led to his disappearance from the white world. In 1683, Mr. Eliot wrote to Hon. Robert Boyle in England "I desire to see it done before I die, I am so deep in years, that I cannot expect to live long; besides, we have but one man, the Indian Printer, that is able to compose the sheets, and
correct the press with understanding."

Eliot wrote again in 1684, " Our slow progress needeth an apology. We have been much hindered by the sick-
ness the last year. Our workmen have all been sick, and we have but few hands, one Englishman, one boy and
one Indian." By 1685, the second edition of the famous John Eliot Indian Bible was completed.
This Indian was definitely James the Printer as the only other Indian with these skills, at the proximal time,
was Job Nesutan who helped in the first edition of the Indian Bible. He was known as a courageous soldier
who had gone to fight with the English at the first battle at Mount Hope in 1675 where he was killed. Nesutan
was considered an excellent linguist in English and his native tongue. He had been Christian preacher John Eliot's
interpreter and assistant in publishing the first Indian Bible in Wampanoag as well as many other books in the Indian
language.
 

Further evidence indicates that Nesutan was probably a carpenter apprentice though very helpful as an interpreter. A September 10, 1660 letter reads "Two of the Indian youths formerly brought up to read and write, are put to apprentice - one to a carpenter and one to a printer." Though even the Christian Indians were driven out of their homes and
taken to Marlborough and then Deer Island where many starved or died of disease, a few of James the Printer's
descendants could still be found in Grafton in the early 19th century with the surname Printer. Also, in 1698,
there is a record that James the Printer, at the age of 68, was teaching five Indian families in Grafton. By 1709,
Printer was an established publisher: English Psalter, it is imprinted with:
 

BOSTON, N.E. Upprinthomume au
B. GREEN & J. PRINTER , wutche
guhtiantamwe Chapanukke ut New
England, &c, 1709.


The Massachusetts Psalter, or, Psalms of David : with the Gospel according to John : in columns of Indian and English : being an introduction for training up the aboriginal natives in reading and understanding the Holy Scriptures. Boston,
N.E. : Printed by B. Green and J. Printer for the honourable Company for the
Propagation of the Gospel in New-England, 1709.