A PRINTING DYNASTY
By Maureen Storey
This article was originally published in the April 2007 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
As family historians much of our time is taken up with collecting and recording the bare bones of people's lives. Frustratingly, despite our best efforts, we often know virtually nothing about the individuals except their dates and the names of their parents and offspring. It is perhaps even more frustrating when information we have leaves us with the opposite problem – we know of a single interesting incident but can't place the person concerned in a family, nor even determine his dates. For example, we know that in 1751 Captain Richard Sowle was acquitted at the Old Bailey of the murder of George Paschal, whom he had killed in a sword fight, but have yet to discover who Richard was and what became of him. Similarly it's doubtful if we'll be able to find out more about Ellena Solle than that in 1491 she was the prioress of the priory at Bungay, SFK. Just occasionally though, some of these interesting incidents fit together enabling us to build a picture of someone's life – as happened with Andrew Sowle and his family.
I first came across Andrew Sowle, typographer of Shoreditch, in the Middlesex quarter sessions records of 1678. He was charged with printing 'a scandalous and seditious book' entitled Persecution under Episcopancy with the intention of causing discord between the King and his subjects. The jury found Andrew not guilty. It was a couple of years later that I started collecting data from the probate records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) and found the will of Andrew Soule, citizen and stationer of London, which was proved in 1702. The beneficiaries were Andrew's wife, Jane, and his daughters, Jane Bradford, Elizabeth Bradford and Tace Soule. Was this the same Andrew? Or were they perhaps father and son? Since I was unable to find the family in church records I had no other evidence to go on and they were once again relegated to the 'who were they?' pile. Then came the clue to where to look for more information on Andrew and his family. If I've time to spare in a library I like to work my way along the local history shelves, checking through the indexes to see if any of 'our' names are mentioned. On the day in question I picked up the Minute Book of the Men's Meeting of the Society of Friends in Bristol 1686-1704 more in hope than in expectation and was rewarded by finding an entry for Tacy Sowle, printer.
The Society of Friends (or Quakers) was founded in 1648 by George Fox, a non-conformist religious reformer. Fox taught his followers to worship in silence and without clergy; people only spoke at their meetings when they felt moved by the Holy Spirit. Fox advocated simple living and abstinence from alcohol; he disapproved of, among other things, holidays, sport, the theatre and jewellery. The movement refused to pay tithes to the Church of England and to take oaths in court and thus found itself in conflict with first Cromwell's government and later the restored monarchy. As a result the early Quakers were persecuted and many, including Fox, served time in prison.
Because the printed word was the main means by which Quakers disseminated their teaching, they held printers in high regard. In 1659 and 1660, the Society of Friends, though an illegal organization whose membership constituted less than 1% of the population, published about 10% of all titles printed in England. It was from the Quaker records that I gleaned the following facts about Andrew Sowle and his family.
Andrew, the son of Francis Sowle of the parish of St Sepulchre in the City of London was born in about 1628. In 1646 he was apprenticed to Ruth Raworth, a printer renowned for publishing radical and reforming works. On completing his apprenticeship he set up his own press, probably in Shoreditch, London, where he seems to have spent most of his working life. Because he published Quaker pamphlets and books, Andrew's press was unlicensed and hence illegal. His printing house was often searched and his presses broken up and taken away, together with any Quaker material found on the premises. Because of this, Andrew's name does not appear on any of his printed material until 1680 (the act requiring printers to be licensed lapsed in 1679). Andrew rapidly became the principal publisher of Quaker material. He numbered among his friends not only George Fox but also William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Although he never went to America himself, Andrew was one of the first to buy land in Pennsylvania and to print a map of the new colony. In 1691 Andrew's failing sight compelled him to hand over the running of his printing house to his wife Jane and daughter Tace. He died of consumption in 1695, with his friend William Penn at his bedside.
It is believed that Andrew and Jane Sowle had at least ten children but that only the three daughters mentioned in his will, Jane, Elizabeth and Tace, survived to adulthood. So far I've not been able to find out much about Jane. Andrew's will calls her Jane Bradford and includes bequests for her children but neither her husband nor her children are named.
In 1685 Elizabeth married William Bradford, a Quaker and a former apprentice of her father and soon after emigrated to America. They took with them a printing press and the necessary materials to set up in business. They lived for a short time in Philadelphia where William established their press. It might be supposed that, since Pennsylvania was founded as a haven from persecution for the Quakers, William would have run into less trouble than Andrew, but this proved not to be the case. William repeatedly fell foul of both the civil authority and the Quakers for printing material of which they disapproved. The net result for William was several court appearances and a short spell in prison. To escape these problems William and Elizabeth moved to New York in 1693. Bradford was the first printer to set up a press in New York and for 50 years he held the office of public printer for the colony. In 1725 William began publishing and printing the New York Gazette, the first newspaper in New York. Elizabeth died in 1731 and was buried in Trinity churchyard, New York. William remarried but was buried beside Elizabeth when he died in 1752.
William and Elizabeth Bradford had four children: Tace, Luke, Andrew and William. Of these, Andrew followed in his father's footsteps and became a printer and the printing dynasty was continued by Andrew's adopted son William (the son of his brother William).
Andrew Sowle's third daughter, Tace, also became a printer of renown. She served her apprenticeship with her father and took over his mantle as the principal Quaker printer when his eyesight began to fail. After his death Tace ran the printing house in Lombard Street, London, first with her mother and then, after her mother's death in 1711, with her husband Thomas Raylton. Although a hosier by trade, Thomas helped Tace run the printing business until his death from asthma in 1723. Tace worked alone from 1723 until 1738 when she went into partnership with Luke Hinde. Luke is referred to as 'my nephew' in Tace's will, though I've yet to find out exactly how they were related. Tace and Luke continued in partnership until her death at the age of 84 in 1749. In her will Tace left Luke (she and Thomas had not had any children) her share of the business and the residue of her substantial estate. In Luke's hands the printing house continued to thrive.
Tace Sowle's achievements have been honoured by an organisation called Quakers Uniting in Printing. They have set up the Tace Sowle Fund, which supports Quaker authors and printers in less affluent countries. It gives small grants, from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, to assist with publication and translation costs.
The Quaker records have enabled me to find out a great deal about Andrew and his descendants. Now I need to establish to which family he belongs. Because the records give his father's name as Francis and because Tace is such an unusual name (it comes from the Latin taceo meaning I am silent), it is tempting to believe that Andrew is a son of Francis Soule and Tacie Cawdell who married in Winstone, GLS, in 1626. Perhaps some day I'll find the evidence to tell me if this is indeed so.
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