Solomon Southwick

Inducted: 2010
Born: 1773
Died: 1839

Except for those Revolutionary War patriots who actually faced the bayonet charges or the merciless cannon fire of the British and their mercenaries, there probably were few other Rhode Islanders who put themselves and their families at more risk than “Patriot Printer” Solomon Southwick of Newport. Editor of the weekly newspaper Newport Mercury, Southwick was a strong advocate of American Independence in a town where allegiances were torn between mobs who trashed the dwelling of the local stamp-tax agent of the British and those elite opinion leaders known as “the Newport Junto,” who favored British rule. While most of Rhode Island’s mainland took up the patriot cause, mainly propelled by the rough handling Narragansett Bay shippers experienced from martinet British naval officers, there were a number of prominent people in Newport, Rhode Island’s leading town, who upheld the British cause. In fact, the six votes cast in the Rhode Island House of Deputies against the famous renunciation of allegiance of May 4, 1776, were those of the Newport delegation. To their mind, a rebellious newspaper editor who bought his ink by the barrel was an opponent whose opinion had to be silenced.

Southwick, the son of Solomon and Mary Southwick, lived in the Point section of town among the clockmakers, furniture makers, and other colonial craftsmen and was a member of the influential Quaker community. He received a formal education at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). Upon his return to Newport, he secured the political backing of a prominent merchant, Henry Collins, and married the widowed daughter of Lieutenant Governor John Gardner.

In addition to his newspaper work, Southwick was also a printer of books, almanacs, and pamphlets. In the years leading up to the Revolution, he enjoyed the patronage of the colony as the official printer of laws. Thus, he became one of the local printers of the Declaration of Independence. Southwick’s fealty to the American cause of Independence was reflected in the masthead motto of the Newport Mercury, “Undaunted by Tyrants–we’ll die or be FREE.” The consequences of a bold challenge to British rule became imminent when the Mercury suspended operations. Southwick dismantled his press and hid it just before Sir Henry Clinton and his army of British and Hessian troops arrived.

Beginning in December 1776, the British occupation of Newport lasted for nearly three years, and Southwick became a hunted man. He narrowly escaped capture, fleeing the town in an open boat with his wife and child, Solomon Jr., as a party of British regulars arrived on the shoreline. The Southwicks went first to Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and later to Attleboro, where Solomon resumed publishing the laws of Rhode Island. He was appointed Deputy Commissary General of Issues by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1777 and 1778.

Southwick arrived in Providence in 1779 and set up a printing office with Bennett Wheeler. This rebellious duo began to publish the American Journal and General Advertiser in March of that year. When the British evacuated Newport in October 1779, Southwick returned to the town and by 1783 was back in the book publishing business. Two years later, his name appeared again on the Mercury masthead.

His designation reflected the degree of public favor he enjoyed as one of four hosts to welcome George Washington to Newport in August 1790, when the nation’s first president came to acknowledge Rhode Island’s belated ratification of the federal Constitution. Solomon Southwick died in 1797 and was buried in Newport’s Common Burying Ground, where his memorial reads:

Just, generous, benevolent, and sincere…
Was he whose hallowed dust reposes here;
If ’er a partial prayer he breathed to heaven
That prayer was for his country glory given.

Southwick’s only son and namesake followed his father’s footsteps, becoming the publisher of the Albany Register and the holder of several important political positions in New York State.

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