John Anderson, Sr. (1733-1798) had barely published a year’s worth of his paper, The Constitutional Gazette, before he earned the title of “the rebel printer” —effectively opposing James Rivington’s loyalist paper, The Royal Gazette. His reputation was most likely supplemented by printing New York’s first edition of Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Anderson was a native of Scotland, but also a “thorough republican,” as described by his youngest son, Alexander Anderson, in A Brief Sketch of Dr. Anderson’s Life. History has proven as much.

Alexander Anderson, John Anderson (1733-1798), Object 1912.13, New-York Historical Society. Gift of Daniel Parish, Jr.

Anderson was forced to flee with his wife, sons, and printing press when the British invaded and occupied Manhattan in August of 1776. A year earlier, on June 6, 1775, he penned this letter, in rhyme, to his wife Sarah, née Lockwood:

My Dear I would have wrote before
But always huried Less or more
I am not like some Lazey loppers
but always catching at the Coppers
This Day upon the run and Rattle
Requanting many of a battle
its near to Boston it fell out
and oh, it made a Woefull rout
amongst the Red coats and Marin
a Wofull Light as they have seen
besides what died of there Wound
Two Hundred Lay upon the ground
To write you all is not Suppos’d
Two hand Bills I have you Inclos’d
Read them Oe’r and you’ll find out
How it Begun and all the Rout
When you read this you’l Say its funney
But not so much When from your Jorney
Sally Dear take up your pen
And Write to me a few lines again
it will give me infinit pleasure
To read it over at my Leasure
its Mother, Ruth, and Rushie too
I hope that they are well to do
The Greatest care of my Concerns
is My Dear Wife and little Bairns
Long may they live and have Gods blessing
gainst Satans Wyls be always pusshing
so Long as they and theirs remain
forever more and AMEN

Anderson was possibly referencing the Battle of Lexington and Concord when he was “Requanting many of a battle”; it was the first and only major battle of the American Revolution at that time to recount. John Anderson later joined a regiment in Greenwich, Connecticut where he served as Captain of the Alarm List.

Less is known about Sarah Anderson, though from her son Alexander’s recollections, she was strict, creative, and knowledgeable. Alexander recalls that she once dissolved indigo in water to draw faces and amuse her sons. One might imagine she appreciated this cleverly written, playful letter from her husband.

John Anderson, Sr. to his wife Sarah Anderson, dated June 6, 1775. Alexander Anderson Papers, MS 20, New-York Historical Society

The Anderson family stayed in Greenwich with a friend of Sarah’s until the end of the war. They returned to Manhattan soon after the British departed. John Anderson would later run a successful auction house at 77 Wall Street. Both he and Sarah tragically passed away during the yellow fever epidemic of 1798, but their affection lives on, crystallized in time.

(For more on the Anderson family, read “Of Some Consequence.” Alexander Anderson: Distinguished Doctor, Accomplished Artist.)

This post is by Crystal Toscano, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.

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