Folio (16 1/4 x 10 1/2 in.; 413 x 268 mm). BINDING: Contemporary boards. PROVENANCE: John Aspinall (1716-1784)
Faintest dampstaining to the first two leaves, spine perished. Housed in a black morocco box.
The beginnings of printing in Virginia can be traced to 1682, when William Nuthead arrived in Jamestown with a press, seeking to print the acts of the Assembly. Gov. Thomas Culpeper threw him out, and Nuthead left for Maryland without issuing a single publication. Culpeper's successor banned printing altogether, and fifty years would pass before the establishment of printing in Virginia. In February 1728, William Parks, the official printer to the Maryland Assembly since 1726, seeking to expand his business, petitioned the Virginia Assembly for a similar position. Receiving the commission, Parks opened an office in Williamsburg in 1730. That year, he published what is generally credited as Virginia's first imprint: John Markland's Typographia: An Ode to Printing, a 15-page paean to Sir William Gooch, the governor who had approved the invitation to Parks. This survives on a unique copy, at the John Carter Brown Library. A handful of broadsides, almanacs and pamphlets followed, all surviving in single copies, until the publication of the present volume, the first work of any size published in the colony.
Edited and prepared for press by George Webb, this collection was the first collection of Virginia laws to be compared with the official scribal record by a committee of the General Assembly (John Holloway, John Clayton, Archibald Blair, John Randolph, and William Robertson) and is considered more accurate than any previous compilation, as well as being the first collection of Virginia laws to be published with legislative sanction. The work contains all the acts then in force from 1662 through the spring 1732 session of the Assembly. Most of the earlier laws would seem to have been copied from the London 1684 collection of Virginia laws, with the rest set directly from the scribal record. This included, among many historic acts, the first printing of the infamous slave code of 1705 (4 Annae, Cap. 49, see pp. 218-228), the foundation of Virginia's slave legislation which codified slave status, defining slaves as real estate, and acquitting masters who kill slaves during punishment, among other horrors. The work also includes the far reaching 1723 act passed in response to fear of slave insurrections (9 George I, Cap. 4, pp. 339-344), which all but precluded manumission, denied the rights of freed slaves to vote, prohibited assembly by slaves on pain of death and more.
About twenty complete copies have survived. Almost all of these have been in institutional collections since the early 20th century.
The present large paper example is more than three inches taller and an inch-and-a-half wider than other extant copies. Although we can find no reference to the work being issued in large paper, it was presumably done for presentation to important colonial officials. Besides Franklin's Cato Major and the 1736 Lewis Timothy printing of the Laws of South Carolina, this is the only pre-1750 American imprint of which we are aware, published in a large-paper issue. This example with provenance to John Aspinall of Standen Hall, who was educated for the law and became one of the serjeants-at-law and Recorder of Clitheroe.
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