THE PRINTED word can be traced back in Jamaican history to the early 1700s. Printing began in 1718 with the publication of the Weekly Jamaica Courant, which holds the distinction of being the second regular newspaper in the Americas. Unlike in the Spanish and Portugese colonies where printing was used as a means of spreading colonisation, in the British colonies where sugar was the primary focus printing arrived slowly, more as an administrative tool a commercial vehicle.
In a 1717 dispatch to the British Council of Trade and Plantations Jamaican Governor, Sir Nicholas Lawes, describes printing as "of great use and benefit for public intelligence, advertisements and many other things...' (Cave, 1975, p. 12). He noted the usefulness of local newspapers to commerce and advocated for the establishment of a Jamaican press, helping to make Jamaica a centre of printing in the New World. Lawes' attitude marked a significant change in the perspective that had prevailed during the 1600s when printing was closely regulated by the government and restricted to London, specifically to Cambridge and Oxford Universities. During the latter half of the 17th century, following the Restoration of King Charles II, printing was severely controlled all unlicensed books and printing equipment were regularly subject to seizure. It was not until 1693 that the Licensing Acts that had so strictly regulated printing were loosened, and within a very short time printers spread all over England. Local newspapers abounded. In the colonies, however, progressive attitudes like Lawes' were slow to evolve. Many administrators were wedded to attitudes such as that of Virginian Governor Berkeley, who in 1671 thanked God there are "no free schools, nor printing, and I hope we shall not have, these hundred years; for learning hath brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best of government. God keep us from both" (as quoted in Cave, 1975, p. 11.).
PRINTING COMES TO CHURCH STREET
Not long after Lawes' 1717 dispatch, Englishman Robert Baldwin established his printery on Kingston's Church Street. Not surprisingly, Baldwin's first publication is noted as "A Pindarique Ode on the Arrival of his Excellency Sir Nicholas Lawes, Printed by R. Baldwin in Church Street in Kingston, MDCCXVIII." It is possible that Baldwin was awarded the sole licence to print on the island. He made a wise choice in locating his new venture in Kingston because it enabled him to have relatively equal access to both Spanish Town and Port Royal the island's two main towns.
Baldwin arrived in Jamaica with a wooden printing press with Dutch types. A meticulous man, he was conscious that the types might be hard to repair in Jamaica so he brought close to 20 cases of type with him. Some were still in use close to 3 decades later, long after his death. Baldwin also anticipated that paper supply would be a potential problem, so he also carried large stocks of paper of varying size. He did not arrive with any ink, however, which leads one to believe that he, like famed American printer Benjamin Franklin, made his own.