SOWER (Sauer, Saur), CHRISTOPHER, printer and office-holder; b. 27 Jan. 1754 at Germantown (Philadelphia, Pa), eldest son of Christopher Sower and Catharine Sharpnack; m. 8 Jan. 1775 Hannah Knorr at Philadelphia, and they had five surviving children; d. 3 July 1799 at Baltimore, Md.
Christopher Sower’s grandfather was a German Baptist who had established a celebrated printing business at Germantown in 1738, and Christopher joined his father as a partner in the firm in 1775. The publication in 1776 of antirevolutionary articles brought about a partial suspension of business, and in 1778 Sower and his family were forced to flee to New York. For several years Sower worked principally as an undercover agent for Major John André. In 1781 he visited England in an ineffectual attempt to promote the peace proposals of moderate loyalists, and following the cessation of hostilities he returned there. With merchant Brook Watson*’s assistance he successfully applied for compensation for his losses and for an official post in a British North American colony. He was appointed the first king’s printer and deputy postmaster general for the new province of New Brunswick.
Sower took up his new posts in 1785. He brought a press from England and began publishing his weekly newspaper, the Royal Gazette and the New Brunswick Advertiser, at Saint John on 11 October. His appointment was resented by William Lewis and John Ryan*, two loyalists who had been operating a post office and printing a newspaper in Saint John since 1783, and an acrimonious controversy developed. Ryan and Sower were later reconciled; Ryan operated the Sower press from 1790 until 1796 and succeeded Sower as king’s printer.
From his arrival until 1798, Sower also printed the journals of the House of Assembly and the acts of the General Assembly. In 1787 and 1788, however, Ryan received the contract, perhaps as a result of quarrels between Sower and the House of Assembly. In 1792 the assembly required Sower to move his press to Fredericton; he thus undertook the first printing done in the capital. Other government contracts included such curious ephemera as a handbill forbidding members to wear creepers (spiked boot attachments useful on ice) in the parliament buildings. Sower also printed items such as a confession by two condemned criminals and a religious treatise, but the most interesting of his non-official publications were several almanacs, which continued a tradition established by his grandfather in 1739.
As deputy postmaster-general Sower was continually involved in controversy. He condemned private mail couriers, was accused of opening official mail, and conducted a fierce but unsuccessful campaign to make Saint John the overseas mail packet terminal. An excitable man, Sower interpreted the views of the radical faction in New Brunswick as a threat parallel to that posed by American rebels in 1776. But although he was a solid conservative, he was critical of the ruling faction as well. In his only entry into active politics he was defeated in his bid for a House of Assembly seat in 1795.
After living in Saint John until 1790, Sower moved to a country property on the Hammond River. He had been troubled by ill health, and reports of changed conditions in the United States so reassured him that he decided to return to the warmer climate of his birthplace. He resigned as king’s printer in March 1799 and died suddenly in Baltimore while negotiating for a press.
PRO, AO 12/38, 12/100, 13/102, 13/270. Royal Gazette and the New Brunswick Advertiser (Saint John), 1786–98. Saint John Gazette and Weekly Advertiser (Saint John, N.B.), 1786–99. DAB. Tremaine, Bibliography of Canadian imprints. James Hannay, History of New Brunswick (2v., Saint John, N. B., 1909). E. W. Hocker, The Sower printing house of colonial times (Norristown, Pa., 1948). J. R. Harper, “Christopher Sower, king’s printer and loyalist,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., no.14 (1955), 67–109. J. O. Knauss, “Christopher Saur the third,” American Antiquarian Soc., Proc. (Worcester, Mass.), new ser., 41(1931), 235–53.
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Cite This Article
J. Russell Harper, “SOWER, CHRISTOPHER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sower_christopher_4E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||J. Russell Harper|
|Title of Article:||SOWER, CHRISTOPHER|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1979|
|Year of revision:||1979|
|Access Date:||March 22, 2023|