TIFFANY, SILVESTER (Sylvester), officer holder, printer, journalist, and publisher; b. 9 Aug. 1759 in Norton, Mass., eldest son of Gideon Tiffany and Sarah Farrar, née Dean; m. first Frances Hopkins, née Davis, and they had three children; m. secondly Elizabeth Ralston, and they had five children; d. 24 March 1811 in Canandaigua, N.Y.
Silvester Tiffany entered Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., in 1775 and left two years later without graduating, apparently to become a printer and journalist. In the New York census of 1790 he was listed in Albany with his family and a slave, and the following year he appeared in Lansingburgh (Troy), N.Y., where he published the American Spy in partnership with William Wands. This journal ceased publication in 1792, and in 1793 Tiffany founded Tiffany’s Recorder, which folded in 1794. For at least a year he had maintained a printing establishment in Lansingburgh. Tiffany’s younger brothers Oliver and Gideon* emigrated to Upper Canada in 1794, settling at Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). At the insistence of Lieutenant Governor Simcoe Gideon succeeded Louis Roy* as king’s printer. Late in 1795 or shortly thereafter Silvester, accompanied by his family, joined his brothers. On 7 Jan. 1797 he petitioned for lands, his “views being to agriculture,” and for a town lot in Newark. On 11 March the Executive Council granted him, as “an assistant to the Kings Printer,” 400 acres.
The duties of the king’s printer were to print proclamations, speeches, copies of laws, and commissions, but the principal responsibility was the government paper, the Upper Canada Gazette. As early as 1795 Simcoe had encouraged Gideon Tiffany to “print all news” and to found the character of the Gazette upon truth. The lieutenant governor added that he preferred Tiffany to print, “if it appears to be true, [that] which is most favorable to the British Government.” The following year he prohibited Tiffany’s practice of obtaining paper from Albany rather than Montreal and directed him to refer to Executive Councillor Peter Russell, the Niagara merchant Robert Hamilton, and Surveyor General David William Smith* for assistance “with subjects” for the paper. Simcoe had decided to remove the capital to York (Toronto) and warned Tiffany that “remaining at Niagara is precarious.” Gideon Tiffany ceased to be government printer on 5 July 1797 and by 20 September had been replaced by Titus Geer Simons. Silvester continued as Simons’s assistant until 1 May 1798. The paper was moved to York the following September.
Official concern with the political content of Gideon Tiffany’s Gazette had been hinted at in Simcoe’s letter of 1795. By February 1798 Silvester had transformed concern to outright hostility. Chief Justice John Elmsley was critical of “unprincipled & unattached republicans” in the province and demanded Simons’s dismissal as king’s printer because “the Tiffany’s are the real managers.” Elmsley accused them of having ignored in their columns such important items as the king’s address to parliament, “while every trifle relating to the damned States is printed in large character.” The following month Elmsley reported to Smith the Tiffanys’ “intention of getting up a paper, for the purposes of disseminating political knowledge.” On 30 April Silvester Tiffany wrote to Russell about “a prosecution . . . to be instituted against me.” Apparently the chief justice had broached the subject of treasonable or seditious conduct and Tiffany urged an inquiry. He, in fact, welcomed the notoriety: “Popularity is my object, and interest. . . . I cannot wish it entirely to subside.” The self-styled “people’s printer,” Tiffany believed their interests “inseparable” from the king’s. But he alerted Russell that it was beyond his power in his present position to reconcile “the minds of many to present measures, and nothing short of my proposed undertaking can ever effect it.”
Silvester and Gideon Tiffany published the first issue of the Canada Constellation (later the Canadian Constellation; at Newark on 20 July 1799. They addressed it to the “unpredjudiced only . . . of these are our Patrons, lovers and promoters of useful knowledge . . . who wish to see man not debased below, but on a level with man, his capabilities enlarged, and his abilities to serve his God, his King and country strengthened. It is a truth long acknowledged that no men hold situations more influential of the minds and conduct of men, than do printers. . . .” Niagara merchants were not as hostile to the Tiffanys’ alleged American political sympathies as were York administrators. On 4 August Hamilton, “anxious to encourage an undertaking which . . . may be usefull,” informed John Askin that he had put his name down as a subscriber and encouraged Askin to enlist the support of neighbours. But the Tiffanys’ supposed political inclinations and general demeanour continued to irritate the government. Earlier that year Gideon had been imprudent enough to add lines to the royal anthem at a social gathering: “God save america and keep us from dispotic Powers.” In April Attorney General John White* had informed Russell that Silvester had made allegations about the Executive Council and claimed that the administrator “had charged the public with the expence of advertizing for a Negro Wench.” White insisted that Tiffany and his brothers “cannot be too soon got rid off.” Government support was important to early printers and Silvester Tiffany had few friends left in official circles. He drew upon his masonic affiliation with Provincial Secretary William Jarvis, urging him to “assist us.” On 11 Jan. 1800 Silvester left the paper, which folded the following July. At some time during that year he became postmaster.
Silvester Tiffany printed the first issue of his new paper, the Niagara Herald, on 17 Jan. 1801. He attributed the failure of the Constellation to departing from the principle of payment in advance and promised his readers that he had learned a lesson. But he had not learned all his lessons. Not adept politically, he managed in his first issue to raise again the controversy about his alleged American sympathies. Simons had recently printed in the Gazette “An ode for Her Majesty’s birthday,” which Tiffany suggested in the Herald had been written by Simons’s dog, Sancho. No doubt aware of Elmsley’s desire for a printer “of unquestionable attachment to the British Constitution,” Simons seized the opportunity. In the Gazette he depicted the province as “an asylum to exiles and aliens, to atheists and prawling democrats” and challenged Tiffany with having been taught “in the school of embryo republicanism, where you received the rudiments of your faith, your politics and education.” Simons could not resist an added gibe at Tiffany’s physical appearance, labelling him “mr. Cripple critic.” Tiffany replied in kind that although “certainly a cripple . . . [he] is extremely thankful that he is what he is, and anything but Sancho and his poetry.” He added that he was neither exile, nor alien, nor atheist. The issue of the political beliefs of American settlers continued to appear in the Herald’s columns over the names of various correspondents until 23 May when Tiffany announced he would no longer risk libel by printing anonymous pieces. As late as December “A True Briton” attacked Tiffany in the Herald for anti-ministerialist remarks about the peace negotiations between Great Britain and France.
In January 1802 Tiffany began accepting produce in lieu of cash from his subscribers because of the shortage of circulating currency and the following month he increased the cost of subscriptions. That same year he published Tiffany’s Upper Canada almanac. Plagued by financial problems, the Herald continued at least until 28 August. By the end of the year he was settling his affairs, including selling his slave, “to remove from this country early in the spring.” He was still grand secretary of the masons as late as 24 April 1803 and thereafter resigned. Tiffany was bitter about his departure to New York State: “Necessity is the choice I make: I unwillingly return. . . . My old, or present [allegiance], I shall consider wholly done away. He took up residence on a small lot in Canandaigua and there published the Ontario Freeman until his death. In a letter to Jarvis on 12 Feb. 1804 he urged him, “Never let Yankee spirits flag.”
AO, MS 517, 22: 58, 61, 77; MU 1730, J. Elmsley to Hunter, 27 March 1800; RG 1, A-I-6: 2921–22; C-I-3, 13: 100; 14: 304. MTL, William Jarvis papers, B50: 351–52; B55: 22–32; Peter Russell papers, J. White to Russell, 23 April 1798; S. Tiffany to Russell, 30 April, 13, 21 May 1798; Henry Weishburn to Russell, 13 March 1799; D. W. Smith papers, B8: 29–32; B11: 190. PAC, MG 24, A6, letterbooks, 1799–1805: 74–75 (transcripts); RG 1, L3, 495: T2/70; 511: T misc., 1791–1819/4, 14; RG 5, A1: 2–3, 19–20. “Accounts of receiver-general of U. C.,” AO Report, 1914: 753. Corr. of Hon. Peter Russell (Cruikshank and Hunter), 2: 103–4. Corr. of Lieut. Governor Simcoe (Cruikshank), 3: 346; 4: 196–97, 259. Doc. hist. of campaign upon Niagara frontier (Cruikshank), 5: 21–26; 6: 189. John Askin papers (Quaife), 2: 239. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1909: 58, 91, 118, 121, 163. “Petitions for grants of land” (Cruikshank), OH, 24: 140. Canadian Constellation (Niagara [Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont]), 18 Jan. 1800. Niagara Herald (Niagara), 24 Jan., 21 Feb., 6 March, 23 May., 26 Dec. 1801; 16 Jan., 13 Feb. 1802. Bibliography of Canadiana (Staton and Tremaine). N. O. Tiffany, The Tiffanys of America: history and genealogy ([Buffalo, N.Y., 1901]). Tremaine, Biblio. of Canadian imprints, 649–53, 669. Wilson, “Enterprises of Robert Hamilton,” 292–93, 311. W. S. Wallace, “The first journalists in Upper Canada,” CHR, 26 (1945): 372–81; “The periodical literature of Upper Canada,” CHR, 12 (1931): 4–12.
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Cite This Article
Douglas G. Lochhead, “TIFFANY, SILVESTER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tiffany_silvester_5E.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:||Douglas G. Lochhead|
|Title of Article:||TIFFANY, SILVESTER|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|