John Carter

Signature of John Carter*

Printer and Postmaster, Providence, RI 

The following pictures (except as noted) and documents, are some of the Carter/Brown/Woods materials inherited by me. I and my cousins have no idea why my grandmother had these, or if we are related to any of these people, but probably not. Many of the items were provided by John Carter Brown Woods (his name is his genealogy chart). In 1919 John Carter Brown Woods hired a genealogist from the American Genealogical Company in Philadelphia to locate additional information on John Carter's family. They were unsuccessful according to the carbon copies of the correspondence. This Carter family is believed to have been originally from Virginia. Copies of all items (there are many letters and other pictures) are available at the Rhode Island Historical Society. This selection is specific to John Carter and his family.

John Carter [Click picture for full size] John Carter was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 21, 1745. He apprenticed to Benjamin Franklin. In Providence he printed the Providence Gazette; and Country Journal, which was begun in October, 1762, by William Goddard and was later run by Sarah Goddard and Company. "...John Carter came from Benj. Franklin's office in Philadelphia in August, 1767, and on Sept. 19 became a partner with Mrs. Goddard in the business. One year later [Nov. 12, 1768] the business came into possession of Carter and so remained until Feb. 19, 1814, except for the time between Nov. 2, 1793, and May 9, 1799, when William Wilkinson was Carter's partner." (Printers and Printing in Providence, 1762-1907; Prepared by a Committee of Providence Typographical Union Number Thirty-Three as a Souvenir of the Fiftieth Anniversary of its Institution, 1907; page 12.) "The changes in the imprint were frequent and now cause some confusion as to the exact place where the paper was printed. At first it read "opposite the Court House;' then 'near the Court House;' now, at the 'store of Judge Jenckes, near the Great Bridge, and published at his book shop, just above it, a the sign of Shakespeare's Head;" {this before John Carter was publisher} again, 'near the sign of the Golden Eagle, next door below Knight Dexter's, Esq.;' 'at the sign of Shakespeare's Head, in the same building with the Post Office;' 'at the Printing Office near the Great Bridge;' 'delivered either from the Post Office, near the Court House, or Printing Office near the Great Bridge;' 'both Post Office and Printing Office were removed to the house lately occupied by Mr. John Alpin, nearly opposite to Knight Dexter's, at the sign of the Golden Eagle;' 'at the sign of Shakespeare's Head, near the Court House, in King street;' 'the Printing and Post Offices are removed to Meeting street, nearly opposite the Friends Meeting House.' [Now No. 21 Meeting street.]" (ibid.; pages 12-13)

Providence Gazette, Dec. 1806
Click image for full size

"At almost the end of his career [Jan. 1, 1814] he wrote:

'War prices being attached to every article made use of in the Printing Business, as well as to the common necessaries of life, imperiously compels the Editor of the Providence Gazette (after 48 years laborious attention to the duties of his profession) to call upon all person in arrear to him for News-Papers, Advertisements, and other Printing Work, to make immediate Payment, which will highly oblige him, at this crisis of uncommon difficulty. The several accounts will be prepared; and although small, the aggregate amount would enable him to pay his Paper Maker, meet the demands of creditors he is anxious to pay, and obtain for himself and Family the common comforts of life. These are his objects, and the height of his speculations.'" (ibid.; pages 11)
He was also the first Postmaster of Providence. The office was established February 16, 1790 (Rhode Island Postal History, the post offices; Merolla, Jackson & Crowther, 1977; page 93). He died in Providence, Rhode Island, August 19, 1814.

Shakespear's Head, early 1900's
John Carter's House at the left, and John Updikes's House at the right. [In the middle is J. H. Duggan, Mason.] Circa 1900. (Click to enlarge)
[From: Old Providence; A Collection of Facts and Traditions relating to Various Buildings and Sites of Historic Interest in Providence, Merchants National Bank of Providence, 1918, p 10-11.]
The Sign of "Shakespear's Head" in Gaol Lane
"Shakespear's Head" still stands at 21 Meeting Street. Here lived John Carter, who for a time printed the Providence Gazette, founded by William Goddard, its publisher and editor... Carter had been taught printing by Benjamin Franklin, and as a publisher in Providence he was most successful. He continued the publication of the Gazette until February, 1814, when he sold the business to Hugh H. Brown and William H. Wilson.

From all accounts, spice was added to the routine of CArter's days by the fact that John Updike, his brother-in-law, rented his house next door to "Shakespear's Head" to a rival printer, who Carter strenuously tried to outdo; and the quarrels that ensued between Captain Updike and his tenant gave much amusement to the neighbors. The Updike house is still standing. Carter is said to have been singularly shrewd at repartee. The interesting printer's shop, which was described in October, 1771, as "the new building on Main street, opposite the Friends' meeting house," has been thus spoken of:--
"John Carter's 'Sign of Shakespear's Head' topped a post some six or eight feet in height which stood before the house, and symbolized the treasures of literature to be found within."
Shakespeare's Head, 21 Meeting Street The house built by John Carter at 21 Meeting Street, Providence. The building is now known as Shakespeare's Head for the sign that marked the location of the Providence Gazette prior to being published by John Carter and the construction of the building (see above).
Sign on Shakespeare's Head This sign, which is now on the outside of the building (June, 2000) says, "SHAKESPEARE'S HEAD. Built by publisher John Carter in 1772 to house the printing press of the Providence Gazette, the post office and a bookshop, as well as Carter's growing family, this is one of the oldest three-story structures in Providence. So named for the sign outside Carter's literary establishment: a carved bust of William Shakespeare. The building was saved from demolition in the 1930s and has been carefully preserved by the Shakespeare's Head Association."
Door Knocker of Shakespeare's Head The note with this photograph, "Door knocker of 'Carter House' Meeting Street, Providence when house was built." Click on picture for full size.

Photostats and Other Documents

Typed strip of paper pasted to top of page, “Photostat copy of original in possession of Crawford Carter Allen’s widow; done by Howard M. Chapin, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, R.I." Hand written in the top margin, “Early Printing of John Carter.” This is apparently a copy, with hand written additions, of the item listed under the heading "Titles Note Dated; Providence" of the Rhode Island Imprints; A List of Books, Pamphlets, Newspapers and Broadsides Printed at Newport, Providence, Warren Rhode Island Between 1727 and 1800; Rhode Island Historical Society, 1915. This listing on page 75 states, "A List of the Names of Sons and Daughters, of the Family of John Carter. Broadside. Printed not long after November 9, 1785. C.A. Crawford (meaning this is who owned it at the time of printing). Scan of copy of document.

The following is the typed and handwritten information on the page that was Photostatted. (H) means the information was handwritten, (P) means it was printed material, and (T) means it was typed. 

(H) at top, “Copied from the family Bible of John & Amey Carter.”

(H) in margin at left, “John Carter and Amey Crawford were married on Sunday Morning, the 14th Day of May, 1769. by the Revd John Greades, missionary of the London Incorporated Society for the propagation of the Gospel, in Foreign parts.

(P) A LIST of the Names of the SONS and DAUGHTERS, of the Family of JOHN CARTER, Esquire. (H) of Providence Rhode Island.

(P) I.  ANN, their first Child, born on Monday, February 26, 1770, Six Minutes before Twelve o’Clock, at Noon.  (H) died June 16th 1798 [From Family Record sheet: Ann Brown (wife of Nicholas Brown) died June 16, 1798, aged 28 years, 3 months and 24 days, leaving 2 Sons, and 1 Daughter. She was buried in the North Burial Ground, in the cofin of the Brown Family, and her Husband hath created a handsome marble monument to her memory.]

(P) II.  BENJAMIN BOWEN, their first Son, born on Monday, December 16, 1771, at Two o’Clock in the Afternoon.  (H) died 24 april 1831 at New York. [[From Family Record sheet: Benjamin Bowen Carter died in the City of New York on Sunday morning April 24 - 1831 at 1/2 past 1 oclock a.m. aged 59 years.

(P) III.  JOHN, their second Son, born on Sunday, March 27, 1774, at Half an Hour after Three o’Clock in the Morning.
---Memorandum.--He has a superfluous small Toe on his left Foot. (H) died Feb. 21st. 1815 [From Family Record sheet: John Carter, Junr died Tuesday February 21st 1815 about 11 o'clock before noon, aged 40 years, 10 months and 25 days. He was interred in the Episcopal Church Yard; funeral Service by the Reverend Nathan B. Groden (?).]

(P)  IV. CRAWFORD, their third Son, born on Friday, November 10, 1775, at Half past Four o’Clock in the Afternoon.  (H) Burnt by a Candle

(P)  V.  A fourth Son, born on Thursday, March 20, 1777, at Twelve at Night; and deceased the Day following, at Two o’Clock, P. M. aged 14 Hours.

(P)  VI.  REBECCA, their second Daughter, born on Saturday, August 22, 1778, between Six and Seven o’Clock, A. M.  (H) Married Amos [Throop] Jenckes Sept 20 1801. died 20 June 1837 between 6 & 7 PM [From Family Record sheet: Rebecca  Carter Jenckes died June 20 - 1837 at 5 to 7 P.M. aged 58 years 9 months & 29 days. Amos Throop Jenckes died at the City of Havana, Cuba, July 8th 1809 aged 31 years   months    days.]

(P)  [Crawford Carter, died on Monday, January 11, 1779, at Eight o’Clock in the Morning, aged 3 Years, 2 Months, 15 Hours and an Half.]  (H) Burnt by a candle.

(P)  VII.  JAMES, their fifth Son, born on Thursday, September 14, 1780, at One o’Clock in the Morning.  (H) Last heard from about 1812 in the Privateer Paul Jones [From Family Record sheet: James Carter supposed to be dead. The last heard of him he was on the Privateer Paul Jones about 1812.]

(P)  VIII.  CRAWFORD, their sixth Son, born on Monday Morning, March 11, 1782, at One o’Clock.  (H)  Died July 27th 1868. aged 86 years 4 months & 16 days

(P)  IX.  A third Daughter, born on Wednesday, June 4, 1783 and deceased the 9th Day of September following, aged 3 Months and 5 Days.

(P)  X.  WILLIAM, their seventh Son, born on Monday, November 9, 1785, at Eleven o’Clock in the Forenoon. (H) died about the 10 August 1821 at St. Francisville La [Louisiana]

(H)  XI.  Huldah Maria their fourth Daughter, born on Saturday, April 14th. 1787, at 2 o’Clock in the Afternoon. [From Family Record sheet: Huldah Maria Carter died November 13th 1842 at 8 o'clock A.M. aged 55 years 6 mo. & 29 days]

(H)  XII.  Elizabeth Ann their 5th daughter, born on Saturday, March 11, 1790. at 8 o’Clock in the morning. Married June 11, 181? [the Family Record says June 12, 1812] to Walter R. Danforth [Family Record: at St. Johns Church]. Died Feb 3rd 1876 in her 86th year of her age. [From Family Record sheet: Elizabeth Ann Danforth died at her residence No 9 Meeting St. Feb 3rd 1876. at 8 oclock in the morning.]

(H)  Ann Carter married Nicholas Brown Esq. Nov. 3rd 1791

Typed strip of paper clipped to the following photostats reads, "Photostat copies of records from John Carter family Bible given Mr. John Carter Brown Woods by Mrs. Crawford Carter Allen; done for Mr. Woods by Mr. Burrage of the John Carter Brown private library, Providence, R.I."

Full size scans of photostat pages of Family Record [Bible]:

Deaths, first page
Deaths, second page
Some of the marks are the pages are from ink that bled through from the other side.

Newspaper obituary attached to the second Family Record death sheet. The location and date is handwritten (typed here in italic) at the top, but not the name of the newspaper.
Providence. DIED, August 19. 1814
In this town, on Friday morning last, after a long and peculiarly distressing illness, JOHN CARTER, Esq. aged 69--He was a native of Philadelphia, and, after honourably serving a faithful apprenticeship with those eminent Printers, Messrs. Franklin & Hall, removed to this town, and, for about 45 years, was the sole Proprietor and able Editor of the Providence Gazette. Dr. Franklin, his friend and benefactor, appointed him Postmaster in this town, which responsible office he faithfully discharged until the year 1792, when he resigned. His patriotick principles and delicate sense of propriety were manifested (through various vicissitudes) by the correctness of his manner in conducting his paper, the columns of which were uniformly devoted to the best interests of his country, by the dissemination of important political and moral truths. In his multifarious transactions, as a man of business, his honour and integrity were unblemished. The genuine benevolence of his heart was displayed by the courtesy of his manners in the exercise of the rights of hospitality, and the unfortunate and the poor excited his sympathy, and partook of his bounty. By an affectionate discharge of the relative duties of domestick life, he attached the reverential regard of wife, children and friends.

On Sunday afternoon, after the burial service had been impressively performed by the Rev. Mr. Crocker, his remains were respectfully deposited in the cemetery of St. John's Church.

From a separate typewritten page with the material by an unknown author.

Benjamin Bowen Carter, born Providence, December 16, 1771; died New York April 24, 1831.  Graduated from Brown University in the Class of 1786 receiving the degree of A. B. and A. M.  He was a classmate of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Brown, born Providence, R. I., April 4, 1769; died Providence September 27, 1841.  Mr. Brown was Trustee of Brown University from 1791-1825; Treasurer 1796-1825; Fellow 1825-1841.  Brown University was named after Mr. Brown who was of the firm of Brown & Ives founded many years before by his ancestors. 

Printed text of grave stone for Amey Crawford Carter (or death notice?)

Erected to the Memory of
Consort of
And Daughter of the late
Captain John Crawford.
She departed this Life December 18, 1806, in the
62d Year of her Age.

From early Youth she was a Member of the Episcopal
Church, and after having exhibited pre-eminent ma-
ternal Affection to her numerous Children, died in
the blessed Hope of Immortality, through the Merits
of our Saviour JESUS CHRIST.

Printed by John Carter This address was printed by John Carter in 1779 and is presented as a sample of his work, and to show the printer information at the bottom of the document. Click image for full size.

Letter from James to John Carter, Jun.


Address side of letter
Address, reverse side 

Click images for full size

This is a letter between two of John Carter's sons. James the writer was not 13 at the time. It reads: 
???tham March 25th 1793
Dear Brother

I was favored with your letter on Saturday Evening last and was much surprised to find that you had arrived so soon. I am studying the Latin Grammar now and shall begin Corderii (?) pretty soon. I am very well and hope you are the same. If it would be agreeable to you I want you to come o????[hole] bring me home. I should be very happy to see you. Mr Williams is a very clever man and all the family is the same. The young Fellows here are all very clever and agreeable companions young Rhodes in particular. tell Brother Crawford to attend School constantly and not run away from it (as I used to) tell him to attend Church twice every Sunday and take great care what the Minister says. were he not to adhere to My Father and Mother I should be greatly distressed. Please to send me some Quills and Wafers if it would be agreeable to you. give my Love to all the family and Mr and Mrs Brown. {Ann Carter was married to Nicholas Brown at the time this letter was written.} I am your affectionate and loving Brother 

James Carter
Mr John Carter Jun

Calling card of Mr. & Mrs. John Carter Brown This is a calling card of Mr. and Mrs. John Carter Brown and envelope (partially opened to show the embossed 'B') left for Crawford Carter at the Meeting Street house along with a piece of cake. Crawford Carter was a son of John Carter, March 11, 1782 to July 27, 1868. John Carter Brown was the son of Nicholas Brown and Ann Carter. The John Carter Brown Library at Brown bears his name. 
The 1914 Brown University Catalog lists John Carter Brown with the graduates of 1816, page 94. "Brown, John Carter, A.B.; A.M. Trustee Brown University 1828-42; fellow 1842-74. Merchant, partner Brown and Ives, Providence, R. I.; cotton manufacturer, Providence; member R. I. house of representatives one year; president corporation Butler Hospital for the Insane; N. E. Emigrant Aid Society; collector library of American history; trustee R. I. Historical Society 1834-45; Phi Beta Kappa; b. Providence, R. I., Aug. 28, 1797; d. Providence, June 10, 1874."  For more on his genealogy see page 75 (seventh generation) of the Chad Browne Memorial on
To read a short biography from the full size scan of page 41 of "Memorial Encyclopedia of the State of Rhode Island" (by Wilfred Harold Munro, L.H.D., President of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Published by The American Historical Society, Inc., New York, 1916), click here.

* The signature is from a document printed on page 10 of Printers and Printing in Providence, 1762-1907; Prepared by a Committee of Providence Typographical Union Number Thirty-Three as a Souvenir of the Fiftieth Anniversary of its Institution, 1907

Images of original documents and transcriptions by Susan White Pieroth, Copyright 2000-2021. Images have "RIGenWeb" on them because I originally published them on the RIGenWeb site.

Walking Tour of Providence with Map, and Shakespeare's Head description (#10)

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