Mary Katharine Goddard – American Revolution Patriot Printer


Is it true that there is a woman’s name on the Declaration of Independence?

Yes, at the bottom of the document it reads: “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.”

Goddard’s is the only woman’s name that appears anywhere on an official copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Born in 1738 in colonial Connecticut, she grew up as an inquisitive youth, as the roiling colonies prepared for Revolution.

As a young woman, she helped her flighty brother, William, a printer, out with various projects and publishing efforts.

Goddard learned the craft of a printer: composing pages, setting type, and operating the press at the Providence Gazette.  She loved the work, and the chance to do her own work.

She understood the importance of her role too, as colonial America printers were the primary source of information for what was occurring nearby and around the colonies.

When William went to Philadelphia to set up the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and then to Baltimore Maryland where he had begun the Maryland Journal, she followed.

In April 1775, the beginning of the Revolutionary War started with the famous fights at Lexington and Concord. The Maryland Journal was one of the first papers to report this news to the readership of Baltimore and the surrounding regions.

On a personal level, things were not going well for her brother William, and Goddard was carrying the load of the printing business. Just shy of her 37th birthday, she decided she deserved full credit for her work.

She changed the newspaper’s ownership information to: Published by M.K. Goddard. Daring for a woman, but discretion in a man’s world had her use her initials rather than her full name.

During her ownership, she editorialized about British brutality, reprinted Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and published extra editions about Congress’ call to arms and the Battle of Bunker Hill. She was called one of the most prominent publishers during the nation’s revolutionary era.

After the Continental Congress approved a plan for a continental postal system to replace the one operated by the British, Goodard was named the first postmaster of Baltimore, and was the first woman postmaster in the thirteen colonies.

But colonies were not yet a new nation, until the Continental Congress acted.  And then it did. On July 4, 1776, a hand-written version of a Declaration of Independence (a message to the world), was approved and announced the intention of Americans to be free and self-governing by casting off the bonds of Great Britain.

This was an exhilarating and dangerous action by colonists because the British considered it treason.

The Declaration was voted upon and signed by the delegates. Each man knew he might be placing his life in jeopardy.  Copies of the Declaration, called Broadsheets, were hastily printed and distributed throughout the colonies. But to be safe, no names of delegates were printed upon the sheets; an understandable act of discretion, as they could be arrested and hung.

The war continued, and the Congressional Congress fled its home in Philadelphia for Baltimore, setting up just a few blocks from Goddard’s printing shop.

Fortunate for her, because as postmistress and printer she was responsible for the delegates’ mail and for printing congressional documents – as well as running the Maryland Journal, which became an important source of information and a voice of American liberty.

Then the Continental Congress made a truly daring decision – to print a new version of the Declaration, that included the names of the signers. This was to shore up patriotic fervor in the public as well as be an official document to announce American Independence to the world.  And Goddard was tasked with printing the official document.

She carefully designed the layout and set it on the press.

It stands as one of the most beautiful, printed Declaration copies.

Under the signed names, from John Hancock and his outsized larger signature (supposedly so the King George ‘could read it from across the room’) to the smaller fifty-plus signatures shown organized under each of the thirteen colonies, is Goddard’s name.

As was custom with printers at the time, she added her name at the bottom.  She knew she was taking a risk, placing her very life at risk.  But she was a patriot and wanted to show it.

(Editor’s note: For more on the subject, bookseller Jeff Ridgway recommends Her Name Was Mary Katharine – The Only Woman Whose Name Is on The Declaration of Independence. New York, NY.  Little, Brown & Co. 2022. For other book recommendations, stop by his store Collections, Antiques . . ..and Books! at 15326 Antioch St.)

Detail of a copy of the Declaration printed by Goddard New York Public LIbrary

This entry was posted in History, Holidays. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mary Katharine Goddard – American Revolution Patriot Printer

  1. Pepper Edmiston says:

    “Circling the News” is beginning to remind me of the New Yorker. You never know what amazing and informative articles may pop up, like Jeff Ridgeway’s ‘Patriot Printer!’
    Please keep enlightening your readers – we appreciate your efforts!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *