WHITE, JOHN HENRY, printer, journalist, and businessman; b. c. 1797 near Birmingham, England; d. 28 July 1843 at Goose River, Lot 42, P.E.I.
Little documentation exists regarding John Henry White’s early life. He learned the trade of bookbinder in Warwick, England, was listed as a printer and bookbinder in Boston by 1825, and took up residence in Halifax perhaps as early as the following year. A statement that he lived also in Saint John, N.B., cannot be verified. His move to Charlottetown in August 1829 may have been prompted by an advertisement placed a year earlier in Nova Scotia newspapers. The notice stated that a committee in Charlottetown, which included the politically ambitious James Bardin Palmer*, was anxious to establish a newspaper that would be “loyal, liberal, and impartial”; in fact, its purpose would be to express opinions not aired in James Douglas Haszard*’s Prince Edward Island Register.
Whatever motivated his move, it was Palmer who provided White with one of his first known printing contracts on the Island, an election broadsheet dated 7 Sept. 1830. More printing work followed. Around June 1832 he began printing the Christian Visitor, a religious newspaper, for an unidentified Anglican publisher. On 6 August, after overcoming delays in securing subscribers, he launched his own newspaper, the British American. In 1833 his tender to print a revised edition of the Island’s statutes was accepted over Haszard’s, and in subsequent years he printed the House of Assembly’s Journal (1834, 1837, 1839) as well as a number of religious and educational tracts, including a pocket edition of the Psalms of David.
White’s most noteworthy publishing achievement, however, was a stereotype edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible that he had begun printing in Halifax and continued when he moved to Charlottetown. Produced from plates likely acquired while he was in Boston, and in quarto, in his words “decidedly the best size for family use,” his Bible was sold in two leather-bound parts complete with lithograph illustrations and a section for family records. This Bible, which White described as “the first work of magnitude printed in this or any of His Britannic Majesty’s Possessions in North America,” appears in fact to merit the distinction of being the first Authorized Version published in what is now Canada. His undertaking had potential for peril beyond the usual economic considerations in that the British crown held a monopoly on the printing of this translation. However, there is no evidence that his action landed him in trouble, or even that anyone noticed the transgression. He thus avoided the fate of the American Presbyterian minister in York (Toronto) whose attempt in 1827 to import copies of the Authorized Version that had been printed in the United States, also a transgression, was unmasked by William Lyon Mackenzie* that summer in his Colonial Advocate and in a broadside.
Spared controversy in publishing the Bible, White encountered it at almost every other turn in his printing career. The conservative views expressed in the Christian Visitor aroused heated responses in both the Island’s Royal Gazette and the Colonial Patriot of Pictou, N.S. The latter, although noting that White only printed the paper, warned him not to become enmeshed in its management. White used his own British American to serve the political ambitions of his sponsors, Palmer and his group, by frequently criticizing the Island’s ruling faction. The newspaper’s bias made White many enemies. The commissioners appointed to superintend the printing of the revised statutes refused to accept his work when he submitted part of it for approval early in 1834, gave the job to Haszard, and later launched an action against White for breach of contract. White engaged William Young*, a lawyer from Halifax, to defend him. During the trial in July 1835 before Edward James Jarvis*, the chief justice, Young argued in part that the enmities aroused by the British American were primarily responsible for the suit. The jury decided for White, and in 1839 a committee of the House of Assembly ruled that he be reimbursed for the cost of defending himself.
The difficulties relating to White’s association with the British American, whose last extant issue is 29 June 1833, limited the number of government contracts he was able to obtain, and he was compelled to turn to other pursuits. In August 1835 he launched a sloop, which he named the Triumph in reference to his victory the previous month. Unable to sell it at a profit as he had intended, he operated it himself. After discharging cargo at Goose River on 25 July 1843 the Triumph was driven ashore. Three days later, White, in an attempt to salvage rigging from the vessel, was killed when the mast fell upon him.
White’s career demonstrates that life in a small colony for a printer with few government contracts was precarious. Despite his accomplishments, White’s 14 years on Prince Edward Island were fraught with difficulties that were relieved only by his premature demise. He left no relatives on the Island.
John Henry White’s edition of The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New testaments: translated out of the original tongues . . . (3v. in 2) has been located in five collections: the American Bible Soc. Library (New York), Dalhousie Univ. Library, Special Coll. (Halifax), the Newberry Library (Chicago), the PAPEI, and Acadia Univ. Library, Rare Book Coll. (Wolfville, N.S.). All carry a Halifax imprint save for two of the three volumes at Acadia, which were printed in Charlottetown. No copy bears a date of publication. White’s printing-press and copies of his Bible, along with its plates, were among the numerous items sold at the estate auction held shortly after his death; the fate of the plates is unknown. No copies of the Christian Visitor (Charlottetown) are extant, nor has its editor ever been identified. The only known run of the British American (Charlottetown), 6 Aug. 1832–29 June 1833, is at the PAPEI.
PAC, RG 42, E1, 1349. PAPEI, Acc. 2702/859; RG 3, petitions, 1836. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Charlottetown), Reg. of burials, 30 July 1843 (mfm. at PAPEI). P.E.L, House of Assembly, Journal, 1836: 54. Report of the trial held at Charlotte-town, Prince Edward Island, July 8th, 1835 . . . (n.p., n.d.; copy at PANS). Colonial Herald, and Prince Edward Island Advertiser (Charlottetown), 29 July 1843. Colonial Patriot, 18 April 1828; 1, 15 Sept., 6 Oct. 1832. Islander, 4 Aug., 1 Sept. 1843. Phenix (Charlottetown), 21 April 1828. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 17–24 July 1832, 1 Aug. 1843. The Boston directory (Boston), 1825, 1826. The English Bible in America; a bibliography of editions of the Bible & the New Testament published in America, 1777–1957, ed. M. T. Hills (New York, 1961; repr. 1962), xviii–xix, 86. M. G. Morrow, “John Henry White, the unknown printer,” Island Magazine (Charlottetown), no.22 (fall–winter 1987): 29–30.