“The fact that Sam Nowell of the Class of August 9, 1653 had his ‘study in the printing roome’ indicates that the press had very little business; . . .” This statement by Samuel Eliot Morison in The Founding of Harvard College concerns the establishment which is generally termed the Cambridge Press, the first printing office to be set up in the English Colonies.
Some historic accounts call the print shop the Stephen Day Press, but there remains considerable controversy about the exact responsibility Stephen Day had in the operation of the Press. Day and his son Matthew were brought from England, along with a printing press and supply of types and paper, by the Reverend Jose Glover, who unfortunately died during the passage, in the summer of 1638. The elder Day was by trade a locksmith, and the only evidence of his activities in printing is the information that he was frequently called upon to repair the printing press when it got out of order.
Another factor which casts doubt on Day as a printer is that while he could write his name, he was not at all adept in his command of English, as a letter to John Winthrop, the younger, attests: “After my deutie and sarves remembred to youer worshep and mestres Wantrop, thaes ar to in tret that you will be plased to acomodat Mr. Homan withith a lott. . . .”
On the other hand, Matthew Day was not yet eighteen years of age when he left England and it does not seem reasonable that he would have been hired by Glover for the responsibilities of setting up the press. Most authorities, however, agree that it was Matthew who set the type for the first piece of printing to be produced in Colonial America, the Freeman’s Oath of 1638, no copy of which is known to have survived. The first name to appear on an imprint of the Cambridge Press was that of Matthew Day, but this was not until 1647, on the title page of an almanac for that year. Matthew was in full charge of the shop when he died on May 10, 1649.
Samuel Green took over upon Day’s death, and managed the printing office for the next forty-three years. Writing in 1675, he stated: “Printing was the employment I was called unto when there was none in the country to carry it along after the death of him that was brought ovr for that work by Mr. Jose Glover, and although I was not before used unto it yett being urged thereunto by one and another of place did what by my own endeavors and help that I gott from some others that was procured, I undertook the work.”
Those historians who recognize Stephen Day as the full-time printer point out that on December 10, 1641, the General Court of the Colony voted that: “Stephen Daye, being the first that set upon printing, is granted 300 acres of land where it may be convenient, without prejudice to any towne.”
George Parker Winship in his detailed study, The Cambridge Press, 1638–1692, remarks that it certainly should have been simple for the legislators to know, at that date, who had performed the printing of the Bay Psalm Book, which was completed in 1640.