Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816)
MSA SC 3520-2809


Mary Katherine Goddard embodied the revolutionary spirit of her time in everything she pursued--from running a newspaper to a running a post office.  She handled male-dominated business pursuits of printer, newspaper editor, and postmaster with ease.  Her newspaper, the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, was the only newspaper published in Baltimore during the Revolution and was a reliable source of  news.  Goddard also served as the first female postmaster in Baltimore, a postition she held throughout the war.  As a woman very much in the public eye, she broke traditional gender constraints to establish herself as a prominent entrepreneur in Baltimore.

Mary Katherine Goddard was born on June 16, 1738, in New London, Connecticut to Dr. Giles Goddard and Sarah Updike Goddard.  Her father was a respected physician and postmaster, and her mother was well-educated in both Latin and French.1   Although the Goddard's had four children, only two lived to adulthood, Mary Katherine and William, who was born on October 20, 1740.  In 1762, after Giles Goddard's death, Sarah and Mary Katherine followed William to Providence, Rhode Island., where they helped him establish the Providence Gazette and Country Journal, the first successful and continuous newspaper in Providence.2  William left Rhode Island in 1765, and publication of the Gazette temporarily stopped as well.  In 1766, however, publication resumed under the name "Sarah Goddard and Company." 3  Presumably, Sarah and Mary Katherine Goddard were now newspaper publishers. In 1768, Sarah and Mary Katherine uprooted themselves again, selling the Providence Gazette and relocating to Philadelphia to join William and his new venture as printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  

William Goddard did not have the most satisfactory business relationships;  in 1772 (after the death of his mother, Sarah, in 1770) he left the Pennsylvania Chronicle and moved again, this time to Baltimore, Maryland.  He started a new publication, the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, which appeared for the first time in 1773.  Mary Katherine joined him in Baltimore in 1774, after she "wound up their affairs" with the Pennsylvaia Chronicle.4  

Mary Katherine soon assumed full responsiblity of the paper as her brother's attention turned toward establishing the colonial postal system, and she cemented the fact by printing her name on the colophone on the May 10, 1775 paper.  It read: "Baltimore: Published by M.K. Goddard, at the Printing-Office in Market-Street, next Door above Dr. John Stevenson's." 5 With annual subscriptions set at the price of ten shillings, the printer guaranteed the quality of the paper, also stating, "all Manner of printing work is performed with Care, Fidelity, and Expectation...Notice, in a neat and correct manner." 6

The Maryland Journal printed local news and advertisements, including the current prices of goods in Baltimore (wheat, for example, was 6 shillings and 6 pence per bushel in 1773) and rewards for the return of runaway slaves and convicts.7 Mary Katherine's editorial decisions reflected the time in which she lived; she printed revolutionary and wartime pieces. On Wednesday, April 19, 1775, she published a letter to the editor from "Britannicus," which argued, "The British parliament claims a right to tax and bind the Americans in all cases whatsoever, when in reality, a British parliament has no more right to tax an American in anything than they have the right to tax the people in Japan; for by this means you are robbed of the democratical [sic]  part of the consitution, the very essence of English liberty." 8 The next week, on Wednesday, April 26, 1775, Mary Katherine printed a speech given by the Lord Mayor, John Wilkes, Esq., who said: "If we can tax the Americans without their consent, they have... nothing which they can call their own..." And on July 10, 1776, the Maryland Journal published the newly agreed upon Declaration of Independence, under the title, "The Thirteen United States of America Have Declared Independency." 10  Early the next year, on January 18, 1777, Mary Katherine Goddard made history by being the first in the United States to print a copy of the Declaration with all signatures.

Despite paper and supply shortages, she kept the Journal running throughout the war. Mary Katherine Goddard was a staunch Patriot in the conflict with Great Britain and also firmly believed in the freedom of the press.  She defended this belief in 1777, when she published two anonymous contributions to the Journal that had a "tory tone." 11  That tone angered many Baltimore residents, including the Whig club, which was organized " for the protection of the citizens from Tory influences." 12  When the Whig club demanded to know the identity of the author, Mary Katherine refused to tell and referred them to her brother who had given the letters to her to print.13  In order to avoid banishment from the newly formed country, William had to write a memorial to Maryland Governor Thomas Johnson regarding the nature of the letters (the author of which was later revealed to be Samuel Chase).  Mary Katherine provided a list of character references for him.14

The relationship between William and Mary Katherine at the printing press became strained.  Although the specific reason for their quarrel  is unkown, in January, 1784, William's name was added to the colophone, and Mary Katherine's was removed. 15   She was effectively fired from the position of publisher.  Mary Katherine had another altercation with her brother in 1785, when they published competing almanacs.  William referred to his sister as "a certain hypocritical character," who had the "dirty and mean purpose of Fraud and Deception." 16  William eventually moved back north to New England, and on May 26, 1786, he married Abigail Angell.  It seems that Mary Katherine did not attend the wedding or send any congratulations, since she received a letter from John Carter (printer of the Providence Gazette), giving an account of the wedding and encouraging a reconciliation between them.17

Mary Katherine Goddard's business ventures went beyond printing and publishing.  She ran a dry goods and stationary business, and, in 1775, she was appointed the Baltimore postmaster.  Although it was generally acknowledged that she did her work well and on time, she was forced to give up her position in 1789.  The official reason was that the postal system was being consolidated and the work of the postmaster would now require more travel than could be expected of a woman at the time.  Over two hundred Baltimore businessmen unsuccessfully petitioned for her to stay.18  Mary Katherine eventually wrote to President Washington in an effort to preserve her job, but was told that "I [Washington] have uniformly avoided interfering with any appointments which do not require my official agency." 19 Thus, she never regained her position as postmaster.

Mary Katherine never married or had any children.  She continued to run her small dry goods and stationary business until 1809 or 1810.  Upon her death on August 12, 1816, Mary Katherine Goddard freed her slave, Belinda Starling, and left Starling all of her possessions.  She wrote in her will that she "give[s] and grant[s] to my female slave, Belinda Starling, aged about 26 years, her Freedom at my death; and I also give and bequeath unto said Belinda Starling all the property of which I may did posessed; all which I do to recompense the faithful performance of duties to me." 20

The life of Mary Katherine Goddard was not a standard one for the era.  As an independent businesswoman, she made her own money and lived by herself.  She embodied the revolutionary spirit of casting aside traditional roles and embracing a new and independent spirit. Personally, professionally, and politically, Mary Katherine Goddard was a symbol of her times.

1. Margaret W. Masson, "Mary Katherine Goddard, 1738-1816: Printer, Publisher and Postmistress," in Notable Maryland Women  (Cambridge: Tidewater Publishers, 1977), 161-165.  Return to text.
2. Joseph Towne Wheeler, The Maryland Press 1777-1790, Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1938. Accessed July 17, 2012. Return to text.
3. Masson. Return to text.
4. Ibid. Return to text.
5. Ibid. Return to text.
6. Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 18 September 1773. Return to text.
7. Ibid. Return to text.
8. Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 19 April 1775. Return to text.
9. Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 26 April 1775. Return to text.
10. Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 10 July 1776. Return to text.
11. Masson. Return to text.
12. Wheeler. Return to text.
13. Masson. Return to text.
14. MARYLAND STATE PAPERS (Red Books) Mary Katherine Goddard to Governor Thomas Johnson, suggested character witnesses for William Goddard, 15 July 1779, MSA S 989-247, MdHR 4560-41. Return to text.
15. Masson. Return to text.
16. Wheeler. Return to text.
17. Edward T. James., Notable American Women, 1607-1950, Vol. 2 (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971) 55-56. Return to text.
18. Masson. Return to text.
19. "The Papers of George Washington: Documents," Alderman Library, University of Virginia. Accessed July 17, 2012. Return to text.
20.  BALTIMORE COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Wills, Original) Mary C. Goddard, 1816, MSA C437-60-66, 2/56/13/51.    Return to text.

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