Father Gabriel Richard Brought Michigan’s First Printing Press to Detroit in 1809!
“Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus”
(“We hope for better things. They will rise from the ashes.”)
Father Gabriel Richard (Detroit, 1805)
In life, it’s good to celebrate progress, honor the past and always give credit to the architects and originators.
Father Gabriel Richard was a dynamic figure of early Detroit. We have him to thank for bringing the very first printing press to Michigan, among a host of other incredible accomplishments.
The Chinese invented paper around 100 AD. Then, they invented the process of imprinting ink on paper in 175 AD. They would take blocks of wood, ink them, put paper on them and rub them with a bamboo stick to create an impression.
Around 1440 AD, Gutenberg, who previously worked for the Mainz mint in Germany, invented the printing press in Strasbourg, France. Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press revolutionized the world.
On February 23rd, 1455, Gutenberg printed 200 copies of his now famous Gutenberg Bible, a two-volume Bible written in Latin.
Currently, there are only about 48 copies known to exist. One of these babies is estimated to go for upwards of $35 million dollars if sold on the market today.
So, if anyone has an original Gutenberg Bible lying around they want to sell me, just let me know and I’ll be over in a jiff to buy it from you!
Quick Timeline of Father Gabriel Richard
(compiled from various sources by Ryan M. Place)
Saintes, France (October 15th, 1767)
Father Gabriel Richard is born.
Paris, France (1792)
While the French Revolution is in full swing, Father Gabriel Richard leaves France for the Midwest, USA. He was originally stationed in Baltimore, Maryland but his first official job was preaching as missionary to Native Americans in Southern Illinois.
Father Gabriel Richard arrives in Detroit, which was a tiny French village on the river at the time.
Father Gabriel Richard is pastor of Ste. Anne de Detroit Catholic Church.
Detroit (June 11th, 1805)
The Great Detroit Fire of 1805 leveled the city’s 200+ log cabin homes, including Fort Detroit.
Upon witnessing the devastation, Father Gabriel Richard uttered his now famous phrase “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus” (“We hope for better things. They will rise from the ashes.”).
This phrase is now the City of Detroit’s official motto.
Detroit (June 1805)
After the blaze, a major food shortage ensued. Father Gabriel Richard organized massive food aid relief to the city from outlying ribbon farms in what are now the suburbs.
Detroit (June 30th, 1805)
Augustus Woodward arrives in Detroit. Judge Woodward was appointed chief judge of Michigan territory by President Thomas Jefferson. Judge Woodward joins forces with Fr. Gabriel.
Detroit (Spring 1809)
Father Gabriel Richard brings the first printing press to Michigan. He sets it up on Detroit’s Southwest side at 5450 West Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, up the street from Fort Wayne.
Detroit (August 1st, 1809)
Father Gabriel Richard prints the first book printed in Michigan.
Detroit (August 31st, 1809-1816)
Father Gabriel Richard and James Miller print Detroit’s first newspaper, The Michigan Essay: or Impartial Observer. By 1840, Michigan Territory will have over 30 newspapers.
During the War of 1812, Father Gabriel Richard is imprisoned by the British for refusing to submit to them. “I have taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and I cannot take another,” Fr. Richard told them.
Detroit (July 1817)
Michigan’s first bookstore, The Detroit Book Store, opens. It is owned by John P. Sheldon and Ebenezer Reed. Father Gabriel Richard is a frequent customer and supplier.
Detroit (August 26th, 1817)
Father Gabriel Richard and Rev. John Monteith, with the assistance of Judge Woodward, establish the Catholepistemiad of Michigan. In 1837, this school moved to Ann Arbor and was renamed The University of Michigan.
Father Gabriel Richard serves as the Michigan Territory’s delegate to the United States Congress. He fought for the establishment of The Territorial Road, which connected Detroit to Chicago. This road is now known as Michigan Avenue.
Detroit (September 13th, 1832)
Father Gabriel Richard dies. He is the last victim of the raging cholera epidemic in Detroit. Reportedly, the epidemic started when a troop ship carrying infected soldiers to Chicago to squash Blackhawk’s rebellion, stopped in Detroit, and unwittingly unleashed the epidemic on fair Detroit.
Michigan (January 26th, 1837)
Michigan officially becomes a State.
Father Gabriel Richard is buried in a subterranean crypt inside Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church (1000 Sainte Anne Street, Detroit, Michigan).
And to you dear reader, remember, books are the fundamental building blocks of human knowledge. They are still one of the greatest medicines in alleviating the scourge of ignorance. Books are also one of the most dangerous commodities in the world, so use them wisely.
Some other resources you should check out:
Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit houses Father Gabriel Richard’s original collection of books and papers
200 Years of Detroit Booksellers (this is an excellent book by deceased BCD member Kay MacKay)
Frontier Seaport (fascinating scholarly work about early Detroit superbly written by Dr. Catherine Cangany)
Michigan’s First Bookstore (c. 1817-1828)