Parks was born possibly in Shropshire County, although the date is unknown. There, he published the Ludlow Post-Man in October 1719. His first and only son was baptized in Ludlow the same year. He moved to Hereford in 1721, to Reading in 1723, and then to North America. Parks came to America with his wife and son. A daughter, Eleanor, was born sometime later. In March 1726, Parks appeared before the Maryland General Assembly, answering its call for a printer. By that fall, Parks had opened an office in Annapolis and began printing the laws promulgated, or declared to be in effect, during each legislative session. In September 1727, he published the first number of the Maryland Gazette, the colony’s first newspaper, and a month later he published the first compilation of Maryland’s laws, at which time the Maryland Assembly confirmed him as their official printer with the responsibility of producing whatever imprints the government required. Parks partnered with Edmund Hall late in 1732 to produce the Gazette. He remained the colony’s printer until 1737.
Having secured the Maryland position, Parks proposed to the Virginia General Assembly in February 1728 that he publish a collection of Virginia’s laws then in force, as he was completing for Maryland. The General Assembly agreed and further proposed that Parks also publish the laws of each assembly. The entrepreneurial printer agreed. It was soon obvious, however, that he needed an office in Virginia to execute the work there. In the winter of 1729–1730, Parks traveled to England to acquire the tools for a new office in Williamsburg. On his return, he moved his family to Virginia, maintaining his office in Annapolis and his position as Maryland’s public printer. However, at the end of 1734, he began reducing his Maryland presence by closing the Maryland Gazette. The colony would be without a newspaper until 1745. In May 1737, the Maryland General Assembly terminated Parks’s contract.
Virginia’s Public Printer
In Maryland, Parks had been accused of neglecting his work, but the reality was that he had taken on more work than he could handle. To prevent a recurrence in Virginia, he took more care to flatter the colony’s authorities. First, he published John Markland’s Typographia: An Ode to Printing (1730), a paean to, the governor who had approved the invitation to Parks. Then he produced the General Assembly’s desired compilation of the laws then in force (1733), followed by a manual for county court justices—The Office and Authority of a Justice of the Peace (1736)—both produced with the aid of George Webb, a respected New Kent County justice. In August of 1736, he returned to the newspaper trade, issuing the first Virginia Gazette, a publication that would continue until the capital moved to Richmond in 1780. Like its Maryland predecessor, the Gazette was a weekly paper that was the source of official news and information. Yet it also featured advertisements for the land, slaves, goods, and services that facilitated the colony’s economic growth, to the authorities’ avowed satisfaction.
By 1750, only about a third of Parks’s substantial income came from government work. The Virginia Gazette turned a handsome profit for him and, from 1731 onward, he also published a Virginia Almanack, a staple among the region’s planters. Yet his smaller activities yielded wealth as well. He printed vast numbers of blank forms and account books that helped lubricate colonial commerce. He sold books imported from England in sheets, binding them according to his customers’ specifications. He also published three to four books per year written by Virginia authors, including the first cookbook and first medical manual printed in British America. Parks even served as Williamsburg’s postmaster. The only activity that apparently failed him was the paper mill he constructed in 1744 on Archer’s Hope Creek south of Williamsburg. The first of its kind in the southern colonies, the mill produced inferior-quality paper and did not survive Parks, despite the patronage of Benjamin Franklin.
Unlike his Maryland experience, Parks’s twenty-year Virginia tenure provoked little controversy among the gentry, with the only tensions coming in the 1740s. In 1742, he published an unflattering story in his Gazette about a sitting burgess who had moved to another county in an attempt to hide a conviction for stealing sheep as a young man. The burgess accused Parks of libel, but the printed story was proved to be true. Drawing on the precedent of the Zenger trial of 1735, in which a newspaper editor in New York successfully defended himself from a similar suit by that colony’s governor, the General Assembly dismissed the charges. Then in 1749, Parks was caught in a dispute between theand the House of Burgesses when he published in his Gazette a hostile opinion of the Burgesses from the Council’s journals, by order of its president, Thomas Lee; again, once the truth was revealed, and his complicity disproved, the matter was dropped.
After the General Assembly ordered a new compilation of Virginia laws in 1749, Parks embarked for England in search of new tools. He died of pleurisy on April 1, 1750, just nine days after leaving Hampton, and he was buried in England at Gosport. Although Parks’s estate was substantial—he owned a town lot in Williamsburg (that later burned in the 1890s and was rebuilt as the Williamsburg Printing Office); property in Maryland; a house in New Castle, Virginia; a Hanover County farm that included the building where the county court then met; a score each of cattle and hogs; and twenty slaves—it was devoured by debt and litigation fees. Parks’s outstanding publishing commitments were completed by his shop foreman,, with the help of the estate. That performance made Hunter Parks’s successor as Virginia’s public printer.
A less-evident impact that Parks had in Virginia comes through his daughter, Eleanor Parks. She married John Shelton, of Hanover; their daughter, Sarah Shelton, was the first wife of.