Newspaper printer, patriot. Timothy was born in Holland to Louis and Elizabeth Timothée before they immigrated to Philadelphia in 1731 and anglicized their name to Timothy. His father was a business partner of Benjamin Franklin, and in 1733 Lewis Timothy settled in Charleston and became printer of the South-Carolina Gazette. After his father’s death in 1738, Peter’s mother, Elizabeth, continued the contract. In 1739 Elizabeth bought out Franklin’s interest in the partnership for her son. By 1746 Peter reached his legal majority and assumed the family business. The previous year, on December 8, 1745, he married Ann Donavan. The marriage produced at least twelve children.
Peter Timothy was the official printer to the Commons House of Assembly and maintained a monopoly on the South Carolina printing business until 1758, when Robert Wells began publishing the South-Carolina Weekly Gazette. Timothy became postmaster general for Charleston in 1756, and during the Stamp Act Crisis he became deputy postmaster of the southern colonies and acting postmaster of the district in 1766. The South-Carolina Gazette under Timothy became increasingly partisan in the colonial crisis. It published critiques of Governor James Glen, expressed support of the Wilkes Fund and American manufactures, and roundly condemned the Boston Massacre and the blockade of the port of Boston.
Timothy’s interests extended beyond printing. He was elected to the Twentieth Royal Assembly (1751–1754) by St. Peter’s Parish. Active in the Sons of Liberty, he was a member of the General Committee of Correspondence in 1774 and chairman of the Committee of Observation and clerk of the Council of Safety in 1775. He served on the Committee of Ninety-Nine for Charleston and in the First and Second Provincial Congresses (1775–1776) for St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s Parishes. In 1776 the House elected him clerk of the First General Assembly. He offered to resign when members protested his dual office holding and yet was retained. Timothy was also secretary of the Grand Lodge of Free Masons, a founding member of the Charleston Library Society, a member of the South Carolina Society, a pewholder in St. Philip’s Church, and a landholder in Orangeburg and Berkeley Counties.
Timothy was an ardent patriot. During the siege of Charleston, he was a military observer and watched the British fleet from atop St. Michael’s steeple. Following the fall of Charleston in May 1780, Timothy refused to take a loyalty oath and was exiled to St. Augustine with other prominent city patriots. After a ten-month imprisonment he was exchanged but forbidden to return to Charleston. Reunited with family in Philadelphia, Timothy in autumn 1782 accompanied two daughters and a grandchild on a ship bound for the West Indies. Intending to visit his daughter in Antigua, and perhaps plot a return to South Carolina, Timothy and some members of his family perished in a storm off the coast of Delaware. His will, proved on May 2, 1783, left all his property to his wife, an unmarried daughter named Sarah, his invalid son Robert, and his son Benjamin Franklin, who would eventually continue the family printing enterprise after his mother’s death.
Cohen, Hennig. The South Carolina Gazette, 1732–1775. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1953.
Edgar, Walter, and N. Louise Bailey, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 2, The Commons House of Assembly, 1692–1775. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977.
McMurtrie, Douglas C. “The Correspondence of Peter Timothy, Printer of Charlestown, with Benjamin Franklin.” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 35 (October 1934): 123–29.