Charles R. Webster was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1762. He was the youngest surviving son of Matthew and Mabel Pratt Webster. With his father in dire financial straits, at age seven he was apprenticed to the printers of the Connecticut Courant to serve until he was twenty-one. During those formative years, he learned the printer's craft. In 1781, he also served in the Connecticut militia. But within a year, he had relocated to Albany to enter the printing business.
Forming a partnership with Solomon Ballantine, "Webster & Ballantine" offered a range of published items including a newspaper. That association dissolved within a year. In 1784, Charles Webster resurrected the dormant Albany Gazette. By that time, his twin brother, George, had joined him in Albany.
By 1790, he was Albany's leading printer and publisher. Although most printers could ill-afford being too closely identified with a single point of view, Charles Webster was a well-known Federalist - from whom he received some political patronage. He also was a printing contractor for the city government.
In 1793, he was among the founders and first vice president of the Albany Mechanics Society. He was a member of the boards of several turnpike companies. He also was involved with the Albany library, Lancaster school, and other philanthropic initiatives. During the early 1800s, he was a captain of the "Independent Artillery Company" mobilized for a potential war with France.
He married Rachel Steele of Hartford in 1787. The marriage produced two children before her illness and death in 1794. After that, Charles Webster purchased land along the Hudson at Schaghticoke where he built a family home for his other brothers and aged parents. In 1796, he married Cynthia Steele - the sister of his deceased wife. Later, her parents joined them in Albany. He was a member and officer of the First Presbyterian Church - where his family members were baptized and buried.
After the Fire of 1793 destroyed his printing office on State Street and Middle Alley, the Websters moved up the hill to the Elm Tree Corner where their printing and publishing establishment became an Albany landmark called "Webster's Corner" or "The White House." In 1800, his first ward household included fourteen people.
This righteous pillar of the community acquired a reputation for fairness based on "his early simple habits. He rose at four and came home at nine, and laid down before ten; his diet was plain; he was strictly temperate, remarkably laborious and of unwearing activity. The relaxation at the close of day was a walk to the North Gate, the Hay Scale, the Willow Walks or the Pasture. Until sixty-five, he kept up the practice of crossing the river on Saturday evening with his sons and his apprentices to bathe. Once in the water he seemed to renew his youth, and encouraged and taught his young companions the daring feats of the swimmer. His evenings passed at the sociable Reading Room of John Cook or with his friends at their houses or his. No day found him so busy that it prevented him from reading a chapter before breakfast from the Bible and from uniting with his family in prayer."
Approaching sixty, and following the death of his brother, Charles Webster settled his estate - which included extensive real property. Patriarch of a family that included several printers, he lived on in the house at 83 State Street - tending his garden and serving friends and civic causes. In the country for his health, Charles R. Webster died at Saratoga Springs in July 1834. He was seventy-two and suffered from a gland infection. His long career was recounted in a newspaper obituary. His will passed probate in Albany three months later.
The life of Charles R. Webster is CAP biography number 6847. This profile is derived chiefly from community-based resources. An extensive memoir of "The Father of Printing in Albany" appears in Annals of Albany, 5:230-40.
first posted: 7/05/02; revised somewhat 5/5/12