Saturday, April 01, 2006


"I am thankful that God in his providence has put into our hands these weapons prepared by the South herself, to destroy the Fell monster." - Sarah Grimké, 1839

When Sarah Grimké wrote these words in 1830s America, the abolitionists had just adopted a new tactic in the fight against slavery: they clipped and compiled items, mostly fugitive slave ads, from southern newspapers. Theodore Weld collected these damning exhibits and published them as American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses in 1839, recording, in the words of the slaveholding aristocracy of the South, the brutality of slavery.

It was an effective strategy, if the goal was to counter southern rationalizations that slave owners treated their slaves well, never (or rarely) split up families, and abolitionists were just an unruly mob of liars and provocateurs. The pamphlet enjoyed wide distribution, and even such notable writers as Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe used excerpts from American Slavery As It Is for their own works. (1)

To the abolitionists, the newspapers were “weapons prepared by the South herself,” but to the historian, southern newspapers are tools and building materials, compasses for direction, mortar to fill in gaps in continuity, fountains of economic information, and sources for southern thinking and attitudes. It is difficult to conjure up a single aspect of southern history that can dismiss the newspapers as entirely irrelevant. The speeches and movements of any major personage figure prominently, even minutely at times, in newspaper coverage. Editorials offer insight into the thoughts of southerners on politics, culture, the economy, transportation, Indian affairs, crop diversification, the reliability of the northern Whigs, customs of faraway places, and international affairs. The newspapers recorded wars near and far, news from the expanding territories, deaths from yellow fever, gin fires, South American revolutions, the latest books from Europe, sea serpent sightings off Boston, and the deeds of presidents and kings and rogue elephants. (2)

Historian Barbara Tuchman once noted, “As to newspapers, I like them for period flavor perhaps more than for factual information. One must be wary in using them for facts.” (3) It is true, newspapers have their limitations. All sources have their own peculiar disadvantages and weaknesses, and the duty of the historian is not to disdain and exclude the hasty work of rowdy newspapermen and women in favor of diaries, letters, court documents and government reports. The historian, hopefully, realizes the liabilities and strengths of all his tools and building materials, just like any competent carpenter practicing his craft.

Nevertheless, the historian, in carefully appraising the tools of the craft, may find it difficult not to see newspapers much as Sarah Grimké saw them: as weapons. Comic Negro stories, fugitive slave ads, items proclaiming slave auctions, and proslavery propaganda crafted from the most transparent of rationalizations do not inspire much admiration for the subject. Weld experienced little trouble finding the material that he distributed in the North in American Slavery As It Is, and the researcher who peeks into the slavery press will quickly discover many similar items.

The antebellum South condemned itself. The southern newspapers, 140 years after the end of slavery, offer ample evidence of a foul and evil system aided and abetted by a whole series of necessary delusions that allowed the members of the ruling class to sleep at night. Trying to maintain a historian’s objectivity in the face of such overwhelming hypocrisy and brutality makes this historian’s head hurt. The only reason that the southern newspapers are no longer weapons is that the target, southern slavery, no longer exists, despite the rearguard revisionist rhetoric of southern apologists who want to pretend that the excesses of slavery have been exaggerated by historians.

On a personal note, I wandered into the wild and weird, and often wonderful, world of the Natchez press quite by accident. More interested in the journalism of the Wild West, I nonetheless decided to go to Natchez, Mississippi, in the summer of 2001, to participate in a month-long research program that included the processing of court records from the 1830s and tutoring in the evaluation and uses of many kinds of primary documents. Mostly, I wanted to get out of Los Angeles for a month.

Southern journalism became a passion, particularly in the period before the Civil War. I did not find much to admire in most of these people, but they were never boring. Andrew Marschalk, the “Father of Mississippi Journalism,” grew up in New York during the Revolution, barely escaped impressment in England, and served in the American military on the frontier in the 1790s, all before he started his thirty-year career as a journalist in Mississippi. Lorenzo Besançon found himself enmeshed in four affairs of honor in 1837; one of these ended in a duel in which he killed his opponent. That same year, he got into a fight on Election Day with John A. Quitman, one of Mississippi’s most famous statesmen. Giles Hillyer avoided physical violence but dished out verbal violence as well as he endured it throughout the tumultuous 1850s.

What made them, and their many contemporaries, tick? What juicy nuggets of information could be gleaned from secondary sources, the newspapers, court documents, property records, census reports and other sources? Would a study of southern newspapers and journalists reveal anything about the nature of southern society as a whole? I soon discovered that I would have to do most of the digging myself if I wanted answers to any of my questions about the journalists of antebellum Natchez. And what can we learn about the place, the time, and the people that will help us to understand a world rooted in slavery as the foundation of all that was southern, antebellum, and Natchez?

I have compiled my facts and sources, and I have tried to tell the story of Natchez journalism and its practitioners. By the very nature of the profession, thousands of articles and millions of words remain behind, penned, selected, and edited by the subjects. It seems only natural to let the journalists tell their own story in their own words as much as possible. Like Theodore Weld, I let the South speak for itself.

Southern journalism gets the short end of the stick in histories of the American press with most of the attention focused on New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and general trends in other northern cities. General histories of mass media have room for only a few paragraphs on newspapers in New Orleans and Baltimore before they discuss the role of the newspapers in the era of sectional tensions that preceded the Civil War. At any given time, specific newspapers in different regions experienced different purposes and rates of development. When press history begins in Natchez (around 1800), the small struggling territorial newspapers of the region could not be compared to the newspapers of the major cities of the North, a few of which had been around for close to a century.

A general press history, with the immense span of time and the various forms of media that must be discussed, can hardly be expected to recite the mundane details of every community and how the press differed from one hamlet to the next. Press historian Michael Emery describes frontier journalism of the early republic and, in the decades preceding the Civil War, southern journalism of the era. The press in Natchez presents characteristics of both frontier and southern journalism of the era.

The Press and America, by Michael Emery, Edwin Emery, and Nancy L. Roberts, describes the late 18th-century development of the political press in America, after the colonies became the United States of America and political factions funded party organs to attract and inform the citizens of the new nation. The book also comments on westward expansion in the early 1800s and the rapid appearance of newspapers in recently settled areas. Early Natchez newspapers displayed the characteristics of both the political press and the frontier press. In 1800, the American government designated Natchez as the capital of the Mississippi Territory, recently acquired from Spain. Far from the settled regions of North America, Natchez was the center of administration for the new territory. Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans competed for power and influence, and almost overnight, Natchez required political newspapers despite its remote frontier location. (4)

The Press and America also provides a brief summary of the rise of the abolitionists in the 1830s. William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator appeared in 1831 and became a major organ of the abolitionist movement. Other anti-slavery newspapers followed, and the abolitionists took advantage of improving press technology (and low postage rates for many kinds of printed material) to flood the nation, North and South, with anti-slavery publications.

From the 1830s to the outbreak of the Civil War, sectional tension over slavery increased, and the newspapers certainly played a major role in inflaming or attempting to quash the growing divide between North and South. The “fire-eaters,” southerners who denounced abolition in the most forceful terms, used the southern newspapers, the legislature and the stump to attack the anti-slavery movement of the North, and to urge secession if the two sections could not come to an agreement favorable to southern slaveholding interests. (5)

In News for All, Thomas Leonard discusses the effects of the abolitionist press in greater detail. Abolitionist literature ended up in flames in many areas of the South, postmasters refused to distribute it, and legislatures passed laws prohibiting incendiary literature. Anti-abolitionist mobs also harassed activist foes of slavery in the North.(6) Violence in the North subsided in the late 1830s, perhaps as a response to the publication and wide distribution of American Slavery As It Is. Was it harder to provoke mob conditions if the South condemned itself with fugitive slave ads and other damning evidence? Perhaps, or maybe fierce anti-abolitionist sentiment had burnt out of its own accord after a few years.

Leonard notes that the printing capacity of the North overwhelmed that of the South, calling it a superweapon for the anti-slavery movement. The slave states produced a fraction of the printed material of the South. The deluge of hostile anti-slavery tracts flooding Dixie must have seemed anti-southern to many white southerners, encouraging a wave of paranoia and accusations of an anti-southern conspiracy. In truth, northern presses published more proslavery material than the South. And DeBow’s Review, the prominent southern journal that provided a forum for many of slavery’s defenders, came out of northern print shops for distribution in the South, a fact that its publishers tried to keep secret. (7)

Leonard notes that the abolitionist movement outmaneuvered the South by using media advances to distribute an effective anti-slavery message. Proslavery arguments remained in the South, in southern journals and newspapers, seldom venturing out of Dixie’s echo chamber in an accessible pamphlet form to influence opinion in the North. George Fitzhugh, author of Cannibals All!, condemned the northern exploitation of immigrant labor as much worse than black slavery, but he never reached a wide audience. No one in the South ever compiled northern news items to embarrass the free states in the way that American Slavery As It Is showed the hollowness of the South’s defense of a paternalistic slave system. (8)

Most general histories of the press do not delve this far into the differences between northern and southern journalism, and more in-depth studies of the southern press are few and far between. Some press histories specialize on a specific newspaper or region, with New York understandably getting the most attention. Aspects of southern press history appear in some studies. For example, Clement Eaton’s Freedom of Thought in the Old South contains a few chapters on the press, although it focuses on the Upper South. Many states passed laws suppressing expressions of anti-slavery sentiments, and Eaton suggests that the sporadic use of these laws and the frequent implementation of lenient penalties indicated that the South respected the freedom of the press. (9) A comprehensive treatment of the southern press has yet to appear.

Fortunately for my purposes, the historically important community of Natchez stimulates the interest of many historians and writers, and secondary sources on Natchez often cite the newspapers, summarize press history for specific newspapers, and describe incidents involving area journalists. In Antebellum Natchez, Clayton James uses newspaper articles to make a number of points about Natchez politics, culture and economics. William Davis’s A Way Through the Wilderness briefly describes the press in Natchez (and other parts of the Old Southwest) during the Territorial period.

Biographies can also be a source for useful material. Mack Buckley Swearingen’s The Early Life of George Poindexter discusses an early feud between an editor and a local political figure that resulted in libel suits, a beating, and charges of cowardice in battle during the Battle of New Orleans. (10) Robert May’s biography of John Quitman, one of Mississippi’s most prominent antebellum political operators, provides a few details on Quitman’s fistfight with Free Trader editor Lorenzo Besançon as well as Quitman’s successful campaign against Natchez Courier editor Giles Hillyer for a congressional seat. (11) With the appropriate dates in hand, I was able to find the right newspapers where I uncovered a mountain of material on these incidents and many others.

Articles from historical journals yield helpful information. A 1972 article examines seven major newspapers in the state and speculates on the influence of newspapers on the final outcome of the election of 1860. (12) Two journal articles on the role of the Mississippi press in the 1850s contend that it enforced “intellectual isolation” by excluding and repressing ideas that threatened the comfortable southern view of slavery, and inflamed the South by sensationalizing John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry. These articles cite newspapers from across the state, including quotes from Natchez newspapers, and provide some perspective on the state as whole. (13) A very useful article from 1957, “The Mississippi Press in the Jackson Era, 1926-1841” by Nelson Miles, details the status of the state’s newspapers in the 1820s, when supporters of Andrew Jackson started a number of newspapers to counter the large number of sheets that favored John Quincy Adams. The article covers the entire state, with special attention to events in Natchez like the conflict and cooperation of the town papers. (14)

Diaries are not only fun, they are useful, especially with background and color. William Johnson’s diary, a great asset for anyone studying Natchez from 1835 to 1851, presented some bits of information on several Natchez editors. (15) Land records, marriage records, court documents, census reports and other official papers also provide valuable information, and some of it is a lot more interesting than it sounds.

The best sources are the newspapers themselves. Not always the most reliable source for historical accuracy, the newspapers represented the voice and opinions of the society they served and influenced. They tell the modern researcher what Natchez newspaper readers wanted to hear (and what the editors wanted them to hear), and these views had to be supported by all of white society. Similarly, mainstream views on women, Native Americans and northerners can be examined and analyzed.

Newspapers also provide clues to how newspaper establishments operated, with a statement of purpose, an editorial on the importance of newspapers, and notices containing mundane information such as an apology for errors that might explain that the paper is understaffed because of a yellow fever epidemic. When newspapers changed hands, editorial notices often explained the motives of both the outgoing and the incoming editors. The departing journalist might be moving to another state, changing professions, retiring, or getting married. The new owner often offered a few details of his past experience. These, and many other items in the newspapers, provide welcome scraps of information about these men as they shaped public opinion and responded to the needs of the public they served.

This study employs frequent and lengthy passages from the newspapers of Natchez from the antebellum period. More than just quaint and interesting passages from America’s past, these quotes often provide a useful glimpse into the character of the southern press and the society it served and influenced. A simple summary of these views would fail to provide the proper context in which these views developed and propagated. The editorial style of the 19th century tended to be combative, flowery and even pompous at times. The journalistic principles of balance and objectivity had not yet become a part of American newspaper practice, and the era’s newspapermen and women plied their trade with a creative ear for sarcasm, hyperbole, distortion and other literary adornments.

Southern journalists wrote forcefully partly because of rigid views of honor that demanded a strong commitment to a position and the desire to go to great lengths to defend these viewpoints. The newspapers provided a very important forum for southern views, and newspapermen and women used the medium to full advantage, revealing much about the time and place. Using lengthy quotes lets the Natchez editors speak for themselves and reveals much about the character of the southern press.

After the United States acquired the Mississippi Territory from Spain in the 1790s, Natchez soon became the focus of the region’s political and economic life. Political maneuvering moved the capital to nearby Washington for several years before the capital moved to Jackson in the center of the state when Mississippi achieved statehood in 1819. Nevertheless, Natchez remained an important city, politically and economically, until the Civil War.

The rich cotton planters of the Mississippi River Valley congregated in Natchez, maintained palatial homes in the area, and conducted various forms of business there. The wealthy elite often kept their families on remote plantation homes during the unhealthy season, and then gathered in Natchez for the winter, the social season. Politicians and statesmen valued the opinions and support of these wealthy planters, and the political leaders of Mississippi realized the importance of Natchez as a meeting place for the most influential people in the southern part of the state. The newspapers of Natchez became an important part of the network of influence and information that directed Mississippi politics. Operating under varying degrees of independence, Natchez editors strived to attract the attention and patronage of state leaders at the same time they tried to appeal to the political and cultural tastes of as many potential newspaper readers as possible.

Newspapers started in territorial Natchez as marginal but vital expressions of a frontier community, providing basic information on the acts of the territorial legislature, commerce, and the news of the world. The frontier press acted as a window to the world, and a central depository for community information in an isolated region. The role of political press appeared very quickly, first in the conflict between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians at the end of the 1790s, then in the guise of factions among the Jeffersonians from 1800 to the War of 1812. Both sides supported newspapers to distribute and argue their views. This role of party press remained long after the Natchez region had outgrown its frontier character as a result of a growing population, a developing network of transportation and communication, and a frontier that continually moved west. After 1830, to counter a growing perception of an abolitionist threat, the southern press increasingly took on the appearance of a slavery press, and Natchez newspapers devoted more space to slavery and slavery-related issues, justifying the institution, denigrating blacks and abolitionists, and warning of a coming northern threat to the southern way of life.

Throughout the transition from frontier press to party press to slavery press, Natchez journalism consistently displayed an element of conflict, often spurred by exaggerated southern views of honor. Beatings, fights, duels and challenges to duels highlight the relations of the press to the community. This penchant for conflict can also be viewed in non-physical manifestations, in a number of lawsuits and, especially, in accounts printed in the newspapers about ongoing debates on issues and personalities.

The differing strategies of the slavery press demonstrate this conflict very well. In the 1850s, the Democratic press, represented by the Mississippi Free Trader, usually expressed an extreme view that the North made excessive and unrealistic demands on the South on issues involving slavery and the status of slavery in the new western territories. They often denied the accusations that they advocated secession and disunion, but the inflammatory nature of much Democratic rhetoric made secession seem the obvious goal. The opposition, representing a succession of different parties from the Whigs to the Know Nothings to the Union Party, adopted a more moderate tone in the pages of the Natchez Courier. Compromises offered by the North, numerous Courier articles assured its readers, represented real and sincere efforts to heal the breach between the two sections, and the extremists flirted dangerously with secession, heedless of the potential risk of civil war.

These varying strategies of the slavery press never disagreed on slavery or abolition, however. Slavery, an institution blessed by god, benefited white and black alike as loving white masters Christianized the inferior black man, and directed his primitive energies to useful work. Abolitionists, funded and misled by malicious leaders and British agitators, refused to understand southern reality, and projected their own unhappiness and discontent on the South.

This study supports these statements with examples from the newspapers and the analysis of events recreated as well as possible from historical documents. The general history of the press in Natchez and the lives of Natchez journalists are examined and analyzed in the first two chapters to supply some background information and context necessary for a better understanding of the place and the times. Chapter Three explores specific incidents involving Natchez journalists to illustrate the different forms of conflict they faced and the long-term nature of these conflicts. Chapter Four provides examples of the political nature of the Natchez press, focusing on slavery and southern perceptions of the increasing sectional tension of national politics from 1848 to the Civil War. To provide a more complete view of the Natchez press, the final chapter briefly examines a few aspects of Natchez newspapers that do not reflect specifically southern values. Most of the chapter, however, explores the ways in which southern views affected values and economics, as a contrast to the previous chapter’s focus on politics. Again, many examples of conflict are illustrated to support the thesis.

An understanding of Natchez, its society, its press and its journalists may furnish some insight into the minds of men and women who so valued their perceived right to human property that the risks of secession and civil war seemed like a great and worthy adventure instead of folly and madness.


(1) Thomas C. Leonard, News for All: America’s Coming of Age with the Press (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 75-79.

(2) The newspapers that Sarah Grimké and Theodore Weld found so useful have much to tell beyond the purposes of abolitionist activists. Researchers feel blessed upon encountering these newspapers in their original form and thereby experiencing a momentary connection with the southern folk who spread out and perused these same pages on the street, in the coffee houses, and at the race track. Most often, the researcher must be content with the photographic impressions of these journals on microfilm, using the capricious microfilm-reading machines that often seem to have been specifically designed to test the stamina and ingenuity of historians.

(3) Barbara Tuchman, Practicing History: Selected Essays by Barbara Tuchman (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1981), p. 42. This quotation is from an essay titled “History by the Ounce,” originally published in Harper’s Magazine, July 1965.

(4) Michael Emery, Edwin Emery, and Nancy L. Roberts, The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media (Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1996), pp. 80-83, 61-74, 99-109. The frontier press is characterized by limitations imposed by a small staff and a small readership. These newspapers served the expanding West, they were located in small towns but generally provided information to a larger trading area. Advertising revenues were small, and frontier newspapers often struggled financially. However, they provided basic political, financial and community news. According to Emery, the frontier editors “knit the communities into organizations that could begin to bring civilization to the remote areas.” As one of the most important centers on the Mississippi River, Natchez developed quickly enough that it was not a frontier community by 1815 or so. The political press, in contrast to the commercial press of the 18th century, developed from the political conflict between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists in the 1790s. Both sides in the conflict funded newspapers to push their political perspectives, and most newspapers became highly politicized in this environment. As political coalitions changed, collapsed and reformed, the political press remained largely intact throughout the antebellum era. The Natchez press was a frontier press only to 1815, but it displayed characteristics of the political press from 1800 to 1860. Large cities, such as New York and Baltimore, also hosted large-circulation dailies known as the popular press, sometimes known as the penny press. Beginning in the 1830s, these newspapers took advantage of large metropolitan populations and advances in printing technology to reach an increasing number of readers. (For example, the New York Herald had a circulation of nearly 80,000 in 1860 when it was the largest daily in the world. The circulation for a Natchez newspaper in this period seldom numbered much above 1000.) Natchez, like most Southern cities (except New Orleans and Baltimore), lacked a population large enough to take advantage of the technology that made the popular press possible. It is mentioned here to complete the discussion of all the manifestations of the press in the United States before the Civil War.

(5) Emery, Emery, and Roberts, The Press and America, pp. 121-126.

(6) Leonard, News for All, pp. 67-71.

(7) Ibid., pp. 72-75.

(8) It is unlikely that the South could have come up with proslavery material that would have any dramatic effect in the North. Slavery As It Is very effectively refuted a number of southern beliefs about slavery as a benign institution, beneficial to blacks and whites alike. Northerners were aware of the conditions of immigrant labor because of a free, sensationalist press in New York and other large cities. Southern attempts to expose northern exploitation of the work force would not have been a surprise to anyone. Conversely, a virtual southern embargo of incendiary material effectively muzzled most frank discussion among southerners of the real consequences of slavery.

(9) Easton’s book is useful for descriptions of these laws and the manner in which they were enforced but it is arguable that the community enforced the spirit of these laws through intimidation and vigilante action. Law enforcement seldom got involved because abolitionists and other dissenters, well aware of the fate of those who defied the community, seldom challenged the laws. Clement Eaton, Freedom of Thought in the Old South (New York: Peter Smith, 1951 [1941]).

(10) Mack Buckley Swearingen, The Early Life of George Poindexter (Chicago: University of Chicago Libraries, 1934), pp. 125-137.

(11) John Quitman, a native of New York who moved to Mississippi as a young man, eventually became one of Mississippi’s most illustrious statesmen. He served as governor of the state (twice), as congressman, and in several state offices. His service in the Mexican-American War earned him a reputation as a war hero. Some southern historians claim that Quitman, an ardent secessionist, might have been the first president of the Confederacy if he had not died after a lingering illness in 1857.

(12) Only two of the newspapers surveyed supported John Bell for the presidency in 1860. John Breckinridge won the state, but Bell won in the two counties that had newspapers supporting him, despite the fact that both counties also had newspapers that supported Breckinridge. One of these counties was Adams, home of the Natchez Courier. The other county was Warren, the location of Vicksburg. David L. Potter, “The Mississippi Press and the Election of 1860,” Journal of Mississippi History XXXIV (February 1972): 247-252.

(13) See Donald Brooks Kelley, “Harper’s Ferry: Prelude to Crisis in Mississippi,” Journal of Mississippi History XXVII (February 1965): 351-372; and Donald Brooks Kelley, “Intellectual Isolation: Gateway to Secession in Mississippi,” Journal of Mississippi History XXXVI (February 1974): 17-37.

(14) Edwin A. Miles, “The Mississippi Press in the Jackson Era, 1824-1841,” Journal of Mississippi History XIX (January 1957): 1-20.

(15) William Johnson was a free black man in Natchez who operated a lucrative and popular barbershop and other business ventures. From 1835 to his untimely death in 1851, he kept a diary that has proven valuable to historians because of the many details it provides of the social, economic and political life of Natchez.


"In America there is scarcely a hamlet that has not its newspaper. It may readily be imagined that neither discipline or unity of action can be established among so many combatants, and each one consequently fights under his own standard. All the political journals of the United States are, indeed, arrayed on the side of the administration or against it; but they attack and defend it in a thousand different ways." - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

Despite a few obscure and unreliable sources that mention newspapers as early as 1789, journalism in the form of a weekly newspaper really began in the Natchez District with the first issue of the Mississippi Gazette in 1799. This coincided with the transferal of authority in the region from Spain to the United States. Natchez, the seat of Spanish control in the area, became the center of U.S. sovereignty, although the small settlement of Washington, a few miles north of Natchez, claimed the official title, for a few years at least, as the locus of territorial authority. The first printing press in the area owed its existence to the needs of the territorial government to disseminate and circulate printed copies of the territorial laws and the territorial code for citizens in a vast area that included most of modern-day Alabama and Mississippi. The first territorial governor, Winthrop Sargent, invited Andrew Marschalk, a U.S. army officer stationed at Walnut Hills (present-day Vicksburg) some seventy miles upriver from Natchez, to use his small printing press to do the business of government printing. (1)

Marschalk had brought a small mahogany press made in London to the area in the 1790s, and it was this press that Sargent hoped would be available for government printing. Marschalk had printed a ballad titled “The Galley Slave,” possibly as a demonstration, which caused “great excitement” in Natchez. Although the details are unclear, Marschalk constructed a larger press capable of printing a foolscap sheet, and proceeded to print the territorial laws. He probably printed the laws while still at Walnut Hills, then sold the press to Ben M. Stokes, who set up the Mississippi Gazette in Natchez. The Gazette failed within a year or two. In 1800, a Mr. Green from Baltimore brought a press to Natchez to publish Green’s Impartial Observer, which also failed and was taken over by James Ferrell and renamed the Natchez Intelligencer for a brief time before it also folded. The Intelligencer passed to John Shaw who named it the Halcyon before he formed a partnership with Timothy and Samuel Terrell to publish The Mississippi Messenger, an enterprise that lasted about five years. (2)

Marshalk returned to Natchez in the summer of 1802 and produced the first issue of the Mississippi Herald in July of that year. He may have acquired his old press from Stokes or he may have brought another from Philadelphia. The Herald lasted until at least 1808, and Marschalk changed the name of the paper several times during this period. In 1803, the banner read the Mississippi Herald and Natchez Repository, which changed to Mississippi Herald and Natchez City Gazette in 1804. The City was soon dropped and the paper was known as the Mississippi Herald and Natchez Gazette until 1808. (3)

A few other short-lived newspapers appeared in this period, including John Wade’s Constitutional Conservator and a paper published by James Bradford mentioned but not named by Marschalk. (4) John Winn published the Weekly Chronicle from 1808 to 1811, and he may have been using the same press employed by the Terrells to publish the Messenger.

In 1812, Natchez journalism entered a period of stability dominated by two main newspapers that competed for readers until 1824. The Mississippi Republican, published anonymously for more than a year, began in 1812. It changed hands several times, operated by Peter Isler, J. McCurdy, William C. Evens & Co., S.W.H. Cissna & Co., and Sylvester Russell. William H. Benton acquired the paper in 1824 and changed the name to the Mississippi Republican and Literary Register for the last few months of its existence.

The most important of the editors, Richard C. Langdon, published the Republican from February 1818 to October 1820. Langdon would later edit the American Standard and the Ariel, the latter being one of the more interesting Natchez newspapers because of an unusual mixture of respectful political news — it was a Whig newspaper founded primarily to support John Quincy Adams — and literary content.

In April 1813, Andrew Marschalk moved to Washington and started a new newspaper, the Washington Republican. (5) As Natchez grew and changed over the next twenty years, Marschalk always served the region as a journalist, even though he moved back to Natchez and changed the name of the paper several times. For a few years, the banner proclaimed the lengthy title of the Mississippi Republican and Natchez Intelligencer. From 1818 to 1825, Marschalk called it the Mississippi State Gazette, and changed it to simply the Natchez Gazette in 1827. In that year, Marschalk, struggling financially, merged with another struggling Jacksonian newspaper, the Mississippi Statesman, operated by James Burke, and the paper was rechristened the Mississippi Statesman and Natchez Gazette until 1829. Over the next few years, it was known as the Natchez Gazette again, then as the Mississippi Gazette, and finally as Time’s Tablet and Mississippi Gazette for a few months before Marschalk retired in the fall of 1832. (6)

The Ariel, already mentioned, ran from 1825 to 1829. In its short life, a number of Natchez figures worked on it at one time or another as editor or publisher, including E.B. Baker, Richard C. Langdon, James K. Cook and Phineas F. Merrick. Another Whig paper, the Southern Galaxy, started in the summer of 1828. At first the banner listed the publisher as William C. Grissam and Co. For much of the two-year life of the paper, Grissam published the Galaxy anonymously, but for most of 1830 he published it under his own name. Cyrus Griffin edited the paper for at least part of the time because several 1829 letters to the editor are addressed to him, but the Galaxy never listed him, or any other ambitious journalist, as editor. Griffin suffered from various ailments and the rest of the staff often ran the paper in his absence, frequently prompting humorous notes, signed by “The Printer’s Devil,” apologizing for the quality of the paper. The Southern Galaxy ceased publication in the summer of 1830. (7)

Natchez lawyer William P. Mellen purchased the Ariel in 1829 and transformed it into the Natchez. Editor James K. Cook of the Ariel continued to work for publisher Mellen on the Natchez for several years, and the paper retained its National Republican orientation. In 1833, Mellen changed the name again, to the Natchez Courier & Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin Advertiser. This unwieldy name only lasted until the fall of 1833.

In the fall of 1832, publisher Nelson Wooster started the Mississippi Journal and Natchez Advertiser, with the help of James K. Cook as editor. (8) Wooster died in March 1833, and his brother Charles published the Journal until his own death in June the same year. Cook and several others tried to continue the paper, but Natchez could not support two Whig papers unless the owner could handle financial losses. Mellen took over the Journal and merged it with his own paper, which was briefly known as the Natchez Courier and Journal. (9) The Courier would be the longest-lived of the antebellum newspapers of the Natchez region. Except for a few months in late 1863 and early 1864, when the War Between the States caused publication to be erratic, the Courier lasted until 1871.

For most of the period, the Courier enjoyed a spirited rivalry with the Democratic Mississippi Free Trader and Natchez Gazette. For several reasons, it is highly likely that the first publishers of the Free Trader — De Rush, Stanton, and Besançon — purchased the press and equipment from Andrew Marschalk or his creditors. The use of the Natchez Gazette as part of the title, the continuation of the paper’s Democratic Party affiliation, and Besançon’s admiration of Marschalk all support the idea that Marschalk’s old press still produced newspapers even if the “Father of Mississippi Printing” had retired. Besançon encouraged Marschalk to write for the Free Trader several times, and Marschalk provided several remembrances of his early life in New York during the American Revolution. Besançon’s interest in the early history of printing in Mississippi also encouraged Marschalk to write an article that — despite a few inaccuracies — provided valuable information for later historians. (10)

The long rivalry between the Whig Courier and the Democratic Free Trader would be the liveliest newspaper “war” in the history of antebellum Natchez. Both parties represented a large cross-section of the region’s inhabitants of large planters, merchants, journeymen, and small farmers. The Democratic Free Trader fought more fiercely for state’s rights and, later on, proclaimed secession as the only sensible solution for a beleaguered South. The Whig Courier staunchly defended slavery but also urged caution in southern relations with the North, deriding the Free Trader as inflammatory and disunionist. The Courier’s stance attracted accusations of “appeasement” and “abolitionist” from its Democratic rival. The Free Trader, like the Courier, persevered through the final decades of growing northern-southern strife, through the election of 1860 and the early days of the Civil War, finally ceasing publication in 1861.

Only one other newspaper appeared in Natchez between 1835 and 1865. John Lavins and James Edwards, operating at the landing at Natchez-Under-the Hill, published the Natchez Cutter in 1841. The Cutter concentrated on the affairs of the Mississippi River, its culture and economy, and largely ignored politics. Focusing on river news, the Cutter published the comings and goings of steamboats, events at Natchez-Under-the-Hill, and social news from New Orleans and other river cities. Lavins and Edwards published the Cutter six days a week from March to May in 1841 before the paper folded. (11)

Both the Free Trader and the Courier passed through the hands of a dozen or more proprietors from the 1830s to the 1860s. Lorenzo Besançon edited the Free Trader for four years. In 1837, he was sole owner and proprietor, but before and after that year, Besançon operated the paper in partnership with several Natchez entrepreneurs. Many of the later Free Trader editors lasted for two years or less before moving on. Some of the more durable journalists included merchant T.A.S. Doniphan (August 1840 to October 1848), Richard Elward (May 1849 to September 1852), Edward Pickett, Jr. (September 1852 to December 1855), and James W. McDonald (January 1856 to January 1858).

The Courier also went through editors quickly. After five years in the business, founder William P. Mellen sold the Courier to Samuel H.B. Black, who operated the paper for four years (1836 to 1839). After several short-lived publishers gave up the hectic business of Natchez journalism, Milford N. Prewett ran the paper from 1843 to 1847. In later years, Prewett’s wife Harriet operated the paper in her husband’s name because he suffered from a persistent illness. The Prewetts moved to Yazoo City in the west central part of the state and purchased another newspaper, the Yazoo City Whig, which Harriet published under her own name for over a decade after Milford died. (12)

William R. Adams, who bought the Courier from the Prewetts, sold it after three years to Giles M. Hillyer. A native of Connecticut, Hillyer had lived in Mississippi for a few years when he bought the Courier. He would be a journalistic and Whig fixture in Natchez for almost twenty years. From the summer of 1850 to May 1862, Hillyer edited the Courier, bought land and slaves to become a small planter himself, and pursued a political career, even running unsuccessfully against John Quitman for Congress in 1855. Hillyer left the Courier late in 1861 (13) to offer his services to the Confederacy but returned to Natchez after the war and resumed the editorial direction of the paper from December 1865 to February 1867. The Courier changed hands several times in the last few years of its existence and finally closed its doors forever in 1871.

One other area newspaper should be mentioned and discussed briefly even though it was not published in Adams County or, truth be told, in the state of Mississippi. The Concordia Intelligencer served the citizens of the town of Vidalia in Louisiana, on the other side of the Mississippi River directly across from Natchez. C.S. Smith started the Intelligencer in 1841 and it changed hands frequently, with at least ten different owners before it closed in 1858. A failed Natchez doctor and businessman, Robert Patterson, bought the paper in 1843, seeking a new profession after the Panic of 1837 ruined him and he had failed at several other business ventures. He succumbed to a long illness in 1846 and his wife Mary published the paper for a few months before she sold it to James Edwards, an editor on the Intelligencer for several years when it was owned by Patterson. Edwards, no stranger to Natchez journalism, had previously been involved in running both the Courier, and the Cutter. Edwards owned the Intelligencer for about three years.

Up to 1852, several short-time publishers ran the paper, including G.B.N. Wailes, the brother of Benjamin Wailes, a prominent Natchez man of letters. Two other publishers ran the Intelligencer for longer periods of time, W.F. Eisley (of Port Gibson) from 1852 to 1856, and John McDowell, who ran it from 1854 to 1858. (14)

The Concordia Intelligencer, named for the Louisiana parish where Vidalia was located, played a slightly different role for the region than the Natchez papers. It contained the most important national and international news, market reports, advertising and the usual curiosities. In comparison to the Natchez newspapers — the Courier and the Free Trader — the Intelligencer lacked intensely partisan election coverage and violent political attacks. Vidalia, a much smaller town than Natchez, desired its own forum for vital news items and for the relevant business-related notices and reports. The Intelligencer’s readers must have also enjoyed the cultural items that analyzed northern and European culture and comfortingly found southern culture to be superior. But the Intelligencer did little more than print the names of the candidates and the results of the elections. The residents of Vidalia had little interest in Mississippi state politics. (Those that did could easily subscribe to the Natchez papers.) And it is probably reasonable to assume that Vidalia avoided the excesses of the exuberant politics of its own state because of Vidalia’s small size and the distance from New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The Intelligencer ceased publication in 1858. (15)

The Civil War understandably created an unstable and precarious situation for journalists in Natchez. The Free Trader ceased publication in May of 1861 (and it is highly likely that the Natchez Democrat — which began late in 1865 and continues to be the main Natchez newspaper in the early 21st century — used the press and equipment that had been used for the Free Trader). After Hillyer left, the Courier continued under other management, often anonymously, and publication became sporadic during the disastrous summer of 1863 after the fall of Vicksburg and subsequent Union domination of the Mississippi River. When the Courier resumed regular publication in the fall of 1863, no regular editor was named and the military orders of the occupying Union forces figured prominently. The Natchez press played a role it had never dreamed of — as a mouthpiece for a victorious army of invasion. The military used the paper to ensure that general orders for a relatively peaceful and orderly occupation could be distributed and known to the residents of the area. It also offered carefully selected news of the war and a few other items of general interest, but very little advertising.

In the early days of the republic, newspapers provided political information to a growing electorate dispersed across the nation from the Atlantic coast across the Appalachians to the Mississippi River. The press of early 19th-cenutry America contained national and foreign events, advertisements for local business concerns and, most importantly, the newspapers functioned as a political forum. As the franchise embraced a greater number of adult white males, the political press became a major conduit for news from the capital, important speeches, and opinions on the controversial issues of the day.

In the early decades of Natchez journalism, the relative success of the newspapers that lasted more than two years can largely be attributed to government patronage rather than support from a reading public. Marschalk’s Mississippi Herald, for example, lasted for six years while other newspapers came and went with startling regularity. Marschalk subsidized his income from subscriptions and advertising with revenues earned from printing the laws and other business for the territorial government. As president in early 1801, Thomas Jefferson appointed a new governor of the territory, and the government, formerly controlled by Federalists appointed by Sargent, passed into the hands of the Jeffersonians. A staunch Jeffersonian Republican, Marschalk had secured the contracts for printing the laws and the official business of the territory by 1806, or possibly sooner. Every issue of the Mississippi Herald and Natchez Gazette after 1806 identified the publisher as “Andrew Marschalk, Printer of the Laws of the United States.” A newspaper publisher who enjoyed the business of the government could absorb some of the losses in the unstable world of frontier journalism.

Why was it so difficult to maintain a newspaper in Natchez in the early 1800s? Newspapers in America at this time usually came out weekly, and publishers offered yearly subscriptions. Copies were not sold separately. For example, Green’s Impartial Observer cost four dollars per year and other newspapers cost up to six dollars annually. In a cash-poor economy, however, subscribers might agree to a slightly higher price to be paid later. A promise of payment, however, was not the same thing as cash in hand, and collecting fees from subscribers often turned out to be a difficult task. Many editorials throughout the antebellum period complained of the problems involved in trying to collect these subscription fees. (16)

The frontier newspapers did not fail because of a lack of interest on the part of area readers. Not only did subscribers refuse to pay their fees, many readers borrowed newspapers from their neighbors, undermining the revenue from subscribers. One New York editor, echoing his fellow journalists all over the country, estimated that only one-tenth of his readers actually paid for a copy of the paper. (17) Natchez, especially in the earliest years of the territorial period, did not have enough newspaper readers committed to spending their own cash to easily support a local journal.

Nevertheless, the frontier newspapers played an important role in the political, cultural and economic development of the territory. First, the dissemination of important political news and government announcements fulfilled one of the most important functions of the Natchez frontier press. Noteworthy speeches and important proclamations of the government — federal and territorial — filled many of the front pages. Green’s Impartial Observer of February 21, 1801, for example, printed a speech by Georgia’s governor that filled most of the front page. These newspapers also contained dispatches and letters from around the nation and around the world, with news of the latest wars and intrigues. In the period before 1812, examples of well-covered events included the wars with the Barbary kingdoms of North Africa and, much closer to home, the Burr conspiracy with its resulting trials and political machinations. (18)

Second, the Natchez press served as an outlet for advertising. Early issues of the Observer and the Mississippi Herald displayed announcements of various goods and services, including room and board, and agricultural supplies. Some ads offered land for sale or for lease. Farmers and planters announced that prize horses had been lost or stolen. Slavery also played an important role in the notices as traders offered their human cargo for purchase, or owners hunted for fugitives.

How did an editor get the news that appeared in the newspaper? How did the publishers get the product to the customers? How did these processes change between 1800 and 1865? For most of this period, newspapers were four pages long and appeared weekly. From the 1830s, some newspapers experimented with publishing more frequently, and the banners reflect these experiments as the ¬Natchez Courier became the Semi-Weekly Courier or the Daily Courier for a time. The Free Trader also exhibits this trait. Newspapers that published several times a week or daily usually had a weekly edition that published the most important news from the whole week for subscribers who did not feel it necessary to read the paper more than once a week. Newspaper frequency changed, going from weekly to semi-weekly to daily, and back to weekly again, based on the economy. (19)

The size of the newspapers varied widely through the period. The Free Trader and the Courier of the 1850s were usually large, much larger than the standard newspaper size of today, close to 24” x 28.” On the other hand, the publisher of the relatively modest Ariel provided a newspaper with dimensions close to an 8 1/2” x 11” sheet of paper. The size of newspapers reflected a number of considerations, including availability, prevailing style and the amount of news. In the first issue of the Washington Republican, Marschalk apologized for the small size of the paper: “The contemplated size of our paper is a royal or (at least) a medium sheet: — when our readers are informed, that no paper of either of those dimensions, can now be had, we trust, further apology for its present form is unnecessary. We confidently expect a supply of large paper, in a short time.” (20)
Printing press technology improved during this time as well, and editors followed the latest developments. A front-page 1815 article described the speed and output of a new steam-powered press purchased by the London Times. The new press “performs every part of what Printers understand by the term ‘press work’ without human labor: except that the sheets of paper are required to be placed on a cylinder & taken off when they have the impression.” Noting the cost of the steam press, the article stated that the amount “will be speedily refunded by the savings that will arise from the invention as it allows the discharge of several Pressmen.” This steam press scarcely resembles the machinery it replaces, printing 1,100 sheets an hour “with an astonishing clearness and beauty of printing,” at a rate five times faster than the old hand-worked press. (21) Natchez, with newspaper circulations way below 1,000 at the time, did not need such a press in 1815. Publishers certainly followed the latest developments, however, and the changing look of the newspapers as well as rising circulation through the period indicates that Natchez journalists updated their printing presses when they could.

Editors filled their pages from a number of sources. They used local talent for editorials and some general interest pieces. Some local reporting brought in a few pieces of information. Marschalk mentions in one issue that he will not be in the office for three days because he will be “attending the Mayor’s Court.” (22) The newspapers, as noted earlier, published laws and speeches.

One important method of newsgathering for the entire period involved reprinting articles from other newspapers. Every newspaper in the nation subscribed to a number of other newspapers and simply lifted the most interesting articles. Editors exchanged subscriptions with each other, and the agreement allowed editors to use stories from the publications they received. A randomly chosen issue of the Courier (23) features articles from the National Gazette, the Port Gibson Southerner, the U.S. Gazette, the Louisville Journal, the Columbia Argos (Mississippi), the New York Herald, the Boston Times, the Mobile Advertiser, the New Orleans Bulletin, the New Orleans Bee, the Pittsburgh Advocate, the Cincinnati Post, the Cambria County Spy (Pennsylvania), and others.

Editors relied on every new batch of newspapers to fill the paper. One earnest notice, from the first issue of the Weekly Chronicle, (24) reflected the apologetic tone of the editor because the mail had not included any recent newspapers:

“We have delayed our publication this day, for the arrival of the mail, under the expectation that it would furnish us something new; but to our great disappointment and mortification, no papers of a recent date were received — We are therefore constrained to give our paper to the world, with less interesting matter than we contemplated. To pledge ourselves to make amends in future, is what might be expected, and what we could promise — But until we command punctuality in the whole line of post offices and mail carriers, and assure our friends that irregularities will no more occur, our promises, like so many others that are made, would never be fulfilled.”

In April of the following year, the Weekly Chronicle changed its day of publication from Wednesday to Saturday to accommodate “an alteration in the arrival and departure of the Eastern and Southern Mails.” Later, dispatches arrived by steamboat, and the most interesting items might be placed in the newspaper under a heading like “The Latest from the ‘Niagara,’” and, after 1850, Natchez newspapers often contained timely news items headed by “The Latest by Telegraph.”

A news-hungry citizen could get his hands on a newspaper in several different ways. Most readers subscribed (and prices varied widely through the antebellum period, from four dollars a year to ten dollars a year, for a four-page weekly newspaper) and the papers were distributed every week by employees of the publisher. Many newspapers available on microfilm have hand-written names above the banner on the first page; these are the names of the subscribers, written from a list that enabled the publisher (or, often, a separate business manager) to keep track of several hundred (or several thousand) subscribers. (25) Citizens who did not subscribe for home delivery had other options. They could subscribe to a reading room — Marschalk operated a reading room in Washington and several reading rooms are advertised in the Natchez newspapers (26) — where the customer paid a fee to have access to all the newspapers and books provided by the establishment. Alternately, a customer could have access to all the reading material just by paying for coffee or tea during every visit. (27)

Some patrons avoided paying for the newspaper by borrowing or stealing from a neighbor, and many subscribers simply refused to pay the bill at the end of the year. Publishers found several ways to deal with the huge but often necessary loss of revenue from stealing, borrowing, and delinquent subscribers. They hired bill collectors, they printed notices that negligent subscribers would be prosecuted, and they printed pleas to the readers to pay up or the newspaper would go out of business. Publishers seldom struck subscribers from the list or stopped delivery to delinquent subscribers because a longer subscriber list meant higher advertising rates and more political influence. (28)

New publishers and editors often included a mission statement or a note to subscribers, explaining the circumstances that had generated a new periodical or precipitated a change in ownership. Marschalk’s statement (29) for the first issue of the Washington Republican, April 13, 1813, is worth publishing in full:


“IT has been customary, (time immemorial) at the commencement of a Newspaper, for the Editor to make an exposition to the public, whose patronage he solicits, of his motives for the undertaking — his political opinions — and, also, to make many promises of the very great superiority his work is to possess over all his compatriots.

In complying with this custom, the Editor of the WASHINGTON REPUBLICAN will occupy as little space in the columns of his paper, as the nature of the case will admit.

First, as to his motives — they are the same, he believes, which actuates the generality of mankind, (if they will be as candid in the confession as he is), viz. SELF INTEREST: — this leads him, in the present instance, to hope, that the industrious pursuits of his profession, will not only be rewarded by the approbation and patronage of a generous public — but will do more — enable him to rear, with becoming propriety, a little family, whose only (terrestrial) hope is in him.

As to his political opinions, he claims the right of a free born American — to have them — and to express them (with decency) — but he claims for himself, no greater privilege in the columns of his paper, than he is ready and willing to grant to every individual of the community. — He conceives it very immaterial to enter into a particular detail of his sentiments on the present state of public affairs: — As to the war, in which we are now unfortunately engaged, (for all wars ought to be so considered) — he does most fervently believe, that if ever a nation had JUST CAUSE to wage one, the United States, in the present case, is that nation. To record with care and diligence, the events of the war, as they arise, and as opportunity and resources will permit, will be his principle study; and in every other particular, as it will be his interest, so will it become a duty, to use his every exertion to render the Washington Republican a useful, instructive and interesting journal.

With one positive promise he concludes — viz. that as his press has not been purchased by any party or set of men — no control, except his own shall be exercised over it.”

Marschalk’s mission statement begins sarcastically as he assures readers that he will, of course, provide a newspaper superior to all others. With his next point, that he was working in his own interests, Marschalk exhibited a very important motive that Natchez newspapers seldom acknowledged. No one got rich running a frontier newspaper, but a publisher could seek printing contracts and take on other publishing jobs. Apart from the financial rewards, however, a Natchez publisher might be able to gain influence and clout in the political world of Adams County and Mississippi.

The reference to the War of 1812 in the Washington Republican’s mission statement emphasizes that every time period generated its own unique purposes for the newspapers. The War of 1812 seems to have rejuvenated journalism in Natchez. From 1808 to 1812, existing records indicate references only to a single newspaper in Natchez. The Weekly Chronicle served Natchez from 1808 to 1811, and its news sections relied heavily on international reports that emphasized the exploits of Napoleon. Two newspapers appeared in the Natchez area after the start of the War of 1812, and both newspapers reported heavily on the struggle with Britain.

Marschalk forcefully asserted his independence with his final remark that “no control, except his own” would determine the content of the newspaper. Throughout his career, Marschalk prided himself on his independence, but it was not always so important to Natchez journalists. Although Marschalk and Besançon bristled when they had to work under the direction of others, many editors quietly did the work for sometimes-anonymous publishers. At times, the identity of an author or publisher became a heated issue in the early newspaper rivalries, particularly in the period before 1820 when Marschalk accused the editor of the Mississippi Republican of being the paid creature of George Poindexter, a powerful political operator during Mississippi’s territorial period.

Echoing the contentious political press in the settled part of the country, the Natchez press offers examples of political hostility at a very early period. In an 1806 number of the Mississippi Herald, Marschalk responds to an editorial in the Mississippi Messenger by adopting a contemptuous tone of superiority and referring to editor Samuel Terrell as “Sammy.” Marschalk supported the Jeffersonians, and then the Jacksonian Democrats throughout his three decades in Mississippi. In the early days, however, the Natchez press could not be neatly divided into two rival papers representing two major national parties. In the example cited above, Terrell’s Messenger supported the Jeffersonians just as Marschalk did. Conflicts did not arise over national issues; the factions within the party of the Jeffersonian Republicans usually developed out of local issues and personalities. A major issue that provoked violence and enmity between the competing groups of Natchez arose out of the controversy on the location of the territorial capital. The dispute between supporters of the town of Washington — a few miles from Natchez — and Greenville generated a bitter and spirited rivalry at a time when the newspapers largely agreed on most national issues. In the most famous manifestation of this contest, George Poindexter, who would later be governor of the state, administered a physical beating to Marschalk in his printing office in Washington after a long series of hostile articles in both Marschalk’s Washington Republican and the rival Mississippi Republican of Natchez.

The Mississippi Republican and the Washington Republican continued the political feuding within the party of the Jeffersonians that had started with Marschalk and Terrell. Until early in 1815, the news content of these newspapers largely centered on the War of 1812. Even much of the political abuse shared between these newspapers focused on the actions of Natchez natives during that conflict. The Battle of New Orleans proved to be a special focal point for Natchez press and Natchez politics, for a number of reasons. Jackson’s army had passed through Natchez on the way to the battle, and many volunteers from the region served under Old Hickory. The battle generated an intense feeling of pride and patriotism in all Americans in 1815, partly because it was an overwhelming victory over the British in a war that had gone badly for the country much of the time. The people of Natchez, however, experienced a special feeling, an exuberant reverence for the battle, its veterans and, especially its commander because so many Mississippians had participated defending the region where they lived. (30)

By 1825, party spirit again developed in the nation. Many Jackson supporters, angry over the “corrupt bargain” allegations after the election of 1824 that put John Quincy Adams into the White House, began to campaign actively for Jackson’s next run for the White House. In response, the Natchez supporters of John Quincy Adams organized several newspapers to counter the strength of Jackson in the area, represented by two Jackson newspapers, Marschalk’s Gazette and the Mississippi Statesman.

By the 1830s, the rivalry between the Mississippi Free Trader and the Natchez Courier reflected the fierceness of the period’s political climate, and some of the harsh words led to physical harassment, dueling, and fighting. In a mere four years as editor of the Free Trader, Besançon experienced every imaginable type of conflict with angry Whigs. In 1835, Mellen sued Besançon and his business partners for commenting on a labor dispute, calling the Courier management “Rats!” for their treatment of journeymen printers. Later that same year, a group of angry Whigs confronted Besançon, bodily removed him from the Free Trader office, and forced him to publicly apologize for an editorial. (Besançon later retracted his apology.) In 1837, Besançon was involved in four affairs of honor, one of which ended in death for his opponent. (31) In the fall of that year, Besançon and John Quitman got into a fight on Election Day, a conflict which is described in William Johnson’s diary as well as in the Free Trader.

In 1843, Milford N. Prewett of the Courier challenged the Free Trader’s T.A.S. Doniphan to a duel. Prewett was arrested, found not guilty, and the duel never happened. The latter period of the rivalry lacks any incident as dramatic as these experiences, but the verbal fencing continued until the start of the Civil War. By the late 1850s, the Free Trader editorialized on the rights of the South and the case for secession, and attacked the Courier for its more cautious Unionist approach. Editor Giles Hillyer — who supported the American party, also known as the Know Nothings, after the collapse of the Whigs — endorsed Union Party candidate John Bell in 1860 and published scathing articles on the radical and questionable nature of secession. When Mississippi seceded early in 1861, Hillyer, like so many other southern Unionists, enlisted in the Confederate army and rose to the rank of colonel and head quartermaster for Braxton Bragg in Tennessee. (32)

The onslaught of the abolitionists put southern society on the defensive. The Jacksonian press became the slavery press. On a regular basis, the Natchez newspapers reported news stories that supported and strengthened planter beliefs in white supremacy and the intellectual inadequacies of the Negro. Editors printed lectures and opinions that supported the view that slavery, no longer a necessary evil as it had been viewed from the 1790s to the first few decades of the 19th century, was actually a positive good, an institution that benefited owners and slaves alike. The authors of these articles praised enlightened southern society, denigrated the industrial North, and rationalized their views from every angle, with the support of every perspective imaginable: the Bible, economics, morality, ancient and modern history, pseudoscience and others. Southern journalists demonized the abolitionists and other northern opponents, misrepresenting their views and blaming the North for slave resistance and economic downturns.


(1) Information on the earliest years of the Natchez press can be found in: Swearingen, The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 57-59, 122-139; Clayton James, Antebellum Natchez (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1968), pp. 103-104, 230-231; William C. Davis, A Way Through the Wilderness (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1995), pp. 183-184, 233-234; Charles S. Sydnor, “The Beginning of Printing in Mississippi,” Journal of Southern History I (February 1935), pp. 49-55; and William B. Hamilton, editor, “Notes and Documents: The Printing of the 1799 Laws of the Mississippi Territory,” Journal of Mississippi History II (April 1940), pp. 88-99.

(2) James, Antebellum Natchez, pp. 103-104; Davis, A Way Through the Wilderness, pp. 183-184.

(3) Unless otherwise noted, information on the Mississippi press is derived from examining the newspapers, usually on microfilm. Mississippi newspapers for this era can be found at many archives, universities and public libraries in the South. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, Mississippi, has a particularly large collection of the state’s newspapers. The Natchez Project Archives at California State University, Northridge, has a large collection of Natchez newspapers on microfilm, and most of the newspaper research for this project was conducted at this facility.

(4) Davis, A Way Through the Wilderness, p. 184.

(5) Andrew Marschalk may have moved out of the area between 1808 and 1813. There is no evidence of Marschalk newspaper activity in this period. It is possible that Marschalk’s Natchez newspapers of 1808 to 1813 may have been published but do not exist anymore. This is unlikely because of the way that Marschalk numbered his volumes. The Washington Republican began on April 13, 1813, numbered Volume 1, Number 1. In all the name changes that Marschalk’s newspaper experienced over the next twenty years, he retained this numbering until he decided to renumber his newspapers, going back to 1802, the first issue of the Mississippi Herald. If Marschalk had published continuously up to 1813, he would have retained the numbering of the Mississippi Herald when he moved to Washington.

(6) Much of this information comes from reading the newspapers mentioned, but another valuable source is Edwin A. Miles, “The Mississippi Press in the Jackson Era, 1824-1841,” Journal of Mississippi History XIX (January 1957): 1-20.

(7) Terry Alford, A Prince Among Slaves (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977) contains much of the information about Griffin, as well as much useful material on Marschalk.

(8) It is highly likely that Wooster purchased the press of the Southern Galaxy, which had been inactive for two years.

(9) At the whim of the publisher, the Natchez Courier and Journal endured several variations on its name over the next few decades, but from here on, it will usually be noted as the Natchez Courier.

(10) Marschalk wrote the letter to Besançon on September 2, 1837, and the South-western Journal published it in its December 1837 issue. When Marschalk died in August 1838, Besançon published the letter along with Marschalk’s obituary in the Mississippi Free Trader on August 11, 1838.

(11) The Cutter receives little attention from historians. All the information on the Natchez Cutter in this study comes from an examination of the available copies of the newspaper itself on microfilm.

(12) Christopher J. Olsen, “‘Molly Pitcher’ of the Mississippi Whigs: The Editorial Career of Mrs. Harriet N. Prewett,” Journal of Mississippi History LVIII (Fall 1996), p. 238.

(13) The Courier listed Hillyer as editor until May 1862.

(14) Most of the information about the Concordia Intelligencer (1841-1858) comes from an examination of the newspaper on microfilm. The information about G.B.N. Wailes can be found in Charles S. Sydnor, A Gentleman of the Old Natchez Region: Benjamin L.C. Wailes (Durham: Duke University Press, 1938).

(15) These conclusions about the Concordia Intelligencer are derived from an afternoon in the archives at Louisiana State University, sampling issues from the entire run of the newspaper. Especially in the 1850s, the Intelligencer preached the superiority of southern life and criticized anti-slavery sentiments such as those found in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (April 16, 1853), a speech by the abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner (July 4, 1856), and the views of a “New Black Republican U.S. Senator” from Rhode Island. The Intelligencer asked in an editorial of January 12, 1855: “Has Emancipation and Nominal Freedom Improved the Condition of the Negro Race of St. Domingo?”

(16) See the Weekly Chronicle, December 23, 1809, and the Mississippi Free Trader, May 26, 1842, for warnings from the publishers that subscribers must pay their bills. Many other examples can be found.

(17) Mordecai Noah, of the New York National Advocate, 1822, cited by Charles G. Steffen, “Newspapers for Free: The Economies of Newspaper Circulation in the Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic XXIII (Fall 2003), p. 392.

(18) Aaron Burr toured the states and territories along the Mississippi River in 1806 and 1807, and many of his actions seemed very suspicious to his political opponents back in New York and the capital. He endured several trials for a number of charges, including treason, for which he was declared not guilty in all the proceedings. One of these trials took place in early 1807 in Washington, Mississippi, not far from Natchez. See the Mississippi Herald, December 30, 1806; January 7, 1807; May 6, 1807; July 8, 1807; and many other dates in 1806 and 1807. A number of good secondary sources cover this fascinating period of Burr’s life, including: Milton Lomask, Aaron Burr: The Conspiracy and Years of Exile, 1805-1836 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982); and Buckner F. Melton, Jr., Aaron Burr: Conspiracy to Treason (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002).

(19) A comprehensive account of how these newspapers operated would be difficult, probably impossible, to compile, but the editors offered some glimpses into this process through items in the newspapers. Other sources, particularly court documents, also offer a few insights into newsgathering, distribution and the mechanical processes of printing.

(20) Washington Republican, April 13, 1813.

(21) From the April 26, 1815 issue of the Washington Republican, reprinting an article from a source identified only as “a London Paper of Dec. 16.”

(22) Mississippi Herald, July 23, 1807.

(23) June 2, 1837.

(24) The Weekly Chronicle, July 6, 1808.

(25) Some of Marschalk’s personal copies of his own newspapers have turned up on microfilm and they are quite a find. Marschalk marked all over them, crossing out entire ads, boxing others, and generally covering these newspapers with crosses and lines. I have a pretty good idea what many of these marks mean, but deciphering them entirely would provide much valuable insight into the way newspapers operated in the antebellum period.

(26) See the Mississippi Republican, March 19, 1818, for an advertisement for the “Natchez Political and Commercial News Room.”

(27) Steffen, “Newspapers for Free: The Economies of Newspaper Circulation in the Early Republic,” pp. 410-419.

(28) Ibid., pp. 384-390.

(29) It was the custom of the time to replace many uses of ‘s’ with a symbol that looked very much like ‘f.’ This practice was not used for capitals or at the end of a word. For example, the mission statement began, “IT has been cuftomary ...” This custom had ended entirely by the 1820s. For clarity, I have used ‘s’ instead of ‘f’ in all quotes throughout this thesis.

(30) Davis, A Way Through the Wilderness, pp. 317-318.

(31) Miles, “The Mississippi Press in the Jackson Era, 1824-1841,” pp. 14-15.

(32) Hillyer is mentioned several times in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901). See Volume 20, p. 671; Vol. 23, pp. 854, 858; Vol. 30, pp. 547, 549, 674, 714; and others.


"The journalists of the United States are generally in a very humble position, with a scanty education and a vulgar turn of mind." - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

"With more than $10,000 of real property in my possession, I am in danger of prison for $100." - Andrew Marschalk, editor, 1822

Who were these editors, publishers and journalists who so faithfully filled the role of slave propagandists? What processes changed the nature of Natchez and the nature of the Natchez press in this period? What incidents and personalities can illuminate the forces that led so tragically, and perhaps so inevitably, to a bloody War Between the States? How did the press portray and manipulate politics, economics and culture to support and glorify the “covenant with death,” to ignore the reality of its brutishness, and to dress it up as an institution blessed by God?

A social system based on slavery must fashion every element in that society to support a system of bondage. In antebellum America, the developing republic came to rely on the press and its freedoms; and the southern slave society had to recognize the importance of the press, and the dangers of its freedoms. The publishers and editors of Natchez came from different backgrounds, but they all had to honor the needs and demands of southern society. We must understand who they were, what they were seeking, what changes and challenges they faced in the Old Southwest, what drove them to accept the rationalizations of a slave system, and why they aided and abetted the slave system through the power of their presses. Examining the lives of the printers and editors, in general and with a special focus on three individuals, may help us to understand how they came to be accomplices in supporting an economic and cultural system based on enslavement.

Aspiring journalists gravitated to Natchez for a number of reasons: business opportunities, presentation of a particular political view, a forum of expression, a temporary job, and/or a powerful attraction to the journalistic profession. Dozens of men (and a few women) operated as editors and publishers in the Natchez area before the Civil War. A group of people distinguished by many differences in personality, economic status, political leanings and educational accomplishments, they can nevertheless be examined as individuals who had much in common.

With the exceptions of Mary Patterson of the Concordia Intelligencer and Harriet Prewett of the Natchez Courier, only white men worked as editors and publishers in Natchez journalism. (1) Two major motives directed the efforts of these journalists: political and economic. A few editors actively sought political office, but most Natchez journalists used their newspapers to advocate the political views of a specific party or faction, attracting like-minded readers and patronage, as well as potential financial support, from party leaders. Many ambitious young men became newspapermen to take advantage of literary skills or previous experience as printers. Some seasoned businessmen got into the newspaper business to supplement their other business activities.

Few individuals — even in the 1840s and 1850s when journalism became a more stable profession — relied on the newspaper as a sole means of support. Young and ambitious editors started a career in the newspaper business but quickly began buying land in town and in the cotton lands, and many operated other businesses, practiced law, or went into politics. Established planters sometimes purchased newspapers as a political forum or as an extra business venture, not to reap a financial bonanza from journalism.

Most of the journalists have left precious little beyond the newspapers, debt cases, and official records as raw material for the scholar to use to provide insight into the lives of the Natchez printers and the operations of antebellum newspapers. Others, like William P. Mellen, have left considerably more in the way of records but only participated in journalism for a short time.

Fortunately, enough documentary evidence exists for some of these journalists that a useful if brief examination of their lives can be compiled. Because of the often transient nature of Natchez journalism (especially before 1835), the three editors chosen may not be generally representative of the editors of the period. Certainly, Andrew Marschalk’s thirty-five-year career in Natchez marks him as uncharacteristically persistent (as well as characteristically stubborn). Lorenzo Besançon worked as an editor, editorial writer, and publisher in a Natchez career that spanned five very eventful years at both of Natchez’s major newspapers during the Jacksonian era. Besançon’s penchant for controversy and his talent for dueling did not mix peacefully with the fiery, honor-drenched spirit of the South in the 1830s, and generated a series of events that Besançon likened to gladiatorial combat. Giles Hillyer stuck with the Courier for twelve years despite the collapse of all three parties supported by his paper — the Whigs, the Know Nothings and the Constitutional Union party — while the rival Mississippi Free Trader bounced from one owner to another as the Democratic organ for southern Mississippi.

These three individuals may be very different from each other and from their colleagues in the Natchez press, but these differences do not invalidate the utility of their stories for drawing a few conclusions about the lives of Natchez journalists. Marschalk, Besançon and Hillyer invested heavily in cotton land, like many other Natchez journalists. Journalism, they most likely hoped, would be a means to an end, a first step to success. However, journalism often proved to be a less than lucrative profession in the long run; debt cases for all three are found in large numbers in Natchez records. Political motivations and affiliations directed the actions of these three as well, just as they motivated most other editors. For example, Richard Elward purchased the Free Trader in May 1849, because he lost his government job in the wake of the Whig victory in the election of 1848. He sold the paper in September 1852, after almost four years as the editor of the main Democratic organ in Natchez.

Long after Natchez had lost much of its frontier character, violence and the defense of honor characterized the men of the Old Southwest, including journalists. Marschalk’s long career in the military may have prepared him for some of his later experiences, which included a beating by George Poindexter. Besançon was involved in numerous affairs of honor. Hillyer avoided dueling and fighting but he did not shrink from the rough world of Natchez politics, running against John Quitman in the election of 1855. After Fort Sumter in the spring of 1861, Hillyer enlisted in the Confederate Army, despite the strong Unionist stance he had adopted in the Courier. Other editors involved in dueling or other violent incidents include Milford Prewett, T.A.S. Doniphan and James McDonald.

Born in New York City in 1767, Andrew Marschalk led an interesting and adventurous life before he came to the Natchez area at the end of the 1790s. His ancestors had come from Holland and his father was said to have been a baker for Washington’s Revolutionary Army. A broadsheet from 1769, when the future editor of the Natchez Gazette was only two years old, indicates that the Marschalk family participated in the fractious politics of New York in the colonial period. (2)

Marschalk grew up in the days when British colonial policy generated dissent and revolution in the colonies, and he wrote about his experiences and memories of 1770s New York for the Natchez Free Trader in 1837. As a nine-year-old schoolboy, Marschalk recalled visiting the fort on Saturdays “to view the occasional drill and exercise of one or two companies of British troops, who then formed its garrison.” One day, Marschalk and his schoolmates found the fort deserted and examined the empty barracks and magazine. Returning home, Marschalk discovered that “‘all was not right’ between ‘king George’ and ‘the people.’” Two war ships, the Asia and the Phoenix, appeared and “commenced a cannonade on the fort and city, to the great terror of the inhabitants, who sought shelter in their respective cellars.” (3)

Despite the bombardment, Marschalk and his classmates attended school at the Dutch Reformed Church the next day, only to be sent home by the instructor. “We rushed to the Bowling Green (at the foot of Broad Way) to give the king’s statue a pelting ... our missiles rebounded from the lofty sides of the magnificent gilt horse and his rider — with a reverberating sound — and he who succeeded in hitting the head of either king or steed was a captain of the day.” Marschalk described the military preparations of the frenzied New Yorkers: “Companies of militia were daily parading and drilling in all directions. Batteries were erected at several points on the banks of the Hudson ... daily assemblages of excited and enraged people were held; and several persons who had rendered themselves obnoxious by an open avowal of opposition to the measures of the citizens, and who were stigmatized as tories were rode on rails — and some of them tarred and feathered, and expelled from the city.” A group of twenty-five or thirty men destroyed the printing office of the royal printer. And the “young warriors of the stone and sling were deprived of our sport of battering the royal statue” when New Yorkers pulled it from its pedestal and hacked it into pieces “to be cast into bullets for the use of the numerous troops daily arriving in the city.” Marschalk described the following battle, the retreat of the American troops, and the burning of New York City, “generally attributed to the vile incendiary act of the infuriated soldiery for not being permitted to plunder the city.” Marschalk also recalled a chance childhood meeting with General Israel Putnam during the defense of the city. (4)

Marschalk’s 1838 obituary in the Mississippi Free Trader said he fought in the American Revolution at the age of 14 but, except for an article written by Marschalk for the Free Trader describing George Washington’s triumphant return to New York City after the British evacuation late in 1783, few records exist to reveal what Marschalk did for the cause at such a young age. (5) Evidence suggests Marschalk began his education in the printing trade as an apprentice in New York but ran away from the establishment in 1787. (6) Marschalk lived in England at the end of the 1780s where he probably continued learning the printing trade because he brought a press with him when he returned to the United States in 1790. (7) While in England, Marschalk nearly suffered impressment aboard the frigate Enterprise. However, the captain of the Enterprise had been the commander of the Asia during the shelling of New York City in 1776 and Marschalk’s memories of the battle convinced the captain that Marschalk told the truth when he claimed he was an American. Combined with the intercession of a friend from New York, the captain allowed Marschalk his freedom and he soon departed for Philadelphia on the Pigeon. (8)

For most of the 1790s, Marschalk served in the U.S. military on the frontier of the Northwest Territory, fighting Indians under the commands of Anthony Wayne and Arthur St. Clair. During the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, Marschalk, by now a captain, served as commandant at Fort Miamis. (9) The following year, Capt. Marschalk, acting as quartermaster, distributed liquor rations to the soldiers at Fort Jefferson near present-day Greenville, Ohio. In this capacity, he reported that he had “taken from a certain John Anderson two kegs of adulterated whiskey which he was endeavoring to pass as Fine Brandy.” Marschalk later reported that he “stop’d ... three keggs of cordial, the property of W. Cribbs ... this stuff is not fit for any use.” Marschalk agreed not to compensate the suttlers for bad liquor and to continue patrolling for adulterated whiskey. (10) In 1798, while stationed at Walnut Hills (later Vicksburg), Marschalk printed the words to a ballad titled “The Galley Slave,” the first work printed in Mississippi. (11) The following year, Winthrop Sargent, the governor of the newly formed Mississippi Territory, encouraged Marschalk to print the laws for the new territorial government. (12) Marschalk printed some of this work in Natchez.

After finishing his military service, Marschalk returned to Natchez and started the Mississippi Herald in 1802. Three other newspapers had been started during the interim, and Marschalk’s paper merged with the Mississippi Gazette to become the Mississippi Herald and Natchez Gazette, which lasted until 1808. The other papers lasted two years or less. (13) Marschalk published newspapers in Natchez and nearby Washington almost continuously until 1833. Several gaps of two years or less illustrate the difficulties of the newspaper business in this period. He moved back and forth between Washington and Natchez, merged with other struggling newspapers, and worked for others in the 1820s. To make ends meet, he supplemented his newspaper activities with numerous outside ventures, buying land, taking in boarders, operating a drug store and a reading room, as well as serving as territorial printer, county clerk and justice of the peace at one time or another. (14)

Marschalk may have given up an adventurous military life of fighting Indians and confiscating liquor on the frontier but he had hardly given up controversy and conflict. The practitioners of the southern press became targets for hotheads of the political opposition. Natchez often hosted competing news organs and some lively newspaper feuds. If the political scene provided little in the way of controversy, angry individuals could express their frustration with contrary opinions by physically accosting publishers. One story claims that James Bowie challenged Marschalk to a duel because of some dispute. (15) The tale is unlikely but it points out the rough nature of the city and the violence that journalists could face from the excitable citizens.

In November 1818, Anthony Campbell “violently and furiously enter[ed] the office of [Marschalk] and did assault and threaten to strike him.” The jury found Campbell guilty and fined him sixty dollars. (16) Less violently, Marschalk used the courts to protect his interests. In 1818, he pursued a libel suit against his rival and fellow editor Richard C. Langdon, who succeeded Peter Isler on the Mississippi Herald, for printing a handbill critical of Marschalk’s performance as justice of the peace. In a separate libel suit, Marschalk accused a man named James Hackett of distributing the handbill “to scandalize, traduce, and villify Andrew Marschalk, Esq., one of the Justices of the Peace and to represent [Marschalk] as a corrupt + unjust magistrate, regardless of his duty and unfit to be entrusted with the administration of publick justice.”

The text of the handbill is quoted in the court documents. Hackett’s handbill said that Marschalk had falsely accused him of theft and degraded his character in the eyes of the citizens of Natchez without evidence. He said of Marschalk that “the head of a respectable family was not to have been expected to stimulate a stranger for the sake of fees” and that “the publick are now told that [Marschalk] was capable of such baseness.” The jury found Hackett guilty and fined him $50 and court costs, which brought the total to $93. The results of the case against Langdon are not included among the documents. (17)

Langdon continued to print handbills. The 1822 case of The State of Mississippi v. Langdon illustrates that publishers could get into trouble for printing and distributing libelous material even if it was not printed in the newspaper medium. John B. Nevitt, who would later be sued by Marschalk for not paying his bills, pursued a libel suit against Richard Langdon because he “maliciously and wickedly printed and published a certain scandalous and malicious libel in a certain handbill directed ‘To John B. Nevitt the Hero of Tripoli, Knight of the Murky Countenance + c. + c.’ and signed ‘One of the People’ ... in which the character and fame of [Nevitt] is exposed to shame, detestation, and infamy, tending to inflame the minds of the good people, and breach the peace of the State.” Langdon’s partner Francis Baker testified that “the libel in question was printed in the office of the Mississippian owned by the defendant and himself in partnership.” Baker claimed he was not present. (18)

Marschalk mellowed in later years, merging his Natchez Gazette with the Mississippi Statesman in the 1820s. The Statesman, started by several supporters of Andrew Jackson a few years earlier, needed a more experienced editor. By this time, Marschalk seemed to be content to provide the most basic description of events, run the ads, and print the laws. Marschalk soon left the Statesman to publish the Natchez Gazette in partnership with William P. Wood, a business relationship that lasted only a few months. Financial difficulties forced him to give up his press in 1833 and he died in 1838 at the age of 71. (19)

Lorenzo Besançon edited the Mississippi Free Trader from 1835 to 1839 and left a deliciously full account of duels, fights, labor disputes and other conflicts in which he participated. His 1853 obituary displays a life of variety and adventure equal to that of Marschalk, but few details remain of his life outside of Natchez. (20) The outline of the obituary is intriguing enough. Only in his late twenties when he departed Natchez in 1839, Besançon subsequently served as a captain in the army in the War with Mexico and later immigrated to California to look for gold. He later worked as a reporter and editor for the New Orleans Southern Democrat. Other sources indicate an interest in the filibustering expeditions of the late 1840s and early 1850s as he arrived in Corpus Christi, Texas, at the head of a group of men prepared to invade Mexico. The organizers canceled the project and the group disbanded. (21)

By 1835, the early period of journalistic instability had almost come to an end in Natchez and two newspapers began to emerge as dominant: William Mellen’s Courier and Journal and Besançon’s Mississippi Free Trader and Natchez Gazette. The rivalry would continue through the Civil War, long after both editors had given up Natchez journalism. The first years of the rivalry displayed the conflicts well known to Natchez journalism, including a libel suit arising from a labor dispute. Mellen pursued a lawsuit against Lorenzo Besançon, Thomas J. Holliday, William H. Ewing, John Mastin and William Holliday, the editorial board of the Free Trader, in 1835.

In August 1835, Mellen sued the proprietors of the Free Trader for conspiring to intimidate journeymen printers and scaring them away from working for Mellen’s paper, the Courier and Journal, causing Mellen financial hardship. An advertisement insulting to Mellen had been published in the Free Trader. Purporting to be from the “Journeymen Printers Price Current,” the notice proclaimed: “Live Stock — or Rats! In consequence of the late turnout of the regular journeymen printers, Rats are in fresh demand; the house of mellen + Co. having advertised for a fresh supply and as the Stock on hand is limited, a cargo of the Long Tailed Species will be taken up immediately. No advance prices.” Mellen claimed that the ad had so negatively influenced journeymen printers against him that he was unable to conduct his business and had lost several thousand dollars. He sued the defendants for $10,000. (22) The case was soon dismissed. Mellen and Besançon left Natchez journalism within a few years, but the rivalry of the two papers continued.

Besançon’s anti-Whig editorials accused the opposition of attempting to intimidate the opposition press, and the Free Trader frequently reported violence committed by Whigs against Democratic political gatherings. On November 2, 1835, the Free Trader published a warning “TO MECHANICS” that “monopolists” were threatening the livelihoods of some of the city’s laborers. “We have been credibly informed that several mechanics at the last election, who were themselves democrats, were distinctly told by their whig employees, that they must vote the whig ticket or be discharged.” An angry mob, riled by the implications of the article, accosted the proprietor of the Free Trader and demanded to know who had written the offensive material. The proprietor persuaded the men to disperse as Besançon agreed to meet with a single member of the group to discuss the matter. That afternoon, Besançon passed a large crowd that recognized him and began shouting that he should be lynched. The crowd chased a surprised Besançon into the Free Trader office, shouting that “not an inch of the hide of the editor, nor two types of the establishment shall be left.” (23)

After some negotiating and several attempts to persuade the crowd to disperse, an informal tribunal escorted Besançon to the courthouse for a meeting. Besançon later condemned the assemblage as an illegal proceeding and an insult to the Constitution. The Whigs denied Besançon any fair chance of defending himself, and he agreed to print a retraction saying that he had been misinformed about the original incident. Besançon printed the retraction the next day, but on November 13 he published an article titled “A History of the Outrage of Monday Night, November 2,” repudiating his apology and detailing the incidents of the evening and the threats to himself. He called the courthouse proceedings “as despotic and arbitrary as any order ever issued by the Dey of Algiers.” (24)

Besançon found 1837 to be an especially memorable year as he took part in several affairs of honor and a fight with General John Quitman. Four challengers sought to share the field of honor with Besançon. He killed one man in a duel and two other challengers backed off. In May, Besançon accused the lawyer Thomas Armat of being the writer of an article in the Courier titled “Rules,” and a copious flurry of notes passed between Armat and Besançon and their representatives over the affair. Besançon eventually admitted that he had been mistaken and settled the affair without bloodshed. All this correspondence Besançon published in the Free Trader for the enlightenment of the public. (25)

In his time in Mississippi, Besançon had accumulated 2300 acres in Mississippi, as well as 7500 acres in Texas. His income had increased from $2000 a year to $8000 a year, and he had represented Tunica County in the Mississippi legislature. Besançon had also served as quartermaster general for the Mississippi militia. (26)

Besançon’s life remained adventurous after he left Natchez. “Amid the fortunes of the Mexican war, he held the post of Captain in a company of Mounted Rangers, between Vera Cruz and the City of Mexico, which duty we believe he discharged with the full confidence of his comrades in arms. Soon after the close of the war, he emigrated to California, where, for several years, he participated in the scenes of the life of a miner. On his return to New Orleans, he again resumed the editorial profession, by conducting a Pierce and King paper, entitled ‘The Southern Democrat.’” Besançon also fought in the Yucatan Peninsula after the War with Mexico, as second-in-command to George White’s mercenaries, hired by the Mexican government to put down the Mayan uprising. (27) He died in January 1853 in Louisiana at the age of 41.

Giles Hillyer arrived in Mississippi in the late 1840s and purchased the Natchez Courier, the state’s major Whig journal, in 1850. As tensions heightened between North and South during the 1850s, Hillyer operated the Courier as a strong Union voice for a decade, strongly opposed to secession right up to the outbreak of war in the spring of 1861. Hillyer, despite his strong and often barbed criticisms of the Democratic Party in general and secessionist views in particular, also supported southern culture and political ideals and did not refrain from fiery critiques of abolitionism and other northern views threatening to the South.

Born in Connecticut (28) about 1820, Hillyer lived in New York during his formative years. His 1871 obituary claimed Hillyer “was a lawyer by profession, a man of education, possessing fine powers as a public speaker, a handsome person and pleasing manners ...” (29) By 1848, he had relocated to Mississippi with his wife Elizabeth, a native of New York, and a young daughter. After two years as editor of the Aberdeen Independent in Mississippi’s Monroe County, Hillyer purchased the Natchez Courier in the spring of 1850. Hillyer’s stint on the Aberdeen Independent, a Whig paper in northeastern Mississippi, seems to have prepared him for the aggressive nature of Mississippi party politics; as the new editor of the Courier, Hillyer eagerly waded into the secession crisis of 1850, forcefully and successfully defending Whig positions from Democratic organ attacks, beginning with his earliest issues in the spring of 1850.

In his first notice to Courier subscribers, Hillyer declared that he would honor all contracts and agreements made by the previous owner. But he added: “Another, and still higher obligation, due alike to himself, to the friends of the administration and to the public, is to devote all his energies to maintain for the Courier a high reputation, as a useful and influential political and family journal — one which its opponents will respect, while its friends shall never blush for.” (30)

A few days later, the Courier published a longer and more complete mission statement:

“His opinions are honestly held and will be fearlessly avowed. No stranger to the Mississippi press, nor entirely ignorant of the political condition of the State and the Union, he comes before the patrons of the Courier and the public at large, with the same political statements he has contended for in another field with the same ardent attachment to the South that he believes he has already made manifest elsewhere, and with an anxious wish to make the enunciation of these sentiments and expression of that attachment an effective on for the great causes in which he would labor.

An active and zealous advocate of the election of Zachary Taylor, and as ardent a supporter of his administration — a firm believer in the integrity of his intentions, the wisdom of his counsels, and the purity of his patriotism — all the influence that can be brought to bear from the editorial columns of this paper shall be exerted to sustain the administration, … as long as that administration is true to itself, to the constitution and the country.”

It was another manifestation of the Whig-Democratic rivalry that the Free Trader and the Courier fought so tenaciously for twenty-five years. Hillyer declared that the Courier would be the standard bearer for the Whigs of Adams Country, proudly supporting the presidency of Zachary Taylor.

The Mississippi Free Trader, the Democratic party organ in Natchez and one of the major newspapers of the state, wasted little time in challenging the Courier’s devotion to Whig principles. On May 15, the Free Trader claimed that “the old hostility of this journal [the Courier] to Governor Quitman was sold to the new editor along with the old types and office accounts. His hostility to the governor, as exhibited in Friday’s Courier, ‘Outvenoms all the worms of Nile.’” The Courier had attacked Mississippi icon John Quitman’s speech at Raymond, a performance that the Free Trader had described as “masterful.”

The Courier defended itself particularly well, quoting Quitman’s intemperate words at Raymond:

“The Free Trader avers that the hostility of the Courier to Gov. Quitman was sold to the new proprietor with its types. If we paid any consideration for that article, we regret it, because even if we had none previously, the mere reading of the Governor’s late Raymond speech would have given us gratis much political hostility to that gentleman as we care about entertaining. ... What necessity was there for Gov. Quitman to condescend, at a meeting ostensibly held without distinction of party, to accuse those who differ with him of being ‘interested office-seekers,’ ‘old federalists,’ (!) ‘selfish landholders,’ ‘timid men, ‘men whose minds have become tinctured with free-soilism,’ ‘pedlars of curious notions in politics, morals and government, as well as in wooden and tin wares’? Is the executive honored by descending to the level of the brawling politician, and by the utterances of charges as gross in their language, as they are unwarranted in the intended application?”” (31)

The secession crisis was heating up, and Quitman had nothing conciliatory to offer to the state’s moderate voters. The Courier noted his inflammatory language and insults, and this editorial also pointed out that the Free Trader accused the new editor of an unreasonable, knee-jerk hatred of Quitman. The Courier very ably defended itself for criticizing Quitman with a few words from his recent speech. If the Courier was hostile to Quitman, perhaps they had good reason.

In June, the Free Trader reprinted a short item from the Holly Springs Jacksonian — a newspaper from northern Mississippi — accusing Hillyer of being “tinctured with Free Soilism.” The Courier responded:

“The charge made by the Jacksonian in its last sentence is simply a falsehood, manufactured out of whole cloth. It deserves a sharper epithet, but one which never ought to soil the columns of a newspaper. The Jacksonian is known to be so far led away by its unbridled prejudices, as to be the common vehicle of foul calumny. The Free Trader is only excusable for its republication, on the ground of its entire ignorance of our opinion.” (32)

In July 1850, the Courier accused the Democrats of hypocrisy following the death of the Whig president Zachary Taylor, a southerner, and the ascension of northerner Millard Fillmore to the nation’s highest office:


We have a word to say to those alluded to above, who after having denounced Taylor’s as an abolition administration, are regretting his death, because Fillmore has become President. If they have been sincere in their denunciation of the former — if they have spoken the truth — then they should not regret the change. If Taylor’s was an abolition administration, Fillmore’s can not be worse. Taylor they have assured us was for the Wilmot proviso, would not veto a bill abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, and would do a hundred other unrighteous acts. Fillmore can do no more! Their regrets therefore only stamp their hypocrisy with an extensive folly.” (33)

In the months before Taylor’s death, the Free Trader had mercilessly scorched Hillyer’s views on slavery. Taylor, a slaveholder himself, opposed extension of slavery into the new territories, a stance that enraged many southerners who had previously looked upon Taylor as a slaveholding president who would protect the institution. His premature death had encouraged numerous glowing eulogies from the political opponents who had vilified him for months. The Free Trader, like Democrat newspapers across the nation, then turned their editorial guns toward Taylor’s successor, Millard Fillmore.

The secession crisis of 1850 eventually lost its momentum for most southerners. Secessionist leaders in South Carolina and Mississippi discovered that the other states stepped back from the abyss of disunion, and the secessionists in these cautious states did not measure up to the rhetoric of the most ardent fire-eaters. By the time of the Nashville Convention in June, only nine of fifteen slave states participated, and many of the participating states sent only token delegations. (34) Many diehard secessionists — called “bitter-enders” by the Courier and other Whig newspapers — railed over the Compromise of 1850 and the South’s alleged submission to the North, but cooler heads realized that the North had indeed made important concessions, and the dangers of secession blew over, despite a Democratic press that often remained shrill and divisive throughout the decade.

Right up to the outbreak of the War Between the States, Hillyer’s Courier criticized the belligerence of the Democratic press, and often challenged the disunionist stance of rival newspapers, the Free Trader in particular. The Courier would admit that the South had been wronged in certain cases, such as California’s admission as a free state, which excluded the southerners who felt they had earned the right to colonize the Golden State and to export their “peculiar institution.” However, the Courier also advocated a temperate attitude and continually warned of the dangers of secession. “Union Rhapsodies,” a typical 1858 editorial, mocked the Free Trader’s attitude:

““We like rhapsodies; but we like arguments better,” says the Free Trader. We have given that paper both facts and arguments, and to neither has it responded ... Has the South retrograded in influence or in position since [the secession crisis of 1850]? Let us see. Has not the Supreme Court decided the question of slavery fully in her favor, and that prohibitions of our domestic institutions were beyond the power of Congress or the General Government? Is there any longer on legislative record a Congressional prohibition of slavery in our Territories? You claim the Democratic party as the great friend, the ally of the South. Fourteen of the fifteen Southern States support that party. Well, are not eight of the nine Judges of the United States Supreme Court, Democrats, and four of them from the South; and in the natural course of events will it not be many years before the personal complexion of that Court can, under any phase of politics, be at all changed? Have we not a Democratic Senate, almost two to one? Are not Buchanan and Breckenridge in (and very sorry are we for it,) for three years more? Is not the House, last year Black Republican, this year Democratic by twenty majority? Is not the Kansas bill the law of the land, and the Cincinnati platform the great chart of the Democracy is administering the Government? ... If we are not better off than then, Buchanan had better give up his seat to our leader, and you surrender your power to the millions of free men who voted in 1856 for Millard Fillmore ...” (35)

In the view of Hillyer and many other slave-owning southerners, the North had acted responsibly to protect slavery in the states where it existed. As the editorial pointed out, the Democratic Party, the “ally of the South,” controlled all three branches of government, yet the Free Trader persisted in its extremist stance and its attacks on the North. Was Hillyer playing politics with the Courier’s attacks on the inflammatory tone of the Free Trader? Or did he see the dangers of secession and Civil War in the near future if the southern extremists persisted?

Hillyer thrived in Natchez in the 1850s. He owned real estate worth $3000 in 1850. By 1860, his real estate was worth $40,000. He experienced a cash-flow problem despite his real estate holdings, as is displayed by frequent debt cases and mortgages. One interesting case reveals that Hillyer received $1000 in 1855 by mortgaging the slave Sam and Sam’s family. Sam is described as “a press boy working for the Courier office, purchased ... in 1850 at the Forks of the Road,” the notorious slave market just outside of Natchez. (36) Hillyer paid off this debt but was forced to mortgage Sam and his family just a year later.

Hillyer became a Know Nothing after the dissolution of the Whigs and ran unsuccessfully against John Quitman for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1855. (This election will be covered in more detail in the next chapter.) Hillyer’s desire for office may help to explain some of his cash-flow problem. A receipt in the Alexander Farrar Papers shows that Farrar advanced Hillyer more than $1200 between 1852 and 1856, with the first loan noted on “the 29th April 1852 a few days before starting a Whig National Convention.” (37)

In the 1860 election, the Courier supported the Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell. (The Free Trader, like four out of seven of Mississippi’s major newspapers, supported John C. Breckinridge, who won the electoral contest in Mississippi and much of the rest of the South.) His determined pro-Union stance did not deter Hillyer from serving in the Confederate Army when the war began. Hillyer had joined the 16th Mississippi Infantry by June 1861. By February of 1862, he had been promoted to major, and General G.B. Crittenden commended his “untiring energy and marked ability” in supplying his division in Tennessee. Hillyer served in Tennessee through 1862 and 1863. In May 1863, General Braxton Bragg promoted Hillyer to acting chief commissary. In August of that year, Hillyer reported unenthusiastically to Bragg that supplying beef and bacon to the Army of Tennessee would be difficult: “The prospects for a supply beyond October 1 are not merely uncertain but gloomy indeed ... local resources are insufficient.” Hillyer expressed “regret at such a gloomy account.” In January of 1864, Hillyer requested relief from duty as chief of subsistence. (38)

In his absence, the Courier appeared sporadically, and the Union Army took over publication for a time after Natchez was occupied in 1863. Hillyer returned to the Courier at the end of 1865 and edited it through the early years of Reconstruction. When Mississippi convened to formulate a new state constitution after the Civil War, Hillyer was chosen as a representative from Adams County. Hillyer strongly supported the Black Codes, and justified the prohibition against black land ownership by warning that “nests of negro colonies would at once be formed around every city, town and village, whose occupants would alone be supported by theft or other crime.” (39) Hillyer had plenty to write about during Reconstruction, and he did not hesitate to heap stinging criticism on the mismanagement of the state government after Congressional Reconstruction became the law of the land. In 1868, he called the Mississippi legislature “a collection of wild and imported animals,” “the Jackson monstrosity,” and “the Black and Tan Menagerie.” (40) Later, he lamented the condition of his adopted state: “the evil is terrible. We are without law, without courts, without officers of justice; the whole country judicial system is paralyzed; the whole municipal system is stopped.”(41)

In 1868 the Courier office and materials were destroyed by fire, and Hillyer sold the newspaper he had operated for so long. He moved to Vicksburg and edited the Vicksburg Daily Times from March to July of 1869. His death in Vicksburg on April 22, 1871, is recorded in the Natchez Weekly Democrat, which states that Hillyer died “after a long and painful illness.”(42)

With marriage records, census records, land records, court cases and the use of a few select secondary sources, we can examine many aspects of the lives of other Natchez journalists, editors and scribblers we know little about, as well as the reasonably well-documented careers of Marschalk, Besançon and Hillyer.

Newspaper proprietors often experienced considerable difficulties in collecting subscription fees, advertising costs, and other money owed for printing work. The newspapers of the era contain many pleas from editors imploring them to pay their bills. One especially impassioned and eloquent lament from the editor of the Free Trader appeared on May 26, 1842:


“READ THIS IF YOU PLEASE. — I am out of money, out of materials, out of means to pledge, by which money might be raised. None can be borrowed. The weekly expenses of this paper are necessarily heavy. The force required to print it must be paid. They are not machines, but men — toiling, laboring men. They cannot work for nothing. I have a family; I owe just debts; my sole means are invested in this establishment; every hour of my time is devoted to it; there are thousands that enjoy daily and weekly the products of my labor and my capital, but there are many who do not pay me. Is this right? Is it just? I put it to the conscience of every delinquent subscriber, is it honest? What is the difference between subscribing for and receiving a paper, upon the condition of paying for it and failing to do so, and violently robbing a man of the same amount? In both cases you are taking, without authority, your neighbor’s goods ... The Free Trader has certainly a large circulation, but then its outlays are heavy and the expense of collecting its debts (seldom over from five to thirty dollars) swallows up most of the profits, and few men ever grew rich on a newspaper. Most men sink under the expenses and are utterly ruined. Whether this shall be my fate depends on the success of this appeal.”

The item goes on for most of a column and is signed by T.A.S. Doniphan, who would operate the Free Trader until 1848, six years after this notice appeared. Either a lot of deadbeat readers felt guilty and rushed to the Free Trader with cash in hand, or Doniphan was bluffing.

Subscribers would not pay their fees. It was a common lament of the editors of the early republic. Why didn’t editors merely strike the deadbeats from the delivery list instead of providing news for free to dozens, maybe hundreds, of readers who would not pay? Editors filled the papers with threats toward nonpaying subscribers, they hired collection agents, but they shied away from the most obvious solution — stopping delivery of the newspaper. Not surprisingly, longer subscription lists boosted advertising rates, and an editor who could boast of a large circulation (even if many or most of them did not pay) enjoyed more enthusiastic political support. Editors definitely had good reasons to tolerate subscribers who did not pay, as well as the many citizens who stole or temporarily borrowed newspapers from their neighbors. (43)

Sometimes, however, editors did try to collect delinquent subscriptions and other fees through the courts. Between 1804 and 1820, Marschalk carried his grievances to the Adams County court more than twenty times. He sued Anthony Campbell for almost $60 in 1819, seeking $200 in damages. Marschalk sought more than $200 from Richard May in 1826 “for value received.” In the same year, he sought $142.50 from John Munce for advertisements that were not paid for.(44)

Marschalk also had problems with John Forsyth. In 1828, Forsyth owed $833 for “the insertion of and publication before that time, of divers advertisements and paragraphs in a certain newspaper called ‘The Natchez Gazette,’ printed and published by the said Andrew Marschalk ... and in a certain other newspaper called the ‘Mississippi Statesman and Natchez Gazette’ ... and a certain other newspaper called the ‘Statesman and Gazette.’” Forsyth said he would pay the debt but died soon after. Marschalk received less than $300 from the estate. (45)

In a debt case that lasted from 1833 to 1835, the court awarded Marschalk the sum of $241.40 from John B. Nevitt, planter, politician, and the town’s leading advocate of the Catholic Church. Nevitt had not paid for two subscriptions to the Gazette (one of these was for his son George) “for certain advertisements inserted in [the Gazette] over a long span of time,” and for unspecified goods and services. (46)

In 1856, Giles Hillyer collected “... the chairs scenery and stage paraphernalia of [the] Clinton Thespians,” a traveling theater troupe that proved unable to pay for $215 for printing work, presumably advertising in the Courier or handbills and posters. (47) The record does not state what Hillyer did with these items.

In a cash-poor economy, everyone, including businessmen, depended on credit for business transactions, expecting projected future profits to pay for the purchase of goods and services. Publishers went into debt to buy printing supplies, to increase land holdings and to invest in other business ventures. Publishers and editors could also be creditors, extending credit to subscribers and for services and supplies. When debts were not paid, journalists could be plaintiffs or defendants in civil court. Some examples of the problems of debt have already been mentioned. Court records from Adams County contain dozens of debt cases involving publishers and editors trying to recover money owed them or being pursued for debt.

James White, another Marschalk creditor, sued the firm of Marschalk and Evens for the sum of $49.99 “for the work and labor, care and diligence.”(48) Like many of the debt cases, the official papers do not give any details on the nature of the debt. In 1814, The Bank of Mississippi sought $67.50 from Marschalk for a promissory note to Thomas Winn. In 1820, the Bank again sued Marschalk for an unpaid promissory note, this time for the sum of $170. William Allinder worked for Marschalk from February to November 1823 as a “compositor and pressman in and about the printing [office] of a certain newspaper ... printed and published in [Adams County] called ‘the Mississippi State Gazette’” for $33 a month. In May 1824, Allinder sued Marschalk for $287.10 for unpaid wages and a further $187.10 for “divers sums of money” that Allinder loaned to Marschalk. However, an itemized list among the documents shows that Allinder frequently borrowed small sums of cash from Marschalk to buy, among other things, a $27 coat, a pair of pantaloons ($2.50), a blank book of fine paper with a Morocco cover (made to order for $5), and several tickets to the theatre ($1 to $1.50 each). The total of these amounts reached over $140. The court dismissed the case in November 1824, but the details of the agreement reached by the parties are not given. (49)

The estate of William Murray sought $400 from Marschalk in 1827 for unidentified services. (50) The records for Mississippi Territory show that Marschalk was sued for debt twenty times between 1805 and 1814. In an 1822 letter to a friend, Marschalk remarked that “with more than $10,000 of real property in my possession, I am in danger of prison for $100.”(51)

In 1820, D. Knox and T. Nixon sought payment on a $75 promissory note made out by James K. Cook “for value received.” In 1828, during Cook’s stint at the Ariel, Thomas Ronalds sued Cook for $153.45 for not paying for twenty reams of imperial printing paper. (52)

Southern businessmen often invested in numerous ventures and the Natchez journalists commonly dabbled in various occupations and schemes, sometimes leaving the newspaper business entirely. Newspaper offices sometimes doubled as bookbinderies or reading rooms, and printers produced private handbills for customers. Like everyone else with money and ambition, journalists acquired land for planting or speculation. They sought official printing contracts and jobs in the city or county government.

Almost all Natchez journalists accumulated land when possible. Between 1802 and 1820, Marschalk purchased at least six plots of land, ranging from lots in the cities of Natchez and nearby Washington to a forty-acre farm near the intersection of St. Catherine’s Creek and Kitchen’s Mill Creek (53) and “100 French acres” located seven miles from Natchez. (54) Marschalk sold some of these parcels of land within a few years but he retained some for as long as twenty years. Marschalk mortgaged several of these plots more than once when he needed money. In the last years of his life, Marschalk used the land to provide for the care of his wife Sydney and his young daughter Ana Maria. (55)

William Mellen, publisher of the Courier and Journal from 1835 to 1836, purchased a lot in the southeast corner of Natchez (56) in 1835 and lived there in a house that still stands until his death in 1864. Mellen mortgaged the land in 1841 but paid it off the following year and later bought the adjoining lot. (57) Mellen purchased five other lots in the city of Natchez, and his wife Sarah purchased the 300-acre Locust Grove plantation for $9880 in 1850. (58) The sale included at least ten slaves, 1000 bushels of corn, seventy-five hogs, twenty-five cattle, eighteen sheep, two wagons and a farm house. The Mellens sold Locust Grove in 1859.

Phineas Merrick, proprietor of the Ariel in the late 1820s, bought five parcels of land in and around Natchez between 1823 and his death in 1831. In 1830, William Grissam mortgaged a lot and several buildings in the city of Natchez to Merrick. The agreement also included four slaves and “press-types, implements and furniture complete of the printing establishment of the Southern Galaxy in [Natchez] consisting of two presses about ten stands and about 2500 lbs of type.” (59) The land, slaves, and the printing equipment became the property of Merrick when Grissam proved unable to pay. (The firm of Grissam and Hotchkiss was over $25,000 in debt in 1830.)

Andrew Marschalk held the printing contract for the territorial government in his earliest days in the Natchez area. Journalists often found their way into government positions following or concurrent with their newspaper careers. Court papers show that James K. Cook, who had to mortgage the Ariel to Merrick though he stayed on as editor, served as court clerk in Natchez for many years. Both Andrew Marschalk and Samuel H.B. Black of the Natchez Daily Courier served as justices of the peace.

Court cases also reveal that the newspaper proprietors supplemented their income by printing handbills for customers. Several publishers sued a man named John Forsyth in the late 1820s for not paying his printing bills. James K. Cook, acting for Merrick, sued to recover the sum of $136.50 “for divers advertisements in the Ariel newspaper and other printing jobs, handbills, and c.” (60) Also acting for Merrick, Langdon sued Forsyth for $208.50 for services, described in the same words. In both cases, the plaintiffs won. (61)

Aside from taking in boarders and speculating in land, Marschalk also published The Tablet, a literary newspaper, and tried to establish a newspaper called The Watchman in Port Gibson in partnership with Thomas H. Ewing in the 1830s. The latter venture does not seem to have been successful as Marschalk and Ewing were sued in 1833 by Mary T. Defrance for nearly $500 for not paying for room and board, liquor, the care of horses and other services. (62) For a time, Marschalk also operated a drugstore. Near the end of his life, Marschalk mortgaged his apothecary to John Quitman for $3000. (63)

In begging for the payment of subscription fees and by trying out various business propositions in addition to journalism, a major motive for the Natchez editor was providing for his family. According to the 1820 census, Andrew Marschalk’s household contained seventeen people, including four slaves. Before 1850, the census did not name the persons marked except for the head of the household, but many scraps of information in various kinds of records provide clues to the identities of many of the people in Marschalk’s extended family. The census does provide age group, gender, and race.

Marschalk’s large number of children make up most of the 1820 census listing. The census lists the oldest white female in the Marschalk household in the 16-26 years of age category. There are two listed. Clearly, Marschalk’s first wife Susannah no longer lived in the household but there is no information about her death. The two women in this category are probably Marschalk’s last wife Sydney and his recently-married daughter Ana Maria Evens. She married William Evens in 1818. Another of Marschalk’s daughters, named Susannah like her mother, married Robert Stewart the same year. The 1820 census lists the Robert Stewart household separately, a total of four people and no slaves. (64)

Because the 1820 census does not contain a separate listing for Ana Maria Evens and her husband, it is likely they lived with Marschalk because he formed a business with Evens under the name of Marschalk and Evens. An 1819 lawsuit describes Marschalk and Evens as printers. (65) William and Ana Maria Evens and their young son Charles died in the fall of 1825, possibly in one of the frequent yellow fever epidemics. (66)

Jane Eleonora Marschalk married Miller Stewart, Robert’s brother, in 1824 and still lived in the Marschalk household in 1820. One other white female under the age of ten cannot be identified and may be a daughter or granddaughter of Marschalk who died in infancy without being mentioned in any other records. (Death records show the demise of Catherine Ann Marschalk, “the infant daughter of Andrew Marschalk” on January 2, 1821 of “anomolous diseases.” As the child’s age is listed as “days,” it seems unlikely that Catherine Ann is the same daughter under five years old from the 1820 census.)

Eight white males below the age of 26 lived in the Marschalk household, including three between 18 and 26. William Evens has already been identified. Three of Marschalk’s sons, James T., George, and Andrew, probably lived with their father at this time.

Adams County records indicate that, in 1817, Marschalk acquired an apprentice named John Mason “from the Orphan’s Court.” Marschalk would provide “meat, drink, clothing, lodging and everything necessary” for Mason until he reached the age of 21. Mason would “learn the art, trade and mystery of a printer” and how to read, write and cypher. By the terms of the agreement, Marschalk would provide Mason with a suit of clothing at the end of the indenture period. (67) It is likely that Mason is one of the male children listed as he would only have been 13 at the time of the census. The white males not identified could be children (or possibly grandchildren) of Andrew Marschalk who were never identified in any of the other records. Marschalk might have had another apprentice that was not recorded in the deed book.

Andrew Marschalk took in boarders as well. In the 1818 civil case Marschalk v. Champlin, he sued George Champlin for $200 for money borrowed from Marschalk “and also for meat drink washing lodging and other necessaries.” (68) The 1820 census might include some boarders among the unidentified persons.

Of the four slaves, only two correspond to persons mentioned in the other records. A single female slave aged 26-45 might be the same unnamed “negro woman 60 years of age (old and infirm)” sold among many other items to cover an unpaid promissory note in March 1834. The same sale included “a slave named Robert (lame) 30 years” (69) who may be one of three male slaves aged 14 or younger in the 1820 census.

According to the 1830 census, the Marschalk household consisted of fifteen persons. In 1833, he transferred the deeds of some of his land to provide for his wife Sydney, his infant daughter Ana Maria Marschalk (named for his deceased daughter of the same name), two grandchildren and his sons Andrew, Francis and Abel. All of them must be in the household of the 1830 census. The presence of three men aged 25-30 and one man aged 40-50 imply that Marschalk continued to take in boarders. The 1830 census lists only two slaves, probably Robert and the unnamed woman from the previous census.

The censuses of Adams County from 1820 to 1840 indicate that large households constituted the normal situation for all classes and journalists were not exempt. The 1820 census listed ten people in the household of Richard C. Langdon, of the Mississippi Republican and the Ariel. Phineas F. Merrick, a large landholder who dabbled in insurance as well as publishing the Ariel for a few years, was the head of a household of fourteen, including seven slaves, in 1830. William Grissam, of the Southern Galaxy, lived with nine other people, including four slaves, according to the same census. In the 1840 census, the Mississippi Free Trader’s T.A.S. Doniphan headed a household of nine. James K. Cook, also of the Ariel, lived by himself in the 1830 census, a rarity among Natchez residents.

Whether they were career journalists like Andrew Marschalk or political dabblers like Thomas Reed or Phineas Merrick, Natchez journalists of the early republic lived through exciting times and suffered through unstable periods as newspapers came and went in the first third of the nineteenth century. They lived in the same way as other ambitious southern gentlemen, in large households with at least a few slaves, acquiring land when they could and dabbling in every business opportunity that looked good as they fought off their creditors by going after their debtors.

With so many newspapers in Natchez and so many Mississippi gentlemen getting involved in one journalistic enterprise or another, categorizing any of them as journalists seems almost pointless. Every man wore a dozen hats in his lifetime and some of them wore the hat of the newspaperman at some point and some of them didn’t. Andrew Marschalk wore it for over thirty years whereas other men wore it for a few years or months.


(1) It is possible that other women worked in Natchez journalism in a capacity that prevented their work from being recognized. Harriet Prewett was never credited for her work on the Natchez Courier, but she took over the Yazoo City Whig and was listed as editor. Her Natchez work was noted much later.

(2) Alford, Prince Among Slaves, pp. 86-88.

(3) Mississippi Free Trader and Natchez Gazette, December 7, 1837.

(4) Mississippi Free Trader and Natchez Gazette, December 7, 1837.

(5) Mississippi Free Trader and Natchez Gazette, November 30, 1837.

(6) Alford, Prince Among Slaves, p. 86.

(7) Sydnor, “The Beginning of Printing in Mississippi,” pp. 49-55.

(8) Mississippi Free Trader and Natchez Gazette, December 7, 1837. The article says the impressment incident took place in August 1799, but this is clearly erroneous because letters to and from Winthrop Sargent show that Marschalk was printing the territorial laws of Mississippi at that time. It may be a typographical error for 1789, a date which fits very well for this vague period of Marschalk’s life.

(9) Marschalk is said to have served with Meriwether Lewis at Chickasaw Bluffs. He may also have known William Clark and future president William Henry Harrison, both of whom are listed on the officer roster for the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

(10) Letters to Captain John Miller. Andrew Marschalk Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi.

(11) Dunbar Rowland, History of Mississippi: Heart of the South, Volume II, L-Z (Chicago, 1925), entry on Andrew Marschalk. Alford, in Prince Among Slaves, speculates that Marschalk’s close call with impressment inspired the subject matter of “The Galley Slave.” William Reeve, composer, and J.C. Cross, lyricist, wrote a musical comedy titled The Purse, or Benevolent Tar, in London in 1794. “The Galley Slave” was one of the songs in The Purse, which was performed in Philadelphia in 1795 and in Boston by 1797. “The Galley Slave” was one of the top ten songs in 1790s America. Almost every secondary source refers to The Purse as an opera. However, examining the work shows that is actually a musical comedy in one act with several songs. Ellen Koskoff, editor, The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 3: The United States and Canada (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2001), p. 180; Douglas C. McMurtrie, A Bibliography of Mississippi Imprints, 1798-1830 (Beouvoir Community, Mississippi: The Book Farm, 1945), p. 19; Stanley Sadie, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Volume 21, Recitative to Russian Federation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 75-76; and O.G. Sonneck, Bibliography of Early Secular Music (Washington, D.C.; H.L. McQueen, 1905), p. 122. (See Appendix for the text of “The Galley Slave.”)

(12) Hamilton, editor, “Notes and Documents: The Printing of the 1799 Territorial Laws of the Mississippi Territory,” pp. 90-91.

(13) Sydnor, “The Beginning of Printing in Mississippi,” pp. 49-55.

(14) Deed records, Book E-X, 1802-1835, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi. Marschalk v. Champlin, 1818; Marschalk v. Langdon, 1818; Marschalk v. Hackett, 1818; Defrance v. Marschalk and Ewing, 1834, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi. Marschalk’s many different business ventures will be discussed in more detail throughout this chapter.

(15) William C. Davis, Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 645.

(16) The State v. Anthony Campbell, 1818, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi. Campbell, a shopkeeper and militia captain, later entered the newspaper business and became one of the town’s leading journalists. James, Antebellum Natchez, p. 95.

(17) Marschalk v. Langdon, 1818; Marschalk v. Hackett, 1818, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(18) The State of Mississippi v. Langdon, 1822, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi. Nevitt was a large planter and a leading Catholic of the region.

(19) Miles, “The Mississippi Press in the Jackson Era, 1824-1841,” pp. 2-5.

(20) Natchez Courier, January 25, 1853.

(21) Robert E. May, Manifest Destiny’s Underworld (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002), p. 17.

(22) Mellen v. Besançon,, 1835, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(23) Mississippi Free Trader, November 13, 1835.

(24) Mississippi Free Trader, November 13, 1835.

(25) Miles, “The Mississippi Press in the Jackson Era, 1824-1841.” pp. 14-15. The affair with Armat is covered in more detail in a later chapter. Unfortunately, there is very little information on the other affairs of honor that Besançon was involved in. Miles says, without offering any details, that the challenges were all related to his appointment as bank commissioner. The identity of the man he killed is unknown, although Miles quotes a letter written by one of Besançon’s New York family members that says that Lorenzo Besançon “shot his adversary above the hip, he died in 36 hours. The principals in [the other duels] backed out, and the whole was thus disposed of.”

(26) Ibid., p. 14. There are many gaps in the record of Besançon’s life in Natchez. Active for only a few years in the life of Natchez, he does not appear on any of the censuses. He may not have had his primary residence in Natchez as he represented a different part of Mississippi in the legislature.

(27) The Natchez Courier, February 7, 1853.

(28) Some sources say Hillyer was born in New York, but the 1850 Mississippi census gives his birthplace as Connecticut.

(29) Natchez Democrat, April 29, 1871.

(30) Natchez Semi-Weekly Courier, April 30, 1850.

(31) Natchez Semi-Weekly Courier, May 17, 1850. Most articles in the newspapers of this period are anonymous or pseudonymous. Since the Unionist tone of the Courier remains similar throughout the many years of Hillyer’s editorship, it is likely that he wrote most, if not all, of the editorial content. However, authorship can not be known with absolute certainty. Because Hillyer’s name is prominent in every issue of the Courier from 1850 to 1861, he was certainly prepared to take responsibility for the tone of these articles even if he did not write every one.

(32) Natchez Semi-Weekly Courier, June 4, 1850.

(33) Natchez Courier, July 18, 1850.

(34) Because of concerns about the admission of California as a free state and other issues related to the balance of power between North and South, slave state leaders called for a convention to be held in Nashville, Tennessee, so that the South could make plans to counter any threat to southern power. By the time of the Nashville Convention in the summer of 1850, most southerners agreed that northern compromises were sufficient to keep the peace. Extremists in several states, particularly Mississippi and South Carolina, advocated more state and regional conventions to coordinate southern actions against any threats to slavery. Most southerners rejected the extremists, and the secession controversy died out by the end of 1851. For more information on the secession crisis of 1850, see Cleo Hearon, Mississippi and the Compromise and 1850 (Jackson, MS: Mississippi Historical Society, 1914); and William W. Freehling, The Road to Disunion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 475-535.

(35) Natchez Courier, March 6, 1858.

(36) Deed Records, Book KK, 1854, p. 279, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(37) Alexander Farrar Papers, Louisiana State University, Department of Archives and Manuscripts, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

(38) The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901). See Volume 20, p. 671; Vol. 23, pp. 854, 858; Vol. 30, pp. 547, 549, 674, 714; and others.

(39) William C. Harris, Presidential Reconstruction in Mississippi (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1967), p. 131.

(40) William C. Harris, The Day of the Carpetbagger (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1979), p. 131, quoting the Natchez Courier, January 10, 13 and 31, 1868.

(41) Ibid., p. 35.

(42) Natchez Daily Democrat, April 29, 1871.

(43) Steffen, “Newspapers for Free: The Economies of Newspaper Circulation in the Early Republic,” p. 385.

(44) Marschalk v. Campbell, 1819; Marschalk v. May, 1826; Marschalk v. Munce, 1826, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(45) Marschalk v. Forsyth, 1829, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(46) Marschalk v. Nevitt, 1835, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(47) Deed Records, Book LL, 1854, p. 25, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(48) White v. Marschalk and Evens, 1819, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(49) The Bank of the State of Mississippi v. Marschalk, 1814, 1820; Allinder v. Marschalk, 1824, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(50) Murray v. Marschalk, 1827, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(51) Davis, A Way Through the Wilderness, pp. 67-68.

(52) Knox and Nixon v. Cook, 1820; Ronalds v. Cook, 1828, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(53) Deed records, Book F, 1809. p. 81, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(54) Deed records, Book F, 1810, p. 321, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(55) Deed records, Book O, 1824, p. 29; Book U, 1833, pp. 243, 247, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(56) Deed records, Book W, 1835, p. 370, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(57) Deed records, Book DD, 1841, p. 1; Book KK, 1854, p. 474, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(58) Deed records, Book HH, 1850, p. 360, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(59) Deed records, Book S, 1830, p. 47, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(60) Cook, for use of Merrick v. Forsyth, 1828, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(61) Langdon, for use of Merrick v. Forsyth, 1828, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(62) Defrance v. Marschalk and Ewing, 1833, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(63) Deed records, Book X, 1837, p. 197, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(64) Stewart was a prosperous cabinet maker. For Robert Stewart, the 1840 census shows a household of 42 people, including 19 slaves. The 1850 census lists the value of Stewarts’s real estate at $4000.

(65) White v. Marschalk and Evens, 1819, Historical Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(66) Ariel, October 31, 1825.

(67) Deed records, Book I, 1817, p. 351, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.

(68) Marschalk v. Champlin, 1818, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(69) Deed records, Book U, 1833, p. 147, Hall of Records, Adams County, Natchez, Mississippi.