CHAPTER ONE: OVERVIEW OF THE NATCHEZ PRESS, 1800 - 1865
"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.