The Marshall County Democrat debuted on November 15, 1855, in Plymouth, an agricultural community in north-central Indiana. The paper originated not long after the Kansas-Nebraska Act divided the Democratic Party. While the Marshall County Democrat declared, “Slavery is wrong, either North or South of the Missouri Compromise line,” it also endorsed popular sovereignty stating, “All territory is free until it becomes a State, and then the people alone can control the institutions.” Thomas McDonald co-founded the paper, and he and his sons, Platt and Daniel, and grandsons, John and Louis, would intermittently own the Democrat over the next 47 years.
During the Civil War, Daniel E. VanValkenburgh acquired the newspaper, which the Union Army suppressed in May 1863. Early that month, General Ambrose Burnside issued General Orders No. 38 which permitted military commissions to try any private citizen who expressed opposition to the Lincoln administration or sympathy for the Southern rebels. VanValkenburgh editorialized on what he viewed as Lincoln’s abuses of power, and lamented, “It may be that our liberties are ‘clean gone forever.’” The last straw was VanValkenburgh’s criticism of Burnside’s lieutenant, General Milo S. Hascall. The Democrat wrote, “Brig. Gen. Hascall is a donkey, an unmitigated, unqualified donkey, and his bray is long, loud and harmless.” A few days later, Union soldiers arrested VanValkenburgh and brought him before General Burnside in Cincinnati to answer charges of treason. Burnside ultimately released VanValkenburgh but cautioned him to be more careful of his criticisms in the future.
After several changes in ownership, the McDonalds reacquired interest in the Democrat in 1869. By 1877, Daniel McDonald had become complete owner, and with the exception of an interruption in 1879-81, he owned and edited the paper until 1902. By 1894, the Democrat had expanded to eight pages. It reached its peak circulation around that time with a reported 1,650 copies.
Clay W. Metsker, the owner of the Marshall County Independent, acquired the Democrat in March 1902. He merged the two publications but continued issuing them under separate titles as daily and weekly editions respectively until 1909 when the Democrat replaced the Independent as the daily edition. Metsker sold out to Roland B. Metsker and Heyward P. Gibson in March 1931. The new owners renamed the paper the Plymouth Daily News. They also retained the Democrat title for the weekly edition until discontinuing it in January 1941.
It’s a sad day for digitized historic newspapers today. The federal government shutdown has stopped access to over 6 million pages of newspapers on Chronicling America! Gasp!
Fortunately, we have new content to share, and maybe reading the funny pages from 1903 will help cheer you up. Below are pages from the first comics insert to appear in the Indianapolis Journal on September 6, 1903.
Click on the hyperlinks throughout this essay to access digitized issues of the newspapers.
In March 1852, Richard Corbaley acquired the Plymouth Pilot, situated in an agricultural community in north-central Indiana, and changed the title to the Plymouth Banner. The paper changed ownership five times during the next four and a half years. In 1855 the paper became the Plymouth Weekly Banner. Then, on the eve of the 1856 election, Ignatius Mattingly purchased the paper and changed its name to the Marshall County Republican. While the Banner had aimed to be not “a strictly political paper – but a home newspaper,” the Republican intended to “advocate, zealously and fearlessly” for the Republican Party’s candidates and causes.
Mattingly owned the paper until 1868, and was succeeded by ten other proprietors over the next decade. In February 1878, John W. Siders and Walter L. Piper bought the Marshall County Republican. Although Siders’s partners would change over the years, Siders retained ownership of the newspaper until 1890. Siders shortened its name to the Plymouth Republican in December 1878. He expanded the four-page weekly to eight pages by 1882 and increased circulation from 960 in 1880 to 1,382 in 1890 in the city of 2,570 residents.
In 1890, Siders shared editorial duties with his partner, Edward S. Brooke, before leaving the paper the following year. Brooke established a daily edition in April 1896 called the Plymouth Evening News and continued publishing the Republican as a weekly. Rolla B. Oglesbee owned and operated both papers beginning in April 1897, before selling them to William G. Hendricks the following year. Hendricks combined the Republican and the Evening News into the Plymouth Tribune in 1901. The Tribune reached a peak circulation of 1,800 in 1911. Hendricks sold the paperthat year to Samuel E. Boys, owner of the Plymouth Daily Chronicle. Boys combined the Tribune and Chronicle into a single newspaper, which he renamed the Plymouth Republican, and continued issuing daily and weekly editions. In 1922, Boys discontinued the weekly edition, and recalling the newspaper’s first incarnation, re-titled it the Plymouth Daily Pilot. The Daily Pilot operated until Boys merged it with the Plymouth Daily News to form the Plymouth Pilot-News in 1947.
On December 13, 1841, John Dowling established a Whig weekly titled the Wabash Express in Terre Haute, Indiana, located on the banks of the Wabash River. John’s brother, Thomas Dowling, had previously owned the Wabash Courier, and one of the terms of sale prohibited Thomas from establishing another Terre Haute newspaper for five years. Thomas recruited his brother to establish the Express in his stead to circumvent the provision. John Dowling sold the Wabash Express in 1845 to David S. Danaldson. In January 1851, Danaldson issued a short-lived daily edition, the Daily Wabash Express. John B. L. Soule purchased the Express in November 1853 and edited the paper until June 28, 1854. Some sources claim that it was Soule who coined the famous phrase, “Go west young man,” while editing the paper.
Robert N. Hudson began operating the Express in September 1855. Hudson also acquired the press of the Know Nothing supporting Terre Haute Daily American around this time. He established a permanent daily, the Daily Express, in addition to continuing the paper’s weekly edition. In 1857, Hudson acquired the Wabash Courier and merged it into the Express’s operations as well. “Devoted to the Whig Policy” continued to appear below the Express’s title well into 1859, even though the Whig Party had collapsed several years before. In 1856, the Express endorsed candidates of the People’s Party, a forerunner of the Republican Party in Indiana.
Charles Cruft purchased the Wabash Express in 1861 and owned it throughout the Civil War, even while serving as a brigadier general in the Union Army. In 1867, Cruft altered the title to the Terre-Haute Daily Express. Circulations for the weekly and daily editions of the Express neared 1,000 in 1869. Cruft sold the paper in 1872 to the Express Printing Company. From 1875-1879, the publishers operated the paper as a Greenback Party organ and retitled it the Terre Haute Dollar Express. They also started a Sunday edition in 1878. In August 1879, William R. McKeen acquired the paper, changing its name back to the Terre Haute Express. He sold it in May 1882, and in that same year Mary Hannah Krout briefly served as the editor of the Express, likely making her among the first female editors of an Indiana newspaper. In 1883, George M. Allen, the new owner, added a second daily edition published every evening, which was short lived. Allen also instituted other changes: the weekly edition increased to eight pages around 1888, the daily edition expanded to eight pages during the 1890s, and the weekly edition changed to a semi-weekly in 1897. Allen sold the Terre Haute Express in March 1899 to a stock company led by McKeen. Daily circulation reached 3,000 copies in 1900. After a nearly 62-year run, the last issue of the Express appeared on April 29, 1903. The non-partisan Terre Haute Morning Star succeeded the Express and until late 1904 carried its name on the masthead as the Terre Haute Morning Star and Express.
The Indianapolis Leader began in August 1879 as the city’s first black newspaper. Three brothers, Benjamin, Robert, and James Bagby published the four-page, Republican oriented weekly with the motto “An Equal Chance and Fair Play.” The Bagbys advertised the paper as follows: “Let every colored man who favors the elevation of his race subscribe for the Leader; and let every white man who believes that slavery was a crime against humanity and that it is the duty of the ruling race to aid the Negro in his struggle for moral, social and intellectual elevation do likewise.” A correspondent to the Leader wrote, “The interchange of ideas and opinions so judiciously fostered by the Leader is most beneficial to the race in every way….It is a great educator.” The Leader encouraged northern migration for southern African Americans, and carried society news for Indianapolis’s African-American community. The Leader’sreported circulation in 1884 was 3,000. Two other African-American newspapers debuted around this time, the Indianapolis Freeman (1884) and the Indianapolis Colored World (1883).
The Bagby’s sold the Leader in 1885, and its transition at that point is unclear although it ceased to be an African-American newspaper. By 1886, Edward Hutchins was editing and publishing the Leader as a four-page, Greenback affiliated weekly. Vermillion County farmers Andrew J. and Lewis H. Johnson acquired it the next year, before Thomas J. Sharp took over as editor and publisher in 1888. Sharp advertised the Leader as “The great Union Labor paper of Indiana….It circulates…chiefly among farmers and the laboring people.” Sharp reported a circulation of 3,200 in 1888, but the figures fell to 2,300 by 1890. The falling readership perhaps prompted Sharp to sell the paper to John Medert in 1890. Sharp returned as editor in 1891, but the Leader ceased publication sometime that year.
TheJasper Weekly Courierdebuted on March 19, 1858 in Jasper, Indiana. Jasper, the county seat of Dubois County in southern Indiana,was an agricultural trade center near iron and coal deposits. John Mehringer, Rudolphus Smith, and Clement Doane published the Courier as an organ of the Democratic Party. The Courier was the first newspaper published in the county since the American Eagle left Jasper in 1848 after a two year publication run. On November 1, 1859, Doane became sole proprietor of the Courier. The paper endorsed Stephen A. Douglas in the 1860 presidential election. The Courier drew criticism early in the Civil War for being disunionist. Doane fired back with an editorial affirming his loyalty, but lamented “a Union which requires bayonets and bullets to keep it together.” In 1872, Doane expanded the four page [five column] weekly to eight pages [also five columns]. He continued to publish the newspaper until his death in 1904. His son, Benjamin E., assumed publishing duties until his death in 1922. Benjamin Doane’s children briefly tried to maintain the Courier, but the newspaper’s publication ceased in July 1922.
For most of its sixty-four year existence, the Courier was the oldest, continuously published, English language newspaper in Dubois County. Jasper’s population ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 during the Courier’s lifetime, and the newspaper’s reported circulation ranged from 350 in 1869 to 750 in 1920. Since the county had a large German speaking population, the very first issue of the Courier bore an advertisement in German announcing, “Advertisements in German will always be handled in this office in the best and cheapest manner.” In 1867, a German language newspaper, the Signal,premeried in nearby Huntingburg to better serve German speaking residents of the county, and eventually boasted a larger circulation than any other nineteenth-century Dubois County newspaper. The Courier’s first viable English language competitor, the Jasper Times, debuted in 1879 as a Democratic organ. The Times converted to a Republican newspaper in 1883, and by 1890 reportedly out-circulated the Courier, 700 issues to 572. Despite this success the Times folded in 1891. Four years later in 1895, the Jasper Herald premiered. The Herald was also a Democratic voice, and eventually superseded the Courier with circulations over 1,000 in the 1910s.
Football season is upon us. Hoosiers love their high school squads, college teams, and the Colts. Indiana residents even loved football in 1901, when the state’s past-time of basketball was still in its infancy. Read more about Indiana football at the dawn of the 20th century in the Indianapolis Journal above.
There are currently over 63,000 pages of historic Indiana newspapers available for free through the Chronicling of America website at the Library of Congress. You can find many great pieces of the past there. For instance, if you wanted to find out what happened 100 years ago today, you could check out the Jasper Weekly Courier for August 29, 1913. The Courier ran a column titled “Happenings in Indiana,” click on the image to the right, and go to the sixth column.
In 1825, Indiana state printer John Douglass relocated with the state capital from Corydon to Indianapolis, then a town with less than 1,000 residents. Douglass had previously published the short-lived Madison (IN) Western Clarion, and upon arriving in Indianapolis purchased a share of the Western Censor and Emigrants Guide. Douglass and his partner, Douglass Maguire, changed the name to the Indiana Journal, and produced their first issue on January 11, 1825. The anti-Jacksonian publishers advocated for government sponsored internal improvements and protective tariffs that would aid Indiana’s agricultural economy. These political positions led the Journal to align with the emerging Whig Party in the 1830s.
Beginning in 1839 the publishers increased and varied the Journal’spublication frequency based upon when the Indiana General Assembly convened; what had hitherto been a weekly edition, became semi-weekly, tri-weekly, and daily at different times from 1839-1851 to accommodate more state legislative news. In 1840, Douglass and his new partner, Samuel V. B. Noel, also issued a campaign newspaper, the Spirit of ’76, which supported former Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison’s Whig candidacy for President of the United States. After eighteen years operating the Journal, Douglass sold his interest to Noel in 1843. Noel only maintained sole ownership of the paper for two years, but during that time he changed the name of the paper to the Indiana State Journal, and he allowed Henry Ward Beecher to edit and issue the Indiana Farmer from the Journal’s presses.
John D. Defrees, former publisher of the Northwestern Pioneer and St. Joseph Intelligencer in South Bend, acquired the Journal in 1845 and operated it until 1854. Defrees continued the Journal as a Whig organ, and the paper’s editorials criticizing the Democratic administration’s conduct of the Mexican-American War echoed Whig rhetoric heard around the country. Defrees’s use of the Journal to spread Whig ideas made him an important Indiana political voice, and when the Whig Party collapsed in the early 1850s Defrees became an important leader in the fusionist movement that established the Republican Party in Indiana. Defrees also made several important changes to the Journal and Indiana journalism. He installed the city’s first steam driven printing press, expanded the page format from four to six columns, and introduced better quality illustrations. Defrees also conducted a fierce rivalry with the Democratic Indiana State Sentinel, and introduced Indianapolis’s first permanent daily, the Daily Indiana State Journal, one week before the Sentinel’s daily premieredin April 1851. The daily edition’s title changed to Indianapolis Morning Journal in 1853, the Indianapolis Daily Journal in 1854, and simply the Indianapolis Journal in 1867. The fledgling Indianapolis Locomotive, the brain-child of some Journal apprentices in 1845,demonstrated the reading public’s appetite for more local and society news. The Journal’s daily production schedule created room for local stories, and next day reporting.
One of the most important nineteenth-century Indiana journalists, Berry R. Sulgrove, joined the Journal in 1854 as editor. Sulgrove also wrote much local news copy. He acquired controlling interest in the Journal by 1856, and transitioned the Journal from Whig into the Republican camp. During the Civil War, Sulgrove penned strong Unionist editorials that supported the policies of President Abraham Lincoln and Governor Oliver P. Morton. During the war, the Journal’s daily circulation reached 6,000; for comparison the city’s pre-war population was 18,611.
Indiana had a bustling literary scene in the late 1800s, which was due in part to the Journal’s managing editor Elijah W. Halford’s advocacy and support of Hoosier authors. James Whitcomb Riley, the “Hoosier Poet,” greatly benefitted from Halford’s patronage. Riley published hundreds of poems and humor pieces in the Journal from 1877-1901, and also worked as a Journal reporter for few years.
In 1880, John C. New became Indiana’s Republican Party Chairman, and purchased the Journal. New’s greatest success as a political operative and a newspaper publisher was his advocacy of Benjamin Harrison for the Republican presidential nomination in 1888. New first suggested Harrison for president in 1884, and redoubled his efforts in 1888. He avidly promoted Harrison’s candidacy in Journal editorials, and distributed thousands of Journal issues among delegates at the Republican National Convention that subsequently nominated Harrison. The Journal’s role in Harrison’s nomination and subsequent election to the presidency elevated the newspaper’s national profile.
The increased profile, however, did not translate to better sales. In 1890, the Journal’s daily circulation of 8,263 was paltry compared to its competitors the Indianapolis News with 21,468 and the Sentinel with 15,800. In the late 1890s the Journal faced even more competition from yellow journalism that used sensational headlines to drive sales. The ever respectable Journal editors explained, “The Journal refuses to put itself on a level with the cheap papers flooding the country, and therefore appeals only to that class of reading public which wants the news presented in a decent and dignified manner.” The Journal managed to boost its daily circulation to a high in 1901 with 22,320, but in a city of 170,000 the News remained the leader with almost 50,000 daily issues in circulation. Three years later in June 1904, George McCulloch, publisher of the recently established Indianapolis Morning Star, purchased the Journal. McCulloch issued the paper as the Indianapolis Morning Star and Journal until October 26, 1904 when he dropped Journal from the title.