Content Note: This video reproduces a panel of art depicting the Ku Klux Klan. It appears at 10:55 in the video and continues to 11:55. Viewer discretion is advised.
Thomas Hart Benton, one of America’s premier artists during the twentieth century, painted series of murals about Indiana for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. A controversial collection of artworks, the Indiana Murals engaged viewers in a dialogue about Indiana’s complex history—a dialogue that continues to this day. The murals stayed in storage of the Indiana State Fairgrounds until someone believed they deserved a new home. That someone was Herman B Wells, the newly elected president of Indiana University.
Music: “Fresno Alley” by Josh Lippi & The Overtimers, “Lazy Boy Blues” by Unicorn Heads, “Progressive Moments” by Ugonna Onyekwe, “Creeping Spiders” by Nat Keefe & BeatMower, and “Plenty Step” by Freedom Trail Studio
Newspapers are an essential historical resource for researchers, journalists, and genealogists by capturing the lives and events of individuals in a particular area throughout the years as well as reporting national news. However, even under the best climate and preservation circumstances, the longevity of newspapers is hindered by the relatively short lifespan of newsprint, a thinner and lower quality of paper. One solution in the past was the use of microfilm or microforms. According to Managing Microforms in the Digital Age from the American Library Association, “microfilm has been used since the 1940s for the long-term storage of newspaper content because the medium preserves file integrity, maintains the proper sequence of the data, and discourages theft.”[i] Libraries and historical organizations have used these tools for years, but even microfilm has limitations. It takes up a great deal of space, is expensive to produce, and often requires on-site access.
Over the past twenty years, institutions have shifted their focus from microfilm to digital formats. To aid this transition, the Library of Congress, with funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), executed a nationwide newspaper project from 1982 to 2011 called the United States Newspaper Program, which cataloged and collected newspapers nationwide. However, in 2005, the Library of Congress and NEH formed the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) and its digital newspaper database, Chronicling America, which offers free access to digitized historic newspapers from across the country via partnerships with statewide organizations.[ii] Indiana’s largest collection of digitized newspapers are housed within the Indiana State Library’s own database, Hoosier State Chronicles.
As a project, Hoosier State Chronicles focused on digitizing newspapers at the state and local levels- sometimes through the NDNP or institutional partners, but often by partnering with groups endeavoring to save their local papers. The efforts of these smaller organizations have been hindered by the lack of information about how to begin such a process, as well as securing the necessary resources to handle storage, digitization costs, and labor. This blog provides an introduction to the entire process of how newspapers are selected, organized, digitized, and publicly shared through Hoosier State Chronicles. To begin, let us start with the formation of Hoosier State Chronicles and its collection of digitized newspapers.
OUR HISTORY AND COLLECTION
Indiana’s largest public repository of microfilmed newspapers is managed at the Indiana State Library and contains over 3,000 titles. In 2011, the Indiana State Library, Indiana Historical Bureau, and Indiana Historical Society collaborated on the first grant for Chronicling America, which digitized over 100,000 pages of Indiana newspapers. After the initial two-year grant cycle, the Indiana State Library and Indiana Historical Bureau, (now part of the Indiana State Library,) took over future efforts to digitize Indiana papers, eventually creating the Hoosier State Chronicles website in 2015 and receiving three more NDNP grants for digitizing newspapers. This included collaborations with Indiana colleges and universities to digitize partial collections, as well as partnerships with community organizations to digitize local papers through grants.
Today, Hoosier State Chronicles has a collection of over 950,000 pages and 124,000 issues, ranging from pre-statehood (The Indiana Gazette, 1804) to contemporary newspapers (The Muncie Gazette, 2011). The Indianapolis Recorder contains the longest run in the collection with 96 years of newspapers, but because it was a weekly paper, the whole run only contains around 5,000 issues. The largest number of issues for a single newspaper belongs to the Indianapolis News, with over 12,304 issues over 38 years, though The Daily Banner from Greencastle comes in a close second with 10,649 issues spread over 68 years.
An important element of Hoosier State Chronicles is an effort to digitize newspapers across all of Indiana. Of the state’s 92 counties, Hoosier State Chronicles contains newspapers from 54. This is not to say every county in our collection offers an equal number of newspapers or pages. The largest county in our collection by both number of newspapers and pages is easily Marion County, with 25 newspapers and over 43,000 issues. And the smallest? Posey County’s New-Harmony and Nashoba Gazette, or, Free Enquirer with one solitary issue. Does this mean that the counties with lower representation in Chronicles are less important? By no means! Limitations in access to historic newspapers, financial resources, or the quality of the papers have hindered our efforts to share titles from every area in the state. However, smaller or scattered issues may come to us as a part of a community effort to preserve some part of their history digitally. If even one newspaper represents a unique region, time-period, or subject, we absolutely want it to be a part of our collection.
Our collection covers a broad range of eras in Indiana history. The oldest newspapers in our collection begin prior to statehood in 1804 with Vincennes’ Indiana Gazette, the earliest newspaper in the state, as well as its successor, the Western Sun. Two areas of strength for the collection are pre-Civil War and late 1800s newspapers, including early runs of the Indianapolis News, Indianapolis Journal, Indiana State Sentinel, Crawfordsville Daily Journal, and several in Terre Haute and Evansville. In the early 1900s, titles like the Richmond Palladium and Hammond Times provide terrific materials from eastern and northwest Indiana. Greencastle is also an area with multiple papers during these eras, particularly The Daily Banner and associated papers. The latest title in our collection is that of the Muncie Times in 2011, giving us 207 years of collections to share.
Another facet of our newspaper collection is the variety of materials in the collection. Politically, the collection displays contrasting perspectives, with newspapers supporting Republicans and Democrats, Whigs and Socialists. These feature both local and national news, often sharing the statewide perspectives of several parties. In regards to ethnic and racial diversity, we still have a long way to go. As mentioned previously, The Indianapolis Recorder, an African American newspaper, is the longest run in our collection. Additionally, the Evansville Argus and Muncie Times also share African American culture in Indiana throughout the late 30s-early 40s and the 1990s-early 2010s, respectively. Another long run of ethnic and cultural newspapers is the Jewish Post, later called The Indiana Jewish Post & Opinion, with issues from 1933 until 2005. Finally, the Indiana Tribüne has the distinction of being both the only predominantly-German newspaper and the only foreign language newspaper in Hoosier State Chronicles.
While every newspaper occasionally offers controversial news, Hoosier State Chronicles contains one newspaper that is especially difficult for modern readers. The Fiery Cross, a Ku Klux Klan newspaper out of Indianapolis, was published during the early 1920s. Despite its nature as an official newspaper of a hate group, it nevertheless provides insights to the rise of the organization during the 1920s, when they gained immense political power. It also highlights both the explicit and subtle racism and cultural biases of the Klan, particularly against African American, Jewish, Catholic, and immigrant individuals and groups.
One newspaper not included in this list, but that is coming soon to Hoosier State Chronicles is the Indianapolis Times. The Times was an influential newspaper from the 1920s through the 1960s, whose exposure of the Ku Klux Klan’s influence on Indiana politics won them the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 1928. They also covered other social issues like corruption in the prison system during the 1930s as well as inadequate care in the mental health-care system and corruption in state road projects in the 1950s.[iii] We are currently digitizing a large portion of the newspaper in two steps. First, 1922 through 1936 is being digitized through a NEH-funded partnership with the Library of Congress Chronicling America project, where these resources will be shared. Later issues between 1936 and the early 1950s are currently being digitized through a partnership with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and a grant from the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Once completed, close to thirty years of this daily newspaper will be available on Hoosier State Chronicles.
DIGITIZING PAPERS: SELECTION
Selecting newspapers can be challenging due to several factors. When assessing where our collection needs to grow, meeting community needs is first and foremost to the process. For the past eight years, Chronicling America and the Library of Congress assisted Hoosier State Chronicles through a NEH grant to digitize nearly fifty newspapers. Yet, sometimes the desire to digitize Indiana newspapers comes from communities. We assist them through the process of securing grants, selecting vendors, and creating appropriate digital resources that can be added to Hoosier State Chronicles. [iv]
Next comes determining what newspapers are readily available for scanning and processing. Oftentimes, this comes from the collection at the Indiana State Library, with over 3,000 newspapers from the state available on microfilm. Using microfilmed reels (1st/2nd generation negative master reels or 2nd generation positive service reels) makes processing faster and the materials easier to ship. However, some newspapers have limited availability due to scarcity of service copies or the lack of original master reels. Creating new-microfilm copies can be difficult due to few companies offering the service at a manageable cost.
Though we may have microfilmed copies of newspapers in the State Library, it does not necessarily mean all are available for digitization. First and foremost, copyright restrictions limit which newspapers are candidates. Justin Clark, former Project Manager for Hoosier State Chronicles, wrote an extensive blog on the subject last year:
Have you ever wondered why the vast majority of NDNP’s content, and most digitized newspaper content, ends around 1923? It’s for a very simple reason: all works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. No copyright research is necessary for this material; it’s free and clear for you to use. However, NDNP announced in 2016 that it has expanded its date range for newspaper titles, from 1836-1922 to 1690-1963. Thus, post-1923 works are in the public domain if a copyright claim was never filed from 1923 through 1977 or if the copyright was never renewed from 1923 through 1963.
This means that more recent newspapers may be wholly or partially unavailable due to copyright concerns, including advertisements or cartoons that could fall under intellectual property laws. That is why only three newspapers appear in our collection after 1971: the Indianapolis Recorder, the Jewish Post and Opinion, and the Muncie Times. These papers are available in Hoosier State Chronicles with the permission of the newspapers’ owners.
However, even newspapers that fall outside the copyright permissions may have other restrictions. Some newspapers have been sold or given to for-profit organizations for digitization or distribution, giving them exclusive access for digital distribution as long as the copyright is in place. Local communities who digitize through for-profit companies often gain access to the files in perpetuity, but at the detriment to those outside of the community who must pay for the digital version through a subscription. The cost of subscription, as well as restrictions on use, limits the average consumer from being able to view these for research or genealogy. Oftentimes, they are marketed as subscriptions to libraries or other organizations for popular use. Hoosier State Chronicles, Chronicling America, and other organizations involved with the NDNP offer newspapers in their collections for free to the public, giving alternatives to researchers, the public, and local communities.[v]
The last two concerns are intertwined: cost and time. Digitization can be a lengthy process, often taking months or years for larger collections. We will cover more in the next section, but the hours required to create a high-quality digital copy may be beyond the resources of smaller organizations. Additionally, the various costs involved with the acquisition, shipping, scanning, processing, and completing a run of newspapers may be daunting, but finding programs and grants to help relieve the burden is often a major part of starting such a program.
DIGITIZING NEWSPAPERS: PROCESSING
Once a newspaper is selected and deemed eligible for digitization with no restrictions, the process of assessing the collection can begin. The initial process often involves cataloging each newspaper issue to verify its condition, making sure all pages are included and duplicates are noted, sorting to make sure all images are in order, notating any errors in the original print run, and marking flaws in the microfilm. This step can take months to complete in order to provide a thorough template for individuals digitizing the information and adding metadata (the data that organizes and makes the pages and newspapers searchable), as well as keeping meticulous records to assure everything leaving can be accounted for when it returns.
There are several potential options for the digitization process, and many of these depend on the size and number of reels for the newspaper. If the number of newspapers is small enough, or in a physical medium, it may be handled by a local or state agency like the Indiana State Library, who have on-site digital scanning capabilities. However, for larger runs of newspapers, outside companies will likely be required to handle both the digitization and metadata. While there are many options for vendors, the quality requirements, size of the order, and cost may dictate which vendor to go with.
While the scale of work may vary, the system of digitizing large and small projects is very similar. The images are photographed by a high-quality digital scanner that scans the whole document, captures the fine details, and avoids capturing text bleeding through from the other side. From there, the images will be modified for readability, removing flaws and cropping out extraneous space. Files are usually saved in multiple formats for different uses: TIFF files are the highest quality and provide the archival copy, but are extremely large; JPG or JPG2 files provide usable quality copies at a lower resolution and size than TIFF files; and PDF files, which can vary in quality and size, can be downloaded by the public.
Metadata creation is distinctive from the digital scanning process, and while both systems need to work collaboratively, each could be performed by separate vendors. Metadata is the “data about your data” that gives images their descriptions, allows them to be easily sorted, and provides an order and structure to the files. If you are not familiar with metadata, think about how newspapers are numbered. Each issue of a newspaper has a volume number, an edition and a date that gives you a newspaper’s order of publication. Within each issue, page numbers also keep the newspaper in sequential order. All of these numbers are points of metadata that help us sort and organize the newspaper on a daily basis. They are also points that a computer system needs to know to organize the information when putting the files in order and allowing them to be searched and indexed. XML files act as the directory for metadata to be able to sort these files (see image on right.)
Another aspect of metadata for newspapers is making sure the text in the body of the newspaper is readable and searchable. Thankfully, one tool that makes this process easier is Optimal Character Recognition software, or OCR. OCR scans the printed pages in the images, translates them to text, and allows that text to be searched. Not only does this make the newspapers much easier to use, but it also adds a rough transcription of the pages (see image below).
Unfortunately, OCR is not perfect. The system works best when text is in standard fonts, in straight lines and columns, contains no illustrations, and is relatively the same size. As you may guess, this is rarely the case, particularly in modern or larger newspapers that contain advertisements, comics, or unusual text fonts. These can also be caused by the condition of the documents when they are scanned or the contrast of images. This occasionally results in gibberish translations or incorrect transcriptions from items the software recognizes as text (like an image). Still, like most technology, the systems improve as time goes on, and OCR is an essential part of making the information in newspapers more accessible.
Without metadata, digital newspapers are nothing more than images. Metadata orders these images to replicate the experience of reading a newspaper while adding searchable information. The process of adding metadata requires a team with keen eyes to monitor the organization and placement of files during the digitization process, specialized technology that accurately recognizes text, and maintaining the image quality of every single newspaper.
DIGITIZING NEWSPAPERS: REVIEW AND UPLOADING
The process of creating a digital copy and adding layers of metadata can take the same amount of time as the initial review of the collection. Yet, after these are completed, the individual agencies who accept these digital copies must review as much as they can to assure that the highest standards are maintained. If this is done internally, the control process may be easily assured by spot checking the creation process. However, on a larger scale where vendors are utilized, checking to make sure each batch, or group, of digitized newspapers is correct as soon as they are available means you can request corrections before they return the microfilm.
What kind of issues come up? Sometimes the scanning is not at the right quality or resolution, which necessitates a rescan. Maybe the dates, page numbers, or page orders are incorrect in the metadata and the information needs to be reorganized or edited. Occasionally, missing pages or issues that should be there need to be tracked down between the original film reels, the digitized files, and the metadata files. This is why it is important to review and revise everything in smaller groups, or batches, so the process of digitizing, adding metadata, and reviewing the completed material can take place simultaneously. Locally saved materials can be revised as you go, but larger-scale batches may require a remote digital transfer before you begin, or physically shipping off a hard drive.
Maintaining a digital collection of any kind, with thousands of individual newspapers saved in multiple formats, means investing in both external hard drives and backup drives. For example, our current digitization project with the Library of Congress contains portions of the Indianapolis Journal, The Daily Times, and the Indianapolis Times, which collectively require roughly eleven external hard drives and nearly seven terabytes of storage. To make sure everyone who needs these materials has them, we often have three copies: one on an external hard-drive that is shipped to the Library of Congress, one back-up copy on our local computer system for immediate access, and one copy maintained on our website. All three have associated costs, but it is good practice to maintain each for future use.
Finally, after all batches undergo quality review of their images and metadata, revisions are completed, and the batches are ready, they are sent to the appropriate locations. For the newspapers that are part of the Chronicling America project, they are sent to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., where they undergo a second review to assure the files meet their specifications. Once everything is approved by all organizations, the files can finally be sent to either Chronicling America and/or Hoosier State Chronicles, where they are uploaded for public access.
Starting a new digital newspaper collection is often a large undertaking, but the established specifications, technologies, vendors, and programs throughout the United States show interested organizations that it can be done. If you are looking for how other organizations have handled this process, check out the list of organizations that have been awarded NDNP grants on the Library of Congress website: https://www.loc.gov/ndnp/awards/. Ultimately, the goal of digitization is making documents more accessible to the public, reducing damage to original sources, thus providing more contextual resources to our understanding of history.
A special thanks to Connie Rendfeld, Chandler Lighty, Justin Clark, Leigh Anne Johnson, and Jill Black in the creation of this document.
[iv] One source of funding is that of Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants, which are funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Science (IMLS), of which the State of Indiana distributes funds. For more information on the availability of these grants, check out the State Library page at https://www.in.gov/library/lsta.htm, or contact Angela Fox at (317) 234-6550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[v] The Indiana State Library and Hoosier State Chronicles have partnered with Newspapers.com in the past to digitize a large number of newspapers. In exchange for three years of exclusive access, over 1.5 million pages of Indiana newspapers are now digitized and accessible via the Indiana State Library’s Inspire website by following the links to Newspapers.com.
Music: “Ambient, Adventure, Score Song” by Patrik Almkvisth, “The Descent ” by Kevin MacLeod, “Lurking” by Silent Partner, “Mean Streetz” by MK2, “Voyeur” by Jingle Punks, and “Far The Days Come” by Letter Box
Summer is upon us, and one of the staples of American summers is fast food. It’s always a blast to roll down the windows, crank up the tunes, and head on over to your favorite drive-thru. Now, we all know about the classics: McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC. But there’s one fast-food giant, wildly popular from 1950s through the 70s, which almost beat them all. That was Indianapolis-based Burger Chef.
Indiana’s own Richard Wigginton Thompson, former Secretary of the Navy, was an emblematic product of American corruption during the Gilded Age. In many ways, he was the living embodiment of failing upward; despite being clearly incapable of serving as Naval Secretary, he continued to rise through the ranks of the political establishment. In effect, his story is but one, small part of a larger story about how government is not always staffed by the “best and brightest,” but rather its exact opposite.
There’s one tradition that often gets misunderstood during this time of year, especially among us Americans: it’s using the phrase, “Happy Holidays.” Some folks think that using this term, instead of saying “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” or any other specific holiday, diminishes the importance of this time of year. They think the term is too recent, modern, and without a tradition of its own. However, when one does a little digging, you’ll soon find out that the phrase has a long and treasured history here in the United States and even in the Hoosier State.
Hoosier State Chronicles is happy to announce our YouTube channel! This channel will be devoted to Indiana’s history and its relevance to everyday Hoosiers.
First up is our video essay on the Reno Gang. Often credited with the “first train robbery in America,” the Renos were a gang of outlaws that roamed the Indiana and Missouri countryside in the 1860s, stealing loot from banks and county treasuries.
While their crimes became legendary, the community’s response proved equally legendary. Local sheriffs, Allan Pinkerton’s men, Canadian detectives, and the Jackson County Vigilance Committee all strove to exact justice on the Renos and their accomplices.
In this first video, we will uncover the trail of destruction left behind, not only by the Reno Gang, but by those who punished them.
For all of human history, natural disasters have plagued the citizens of villages, towns, and nations. One such incident, the volcanic eruptions on Martinique and St. Vincent in 1902, displayed the immense destruction left in the wake of such a tragedy. As one of the few journalists allowed back to the islands after the eruptions, James P. Hornaday, Washington correspondent for the Indianapolis News, witnessed the devastation first-hand and wrote detailed articles about his experiences. In doing so, Hornaday chronicled one of the world’s most violent natural disasters and provided future scholars with a thorough rough draft of what came after.
The islands of Martinique and St. Vincent served as colonial outposts in the Caribbean; the former belonged to the French and the latter belonged to the English. In particular, the Indianapolis News described Martinique as “one of the West Indies, belonging to the chain of the Lesser Antilles. . . . thirty-three miles south of Dominica and twenty-two north of St. Lucia.” St. Vincent, the largest of a chain of islands collectively known as the Grenadines, sits within miles of Martinique. Both islands contained valuable natural resources, agriculture, and industry, especially sugar. Being the creations of tectonic shifts and volcanic activity, Martinique and St. Vincent always faced the potential threat of violent eruptions. However, nearly no one in 1902 expected what carnage awaited them.
On May 8, 1902, after a few days of growing volcanic pressure, Mount Pelée spewed forth ash, rocks, and steam that completely covered the city of St. Pierre, Martinique’s population center. The News reported that St. Pierre was “totally destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic disturbances” and that “almost all the inhabitants—more than 25,000—are said to have been killed.” This left the thousands who survived “without food or shelter.” Across the way, St. Vincent’s Soufrière volcano also gained momentum, with “a big cloud of steam” lingering over the island and startling its inhabitants. The trouble for both of these islands was only beginning.
Within days, the news of Martinique’s destruction reached the ears of two prominent Indiana legislators, U.S. Senators Albert J. Beveridge and Charles W. Fairbanks. They started crafting legislation that would send relief supplies to the island, originally calling for an appropriation of $100,000. Upping the ante, President Theodore Roosevelt asked for $500,000 from Congress. They eventually settled on a compromise of $200,000 (over $5.6 million in 2016 dollars) after further negotiations in the appropriations committee led by Indiana Congressman James A. Hemenway. The president also offered his condolences to the French president, Emile Loubet. “I pray your excellency,” President Roosevelt wrote, “to accept the profound sympathy of the American people in the appalling calamity which has come upon the people of Martinique.” Additionally, his message to Congress stressed the importance of a swift relief effort. “I have directed the departments of the Treasury, of the War and of the Navy to take such measures for the relief of those stricken people as lies within the executive discretion,” he declared.
By May 12, the death toll on Martinique grew to 30,000 and the island was engulfed in “almost total darkness.” Among the living, some 50,000 people were without homes, ample food, and supplies. Nearby islands began taking in refugees, but that also came with difficulties. As one Guadeloupe civil servant said, “I do not believe Gaudeloupe [sic] can adequately relieve the stupendous distress.” The next day, the News reported that 1,600 people perished in the eruptions on St. Vincent. James Taylor, an officer on the Quebec shipping liner Roraima, shared his encounter with Mount Pelée:
Suddenly I heard a tremendous explosion. Ashes began to fall thicker upon the deck, and I could see a black cloud sweeping down upon us. I dived below, and, dragging with me Samuel Thomas, a gangway man and fellow-countryman, sprang into a room, shutting the door to keep out the heat that was already unbearable.
He also shared, in painful detail, the aftermath of the destruction:
All about were lying the dead and the dying. Little children were moaning for water. I did what I could for them. I obtained water, but when it was held to their swollen lips they were unable to swallow, because of the ashes which clogged their throats.
The Reverend William A. Maher, an Indianapolis native who frequently visited Martinique, also expressed his thoughts on the tragedy that fell upon the island. “The horror of this destruction in Martinique is appalling to me,” Maher noted, “It may be that it comes to me more strongly for the reason that some of the persons I have known may have been among the victims.”
Over the next month, Hornaday wrote about his experiences aboard the Dixie and on the islands of Martinique and St. Vincent. The News ran these stories as front page features for over a week. The first article appeared on June 5, 1902, under the title, “With the Relief Boat Dixie: First Story of Uncle Sam’s Work.” Hornaday described his time on the relief vessel, learning from the eminent scientists and military personnel as well as his first glimpses of the Mount Pelée and the island. “In a little while the clouds that surrounded and obscured the volcano on the island shifted, and the crater came into full view,” wrote the newsman, “The island, containing only five square miles, looked like a great heap of volcanic debris piled up—as it really is.”
As he went ashore, Hornaday saw some of the refugees for the first time:
Thousands of refugees, with faces almost expressionless, crowded the sea line in the town of Fort-de-France. Many of them implored the strangers to take them away. To stay, they said, meant certain death.
Two small steamboats, plying the Caribbean waters, were being loaded with such refugees as could raise money enough to get away. Families carried on their heads all their earthly possessions and dumped them into these boats
As for those who stayed on Martinique, he noted their reluctance to use electricity, which resulted in the city of Fort-de-France switching from “electric lights to candles.” “The sensibilities of the natives,” wrote Hornaday, “seemed to be so paralyzed that grief could not manifest itself.”
In his next article, Hornaday pieced together a rough outline of the events that resulted in the destruction of St. Pierre. Les Colonies, Martinique’s premier newspaper, served as a guide for some of his conclusions. One of the first indications of volcanic activity was reported on April 25, a full 12 days before the eruption. A “picnic guide” named Julian Romain saw what he described as “a boiling mass of what be called ‘bituminous stuff’” around the volcano. “In the cauldron of the crater I saw a boiling, black mixture of bituminous stuff, it rose up, popped, and allowed jets of steam to escape,” Romain said of his encounter with Mount Pelée. Showers of ashes emerged from the sky by May 1, which “did not reach St. Pierre, but guides returning to the summit reported that the ground was well covered high up on the side of the mountain.” May 5 brought on more steam, ash, and eventually boiling water that “formed a good river, and rushed down the mountain side.” The watery onslaught “engulfed several large sugar-cane mills and killed many persons—how many will never be known, for no record had been made up before the great disaster came.”
Two days later, a government commission published a report arguing that “Mont Pelée [sic] offers no more danger to the people of St. Pierre than Vesuvius offer to those of Naples.” The editor and publisher of Les Colonies sided with the government in an attempt to calm the island. “Since the day Jules Romain looked over into the boiling cauldron no one knows what has happened on Pelée,” the editor opined, “We only know we have been getting ashes. What has to-morrow in store for us?” As Hornaday solemnly noted, “the next morning the man who penned those lines was smothered by the escaping gas and buried beneath the ruins of his little printing office.”
Hornaday surveyed the ruins of St. Pierre on May 22, with his reporting appearing in the News on June 7. “In a land area ten miles wide and twelve miles long every living thing was destroyed. . . . the dead were buried by the same force that destroyed the life,” he reported. As he walked around, he would eventually see Pelée and the outline of the former city. Here are some of his details:
Pelée, rising to the northeast of the city, was cloaked in gray ashes from base to summit. Here and there up the side of the mountain could be seen jets of steam issuing forth. The whole scene was one of desolation. Not a sprig of green came within the range of sight. As we drew a little nearer the beach off St. Pierre the details of the ruins stood out before us.
As for those “details,” Hornaday wrote of city buildings ravaged like “children’s blocks tumbled over” and ashes that “buried the dead to a considerable depth.” The island’s governor was reported lost in the wreckage and no attempt was made to recover his body “which, from the general appearance of the place, was buried in ten feet of debris from the building and the ashes from the volcano.” Hornaday stared death in the eyes and he and his crew left the island “happy…to put the picture behind us.”
From there, the coverage shifted from the destruction to the relief efforts. Hornaday’s article from June 9 outlined the efforts of relief workers and the response from the natives. “A whole dozen steamers had emptied their cargoes on the island within ten days after the disaster” when the Dixie and its crew arrived to deliver its supplies. During Pelée’s active eruption on May 8, a vast majority of citizens scrambled towards the north end of the island towards the city of St. Pierre. As Hornaday discovered, “practically every life in the north half of the island had been sacrificed.” Despite the seemingly good intentions of those offering help, the thousands who survived apparently saw the relief efforts in a different light. “The population, almost entirely colored, showed no appreciation of the donation of food and clothing by the United States,” Hornaday opined. By contrast, “the government and city officials, of course, did appreciate the act.”
Now, it is safe to assume that a statement such as this could be seen as prejudiced, as he singled out the natives of color from the government. In that light, Hornaday’s view on the situation is rather myopic. The people who survived had just gone through the worst disaster of their lives, one the government promised just days before would not happen. Perhaps the natives did not feel like trusting the outsiders and the governments who support them as a result. The island also suffered through an additional eruption on May 20 that reached parts of Fort-de-France, although no one died. Additionally, Hornaday reported that many of the natives felt “numb” from the entire experience, so it’s reasonable to suggest that while Martinique’s government appreciated the good intentions of relief effort, the natives had good reasons to be weary of the whole thing.
The attitude of St. Vincent could not have been more different. As Hornaday pointed out in his article from June 10, “the cruiser [Dixie] was received by the governor and the officers of the British cruisers as a friend in need, and arrangements were made at once to receive the stores.” While many died on Martinique, St. Vincent had far more injured survivors and thousands “made penniless and homeless.” While St. Vincent’s government appeared just as grateful as Martinique’s, the natives also appreciated the American relief efforts. “Everywhere one heard expressions of good will toward America for having so promptly come to the relief of the stricken people,” Hornaday highlighted. Again, this is one reporter’s view of the situation, but it is worth noting that the British island (St. Vincent) received the Americans more favorably than the French Island (Martinique). As political scientist Sidney Milkis noted, the Roosevelt administration’s relations with France did not strengthen until the second term.
After four intense days of investigation, James P. Hornaday left the island of St. Vincent on May 25, 1902 aboard the Madiana, while the Dixie stayed behind and unloaded the relief supplies. The Madiana also carried “as many wealthy refugees as she can carry,” which were described by Hornaday as “well-to-do whites.” He further noted that “the opinion was expressed by the refugees brought away that within a year many of the islands would be entirely left to the negroes.” As with his many pontifications, Hornaday comes off as wildly obtuse, if not prejudiced. Regardless, this passage is telling for one clear reason. Martinique and St. Vincent were colonial outposts, which gave their respective French and British transplants easy access off the island while the natives were left to fend for themselves. It is a case study, among many others, that documents the problematic practices of colonialism and imperialism at the turn of the century. While many non-natives perished, like the US consulate and his family, they had the easiest access to food, shelter, medical treatment, and transportation. The natives were not so lucky.
In his final article, dated June 14, 1902, Hornaday makes some tentative conclusions about the entire ordeal. He praised the “promptness with which the United States came to the relief of the needy in Martinique and St. Vincent” and that the “act touched the people of the colonies and they will not soon forget it.” That is, except those who were uneasy about American aid; this is Hornaday slightly reversing his previous conclusions, unless he is talking solely about the islands’ governments. He also praised the work of the scientific community whose initial investigations concluded “that there was ample warning from both Pelée and Soufrière” and “it is nearly always possible to foretell an eruption in time to save life.” Finally, he honored those who died in the destruction, especially American service members:
If the names of the officers and the sailors of the ships who went down could be ascertained and their families sought out wherever they may be there would be undoubtedly be an opportunity to spend wisely the relief fund which the United States holds a reserve. And since the names of most of the ships are known, it ought not to be a task beyond performance.
Once all of his articles were released, the Indianapolis Newspublished Hornaday’s work in a pamphlet, known as the Martinique Letters, on June 19, 1902. It sold for 10 cents a copy and hailed as “a connected and comprehensive account for the great volcanic disasters.”
Sadly, Martinique suffered another volcanic upset on August 30, 1902, killing several hundred people near the towns of Carbet and Morne Rouge. One of the fatalities was Father Père Marie, who aided the scientific teams and journalists during the initial destruction on Martinique. Hornaday wrote an obituary for Mare that appeared in the News. “If the cable report be true,” he wrote, “his parishioners have perished.” Hornaday praised the priest for his kind assistance on the island during his investigations the previous May.
Martinique and St. Vincent eventually recovered from the tragedies of 1902 and the latter became an independent nation in 1979. Martinique is still a part of France but is no longer a colony; it became an “overseas department” in 1946 that grants its citizens full rights under the French government. Fort-de-France, the major city that survived the eruptions, became the capital. Their towns, villages, and economies all bounced back and both have become viable producers of sugar as well as prime tourist destinations. They have faced volcanic activity since their 1902 disasters but have always found a way to endure.
As for James Hornaday, he worked as the White House Correspondent for the Indianapolis News for another 33 years and became the Dean of White House Correspondents. He died on December 24, 1935 at his desk in Washington, writing up new stories about President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. The president released an official statement the next day:
I share with his legion of friends the grief which the passing of James P. Hornaday has brought to all of us at this Christmas time. Dean of White House Correspondents, he had through long years faithfully chronicled national events, not less admired for his talents as a newspaperman than he was beloved because of the beauty and strength of his personal character. There was, there is, among Washington newspapermen no gentler, truer soul than Jim Hornaday. We shall long remember him, and miss him, and mourn him, and be thankful that we were permitted to know him and love him.
The obituary in the Indianapolis Star also lauded the legendary newsman. Reporter Gavin Payne wrote, “I have never known a man who, in my opinion, outranked him in the sterling qualities of manhood. . . . few men have attained a higher reputation in Washington correspondence.” The article also noted his love for Indiana, saying, “He a was a true Hoosier, and though living in Washington for much more than a quarter of a century, never lost his attachment for the folks back home.”
James P. Hornaday’s articles about Martinique and St. Vincent stand among some of the Indianapolis News’ finest reporting from the period. It was also rather unique; a veteran Hoosier reporter traveled across a continent to vividly chronicle the destruction of some of the Caribbean’s most treasured islands. He helped readers then and now understand the immense geographic, political, economic, and personal struggles these islands faced in the wake of such a disaster. While some of his conclusions about the natives are out of touch with our modern sensibilities, which should be acknowledged, he nonetheless created a portrait of the event that resonates even today. He shows us what journalists will often go through to get their story, even when the world is on fire.
Despite its status as a free state in the federal union, Indiana maintained a complicated relationship with the institution of slavery. The Northwest Territory, incorporated in 1787, banned slavery under Article VI of the Articles of Compact. Nevertheless, enslaved people were allowed in the region well after lawmakers organized the Indiana Territory in 1800. As historians John D. Barnhart and Dorothy L. Riker noted, there were an estimated 15 people enslaved in and around Vincennes in 1800. This number only represented a fraction of the 135 slaves enumerated in the 1800 census. When Indiana joined the Union as a free state in 1816, pockets of slave-holding citizens remained well into the 1830s.
Making matters more complicated, Indiana ratified a new constitution in 1851 that included Article XIII, which prohibited new settlement of African Americans into the state. Article XIII also encouraged colonization of African Americans already living in the state. The Indiana General Assembly even passed legislation creating a fund for the implementation of colonization in 1852. It stayed on the books until 1865. This, along with a litany of “black codes,” limited the civil rights of free African Americans and harsher penalties for African Americans seeking freedom. As historian Emma Lou Thornbrough observed, Indiana’s policies exhibited an “intense racial prejudice” and a fear of free, African American labor. One window into understanding complex history of fugitive slaves is by analyzing newspapers. Ads for runaways, fugitive slave narratives, and court case proceedings permeate Indiana’s historic newspapers. This blog will unearth some of the stories in Indiana newspapers that document the long and uneasy history of African American freedom seekers in the Hoosier state.
Runaway advertisements predominantly chronicled fugitive slavery in Indiana newspapers during the antebellum period. These ads would provide the slave’s name, age, a physical description, their last known whereabouts, and a reward from their owner. One of the earliest ads comes from the September 18, 1804 issue of the Indiana Gazette, while Indiana was still a territory. It described two slaves, Sam and Rebeccah, who had run away from their owner in New Bourbon, Louisiana. Sam was in his late twenties and apparently had burns on his feet. Rebeccah was a decade younger than Sam and “was born black, but has since turned white, except a few black spots.” This might have been a case of vitiligo, a skin pigment disorder. In any event, their owner offered a fifty dollar reward for “any person who will apprehend and bring back said negroes, or lodge them in any jail so that the owner may get them.”
On December 9, 1807, the Western Sun ran a similar ad with a small, etched illustration of a runaway slave. Slaveholder John Taylor offered thirty dollars for the capture and return of three slaves (two men and one woman) who had taken two horses and some extra clothes. “Whoever secures the above negroes,” Taylor said, “shall have the above reward, and all reasonable charges if taken within the state; or ninety dollars, if out of the state . . . .”
These ads escalated after Indiana’s statehood in 1816, leading to expansions of the role of local officials. As Emma Lou Thornbrough noted, African Americans “were sometimes arrested and jailed on the suspicion that they were fugitives enough though no one had advertised them.” For example, the Western Sun & General Advertiser published a runaway ad on June 27, 1818 asking for the return of Archibald Murphey, a fugitive from Tennessee who had been captured in Posey County. Sheriff James Robb, and not Murphey’s supposed owner, took it upon himself to run an ad for the runaway’s return. “The owner is requested to come forward [,] pay charges, and take him away,” the ad demanded.
Owners understood the precarious nature of retrieving their slaves, so some resorted to long ad campaigns in multiple newspapers. A slave named Brister fled Barren County, Kentucky in 1822, likely carrying free papers and traveling north to Ohio. His owner offered a $100 reward for his return for at least three months in the Western Sun & General Advertiser. He had also advertised in the Cincinnati Inquisitor, Vincennes Inquirer, Brookville Enquirer, Vandalia Intelligencer, and Edwardsville Spectator.
Other ads provided physical descriptions that indicated the toll of slavery on a human being. Two runaways, named Ben and Reuben, suffered from multiple ailments. Ben had his ears clipped “for robbing a boat on the Ohio river” while Reuben lived with a missing finger and a strained hip. Lewis, a fugitive from Limestone County, Alabama, had a “cut across one of his hands” that caused “one finger to be a little stiff.” They could also be rather graphic. The Leavenworth Arena posted an ad in its July 9, 1840 issue requesting the return of a slave named Smallwood, who scarred his ankles from a mishap with a riding horse; reportedly a “trace chain” wrapped around his legs, “tearing off the flesh.” The pain these men, among many others, endured from the years of their bondage was sadly treated as mere details in these advertisements.
While ads represented a substantial portion of newspaper coverage, articles and court proceedings also provided detail about the calamitous lives of fugitive slaves. First, court cases provide essential insight into the legal procedures regarding fugitive slaves before the Civil War. The Western Sun & General Advertiserpublished the court proceedings of one such case in its November 21, 1818 issue. John L. Chastian, a Kentucky slaveholder, claimed a woman named Susan as his slave and issued a warrant for her return. Corydon judge Benjamin Parke ruled in favor of Chastian on the grounds that Susan had not sufficiently demonstrated her claim to freedom and the motion for a continuance on this question was overruled. Even if Susan had been a free person, the legal system provided substantial benefits to the slaveholders, and since she could not demonstrate her freedom, she was therefore obligated to the claimant.
As for abolitionists, they faced court challenges as well. In 1843, Quaker Jonathan Swain stood before a grand jury in Union Circuit Court, “to testify in regard to harboring fugitive slaves, and assisting in their flight to Canada.” When asked to testify, Swain refused on grounds of conscience. The judge in the case granted him two days to reconsider his choice. When Swain returned, “he duly presented himself before the Judge, Bible under his arm, and declared his readiness to abide the decision and sentence of the Court.” The judge cited Swain in contempt and jailed him, “there to remain until he would affirm, or should be otherwise discharged.” This episode was one of many that demonstrated the intense religious and moral convictions of Quakers and their resistance to slavery.
By contrast, many of those who sought slaves faced little challenge. The Evansville Tri-Weekly Journal reported that Thomas Hardy and John Smith, on trial in the Circuit Court of Gibson County for kidnapping, were acquitted of all charges. The judge’s ruling hinged only on a fugitive slave notice. This notice provided “sufficient authority for any person to arrest such fugitive and take him to his master.” As with the case involving Susan, the alleged slaves procured in this case received less legal protection than the two vigilantes that captured them. These trends continued well into the 1850s through the end of the Civil War.
Second, numerous articles and narratives concerning fugitive slaves and free persons claimed as fugitives were published during the antebellum period. The passage of the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, of which Indiana kept its obligation to enforce, exacerbated coverage. Some articles were merely short notices, explaining that a certain number of alleged fugitive slaves were passing through a town or getting to a particular destination. The Evansville Daily Journalran a brief description in 1859 about two men “who had the appearance of escaped slaves, came upon the Evansville road, last night, and passed on to Indianapolis.” It was also reported that they “had a white adviser with them on the cars,” supposedly a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. In another piece, the Journal wrote uncharitably about a “stampede of slaves” that:
. . . left their master’s roofs, escaped to the Licking river where they lashed together several canoes, and in disguise they rowed down the Licking river to the Ohio and crossed, where they disembarked and made a circuitous route to the northern part of Cincinnati.
After their travel to Cincinnati, the twenty-three fugitives began their route to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
Conductors of the Underground Railroad also faced arrest for the aid of fugitive slaves. Another article from the Evansville Journal chronicled the arrest of a man known simply as “Brown” who aided four female slaves to an Underground Railroad stop at Petersburgh, Indiana. A US Marshal and a local Sheriff “charge[d] on the ‘worthy conductor,’ and he surrendered.” The officers returned Brown to the Henderson jail for processing. It was later discovered that he received $200 from a free African American for his last job. The Journal described Brown as a “notorious abolitionist, and if guilty of the thieving philanthropy with which he is charged, deserved punishment.” Indiana’s free state status did not lessen the prejudice against African Americans and abolitionists; it only obscured it.
One of the more elaborate, yet challenging methods fugitive slaves used to seek freedom involved shipping boxes. The Evansville Daily Journalreported of a fugitive slave captured aboard the steamer Portsmouth, a shipping vessel traveling from Nashville to Cincinnati. He was in the box, “doubled up like a jack-knife,” for five days before authorities discovered him and took the appropriate actions. The ship docked at Covington, Kentucky and they “placed the negro in jail to await the requisition of his owner.” It was learned later that the fugitive slave had an agreement with a widow to move to Ohio on condition that he work for her for a year. “He had fulfilled his part of the contract,” the Journal wrote, “and she was performing her stipulations, and would have enabled him to escape had it not been for the unlucky accident.” This story was also covered in the Terre Haute Daily Union and similar stories ran in later issues of the Journal, the Nashville Daily Patriot, and the Richmond Palladium.
Sadly, the ultimate risk for a fugitive slave was death, and Indiana newspapers chronicled these events as well. The Crawfordsville Weekly Journal published an article on August 16, 1855 detailing the death of a fugitive slave by drowning. It appeared to the authorities that the fugitive, resting near Sugar Creek in Crawfordsville, was discovered by a group of men and questioned about his status. Under pressure, the fugitive leaped into the water and tried to flee, which spurred one man to shoot off his gun in an attempt to stop him. As the Journal wrote, “this alarmed the negro, and he plunged beneath the waters, and continued to rise and then dive, until exhausted, and he sank to rise no more until life was extinct.” His body was discovered a few days later. While some deemed his death a mere drowning, others thought it more “suspicious.” The Journal continued:
Putting the most favorable construction on the circumstances, there was a reckless trifling with human life which nothing can justify. He was doubtless a fugitive, but they knew it not, and had no right to arrest him or threaten his life. They knew of no crime of which he had been guilty, and only suspected him of an earnest longing after that freedom for which the human heart ever pants; and because he acted upon this feeling, so natural and so strong, they threaten to tie and imprison, and when struggling with overwhelming waters, he is threatened with being shot if he does not return ; and then when strength and life were fast failing, stretched not forth a helping hand to save him from immediate death.
If the facts as stated be true, (of which we have no doubt,) there is high criminality, of which the laws of our country should take cognizance; and when the news of the negroe’s [sic] death shall have reached his owner, he will doubtless prosecute those men; it may be for murder in the second degree, or at least for the value of the slave.
The Journal eloquently elucidated why the application of fugitive slave laws, especially by vigilante citizens, harmed the civil rights and lives of both free people and those still in servitude (of which there were a mere few).
Free African Americans additionally faced threats to their lives and livelihood from the enforcement of fugitive slave laws. A well-known instance in Indiana regarded the arrest and release of John Freeman. Arrested and jailed on June 21, 1853, Freeman faced a charge from Pleasant Ellington of Missouri that he was one of his slaves. Freeman hired a legal team and after a lengthy trial that testified to his status as a free-born African American, he was released on August 27, 1853. It turned out that Ellington misidentified Freeman as a slave named Sam, who fled from servitude in Greenup County, Kentucky and likely escaped to Canada. Due to the diminution of his character, Freeman sued Ellington in civil court for 10,000; it was later ruled in favor of Freeman and he received $2,000 and additional unnamed damages. What Freeman experienced is but a snapshot into how fugitive slave laws harmed the rights of free people as well as slaves.
After the Civil War began, fugitive slaves continued to elicit concern, and coverage, in Indiana newspapers. In the spring of 1861, the Sentinel reprinted a piece from the Jeffersonville Democrat about the rise of fugitive slaves traveling through the Ohio River region: “the number of fugitive slaves caught on the Indiana side of the river, and returned to Kentucky within the past three months, is greater than that of any like period during the past ten years.” Kentucky’s government still offered a reward of $150 for each returned slave. That summer, the Indiana State Guardpublished President Abraham Lincoln’s thoughts on the issue. Lincoln, in a manner characteristic of his own political calculus, declared that Union soldiers were not “obliged to leave their legitimate military business to pursue and return fugitive slaves” but also cautioned that “the army is under no obligation to protect them, and will not encourage nor interfere with them in their flight.” The new President offered a nuanced position that possibly placated the Border States while satisfying the abolitionist wing of his own party. Realistically, it was a long way away from the Emancipation Proclamation.
The end of the Civil War brought the end of slavery as a federally-protected policy, and thus eliminated the need for fugitive slave laws. Their end brought a larger fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence’s commitment to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” Yet, the history of fugitive slaves often fell into tales of folklore and hyperbole. Looking at a primary source like newspapers helps to dispel many of the myths and provides nuance to the controversial subject of human enslavement in the United States. These stories represent a small fraction of the larger narrative about American slavery. To learn more, visit the Library of Congress’ page about fugitive slave ads in historical newspapers: https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/topics/fugitiveAds.html. You can also search Hoosier State Chronicles for more fugitive slave ads and articles.