The record of the newspaper press of a county, if it has happened to fall into the hands of men competent to make it fully discharge its duty, ought to be the one most important page of a county’s history. One of the greatest things that could always be said of our Nation was, it has a free press. No man has to be licensed or selected by the Government either to print a book or publish a newspaper. It has been circumscribed by no law except natural selection. Any one who wished could start a paper at any time, and say anything he desired to say, barring only an occasional boot-toe and the law of libel. If he chose not to be suppressed, there was no power to suppress him-except a “military necessity,” and once in a great while mob violence. If he was persecuted or thrashed by some outraged citizen, it is not certain but that he always got the best of the difficulty, especially when he would begin to prate about the “palladium of American liberties.” The wisest act of our Government in all its history was the unbridling of the press. It was the seed planted in good soil for its own perpetuity, and the happiness and welfare of its people. To make the press absolutely free, especially after the centuries of vile censorship over it, was an act of wisdom transcending in importance the original invention of movable types. A free press makes free speech, free schools, free intelligence and freedom, and when political storms come, and the mad waves of popular ignorance and passion beat upon the ship of State, then, indeed, is a free press the beacon light shining out upon the troubled waters.
The press is the drudge and the pack-horse, as well as crowned king of all mankind. The gentle click of its type is heard around the world; they go sounding down the tide of time, bearing upon their gentle waves the destinies of civilization, and the immortal smiles of the pale children of thought, as they troop across the face of the earth, scattering here and there immortal blessings that the dull, blind types patiently gather, and place where they will ever live. It is the earth’s symphony which endures; which transcends that of the ” morning when the stars sang together.” It is fraught with man’s good, his joy, his happiness and the blessings of civilization. By means of the press, the humblest cabin in the land may bid enter and become a part of the family circle such as the sweet-singing bard of Scotland-the poet of Bonny Doon-the immortal Shakespeare, or Byron, ” who touched his harp, and nations heard entranced.” Here Lord Macaulay will lay aside his title and dignity, and with the timid children even hold sweet converse in those rich, resounding sentences that flow on forever, like a great and rapid river. Here Gray will sing his angelic pastoral, as “the lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, and leaves the world to darkness and to me; ” and Charles Lamb, whose sweet, sad, witty life may mix the laugh with the sigh of sympathy, may set the children in a roar as he tells the story of the ” invention of the roast pig ;” and that human bear-Johnson-his roughness and boorishness all gone now, as in trenchant sentences he pours out his jeweled thoughts to eager ears; and the stately Milton, blind but sweet and sublime; and Pope; and poor, unfortunate, gifted Poe, with his bird of evil omen,, ” perched upon the pallid bust of Pallas; ” and Shelley, and Keats, and Dickens, and Thackeray, and Saxe, and Scott, and Hood, and Eliot, and Demosthenes, and Homer, and Clay, and Webster, and Prentice, and all of earth’s greatest, sweetest and best, are at the beck and call of mankind, where they will spread their bounties before the humblest outcast as munificently as at the feet of royal courts or kings.
The coming of the printer, with the black letter, the ” stick,” the ink-pot, ” pi ” and the ” devil ” is always an era anywhere and among any people; in young and fast-growing communities it is an event of great portent to its future, for here, above any other institutions, are incalculable possibilities for good, and sometimes well-grounded fears for evil. A free press, in the hands of a man aware of the great responsibilities resting upon him, is a blessing like the discoveries and inventions of genius that are immortal. In the dingy printing office is the epitome of the world of action and of thought-the best school in Christendom-the best church. An eminent divine has truly said, ” The local paper is not only a business guide, but it is a pulpit of morals; it is a kind of public rostrum where the affairs of State are considered; it is a supervisor of streets and roads; it is a rewarder of merit; it is a social friend, a promoter of friendship and good will. Even the so-called small matters of a village or incorporate town are only small to those whose hearts are too full of personal pomposity.”
The newspaper’s past and present are totally different in many respects. Take the country newspaper of fifty or sixty years ago, and what an institution it was! Its ponderous editorials stagger us even at this distant day as we read them, and its foreign news, from six weeks to three months old, may have been highly entertaining then, but would be considered a little stale now. The editor, too, was a big man. He could no more write a local item, or pen a light article, than he could move Mount Atlas. His editorial thunder was hurled at his political antagonists like battering rams, and his readers were regaled with column after column of dull matter they never read, and could not have appreciated if they did. The Kentucky Republican, the first paper published in Christian County, is a fair sample of the early press. We have seen several copies of it; Mr. Pike has one, the issue of September 15, 1821, and Mr. Meacham, of the South Kentuckian, has the issue of September 21, 1821. Neither of these issues contain a local item, except the advertisements, but each has two or three columns upon the death and funeral of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Kentucky Republican was established probably in 1820, as the issue of September 15, 1821, is ” Vol. II, No. 2.” The name of David S. Patton, a prominent lawyer of the early bar of the county, appears at the ” mast head ” as editor and publisher. It is a four-page, five-column paper; price, ” $2.50 in advance, $3 payable at the expiration of the first six months from the time of subscription, or $4 at the end of the year.” It has some three columns on the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, a long article on the ” Wonders of Creation,” copious extracts from the National Intelligencer and the New York papers, a column on the failure of the Bank of Missouri, an event then a month old, etc., etc. The nearest approach to a local item is the trial of counterfeiters in Gallatin County. The next issue (September 21) has two columns on ” Florida,” a lengthy article on ” The Revolution in St. Jago,” nearly three columns on the funeral of Napoleon, and numerous other dry extracts from abroad-with no local items. A newspaper filled with dry political articles, scientific essays and philosophical treatises alone would not satisfy us in this fast age. We live fast, and we want the news from the four quarters of the world, as well as what transpires around us, to digest our breakfasts each morning. A sketch of Mr. Patton, the pioneer editor of the county, is given in the history of the bar. Just how long his paper continued we could not learn, but it probably existed two or three years. Samuel Orr was a printer, and worked for Mr. Patton on the Republican, from the time of starting it to the time almost of its discontinuance. Judge Long says he has good cause to remember this, the first paper of Hopkinsville, as the severest whipping he ever received in his life was on account of a neglect of that part of his juvenile duties which required him to go to the office every Saturday and bring the paper home. His father finally reminded him of his dereliction in a substantial manner, that ever after brought the matter vividly to his mind very early on Saturday morning, and that he has not forgotten it to this day.
The few numbers of the Republican which we have seen do not contain anything to indicate the color of its political principles, but from its name it was doubtless of the Jeffersonian school. A couple of brothers-Garrett and Bickham Pitts-finally took charge of the paper, and con-ducted it for a short time after Mr. Patton retired from its control. Bickham Pitts was a printer, and had learned the art in the Republican office; his brother did the editing, and was a kind of half-way lawyer. They carried on the paper but a short time, and the office passed again into the hands of Mr. Patton.
Livingston Lindsay bought the press and the entire outfit of the old Republican office in 1829, from Mr. Patton, and commenced the publication of a weekly journal called The Spy, which he continued for about two years. Mr. Lindsay then sold out to William R. B. Mills, and accepted a professorship in Cumberland College at Princeton, Ky. He was a young lawyer at the time of his journalistic venture in Hopkinsville, had studied law, and been admitted to the bar in Virginia before emigrating to Kentucky. Eventually, he removed to Texas, where he rose to prominence in his profession, and became Chief Justice of the State, and is still living there-at La Grange. He was a fine writer, as well as lawyer, and still writes well, though an old man now, as is shown by a long communication on his ” Recollections of Hopkinsville and Christian County,” written by request for this work, and from which lengthy extracts are made elsewhere.
Mr. Mills continued the publication of The Spy but for a short time after its purchase from Judge Lindsay. Mills is described as a shiftless, dilatory man, with little or no energy, and his press and printing material were soon seized and sold for debt. This was the end of the second newspaper of the county.
The Hopkinsville Gazette
The next paper was launched upon the community under the name and title of Hopkinsville Gazette. It was established by two brothers, John and Alexander C. Goodall from Louisville, who were practical printers, and had learned their trade in the office of the Louisville Journal. A man of the name of Alexander (a printer) came here after the suspension of The Spy, and proposed to start a paper, if sufficient encouragement was offered him. He had nothing, and in order to raise means for the enterprise he canvassed the town and surrounding country for subscriptions, and succeeded in procuring the names of four or five hundred persons. He then went to Louisville for the purpose of buying an outfit, but instead, sold his subscription list to the Goodall Brothers, who came on with the requisite outfit and material, and the result was, they established the Hopkinsville Gazette in the summer of 1834, as a copy we have seen, dated December 12, 1840, is Vol. VI, No. 17. They published it some ten or twelve years with good financial success. Indeed, it is said to have been the only paper that ever made much money here prior to the war. The Goodalls were good printers and thorough business men, and understood conducting a newspaper. They had graduated in a good school-the Louisville Journal-then under the control and management of George D. Prentice, the leader of the Southern press, and they possessed some of his energy and enterprise. John Goodall edited the paper, and also made some pretensions to the law, but he remained only a few years in the editorial harness, when he sold out to his brother and went to East Tennessee, where he became prominent as a lawyer. A. C. Goodall continued the publication of the Gazette alone. He died many years ago, but his widow still lives here. Chastine Forbes was a printer in the office of the Gazette; he is now Superintendent of the Insane Asylum at Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Gazette, like its predecessors, is very barren of local items, but rich in miscellaneous matter and bristling editorials. James Henry, a brilliant young man, and one of the ablest writers of the early press, was long connected with the Gazette in an editorial capacity. He died young. The Gazette was a five-column folio, and its mechanical execution was excellent. It was intensely Whig in politics.
The Green River Whig
Mr. Goodall sold his paper to Robert Thomas, of Clarksville, who changed the name to Green River Whig. This occurred somewhere between 1844 and 1850. Under its new name and management it continued the sturdy defender of the Whig faith. But how long it existed as the Green River Whig, the most diligent investigation has failed to find out; probably until 1851, when another change took place, and another Hopkinsville newspaper was numbered with the things that were.”
Upon the ashes of the Green River Whig arose the Kentucky Rifle, another Whig paper, under the editorship of J. E. Carnes, and himself and J. R. McCarroll publishers and proprietors. The issue of June 7, 1851, is Vol. I, No. 10, which would indicate that it was established about March of the same year. It has a very showy heading of a long rifle (a photograph perhaps of Daniel Boone’s old rifle), with the letters “The Rifle,” hanging upon the barrel, much as Daniel Boone would have hung his shot-pouch upon the deer horn over his cabin door. The Rifle was as intensely Whig as its predecessors, and Carnes hurled his fierce thunderbolts at the Locofocos like blows from a battle-ax. It continued some four or five years, and then-burst–just as many another gun has done before when too heavily loaded. Mr. Carnes was a brilliant writer and a brilliant man. He had been editor of the Vicksburg (Miss.) Whig before he came here, and as a writer was aggressive in the extreme. He was a poet, and frequently, in his leisure moments, used to “give loose fancy scope to range,” and would reel off some beautiful and touching verses. Many of his poetical effusions are found scattered through the old files of the Rifle. He finally became a Methodist preacher, and was sent to Texas as Superintendent of the Methodist Book Concern.
The Rifle was either changed to the Patriot or was sold, and the latter journal started in its place, with S. C. Mercer and J. R. Mc Carroll proprietors. It was established about 1855, and in the latter part of 1856 the name was changed to the Mercury. It was an organ of the Know-Nothing, or American party, and was the last paper in Western Kentucky of that political faith. Its publication was continued until in 1861, when the war put an end to it, and the office and material became a prey to ” military necessity,” and the sport of ” the boys ” in the army. Mr. Mercer is a fine writer, and still a citizen of Hopkinsville, and is well known to the people of the city and the county. He is comparatively a young man, and should not allow his genius To rust unburnished, not to shine in use,” but should return to literary work, a capacity in which he is a bright and shining light.
The People’s Press
Some time about 1848-50, Smith & Bronaugh started an opposition paper called the Democrat. About 1851 they sold it to John C. Noble, now of Paducah, and one of the oldest editors living in Kentucky. Mr. Noble changed the name to the People’s Press, and continued its publication as a Democratic paper, but how long we do not know, nor do we know its final fate. As Christian County was a strong Whig county, it probably starved to death. Mr. Noble is well known throughout Western Kentucky as an able and forcible writer. and an unflinching Democrat of the old school.
George M. Cote, a ” rat ” printer from Pittsburgh, started the Hopkinsville Republican in March, 1881, and some six months later sold out to S. C. Mercer, formerly of the Mercury, and left Hopkinsville uncermoniously. Mr. Mercer continued it a short time, and leased the office to Wallis, Mullen & Kennedy, who changed the name, or rather issued a new paper-the Weekly News. The Republican had been of the same color of politics with its name, but Messrs. Wallis, Mullen & Kennedy made the Weekly News Independent in politics. They published it until the great fire in 1882, when the office was destroyed. Hopkinsville Conservative – This paper was established, in 1868, by Col. J. M. Dodd, who came here from Henderson, Ky., about that time. Some time in 1876 he changed the name to the Hopkinsville Democrat. The Conservative, true to the principles of its name, was conservative and liberal in politics, but upon its change of title it changed its sentiments and became an organ of the Democratic party. The Democrat was issued until the latter part of 1879, when Col. Dodd leased his office, and the paper was added to the long list of the dead that had preceded it.
The Kentucky New Era
In 1870 Col. John D. Morris started the Kentucky New Era. The reader can hardly imagine what a joy and relief it is to at last come to one paper in the long line that is alive, prosperous and happy. Verily, Hopkinsville has been a newspaper grave-yard, and the preceding list is so much like calling the roll of the dead, that the change from the funeral to the festival is inexpressibly pleasant. In June or July of 1870 the first number of the New Era was issued as a brand-new Democratic paper. The name “New Era” was received from the circumstance of the rights (the ballot) having been bestowed upon the ” man and brother,” and as this formed a new era not only in Kentucky, but in American politics, Col. Morris deemed New Era an appropriate name for his paper about to be launched upon the world. For some time after the New Era was established, Asher G. Caruth, now Commonwealth’s Attorney for the Louisville District, was associated with Col. Morris as editor. They sold the paper, in 1871, to Philip Van Bussum and Robert McCarroll, and in November, 1872, William Feland became the proprietor of it. He changed its politics and made it an organ of the Republican party, with the laudable desire and intention of shedding a ray of light into the Egyptian darkness of the community. A speedy change of politics, however, back to the old Democratic faith relieved the proprietors of the mournful duty of having to ” lay away its little slippers,” and of consoling themselves with the reflection that ” whom the gods love die young.” In April, 1873, it was purchased by Hunter Wood, the present proprietor, in connection with Walter E. Warfield; the latter gentleman and Samuel Gaines, a writer of considerable ability, were the editors. In September, 1874, Warfield sold out to Mr. Wood, and Gaines was retained as editor up to April, 1881, when Col. Morris and James R. Wood became the editors. In about six months Col. Morris re-tired, and J. R. Wood, who is a brother of the proprietor, has ever since been editor-in-chief. John R. Payne was local editor from April 1, 1881, to. October 1, 1882, and business manager to the beginning of the present year (1884), when Henry Wallace succeeded to the position.
The New Era is a large, nine-column folio, and presents an attractive appearance, with every indication of being in a flourishing condition. Its mechanical execution is good, and its editorial and local departments are equal to any paper in Southwestern Kentucky. It is a true blue Democratic paper, and has been since it was established, except the few months referred to above; it merits the patronage of the party through-out the county.
The South Kentuckian
On the 1st of January, 1879, W. A. Wilgus and William T. Townes leased from Col. Dodd his office, and established the South Kentuckian, the first issue appearing as a New Year’s morning call to the people of Hopkinsville; Charles M. Meacham, editor. In the following August Mr. Meacham bought Townes’ interest in the lease, and a little later Mr. Wilgus sold his interest in the lease to J. W. Gogin, but on the 1st of January, 1880, it passed back into his hands, and the firm became Meacham & Wilgus. They leased the office from Col. Dodd for the year 1880, and in the fall following purchased it out-right. They had commenced with an old press that had been in use for more than thirty years, and type and material well worn. As their means would permit, they have improved their office until they have an entire new outfit, with complete job type and presses, and about a year ago they purchased an improved Campbell power press. Mr. Meacham is the editor, and Mr. Wilgus manages the business.
On the 1st of November, 1883, the South Kentuckian was changed into a semi-weekly, and since that time has continued to show its honest face to its readers every Tuesday and Friday morning. As a semi-weekly it is a seven- column, four-page paper, Democratic in politics. Its liberal advertising patronage denotes its thrift, as well as the energy and enterprise of its owners, who deserve well of the public for their efforts to furnish a newsy semi-weekly journal.
This comprises a brief sketch of the Christian County press; of the papers that have lived, flourished and died during the sixty-four years since the first one-the Kentucky Republican-sprang into existence.