Saving the Newspapers

In the early 19th Century, United States roads were bad and were not enhanced by the heavy wagons that replaced the coastal trade that no longer could operate because of the British blockade.  When bad weather was added to that predicament, the mail could take several weeks, or so the National Intelligencer complained on October 14, 1822. “We are yet without a Mail from South Carolina and Georgia since the storm on Saturday morning, the 28th ultimo.  . . . Upwards of thirty men employed in endeavoring to clear the road of impediments had, in several days, not been able to make greater progress than a mile per day.  The roads indeed were almost obliterated . . . .”

Despite the dedication of postmasters who could rescue the letter mails, the same postmasters often could not rescue the newspapers, as this Connecticut post man explains: “Sir: The following are the particulars of the disaster which befell the northern stage at 11 o’clock this day.  The small rivulet which crosses Durham-street, about 20 rods north of the meetinghouse, is swollen to an unusual size by the late storm.  Immense cakes of ice were constantly descending the stream in the forenoon.—The bridge was much shattered by them.  A part of it gave way under the stage, by which it was precipitated about 20 feet into a tremendous current, amidst heavy timbers and bodies of ice.  It carried down three passengers, the driver, mails and two horses.   . . .  As soon as the alarm was given a number of persons went into the large swamp which receives the rivulet, in pursuit of the mails, baggage, &c.  After wading more than an hour, waist deep among cakes of ice, we found both mails, and with some difficulty drew them to the shore. The newspapers are so much bruised that they cannot be saved.  Those pamphlets on which directions could be found are dried, and will be forwarded by next mail.” [Liberty Hall & Cincinnati Gazette, March 16, 1822].

The postmaster at St. James wrote the one at Charleston this explanation: “I started the mail due you yesterday. The driver was obliged to return with the sulkey and take the mail on horseback.  The roads are covered with trees, and I fear that the ferries have lost their boats and flats, or some more serious accident may have happened, or my driver would have certainly arrived by this time.” [Charleston City Gazette, August 31, 1813].  The Charleston editor seemed almost happy to discover that other parts of the country had their difficulties with the mail also. “We have seen a New London (Connecticut) paper of the 17th ult. which states, that since the establishment of the Post-Office, the mail has never been more irregular at that place than at present, and at the same time observes, that the roads are uncommonly good!!!…We are happy to learn that the Post Master General is recovering from his late indisposition, and should augur favorably from it of the department over which he presides, were it not that we knew that the department was ill, VERY ILL, long before we heard a word of the indisposition of the head of it.” [Charleston City Gazette, December 2, 1813].

The Postmaster General at this time was Gideon Granger.  On March 10, 1814, the Scioto Supporter reported this news: “GIDEON GRANGER, Postmaster General has been dismissed from office by the President of the United States.  He received the following note from the President on the 26th ultimo:  ‘SIR–Your services are no longer required in the Post-Office department:–You will on the receipt of this, consider yourself dismissed.'”  I wish very much that the University of Texas were not missing the Charleston City Gazette for 1814.  I imagine its editor made appropriate comments.

If you are interested in contributing funds to speed The University of Texas’ massive project of scanning and putting on-line historic newspapers online, please contact Linda Abbey, of UT’s General Libraries, phone (512) 795-4366 or online to the Historic Newspapers Preservation link.

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden