History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.


Small town newspapers seem to have played an important role in the development of West Florida ('The Panhandle"). It seems that the medium of television has somewhat inspired some amateur research into the history of that "raw" journalism of the frontier -perhaps the television series concerning "Tombstone, the town too tough to die" and its small newspaper The Tombstone Epitaph has been more of a research inspiration than its promoters and sponsors ever dreamed. Such research into the early journalism of West Florida and indeed all Florida is, at the same time, just as interesting, revealing, and should be the cover for stories just as exciting as the series mentioned above.

The best records we have been able to find indicate that the very first attempt at a regularly published newspaper in all Florida was the East Florida Gazette which was first published by William Charles Wells at St. Augustine in the year 1783. The publication there was somewhat "irregular" and sporadic but continued to be the only Florida newspaper until it was succeeded by the Florida Gazette, established also in St. Augustine by Richard W. Edes. This Florida Gazette lasted, however, only from July 14 to October 15 of the year 1821.

It would seem here that for a period of time there was no newspaper in East Florida, but this same year 1821 saw the establishment of the first newspaper in West Florida: The Floridian at Pensacola by Cary Nicholes and George Tunstall.

This Floridian was purchased, combined, or succeeded by The Pensacola Gazette and West Florida Advertiser under the ownership and management of W. Hasell Hunt during the year 1824 in Pensacola. (It is just a little puzzling to us in view of paper scarcity and hand set type why publisher Hunt would give space to so much name on his "masthead.")

Some interesting excerpts taken from The Pensacola Gazette and other Pensacola newspapers during the 1800s are given below. (Apparently the Sentinel, Weekly Floridian, and the Pensacola Commercial were published during the late 1 800s.)

February 13, 1841 --Gazette "Some gentlemen, we learn, are about to establish a cotton factory at or near Arcadia in this county. How strange it is that nothing of this kind has yet been done here! We produce the cotton, send it to market, ship it to New York;.

April 1, 1848 --Gazette "Ft. Gaines and Milton Railroad" ". . . by putting fifty or twenty steamers of the largest class on the route between Milton and New Orleans the traveler alone would pay for the construction of the road to Ft. Gaines in sixty days. Milton is the most convenient point for this steamboat navigation from New Orleans except Pensacola and none but the visionary would incur the expense of crossing Escambia Bay, as it would cost more to build the road from Blackwater to Pensacola than it would to build it half the distance from Milton to Ft. Gaines.

". . . Those persons in Pensacola who are so desirous of disposing of their real estate in that city in order to invest on Blackwater are acting hastily. Indeed, it is the general opinion here that property will not fall in the good old Spanish City. Pensacola is a very healthy place and a very delightful summer residence and contiguous as she will be to a large business community, doubtless many of our business men will seek retirement from the hum and din of a bustling large city in that quiet little one during the warm season, to enjoy the delights of sea bathing and drink of the water from the pure springs...

"It is impossible to calculate the advantages which such cities as Charleston and Savannah on the one hand and New Orleans on the other will derive from this intimate relationship with Milton.

October 14, 1848 --Gazette "Agreeably to previous notice the Whigs of Santa Rosa County met at the courthouse for the purpose of forming a Rough and Ready Club ... a committee submitted a code of rules ... the first of which read as follows: 'Article first: This association shall be styled the Rough and Ready Club in Santa Rosa County and its object shall be to promote the election of Gen. Zachary Taylor to the presidency and Leonard Fillmore to the vice-presidency of the United States, etc.

December 1, 1872 --Sentinel "A telegraph line is being constructed from Pensacola to Milton, Santa Rosa County."

February 8, 1881 --Floridian "The new mail route to Havana via Pensacola is now in full force. According to the schedule, mails will leave Louisville every Friday morning at 11 o'clock, arriving at Pensacola the next day, Saturday, at 6 o'clock, and after transferring to the U.S. Mail Steamer will start from there at 7 o'clock p.m., arriving at Key West Monday and Havana Tuesday morning. The returning steamship will leave Havana Wednesday night, Key West Thursday morning and arrive at Pensacola Saturday morning in time to make close connection by railroad to Louisville and all important points."

July 21, 1883 --Pensacola Commercial "A brief sojourn in our sister city, Milton, has strengthened our faith in the vitality and business thrift of its people. The prediction of croakers that the building of the P. & A. Railroad would prove a death blow to this community lacks confirmation. The new line has been in operation at least twelve months and we are yet to hear of the suspension of one business house or the removal to other parts of a single family. On the contrary, where many would expect to behold marks of deterioration they are confronted by substantial evidences of thrift and enterprise. We saw numerous indications of this kind, chief of which is a handsome two story building now nearing completion and this being built by Mr. John Carlovitz. This house is ninety feet deep with a frontage of at least forty feet ... It will be ornamented with a handsome iron veranda and the proposed cost of this structure will be between five and six thousand dollars. A bakery will be operated on the premises and the money invested in this enterprise alone will render it second to none in West Florida and give Milton a most important adjunct in its business affairs ... the citizens of this little city overlooking the placid waters of the Blackwater River are alive to the many advantages they enjoy. As a health resort it is admitted that this portion of Santa Rosa is without a rival. A salubrious climate, equible temperature, good society and the general captivating landscape which environs the county seat, Milton, possesses charms for the invalid who seek after health or pleasant recreation, which will become fully known at no distant date; hence its stable business men are agitating the construction of a mammoth hotel and otherwise presenting their claims to the immigrant and tourist. Situated only nineteen miles by rail from the metropolis of West Florida, its citizens are placed in easy communication with the queen city of the Gulf."

Seemingly, Milton was given a rather good press by its neighboring journalists.

It seems that the demise of the Florida Gazette in St. Augustine of October 1821 did not long deprive those East Florida citizens of journalistic offerings, for we find that the Florida Gazette was succeeded in 1823 by Elias P. Gould's East Florida Herald.

Events that had transpired immediately before 1825 made possible, and perhaps necessary, the establishment of the Florida Intelligencer by W. Hasell Hunt in Tallahassee. Its compelling purpose is perhaps revealed most in a rather long delay of a regular issue. When it was finally delivered to its subscribers, the reason given for the delay in publication was "the copy for legal advertising was delayed."

The moving of Editor Hunt from Pensacola to Tallahassee perhaps was in part responsible for the renaming in 1829 of the St. Augustine East Florida Herald --to the Florida Herald and a "pulling" for state printing and advertising began which has continued to this day.

The year 1838 saw the entry of a new name (publication and publisher) in Florida journalism: The News in St. Augustine by D.W. Whitehurst; who maintained it until 1845 when he sold it "lock, stock, and barrel," to A.A. Nunes. Then, in 1829, Editor Hunt moved from Pensacola and his holdings remained and were removed to St. Augustine as the Florida Herald. The journalistic vacuum in Pensacola was soon (1829) filled by Thomas Eastin's The Argus. However, for some unmentioned reason, during the same year he moved from Pensacola to Key West where he established The Register. It is an interesting note of history that at Key West the same press used for printing the first edition of The Star Spangled Banner was regularly used for years in the newspaper business at Key West.

Somewhere along the line Thomas Eastin seems to have slipped out from the journalistic field at Key West occupied in 1831 by a new name The Key West Gazette, but neither does this one last for long because the same year, 1831, sees the founding at Key West of The Inquirer, by Jesse Atkinson.

You, no doubt, noticed that for a time journalism in Florida occupied either one or both the extremes of the state: St. Augustine or Pensacola; then as Key West assumed some commercial importance it too occupied a place. Then when Tallahassee became the state capital, it drew and held forth in such endeavors; but as commercial enterprise shifted to fit the markets needed by the cotton and tobacco farmers of North Florida and South Georgia, we find a new center for journalistic enterprise.

The year 1833 apparently saw the first sort of chain of newspapers --more than one newspaper under one control: The Apalachicola Advertiser and The St. Joseph Telegraph under R. Dinsmore Westcott. These were followed in 1836 by The Apalachicola Gazette, edited and published by Coxan Emir Bartlett.

During the year 1829, Bartlett published The Apalachicola Gazette as a daily newspaper for three months --the first daily newspaper to be published in the United States Territory of Florida.

Apalachicola had still another newspaper to enter the field in 1842 --The Apalachicola Journal. It seems that we need here now to somewhat change the tenor of this bit of chronicling, but before we do so we need, it seems, to call your attention to one other of the "Country" newspapers of Florida. This one became the most widely quoted of any of the Florida newspapers of its time --or any other. It was the St. Joseph Times under the editorship and publication of Peter W. Gunther, Jr. This was at a time, of course, when St. Joseph was somewhat in the limelight of the nation because of the things that were happening --and were to happen there: When we finally come to summarize some of the facts that have been detailed here, we find: that between 1822-1845 there had been or were 45 newspapers and that eleven of those were of Tallahassee and ten of Apalachicola. We find also that in 1850 there were ten newspapers that had a combined circulation of 5,750, but that by 1860 this number of similar newspapers had grown to 22 with a total combined circulation of 15,500. One of these newspapers counted in 1860 was from a somewhat new area of newspaper circulation --Tampa; The Tampa Peninsular. During this same year (1860) a newspaper was founded at Key West --The Key of the Gulf, was intended to succeed The Light of the Reef of 1845 which was to have a unique destiny among Florida newspapers for it was suppressed by Federal orders in 1861. (A Southern sympathizer in a Northern held town). The place as a news medium in Key West was taken by The New Era following the suppression of The Light of the Reef. The New Era was edited and published by an officer in the United States Army (R.B. Licke) within the lines of fortifications of the United States Army at Key West. (Key West and Fort Pickens were the two United States fortifications within the South never held by the South).

A sort of exchange listing of newspapers of the period (1850-60) by the Sunny South, Tampa lists these publications in these places: Family Friend, Monticello; Floridian and Journal, Tallahassee; Florida Sentinel, Tallahassee; Weekly East Floridian, Fernandina; St. Johns Mirror, Jacksonville; The Examiner, St. Augustine; Florida Home Companion, Ocala; Sunny South, Tampa; Florida Peninsular, Tampa; Key of the Gulf, Key West; Cotton States, Micanopy; Eastern Herald, Lake City; Florida Dispatch, Newnansville; Madison Messenger, Madison; West Florida Enterprise, Marianna; and The Florida Tribune, Pensacola.

Now we would like to mention here a not at all unusual omission --that although the above list compiled from presumably, the total exchange listing of the Sunny South of the 1850's, there is no mention here of either The Pensacola Gazette or the Milton Courier. Was the omission a studied one? That we do not know. However, such would not be unusual in the "rough and ready" journalism of that day.

What we do know is that there is a copy of The Pensacola Gazette extant at this time of the date October 23, 1852 which acknowledges receipt of the first copy of The Milton Courier.

It is most interesting to note the "newspaper succession" in some of the cities of Florida. We would like to mention Jacksonville, for instance; from 183S-1864 were the following: Jacksonville Courier, East Florida Advocate, Tropical Plant, and Florida Statesman. December 31, 1861, saw the first appearance of The Florida Union, a four-page weekly upholding Northern views. It changed hands by 1862, tried out as a tri-weekly, tried to become a daily but was finally sold to pay printing costs to the printing firm, Walton, Fowle & Company, who turned it over to W.W. Douglas and Rev. H.B. McCallum, who switched it from Republican to Democratic leanings; which it still retains today. It is the oldest surviving daily newspaper of the state, carrying its original masthead which first appeared on its first edition February 4, 1883: The Florida Times-Union-of Our Day.

Florida journalism has another unique offering to the world of journalism. Timothy Thomas Fortune began a journalistic career as an office boy on the Marianna Courier, worked in composing rooms of the Jacksonville Courier as well as some other newspapers, and finally achieved unique distinction as a member of the Editorial Staff of the New York Evening Sun in the year 1878. This is mentioned as unique in that Timothy Thomas Fortune, called "Dean of Negro journalism," was born of ex-slave parents in Marianna, Florida. However, Fortune does not stand alone as a negro journalist in Florida, for some nine years later (1887) Matthew M. Lewey, a former Mayor of Newnansville as well as a former member of State Legislature, founded The Florida Sentinel at Gainesville.

The Negroes of Florida publish five or perhaps more weekly papers in the state at this time among which are: Times, Miami; Public Informer, St. Petersburg; Bulletin, Tampa; Florida News, West Palm Beach; Post, St. Augustine.

Other unique (different) newspapers of Florida are the Latin American newspapers such as La Gaceta and La Preusa--La Traduccion of Tampa and the German American weekly Florida Deutches Echo, Miami.

Two records were set by Florida newspapers several years ago. The Miami Herald carried more advertising lineage than any other newspaper in the world, and The Miami Daily News published the largest single edition --504 pages weighing 71/2 pounds.

The point which we intended to make here, however, is the great and lasting impression made upon this and other similar communities over the state by the "hometown newspaper," of which our own and more than twenty more in Florida have been in continuous publication for more than 50 years.

This photo, taken in front of the Milton Gazette office in 1916, shows some of Milton's early taxi cabs. In the group are Robby Robertson, H.S. Seabrook, and D. R. Read. owner and editor of the paper which started in 1910.
The Milton Gazette office on Willings Street, 1921.

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