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Key West: Newspapers

Key West: The Old and the New


The first newspaper published in Key West was the Register in January, 1829, under the management of Mr. Thomas Eastin, who was subsequently United States marshal. It was published for a very short time, and no copy of it is known to be in existence.

Then came the Key West Gazette on March 21, 1831, and lasted until the latter part of 1832.

On October 15, 1834, the Enquirer appeared, with Mr. Jesse Atkinson as editor and publisher. The editorials were written chiefly by Mr. William A. Whitehead, assisted by Lieutenant Francis B. Newcomb, Mr. Mallory and others. In December, 1835, the name was changed to Inquirer, and it was published until the latter part of 1836.

These papers were well edited and would do credit to the Key West of today. Their ideals were high, their diction pure, their typography excellent, and the literary selections classics. Mr. William A. Whitehead preserved files of these two papers, and in 1869 sent bound volumes here for "preservation in the office of the Clerk of Monroe county," where they are now kept. Since 1838, when Mr. Whitehead left here, there has been no citizen sufficiently interested in the preservation of the records of Key West to keep the files of various newspapers for the benefit of posterity.

The Light of the Reef was started by Messrs. Ware and Scraborough in 1845, but lasted only a few months.

The Key of the Gulf was published for a short period during 1845, and was revived in 1857, and edited by the brilliant Mr. William H. Ward. It was probably the ablest and one of the most fearless papers ever published in Key West. It was suppressed by Major W. H. French, United States army, early in May' 1 86 1, who wrote: "I directed the mayor to inform the editor (a Mr. Ward) that he was under military surveillance, and that the fact of his not being in the cells of this fort for treason was simply a matter as to expediency and proper point of time." Notwithstanding the fact that Key West was under the control of the Northern forces, Mr. Ward continued to advocate in the columns of his paper the constitutional right of secession. After his paper was suppressed he left Key West and cast his fortune with his native Southland. "Laying aside the weapon of the sage for that of the soldier, to try the issues of law and ethics on the field of battle, whence he never returned."

In 1862 and 1863 a paper called the New Era was published by Mr. R. B. Locke, an officer of the 90th Regiment, New York Volunteers.

In 1867 the Key West Dispatch, published by W. C. Maloney, Jr., and edited by his brilliant father, appeared, and continued to be conducted by him until 1872, when it passed in to the hands of Mr. H. A. Crain as editor and publisher. In 1874 it passed under the editorial guidance of Mr. E. L. Ware, and suspended publication in 1877.

In 1870 The Key West Guardian, owned and edited by Mr. R. C. Neeld "arose with porcupine armor to correct the evils of the day." It was a bold, aggressive paper and had a brief existence of about a year.

In 1874 The Key of the Gulf made its third entrance into the journalistic field under the editorial charge of Mr. H. A. Crain, who published it until feeble health in 1887 forced him to lay down his pen. On the death of Mr. Crain, Mr. George Eugene Bryson began the publication of a paper, the New Era, using the outfit of The Key of the Gulf.

In 1880 Mr. William Curry, Mr. Asa Tift and other citizens of means, organized a stock company and founded a paper called The Democrat, under the editorial management of Mr. Charles B. Pendleton. Mr. Pendleton was fearless but erratic, and his tendency to attack through the columns of his paper any person or institution that interfered with him, or whom he thought stood in his way politically or otherwise, was most unfortunate. His erratic nature led him to believe that as a Democrat, he should attack the Republicans whether justly or unjustly, and he began a series of articles defamatory of Judge W. James Locke of the United States district court, which led to a libel suit in which Mr. Curry, Mr. Tift, Mr. Moreno and other stockholders were made defendants. The case was amicably adjusted, but resulted in these gentlemen disposing of their stock, and severing their connection with the paper. Mr. Pendleton continued his policy of attack on everyone, and soon included Mr. William Curry, Dr. Porter and others, which brought another suit for libel. He was sued for libel also by Mr. C. T. Merrill, owner of the Russell House. This was the only case that went to trial, and resulted in a verdict against Mr. Pendleton.

Had he been less erratic he might have occupied an influential place in the community for good, but he could see no good in anyone's opinions but his own, and to differ with him in any matter would bring upon the offender the most unreasonable vituperation.

In 1885 he sold the paper to Mr. Philip E. Thompson, who conducted it for a short time, and sold it to Messrs. Peter T. Knight and Mason S. Moreno. It was said that one of these gentlemen wrote the salutatory and the other the valedictory, and that its editorials were written and its policy shaped by Dr. J. V. Harris, then collector of customs.

In May, 1887, Mr. Pendleton again entered the journalistic field with The Equator-El Equador, an English and Spanish daily. In 1888 he bought back the Democrat and consolidated it with the Equator, under the name of the Equator-Democrat. In 1894 the paper passed by purchase into the hands of Mr. J. M. Caldwell, who published it for a few months only, when it went back into Mr. Pendleton's control. In 1897, when it was in its death throes, he turned it over to his foreman and printers to run on their own account. They suspended publication after a few issues, and the Equator-Democrat went the way of its predecessors.

In 1892 Messrs. William R. Porter and W. H. Hutchinson began the publication of a paper called the Gulf Pennant, a name suggested by that distinguished citizen of Florida, Hon. W. D. Chipley. It was edited by Mr. Cassius E. Merrill of Kentucky, who prior to coming to Key West had been editor of the Jacksonville Times-Union and The Standard. He was one of the most brilliant writers ever connected with Florida journalism, and the Gulf Pennant under his leadership was the ablest edited paper ever published in Key West. It suspended publication July 4, 1893.

In 1894 a number of citizens of Key West raised three thousand dollars and bought a newspaper outfit and turned it over to Mr. John Denham of Monticello, Fla., who founded the Herald. In 1899 he sold it to Mr. T. J. Appleyard of Lake City, Fla. About this time The Key of the Gulf made its fourth appearance. under the management of Mr. Walter W. Thompson, and in 1899 it was bought by Mr. T. J. Appleyard, who suspended publication of the Herald and The Key of the Gulf, and founded The Inter-Ocean. In the latter part of 1900 Mr. Walter W. Thompson bought The Inter-Ocean and for four years he edited and published a high class, fearless daily. In 1904 a small weekly paper, The Citizen, made its appearance, and after a few months' existence was bought by Mr. Marcy B. Darnall and Mr. Thomas Treason Thompson, and a consolidation effected between The Citizen and The Inter-Ocean, under the name of the Key West Citizen, which is now being issued as an afternoon daily.

In 1908 Mr. Frederick H. Mathews founded a morning daily called The Journal, of which he is editor and publisher.

In 1890 Mr. James T. Ball started the publication of a small weekly sheet, The Advertiser, which contained a few local advertisements and a little reading matter. It was gradually enlarged and during the last few years of Mr. Ball's life it became quite a good weekly newspaper. Since his death, in 1906, it has been conducted by his son, Mr. Egbert P. Ball.

For several years a discharged Union soldier by the name of Morgan ran a small paper called The Guardian. He had no policy except that of abuse and vituperation. He was editor, publisher, printer, and eked out a miserable existence. When he died there was no one to follow him to his grave, and bystanders were called in to assist the undertaker to put his coffin into the hearse. The scene was a pitiful one and made an impression on the writer, who witnessed it.

Excerpt from "Key West: The Old and the New" by Jefferson B. Browne. Published 1912.


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