The following article was reprinted from the August 1984 Apalachicola Times
FSU professor traces newspaper history as Times nears century mark
By William Warren Rogers
Special to the Times
The Apalachicola Times has been continuously in operation for 98 years. Leave off the continuously, juggle its name and the paper is 103 years old. Few journals boast such a record of continuity. The Times is also an important part of Franklin County’s rich journalistic heritage.
In what would become the United States, journalism did not get off to a roaring start. Settlement began early: the Spanish established St. Augustine in 1565 and the British founded Jamestown, VA in 1607. Yet it was not until Sept. 25, 1690, that Benjamin Harris’s Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick made its appearance on the streets of Boston. As things turned out the first issue was also the last issue because the governor and council of Massachusetts immediately suppressed the paper. Colonial America did not have a newspaper that was continuously published until John Campbell began his Boston Newsletter on April 24, 1704. After that, newspapers proliferated becoming even more numerous once the colonies achieved independence.
Florida had only one newspaper before the United States acquired it from Spain in 1821: the St. Augustine East Florida Gazette published in 1783-1784 by Charles Wells. The pro-British refugee had fled to East Florida for sanctuary. Once Florida became a territory of the United States, another paper was founded and it also incorporated the title “Gazette.” Richard W. Edes began publication of his Florida Gazette on Oct. 15, 1821.
Other papers followed such towns as Pensacola, Key West and Tallahassee. Apalachicola, known informally in the mid-1820s as Cottonton, was incorporated as West Point in 1829, and in 1831, was given the historic name of Apalachicola (after the Indians and the river and translated to mean “those people residing on the other side”).
The town commanded an elaborate river system that included the Apalachicola, Chipola, Flint and Chattahoochee. The rich cotton and agricultural hinterland of Florida, Georgia and Alabama used Apalachicola for exporting and importing. For all of the ante-bellum period it was Florida’s main port and one of the busiest on the Gulf of Mexico.
As befitted the town’s economic, political and social importance, newspapers were soon established. The first was the Advertiser, begun by R. Dinsmore Westcott in April or May 1833. By 1836 St. Joseph had been established as a rival city and Dinsmore was enticed away. He took his Advertiser to St. Joseph where it became the Telegram (later the Times).
The Apalachicola Land Company, which held vast tracts in Apalachicola and the surrounding area – some 1,427,290.17 acres - was anxious to protect and exploit its investment. The company brought in a remarkable editor, Cosam Emir Bartlett, who established the Gazette. The Gazette prospered and in 1839 became territorial Florida’s only daily newspaper.
Apalachicola had several other papers. Joseph Croskey’s Courier printed its first issue in 1839. The feud between St. Joseph and Apalachicola ended in the early 1840s when the latter town was decimated by hurricanes and yellow fever. Bartlett moved to Tallahassee in 1840, but his Gazette was replaced by J. B. Webb’s Florida Journal in November 1840. In that same year James H. Campbell established the Apalachicolan which had as its motto “Not the Glory of Caesar, But the Welfare of Rome.”
In 1843 members of the fourth estate were unusually active. E. Augustus Ware became editor of the Florida Journal and changed its name to the more poetical Watchman of the Gulf. The same year H. W. Terry succeeded Ware and reverted to the former and more pedestrian title of Florida Journal. Still another paper of 1843 was the short-lived Republican Herald. It was a political journal which folded after four weeks. It was founded to promote the candidacy of David Levy, who later, as David Yulee, became the first Jew to sit in the United States Senate. None of the papers of 1843 matched the importance or the permanence of the Commercial Advertiser founded by R. J. Younge and R. A. Dominge.
For much of the time before the Civil War, Apalachicola was served by at least two newspapers. In 1844 the Star of the West entered the filed with the proud motto of “Principles Not Men.” Most of the Reconstruction and the bitter decades of economic decline, Apalachicola and Franklin County were sometimes without the services of a newspaper. The Reporter enjoyed a brief existence and went bankrupt in 1868. A journal called the Times, not even kissing kin to the present paper, was unable to survive the depression of the 1870s.
Then in 1881 Henry Walker Johnston began editing the Tribune. Prosperity began returning to the area but Johnston was attracted by the lure of Texas and left Apalachicola in 1884. He moved to Houston where he worked on the Post, owned by his brother and destined to become one of the nation’s leading papers. Back in Franklin County, Johnston’s Tribune was succeeded by W. B. Sheppard’s Herald. Meanwhile Johnston became increasingly homesick for Florida. Finally in 1886, he returned to Apalachicola. He bought out Sheppard and established the Times.
Under Johnston’s editorship the Times became an institution, at once the conscience and promoter of Apalachicola and Franklin County. Johnston himself acted as the unofficial chronicler of the area’s past and wrote numerous historical articles from 1886 until he died in 1922 and was succeeded by his son. Herbert K. (Duke) Johnston ran one of Florida’s best known weekly newspapers. Other papers were established in Apalachicola and in Carrabelle – settled in the 1860s and known as Pickett’s Harbor, firmly established in the late 1870 and incorporated in 1893 – but the Times remained as Franklin County’s oldest journal.
William W. Rodgers is a professor of history at Florida State University. He has recently completed the manuscript of a book, “Outposts on the Gulf: Saint George Island and Apalachicola, From Early Exploration to World War II.” Still pending publication, the book is a comprehensive history of the area from early Spanish discovery, through glory days and decline to the diverse and fascinating personalities who comprise the rich history of the Apalachicola – Franklin County region.