The Daily

The Newark Daily Advertiser offices in the 1870s, Broad and Market Streets.

BETWEEN the day on which William A. Whitehead, at age 13, left Newark with his family for Perth Amboy and the day that he returned, at age 33, to live there once more with a new family, the place, like Whitehead, had come of age.

The Newark he returned to was a far cry from the country town where he was born. Its population had more than doubled, the first great surge in a long period of astonishing growth. A canal and a railroad now funneled goods and people to and through it. Newark was, finally, an official port of entry, a distinction won over a century earlier by Perth Amboy, and one enjoyed for more than a dozen years previous by faraway Key West, Florida. Whitehead had been appointed collector of the latter port, at the age of 20; his Newark counterpart, town worthy Archer Gifford, was a mature 44 when he got the job.

What had once been a village was now an incorporated city, with a mayor and council, a police force and a public high school. Newark could boast of a new courthouse, oil-fed street lamps and, above all, burgeoning industries, whose unrelenting assault on the environment–and the senses–its citizens tolerated, even celebrated, for the products turned out and the wealth brought in.

While Whitehead was calling other places home, Newark also acquired a daily newspaper. As the first of its kind in New Jersey, it supercharged the appeal of the town for men of business, politics and the law. The paper followed a model familiar to readers of other cities’ dailies: a single broadsheet folded once to make four pages, and most of the news, features and commentary crowded onto page two. The rest was generally given over to the paid notices that were the publishers’ bread and butter.

The commercial character of newspapers was then in no way hidden from view; it extended even to the names they were given. Many bore mastheads having “Commercial” and “Mercantile” in their titles, and Newark’s pioneer daily, born on the first of March 1832, continued in that tradition, christening itself the Daily Advertiser.

Often referred to by its writers and readers simply as the Daily, the paper operated, like others of its kind, with a skeleton staff. Through miscellaneous printing jobs–handbills, tickets, programs, the occasional book–it supplemented the revenues received from advertising, subscriptions and the few cents casual customers paid for it on the street.

The Daily in the beginning was small, and its value seemed to lie in the mere fact of its being in and of Newark. After a year, the publishers conceded that it had “not been, it is true, a very profitable business, thus far” (adding a special plea to subscribers who were in arrears), and might “not be so for some time to come”. But they felt their experiment had proven that “with proper and careful management a Daily paper can and will be sustained in the Town.”1 Outgoing editor Amzi Armstrong, while endorsing that opinion, urged Newark’s “literary and scientific citizens” to submit items that would lighten his successor’s labors, and “add to the usefulness and interest of the paper.”2

William Burnet Kinney, for eighteen years publisher and editor of the Daily Advertiser.

Mentioned for the first time under the nameplate of 16 July 1833 was the journalist who would guide the Advertiser over the next eighteen years. William Burnet Kinney, onetime editor of the weekly New-Jersey Eagle, became the Daily‘s proprietor and editor. Soon thereafter he acquired Newark’s oldest extant paper, the Sentinel of Freedom, making it the Advertiser’s weekly edition and so expanding the company’s reach. Kinney’s two papers shared facilities on Broad Street for twenty years.

Kinney was among the most “literary” newspapermen of the age. His wide-ranging interests but modest temperament drew equally educated writers to the pages of the Daily. A learned discourse he delivered before the New Jersey Historical Society, “on the origin and progress of printing and periodical literature in New Jersey,” was itself never printed, not even in his own newspapers.3

Kinney, the distinguished son of a Revolutionary War officer and a forceful proponent of Whig Party policies, remained at the head of the Advertiser until 1851, when President Zachary Taylor appointed him head of the U.S. mission to Sardinia, whose royal house would unify Italy a decade later. Kinney’s long sojourn overseas brought him and his poet wife Elizabeth C. S. Kinney into the circle of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and other expatriates. 

William Kinney’s unusual regard for history and literature coincided perfectly with the interests and passions of William Whitehead. They collaborated in at least two seminal enterprises of the 1840s, the New Jersey Historical Society and the Newark Library Association. Both of these organizations did considerable business with the Advertiser, whose presses turned out the Proceedings of the former, and the circular letters, by-laws and printed ephemera of both.4 Kinney’s newspapers provided generous coverage of their activities as well.

But Whitehead, by the time he resettled in Newark in April 1843, was no stranger to either the scribal trade or Kinney’s Advertiser. In Key West in 1835 and 1836, he had filled up his days if not his purse writing for and editing the island’s lone weekly, The Inquirer. There he’d contended with shortfalls not only of income, but of paper and even of news.5 Having resigned as collector of customs in 1838 with dim prospects of employment in the north, Whitehead was doubtless grateful to get whatever Kinney paid for his descriptions of Cuba, written that summer and printed between July and October in a series of fifteen “Letters from Havana.”6 Thereafter, while a resident of New York City, Whitehead enriched Kinney’s pages with dozens of reviews, letters and historical pieces. These culminated in 1842 in twenty lengthy columns devoted to facts and foibles of New Jersey’s colonial era, published under the running title Glimpses of the Past.7

Whitehead’s most distinctive contributions to the Advertiser, however, began soon after he reclaimed his Newark citizenship. Returning to the recording of temperatures, precipitation, wind speed and direction, a discipline to which he’d devoted himself on Key West, Whitehead offered to write for Kinney’s papers a monthly summary of local weather statistics and events.

The Advertiser on 1 June 1843 thus gave space on its second page to a “Review of the weather for May.” It began with the observation that the cold, easterly winds of the last month contradicted the “’meed of praise’” normally given it by “the poets in every land.” This column and its many successors went beyond the expected data of highs, lows and averages to touch upon other natural phenomena: the inaugural “Review” brought news of a possible earthquake in central New Jersey, and a warning about the impending return of the “seventeen year locusts.”8 Whitehead’s meteorological reviews, often enlivened with excerpts of seasonal poetry, were a feature of the paper whose popularity and longevity surprised no one more than their author: the reports continued month by month without interruption for almost forty years.9

The success of William Kinney’s Advertiser, with its solidly Whig (and subsequently Republican) outlook on contemporary issues, was met by the launch of some fiercely competitive Newark upstarts. The Morning Eagle, a daily reincarnation of the weekly that Kinney had once edited, was the first rival to unfurl its wings. The Eagle’s Democratic leanings were countered by the Daily Mercury. Their respective publishers, recalled one veteran newspaperman, “handled each other without much regard for the amenities of journalism or of common politeness…”10 In 1857 the Eagle was replaced by the Evening Journal, a paper even more virulently anti-Republican and pro-South, whose editor would run afoul of the Lincoln administration for encouraging resistance to the draft.11

Newark’s version of Newspaper Row, ca. 1866. To the left is the office of the Newark Journal on Market Street, to the right the Evening Courier headquarters on Broad, and just left of center, at the southeast corner of Market and Broad, stands the Daily Advertiser. Within shouting distance was the Daily Mercury, a few steps from the corner opposite.

Through the political tempests of the 1850s the Daily, left in the hands of Kinney’s son Thomas, managed to stay a moderate course. Fewer pieces than before were explicitly identified as coming from Whitehead’s pen, although there’s no doubt that his work on the paper continued, even as the national union unraveled. With the secession crisis looming at decade’s end, one editorial floated the suggestion that letting a Southern state secede might, in the end, be best for the Union. Once the threat was acted upon, however, the Advertiser stood firmly against it: “With such a cancerous disease, as the pretended right of secession, festering in the body politic, the United States must surrender all its once glorious hopes and aspirations of being a great power in the earth.”12

Whitehead left scattered hints that some of the Advertiser’s unsigned editorials were actually his. Scrapbooks he kept in these troubled years preserve two such columns whose authorship he claimed for himself.13 “On the breaking out of the Civil War,” he wrote, looking back from the 1870s, “I took an active interest in all public measures to promote the success of the Northern States, and I take some credit to myself for the service rendered the cause by my pen and personal writings.” In this period, he recalled, “My contributions to the columns of the newspapers became more numerous and pointed and attracted considerable attention.”14 Regrettably, most of his commentary was published unsigned.

It may be that a stylistic analysis would reveal patterns of authorship that permit attribution of some of the Daily‘s columns to Whitehead. Such a project is, for now at least, beyond the realm of the possible. In any case editorials, then as now, were often the work of a committee. We have Whitehead’s own word, at least, that his journalistic career continued into the Civil War period, and that he welcomed in return “a light contribution to my purse from the Daily Advertiser–for a year or more receiving $25 a month for my literary services.”15

Copyright © 2021-2023 Gregory J. Guderian

[1] Newark (N.J.) daily advertiser 6 March 1833 2:1.

[2] Newark daily advertiser 7 March 1833 2:2.

[3] Kinney gave his address at Trenton, “before the Society and a large audience,–comprising members of the Legislature–the Governor of the State, Judges of the Court of Errors, and other eminent individuals,” on 18 January 1849. He was asked, as was traditional, to furnish a copy to the Society for future publication. Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society [ser. 1] 3:4 (1849) 165; “New Jersey Historical Society,” Newark daily advertiser 22 January 1849 2:4. Happily, a manuscript version survives, together with a copy of William A. Whitehead’s article from the Advertiser of 10 September 1839, “First periodical, editor, and printer, in New Jersey,” marked up for Kinney’s use. Kinney Family Papers, New Jersey Historical Society, Manuscript Group 785, Box 10, Folder 2. On the value of newspapers as primary sources, Kinney wrote: “It is the business of the philosopher, the scholar, the general historian to speculate & theorize upon the facts we treasure up for them. Humble, dull as it may seem, it is our task to gather & preserve the elements of local knowledge: materials for history, which, like the Sybilline leaves, grow more & more valuable with the lapse of time. The least particle of truth has its value, & it is our province to see that it be not lost or neglected. It should be golden dust to us: to be sifted from the sands of time, let the ultimate use be what it may.” This view of journalism as merely preserving “materials for history” agrees perfectly with the rationale of the Historical Society’s program of collecting, and with Whitehead’s own assessment of his studies in this period. It does not aspire even to the commonplace, often attributed to the Washington Post’s Phil Graham, of newspapers as “a first rough draft of history.”

[4] The New Jersey Historical Society’s Manuscript Group 137 consists of a daybook listing the Advertiser’s printing orders for these and other customers during the years 1846-1849. Twelve of the jobs were for the Historical Society, fifteen for the Library Association.

[5] The nameplate of The Enquirer (later The Inquirer) consistently gave Jesse Atkinson as its editor and publisher, but Whitehead was effectively chief editor, perhaps as early as the first issue, which appeared 15 October 1834. (The last issue known is dated 17 September 1836.) After half a year at the helm, Whitehead penned a plea to the citizens of Key West entitled “Ourselves”–“A most egotistical title for an article, but if a man is at any time to be pardoned for making himself the subject of his own remarks, we claim at present the exercise of the indulgence.” It merits a lengthy quotation: “…nearly in the words of Shylock, he who for some months past has catered for your information and amusement, asks you– ‘hath not a printer dimensions, senses, affections, passions? … if ye starve him will he not die? if ye pay him well will he not rejoice? if ye subscribe for his paper will he not be thankful?’ … For nearly seven months has our little sheet been sent out weekly to the world, to receive its share of praise or condemnation, and so far as the exertions of its Editor alias Printer, alias devil, (for our friends at a distance may not be aware that in our office these worthies are one and indivisible) will produce the result, for months to come will it continue to present itself to the eyes of its patrons. But however much the good of our City may require its continuance–however important the intelligence it may sometimes contain–however desirous its proprietor may be to see it live and do well–its death must inevitably take place soon, unless it receives additional patronage.” “Ourselves,” The enquirer (Key West, Fla.) 25 April 1835 3:1. On shortages of paper, see The enquirer 6 June 1835 3:1, 20 June 1835 3:1, 5 December 1835 2:4. For the difficulties faced at Key West of getting news from the rest of the country in a timely fashion, see inter alia “An editor’s troubles,” The inquirer (Key West, Fla.) 4 June 1836 3:3-4, and my earlier post Together apart.

[6] The first of the “Letters from Havana,” written “by one who has been familiar with its history, condition, and prospects from repeated visits,” appeared in the Advertiser of 31 July 1838 (2:1-2 and see 2:2). The first two were reprinted in The sentinel of freedom (Newark, N.J.) on 7 August 1838 (1:1, 2:4-5, and see 1:4). Letter XV was published in the Advertiser of 26 September 1838 (2:1-2) and the Sentinel of 2 October 1838 (1:4-5).

[7] In the words of the editor, these “valuable papers concerning the HISTORY OF NEW JERSEY, from a pen which has heretofore interested our readers on this and other kindred topics,” would draw “from the abundant stores collected during many years of research.”  Newark daily advertiser 8 March 1842 2:1; Sentinel of freedom 15 March 1842 1:2. They appeared in the Advertiser from 8 March to 17 June, and in the Sentinel from 15 March to 21 June 1842.

[8] W., “Review of the weather for May,” Newark daily advertiser 1 June 1843 2:2.

[9] Whitehead admitted in an unpublished memoir, “I have been flattered into continuing them much longer than I probably otherwise would have done by the interest they have awakened.” A transcription of this memoir under the title “Childhood and youth of W. A. Whitehead 1810-1830” (hereafter “Childhood and youth”) is held by the Florida History Department, Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Florida, and by the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida; page 52 of the transcription contains the reference. One wonders whether Kinney expected the series to endure as long as it did: the Advertiser of 1 July 1843 directed readers to “an interesting Review of the Weather for the past month, by an accurate and obliging observer,” but this notice accompanied Whitehead’s second report, not his first. Newark daily advertiser 1 July 1843 2:3. A century later and more, Whitehead’s weather writings continued to inspire admiration: see David M. Ludlum, Early American hurricanes 1492-1870 (Boston 1963) 97, 122.

[10] Joseph Atkinson, The history of Newark, New Jersey, being a narrative of its rise and progress (Newark 1878) 323.

[11] “Arrest of the editor of the Evening Journal,” Newark daily advertiser 22 July 1864 2:5; “U. S. District Court at Trenton. Sentence of E. N. Fuller for counselling resistance to the draft,” Newark daily advertiser 16 February 1865 2:3. Even as early as 1861, Newark’s city government had considered shutting down the Journal for its antiwar views.

[12] “Let her depart in peace,” Newark daily advertiser 6 December 1860 2:1; “Amendments of the Constitution,” Newark daily advertiser 4 February 1861 2:1.

[13] A number of Whitehead’s scrapbooks are found in Manuscript Group 1494 at the New Jersey Historical Society. In one of these, numbered 94, he credited himself with “Legislation against freed Negroes,” Newark daily advertiser 27 February 1863 2:1, and “A glance at Newark as it was,” Newark daily advertiser 16 May 1863 2:1-2.

[14] “Childhood and youth” 53, 55-56.

[15] “Childhood and youth” 56.

Images: 1) Offices of the Advertiser: “Pictures of the principal banking and insurance buildings, with the residences of Messrs. Curran and Russell. Newark, N.J. industries illustrated,” The daily graphic (New York, N.Y.) 27 May 1874 661 (excerpt), courtesy Newark Public Library. 2) William Burnet Kinney: Mary Depue Ogden, ed. Memorial cyclopedia of New Jersey (4 vols. Newark 1915) facing 1:74. 3) Newark’s Newspaper Row: Southeast corner Broad and Market, c. 1866, courtesy Newark Public Library.

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