In 1896, the South Carolina Press Association requested Charleston newspaperman Yates Snowden to prepare a sketch of newspapers published in South Carolina to that date. He solicited information from editors across the state and the information he received was placed in a scrapbook which is now at the South Caroliniana Library. In 1896, he spoke at the Press Association meeting held in Sumter on the journalism history project. Nine years later, he would become the head of the history department at the University of South Carolina.
Locally, Charles W. Birchmore of the Wateree Messenger supplied Snowden a sketch of Kershaw County papers from the first one in 1803 to those in 1896 in a nine-page letter found in the scrapbook. Also in the scrapbook is a printed newspaper column containing Birchmore’s sketch.
Birchmore reported the earliest paper as the Camden Intelligencer of June 5, 1803, “published weekly by J. B. Hood, Broad St. below Mr. W. Nixon’s Tavern as announced under the date line.” He also said the paper was a five-column folio with the length of column 16 inches. From this description it is clear Birchmore examined a copy of the paper at that time.
Your columnist believes this paper to have been owned by Mrs. Dan M. Jones in the 1950s and he saw it at the time. A few years later, she informed him she had given the paper to a Camden attorney as payment for some legal work he did for her.
In 1988, the University of South Carolina Press published John Hammond Moore’s South Carolina Newspapers, a definitive history of the state’s newspapers. However, there is no footnote to Birchmore’s sketch in Moore’s work.
Moore received his A.B. degree from Hamilton College and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Virginia. His writings cover such diverse topics as Charleston during World War I, German Prisoners in America during World War II and the early career of actor Errol Flynn.
Moore’s work was assisted by the planning or funding of newspaper projects by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Library of Congress, Organization of American Historians, the University of South Carolina and many others. For years, the South Caroliniana Library had been collecting, microfilming and conserving newspapers of the state. As a matter of fact, while a student at USC in the late 1940s and early 1950s, your columnist microfilmed newspapers at the South Caroliniana Library including some of the Camden Chronicle.
In a lengthy description in the preface of his book, Moore gives the background of those who contributed to the production of his work.
Although Birchmore’s account contains no newspapers not found in Moore’s book, it does contain details about editors, individuals who owned collections of Kershaw County newspapers in 1896, etc. Birchmore’s personal knowledge about local papers dates closer to the time he was publishing the Wateree Messenger from 1884 forward. We pick up his sketch beginning with the Camden Confederate during the Civil War.
The Camden Confederate, a small paper, was published from 1861 to 1865 by J.T. Hearshman, who is now a resident of New York City.
Continuing the sketch of the Camden Journal, Mr. Birchmore says that in 1865 Maj. L.W.R. Blair and Thomas W. Pegues formed a co-partnership. They owned and edited the paper until 1870 when it passed into the hands of Rev. John Kershaw.
In 1873, Mr. Kershaw sold the Journal to Messrs. W.D. Trantham and J.T. Hay, prominent lawyers in Camden, who continued its publication until 1877, when it was consolidated with the Kershaw Gazette and the name changed to the Journal and Gazette. The paper remained consolidated for only a few months. G.G. Alexander became the editor and proprietor of the Journal and continued its publication until 1889 when it was sold to D.C. Kirkley. In 1891 it suspended publication until 1894 [when] it was revived by G.G. Alexander but only for a few weeks. The press and type of the Journal is now used by G.G. Alexander in the publication of the Sun, one of the few Republican papers in South Carolina and the only one published by a white man. In 1872, Frank P. Beard came to Camden from Orangeburg and began the publication of the Temperance Advocate. Mr. Beard was a man of tremendous energy and Mr. Birchmore reports that his recollection is that he got out his first issue or two by means of a planer and mallet.
[The printing term “planer” refers to a form or frame in which type is placed, completely leveled, and then locked down for printing. All pieces of type must be level and a “mallet” was used to tap down any “high” letter of type. Any high letter would fowl the impression.]
Mr. Beard afterward established the Kershaw Gazette which was for some time the leading paper of Camden.
The Wateree Messenger, which is now the oldest paper in Camden, was established Oct. 7, 1884, by Clarence W. Birchmore. In 1888, the Gazette was merged into the Messenger.
In 1888, the Camden Chronicle was established by W. L. McDowell, and is still published by him .
(Editor’s Note: In 1981, the Camden Chronicle and Camden Independent merged to become the Chronicle-Independent.)
Many technical advances have occurred in the post-WWII era, but none have impacted the printing and publishing industry quite as much as the computer. That becomes quite obvious when you reflect on the technology of the “planer” and “mallet” described above in comparison to the computer and the digital age.
In 2009, the Library of Congress began the program, Chronicling America, which is a program to catalog the nation’s newspapers, scan them and place them online for general use by scholars, genealogists, and the public at large. If a distant cousin’s name ever appeared in a paper, a google search will locate it for you.
This columnist hopes that technical advances will never reach a point where the “morning paper” ceases to be a fixture in American society.