History of Early Amateur Journalism in North Carolina


By Edward A. Oldham


(In the preparation of the following story of amateur journalistic activities in North Carolina, this author acknowledges with appreciation the helpful cooperation of Miss Bessie F. Johnson, of Rose Hill, N. C., who has drawn from more authentic chronicles of the boy editors of her State, which she is preparing to publish in book form, and which will no doubt be of great interest to all readers who have watched the development of this youth movement in America.)


WHAT HAS BEEN CHARACTERIZED as "The Mimic Press" had an early start in North Carolina. In 1869, at the age of nine, Edward A. Oldham, of Wilmington, is credited with producing the first "amateur newspaper” -- the Little Monitor, a pen and ink folio, followed in 1873 by the Star of the South, miniature and type-set. By that time he had earned enough money to purchase a Novelty printing press, 6 x 9 inches, then being advertised in St. Nicholas, Oliver Optic's and other periodicals. As an amateur printer, Oldham worked up a paying business, doing odd jobs for local business men, including his father, the late Alexander Oldham, then the proprietor of the Cape Fear Flour and Pearl Hominy Mills. By another year, 1874, he was packed off to boarding school. The State's most outstanding institution was Horner & Graves School, moved from Oxford to Hillsboro, becoming the "H.M.I."


Before that, however, among the boys who visited Oldham's printery was a Chinese lad of the same age, who was a printer's devil in a local job office. This boy, Charlie Soong, a stowaway from Boston, was later befriended by a wealthy humanitarian named Gen. Julian S. Carr, of Durham, who gave the boy the benefits of an education. Charlie was sent to Trinity College, about the same time Oldham left for the Hillsboro Military Institute. This Chinese boy became in time the head of the famous "Soong Dynasty" in China, and the father of the Soong sisters, all three of whom became the wives of China's most notable leaders, including Chiang Kai-shek.


At the Hillsboro school Oldham planned the Cadet, and took with him press and type, but the school authorities put their feet down on the project, and he had to confine his amateur journalistic activities to writing and planning for the State's first association of boy editors. Out of these beginnings grew a youth movement in the Old North State that attained proportions sufficient to insure the successful organization of the North Carolina Amateur Press Association, which was generously acclaimed by amateurs in other parts as the "Banner State Association in Amateurdom." Out of this movement came a score of future journalists and publishers.


In 1877, Ed Oldham took the lead and issued a call to the boy editors of the State to meet for the purpose of organizing the N.C.A.P.A. This first convention was held in Goldsboro on June 29, 1877. Oldham called the meeting to order and became the temporary chairman. He proposed a slate of permanent officers, refusing the presidency, and urging the election of James M. Howard, editor of the Boys' Courier, New Bern, as first President, while he unselfishly accepted the secretaryship. George M. Carr, editor of the North Carolina Amateur, Rose Hill, was made Vice-President. The entire slate as planned by organizer Oldham was unanimously elected. At that time the latter had joined Carr in the editorship of the N. C. Amateur, a four pager, 12 x 15, originally launched by George M. Carr and William Bruce Southerland, Oldham becoming associate editor in '77. A year later Josephus Daniels and James Howard were "staff contributors."


The years '76, '77, '78 and '79 were flourishing years for boy journalism in North Carolina. To the credit of the professional press the juniors were given much encouragement and unusual Statewide publicity, thus drawing to the membership of the boy organization new members. During the second annual convention in '78, Oldham as the newly elected President was invited by the adult body to attend the regular yearly gathering of the State Press Association about to meet at Sparkling Catawba Springs. He made a condition of his presence, a further invitation being extended to George M. Carr, James M. Howard, Josephus Daniels, J. Dickson Nutt, Robert Engle and D. J. Whichard. This group of seven young editors attended the convention of the grownups, were treated with marked distinction, and were unanimouslv elected to honorary membership in the State Press Association, and are so included to this day.


In the fall of 1878, before going to Virginia to enter the Bethel Military Academy, Oldham boxed up his treasured Novelty press, type, etc., and sent them as a present to his friends, the Daniels boys. At the Virginia institution he established the Bethel Cadet, as an out-and-out "school newspaper." The Bethel Cadet has the distinction of being the first school paper to be started in the South. It enjoyed a continued existence for many years after its young first editor had gravitated into other fields. While at Bethel, Oldham published in magazine form the Odd Trump, devoted entirely to amateurdom. Its name was an adaptation of the title of the Tourgee best seller of that period. Both papers were printed in Richmond by Oswell L. Williams. Oldham at this time was also associate editor of the Southern Star, published in Washington.


In '78 J. Robert Griffin of Goldsboro launched Our Free Blade, a 9 x 12 folio, with one of the handsomest engraved headings of any amateur paper. This heading was designed by Oldham, who had planned to issue a paper under this name. Parental plans for his attendance at the Virginia school, however, interfered. The handsome engraving was thus put to one side until he thought of inducing Griffin to issue a paper and use the idle heading, which he presented to the new member, Griffin's name appearing as editor, and Oldham serving as associate. Later he withdrew and suggested that Josephus Daniels take his place. A year later Daniels and James Howard bought Griffin's interest, and Our Free Blade became a continuation of Howard's Boys' Courier.


In May, '79 there was held a called meeting of the N.C.A.P.A. to cast the North Carolina vote for N.A.P.A. officers up for election at the annual convention in Washington City that year; 26 members responded to the call and voted 25 for James Austin Fynes for President and one for Arthur J. Huss. The State's candidate for Vice-President, Edward A. Oldham, received the unanimous support of the members present, 26 votes. These ballots were forwarded by the Secretary, Josephus Daniels, to the N.A.P.A. officials in Washington. These ballots were declared "not received," yet the Washington post office took the stand that Mr. Daniels' envelope containing them were [sic] either delivered to the party addressed or returned to the name on the envelope, which was that of Mr. Daniels. As the envelope was never returned to him, it is safe to conclude that a delivery was effected, and that the statement that the ballot envelope was not received was obviously an untruth. Had the North Carolina returns been honestly counted, there would have been a tie vote of 62 for John Edson Briggs and 62 for James Austin Fynes. Granting that there was correct basis for the charge that some of the 16 Washington "printer's devil" votes were "packed," thus reducing Briggs' 32 votes, it may be considered a safe surmise that the Fynes-Oldham ticket would have indicated a majority, and thus scored an election.


In '79 Charles Daniels and George W. Warren, of Wilson, issued Our Little Plug. "C.C." had, however, entered the professional ranks when 17, and had the distinction of being the youngest member of the State Press Association. He later established the Kinston Free Press, which is still published. When his brother Josephus went to Raleigh in 1885, Charles became publisher of the Advance, at Wilson. In the meantime he read law and hung out his shingle in 1888, and in later years became a solicitor and also Assistant United States Attorney General. He is now a prominent lawyer in New York City.


The third annual convention of the N.C.A.P.A. met in Goldsboro on July 21, 1879. George M. Carr was elected President. By that time the membership of the Association had increased considerably. The Wilmington group consisted of Ed Oldham, J. D. Nutt, J. C. Cantwell, W. A. Burr, W. C. Peterson, W. H. Howell, Duval French, Will DeRossett, who enlarged his amateur printing office into an up-to-date professional printery and built up a paying business; Bernard Ryan, who went to New York later and became prominent as a lawyer; Walter Drake, Whiting Rifle, Caleb and Rom Radcliff.


The New Bern group were James M. Howard, Owen H. Guion, who became a leading lawyer and then a judge of one of the State courts; his younger brother Benjamin S. Guion and Hamilton Disosway, who published Little But Loud in '79. (The last named came to New York about the turn of the century, and was a prominent chemist and drug store proprietor in Brooklyn for many years. His old friend Ed Oldham induced him to become connected with The Fossils, in which body he was honored with several offices.) Charles R. Thomas, Jr., prominent in law, later became elected to Congress from the New Bern district for 12 years; Philamon Holland became a brilliant lawyer who died young, but left a reputation as an eloquent orator. Then there were J. C. Roberts, J. A. Richardson, T. C. Howard, E. S. Hughs and Miss Sallie Canaday.


The Wilson group included Frank Arthur Daniels, Josephus Daniels and Charles C. Daniels. The first mentioned became a prominent lawyer, whose partner was Governor Charles Aycock. Daniels became judge of the superior court, which office he filled for a longer term of years than any previously. He was also a distinguished orator. The second Daniels name will be recognized as the successful publisher of a leading daily newspaper at the State capital, and as Secretary of the Navy in President Woodrow Wilson's cabinet, and later was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Other Wilson amateurs were Frank Connor, George W. Warren and George W. Griffin.


Goldsboro was represented by J. Robert Griffin, William Bonitz, Fred C. Smith and R. L. Prempert. Rose Hill members were George M. Carr, R. A. Southerland and W. Bruce Southerland. The last named became early a business leader and the first mayor of his town. Some of the other members were W. S. Hemby, Stout, Youth's Monthly; Garrison Nedlen, Indian Trail, Amateur Banner; J. M. Satchwell, Rocky Point, the Striker; Thad Mallard and Willie Bland, Teacheys, Tarheel Tyro; John D. Carroll, Magnolia, the Nut Shell; O. O. Vollers, and John Vollers, Point Caswell; J, B. Erwin, Lenoir, the Nautilus; Thomas Morse, Smithville, the Pilot; Frank Gale, Young American, and Robert Nixon, Scott's Hill.


This chronicle would be incomplete without some special emphasis being placed upon the name of J. Bascom Sherril, of Lenoir. He and his younger brother took up where George Carr left off and kept alive the N. C. Amateur. Of this new edition, Joseph M. Salabes of Baltimore was associate editor. The latter in more adult years became President of The Fossils. Hemby and the Sherrils were notable amateur printers and editors. The last two published the Watchman, the Lamplighter, the Literary Review and the Busy Bee. J. Bascom Sherril, described as an "early and ardent lover of composition," contributed regularly to the nation's non-professional press, using such signatures as "Victor" and "Augustus Prynne, Jr." In 1883 when Oldham was conducting the Oldham Publishing House in Winston-Salem and editing the Western Sentinel, he employed Sherril and placed him in charge of a special department devoted to the printing of amateur papers. Sheriil later became the owner and editor of a professional paper, the Concord Times, which paper is now published by his son. Sherril served the State Press Association 32 years as Secretary, and two years as President. During that time he compiled the Historical Records of the North Carolina Press Association.


The fourth annual convention of the N.C.A.P.A. was held in Wilmington, July 21, 1880. Philamon Holland, Jr., was elected President. A native of New Bern, he was at the time of his election a student at Trinity College, out of which grew Duke University, through the munificence of the Duke family of Durham. Holland's election widened the publicity westward for amateur journalism, and a number of new papers and new groups of desirable recruits were added to the North Carolina Association. At Salem, Howard Rondthaler, age 12 in '83, and Andrew (or "Drew") Patterson, two years older, published the News, which later was enlarged, and issued as the North Carolina Enterprise. In later years both became eminent educational leaders. Patterson was Dean of the School of Applied Science at the University of North Carolina for a number of years, and Dr. Rondthaler for a long period has given distinguished service as the President of the venerable Salem College, recognized as "the Vassar of the South," at Winston-Salem.


One of the most widely known amateurs from the western area was Nathan H. Ferguson, of Sophia. He published the Connoisseur, and was to carry over the amateur traditions into the present century. When the graphic arts youth movement waned, Ferguson entered the ranks as a professional writer. In 1913 George W. Holloway issued the Red Rooster from Winston-Salem, and Carl C. Wallace published the Bull Dog.


The death of Philamon Holland, during his presidency of the N.C.A.P.A. after its fourth annual convention at Wilmington, in July of 1880, had a discouraging effect on the rank and file of the organization, the members of which were fast growing to manhood and were embarking in the affairs of life, leaving the much younger members to carry on as best they could. At this juncture in '83 Will X. Coley and Ed W. Rayle acquired ownership of the N. C. Amateur, and issued it in place of the Twin City Amateur. The famous old name, however, was relinquished in 1886, when Coley changed the name to the Southern Youth.


After a period of inaction, a gap of six years, following the death of Phil Holland, who had been chosen as President at the fourth annual convention in Wilmington in July, 1880, the N.C.A.P.A. was revived at Greensboro, December 17, 1886, when Andrew H. Patterson was elected President. Other officers were Will X. Coley, Secretary, Howard H. Rondthaler, Treasurer, and Nathan H. Ferguson, Official Editor. This was the fifth State convention of the N.C.A.P.A.


At Greensboro, in December of the following year ('87), Will X. Coley made a futile effort to inject new life into the Association. He was made President, but that same year he entered the ranks of professional journalism, and was thus denied the opportunity of reviving the old Association. He was the last President of the N.C.A.P.A. He purchased the Weekly Times of Mocksville, but later sold this paper and accepted employment with Josephus Daniels, and has ever since served in the capacity of circulation manager of the Raleigh News and Observer, the leading daily at the State capital. His experience as a modern distributor of newspapers has had much to do with the success of the Raleigh paper.


Ed Rayle went West, locating in Pasadena, Cal., got into printing, and built up a successful commercial printing and publishing enterprise, which he has now relinquished and has retumed to his old home town, where he is now on the retired list. Both he and Coley no longer consider themselves "amateurs," and are loyal members of The Fossils, as likewise is Howard Rondthaler.


In the middle Eighties, John D. Carroll, of Magnolia, sent out the Nutshell and the Duplin Agent, both conventional amateur papers. T. G. Cobb in '86 published the Tack at Waynesville, and he later began publication of the News-Herald, as a professional paper, and issued it up to the time of his death in 1916, when his daughter, Miss Beatrice Cobb, took hold and carried on. She has made a marked success of the News-Herald, is now Secretary of the State Press Association, and is the North Carolina member of the National Democratic Committee. She reveres the memory of her father's amateur newspaper days, and is much interested in the same youth movement that Edward A. Oldham pioneered.


In the present century there has been a coterie of amateurs at Moravian Falls, where James Larkin Pearson has been an active editor-printer-poet, with a growing reputation. Journals of this period were variously named: Pearson's Pet, Crutcher's Chat, the Hornet and the Wasp. Another amateur editor from the same section was R. L. Barlow, who published the Piedmont Amateur. Plain Talk came from Elkville, by M. W. Hart. George A. Alderman was active from Wilmington in 1903.


In 1915 came the Blarney Stone from Rocky Mount, where the United Amateur Press Association assembled in that year. During the same period Wat Haithcock, in High Point, issued Wat's Bear Cat. This era was made especially notable by the activities of boys in the Monroe section. Here Clarke W. Walton was the outstanding amateur printer and editor. He published Manettism, Tiny Tim and the Bookmark. Others of the Monroe group were Newby Crowell, Robert E. Cunningham, Roy Monroe and Mrs. F. O. Tichnor.


Going back to the late Seventies, H. H. Latta brought forth the Gazette, from Berea. About the same time, or earlier, the Sunny South was published at Wilmington by Bernard P. Ryan. This was not strictly an "amateur" paper, as it was frankly “published for profit," and carried no news of Amateurdom.


In a like category was the Torchlight, published at Oxford by Will A. Davis, who conducted a prosperous paper of local news. He was later a guest at one of the N.C.A.P.A. conventions, and his face may be found in a group picture photographed at one of the Goldsboro meetings of the Association.


In a similar classification was Collier Cobb, who was a contemporary of Davis, and in a way a competitor, as his Home Journal was also a local news folio, published as a business undertaking which proved profitable for its youthful publisher, who was unaware of the existence of "amateur journalism." His paper was issued for several years. It was printed on a crude press of his own construction and was illustrated with wood cuts engraved by the editor. Dr. Cobb in later years became a distinguished geogolist connected with the faculty of Harvard University. Later he became similarly attached to the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill.


J. D. Whichard left amateur ranks in the Seventies to establish the Reflector at Greenville, a paper which has since enjoyed an uninterrupted success, and is now being published by a son of the erstwhile amateur editor. The latter's face is also included in the group photograph with that of Will Davis.


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