(COLUMBUS, OHIO)— Civil War re-enactors, researchers and enthusiasts have cause to celebrate: the hours spent poring over pages of Ohio’s historical newspapers in search of news from the warfront and soldiers’ letters back home is now reduced to minutes thanks to the Ohio Historical Society. Two Millersburg newspapers, the Holmes County Farmer and the Holmes County Republican, are among the first Civil War-era Ohio newspapers to be digitized and uploaded to the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America website at www.chroniclingamerica.org. At this site, a researcher can use a term such as someone’s name, hometown or military regiment in the “search” function to instantly find occurrences of that word in the newspapers.
The National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio, a part of the National Digital Newspaper Program developed by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, will enable the Ohio Historical Society to digitize 100,000 additional Ohio newspaper pages published from 1845 to 1894. These pages will join the 14 papers—over 100,000 Ohio newspaper pages published between 1880 and 1922—that are already available on Chronicling America through the project’s first phase. This is welcome news to blurry-eyed researchers and genealogists who scour old microfilm in search of clues to history’s mysteries and family histories.
“The Holmes County newspapers included the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio engaged in bitter political debates back and forth regarding slavery, President Lincoln and the conduct of the war,” said Kimberly Kenney, curator for the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. “The Holmes County Farmer was strictly anti-Lincoln, sympathetic to the South, and represented the Amish, a unique Ohio community. The Holmes County Republican’s position on these issues was more typical of the attitude in most of the Northern states. These conflicting perspectives shed light on the divisive nature of the Civil War within one Ohio community.”
“The National Digital Newspaper Program is providing access to a treasure trove of historical newspapers that were previously unsearchable,” said Kenney. “Although the content had been preserved on microfilm, the newspapers were not searchable by keyword. If you didn't know the exact date, you could not find it. Microfilm is not set up for browsing, which also limited its access. The NDNP in Ohio is revealing history in a new way, providing first person accounts of historical events of local and national significance.”
About the Holmes County Farmer
The fiercely Democratic Holmes County Farmer was established in 1828 as the Millersburg Gazette. Published every Thursday morning, the Gazette was the paper of record in Holmes County for many years. In 1840, the paper changed its name to the Holmes County Farmer and Free Press, then became known as the Farmer and Democrat in 1854 before settling on the Holmes County Farmer in 1857. As its name suggests, the Farmer represented a rural community predominantly composed of Amish. Though not specifically tied to any political party, the Amish related to the political philosophy of fellow farmer Thomas Jefferson and were ardent pacifists. By the 1870s, the Farmer’s circulation numbers had reached 1,800, more than its rival, the Holmes County Republican which could boast only 1,334 subscribers.
During the Civil War, editorials revealed an overall lack of support for the Union cause in the county. To the many French, German, and Swiss immigrants, the war reminded them of the enforced military service, governmental repression, and violent European nationalism of the early 19th century that they had come to America to escape. Republicans in Holmes County were far fewer, and their paper, established as the Holmes County Whig in 1835, known as the Holmes County Republican starting in 1856, was considered weak in comparison. According to James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt, the rival papers “engaged in ferocious political rancor” throughout the Civil War: “The more extreme language came from the Farmer, which pressed the Midwestern Democratic line of Ohio party leader Clement L. Vallandigham, denouncing Lincoln’s handling of the war and using vicious racial slurs and blatantly anti-African American editorializing against abolitionists. When only one person in German Township and Walnut Creek Township dared vote Republican in the fall of 1862, the Farmer dismissed the first as illiterate and the other as ‘an abolition preacher’” (Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War [Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 2007], 112-113).
The Farmer was published by prominent local Democrat George F. Newton from 1854 until 1859, when it was sold to James A. Estill. Newton’s son, David G. Newton, became co-publisher of the paper with Estill in 1864. Like other county newspapers of this era, the Farmer published a variety of local, regional, national, and international news, including reports from the Civil War battlefield. Business advertisements, poetry, pieces of fiction, marriage announcements, and death notices also appeared in the paper. In 1926, the Holmes County Farmer changed its name to the Holmes County Farmer-Hub. The paper has been published as the Holmes County Hub since 1988 and still serves as one of the county’s main publications.
About the Holmes County Republican
From its beginnings as the Holmes County Whig, which started in Millersburg, Ohio in 1844, the weekly Holmes County Republican stood in opposition to the county’s predominantly Democratic voices and their paper, the Holmes County Farmer. In its August 21, 1856 inaugural issue, the Holmes County Republican declared its firm stance against slavery and for the preservation of the Union: “We believe that the extension of Slavery may be prohibited and the Union maintained—that a return to the policy of the Fathers of the Republic is the only way in which the aggressions of slavery are to be constitutionally restrained and the peace and harmony of our country, and the perpetuity of our free institutions secured.” The Republican and the Farmer were bitter rivals, and according to James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt, “engaged in ferocious political rancor” throughout the Civil War (Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War [Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 2007], 112). The Farmer was particularly antagonistic toward the Republican Party, and, at times, quoted the Holmes County Republican in order to undermine its political viewpoint.
Noted for its accurate home and neighborhood news, the Republican was widely circulated throughout Holmes, Wayne, and Coshocton Counties and considered one of the best advertising outlets for that region. The paper, however, occasionally suffered financial problems and was suspended and revived several times. The Holmes County Farmer was generally considered the stronger of the two papers, with support from the county’s overwhelmingly Democratic and Amish population. J. Caskey served as editor of the Republican until April 1862, when he announced that it was to be sold to G.T. Griffith of Cincinnati. Under Caskey’s leadership, the paper reported on mostly local and national news, including letters from Union soldiers. Throughout its entire run, the paper supported Republican political candidates, including Abraham Lincoln and 1856 presidential hopeful John C. Frémont.
In 1865 or 1866, the paper ceased publication, leaving Republicans in Holmes County without a voice until it was reestablished by Lanbach, White, and Thomas B. Cunningham on August 25, 1870: “With this issue, the Holmes County Republican commences a new era, with new editors and proprietors, new presses, new material, new subscription list entirely, and in fact a new paper out and out.” While continuing to report on news of national and local importance, the paper also began to include international news, works of fiction, and poetry. More successful than in the past, the Holmes County Republican enjoyed uninterrupted publication well into the 20th century. In 1896, it changed its name to the Millersburg Republican and finally ceased publication in 1924.
Archived Newspapers Available at Ohio History Center
The Ohio Historical Society’s Archives/Library at the Ohio History Center in Columbus contains the largest collection of Ohio newspapers in existence. The newspaper holdings contain newspapers published from 1793 to present, 4,500 titles, 20,000 volumes, and over 50,000 rolls of microfilm of Ohio titles.
Much of the microfilm in the Society’s newspaper collection was created in 1971 as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities initiative called the United States Newspaper Program. Since then, the information published in the thousands of deteriorating wood-pulp newspaper volumes in the society’s collections has been transferred to more than 16,000 rolls of master negative microfilm. The National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio builds upon this earlier effort.
Looking to the Future
“Thanks to a $334,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2010, the Ohio Historical Society has been able to continue its efforts to digitize a select number of historical Ohio newspapers,” said Angela O’Neal, director for Collections Services at the Ohio Historical Society. “We are helping to create a national, online, keyword-searchable resource.”
According to O’Neal, both phases of the project have been limited to a small number of papers selected from 10 regions across the state by an advisory group of 18 librarians, archivists, curators, historians, educators and journalists. “This phase will add 26 more papers to Chronicling America,” O’Neal said. “With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we’ve chosen publications from before, during and after the war to provide greater access to researchers on this important time period in Ohio’s history.”
In addition to issues of the Holmes County Farmer from 1860 to 1866 and the Holmes County Republican from 1856 to 1862 and from 1870 to 1874, the selected publications include: Perrysburg Journal from Perrysburg, (1854-1880); Hancock Jeffersonian from Findlay (1857-1878); Fremont Journal from Fremont (1853-1875); Tiffin Tribune from Tiffin (1856-1879); Cleveland Leader from Cleveland (1858-1866); Western Reserve Chronicle from Warren (1855-1873); Jeffersonian Democrat from Chardon (1859-1865); Ashtabula Telegraph from Ashtabula (1858-1880); Anti-Slavery Bugle from New-Lisbon & Salem (1845-1861); Stark County Democrat from Canton (1868-1890); Daily Ohio Statesman from Columbus (1861-1868); Dayton Daily Empire from Dayton (1859-1867); Urbana Union from Urbana (1862-1872); Xenia Sentinel from Xenia (1863-1865); Highland Weekly News from Hillsboro (1857-1886); Cincinnati Daily Press from Cincinnati (1859-1862); Gallipolis Journal from Gallipolis (1850-1880), McArthur Democrat (1855-1865), Vinton Record (1866-1874), Democratic Enquirer (1867-1873) and McArthur Enquirer (1873-1884) from McArthur; Conservative and South-eastern Independent from McConnelsville (1866-1871); and the Belmont Chronicle from St. Clairsville (1853-1894).
"We will continue to apply for NEH funds in upcoming grant cycles until we can complete the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio," O'Neal said. "Eventually, using microfilm for researching newspapers will be a thing of the past."
In addition to the Library of Congress site, researchers also will be able to access the newspapers at www.ohiomemory.org . For more information about the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio, contact Jenni Salamon at 614.297.2579 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Established in 1885, the Ohio Historical Society is a nonprofit organization that serves as the state’s partner in preserving and interpreting Ohio’s history, archaeology, natural history and architecture. For more information about programs and events, call 614.297.2300/800.686.6124 or go online at www.ohiohistory.org.
NOTE: The Holmes County Farmer is available at: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84028822/issues/. The Holmes County Republican is available at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84028820/issues/ and http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84028820/issues/.