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Mormon Newspapers of the 19th Century

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 09, 2009

It is not surprising that we published newspapers in the various centers of Mormon population during the 19th century – the Evening and the Morning Star in Independence, the Messenger and Advocate and Elders’ Journal in Kirtland, the Times and Seasons, Wasp, and Nauvoo Neighbor, in Nauvoo, the Frontier Guardian at Kanesville and Oracle at Crescent City, Iowa, and the Deseret News and others in the Great Basin.

More surprising, perhaps, are the great many newspapers published in regions where there was not a built-in audience: except for the Millennial Star, serving chiefly the British Mission where there were significant numbers of Latter-day Saints, and reaching a (thin) world-wide audience as well, other mission-based papers had very small local patronage: there’s the Etoile du Deseret at Paris, the Skandinaviens Stjerne and Nordstjernan at Copenhagen, Zion’s Panier and the later Der Stern at Hamburg, Le Reflecteur in Geneva, Die Reform and Der Darsteller der Heiligen der Letzten Tage elsewhere in Switzerland, Prophwyd y Juvili and Udgorn Seion in Wales, Zion’s Watchman in Sydney, Australia – what others am I missing?

The papers of sometimes greatest interest to me were those published not for the Saints, but to give the Saints a voice in the population centers of the United States where they were unable to break into the Gentile press, and where the Gentile press delighted in publishing scurrilous rumor and accusations against us. These include the Prophet/Messenger and The Mormon in New York City, The Seer in Washington, D.C., the St. Louis Luminary in that city, the Western Standard in San Francisco – am I overlooking any in this category?

Below is an account by George Q. Cannon of how he came to be the editor of the Western Standard. While most of our newspapers would not have had quite the logistical difficulties faced by Cannon (can you imagine the necessary correspondence and the shipping involved in the movements described here, in a day where sail and human or animal muscle was the motive power, and where decisions had to be made on the spot that sometimes supported, sometimes ran against instructions given in Salt Lake City, because communication took so long?), his report reflects in some ways the difficulties and resourcefulness faced by all our 19th century editors – and what a treasure of recorded history their efforts have left us!

At a Conference of elders, held at Wailuku, Sandwich Islands, October 6th, 1853, a committee was appointed to take measures to obtain a printing press, type, and every thing necessary to publish the Book of Mormon – which I had been blessed in translating form the English – in the Hawaiian language. This committee was composed of Elders Benjamin F. Johnson, Philip B. Lewis, and myself. During the following winter, we felt warranted in ordering all the materials needed for this purpose, having, by collection and borrowing, succeeded in raising the amount necessary for their purchase. The press, type, paper, etc., were obtained at New York and were shipped from there, in a vessel coming round Cape Horn, for the Sandwich Islands. Before they reached the Islands, however, Elders Henry W. Bigler, James Hawkins, William Farrer and James Keeler (Brother Keeler did not reach Honolulu in time to accompany us on our return, and therefore remained another year) and myself, had been released to return home, nearly five years having elapsed since we left there. Upon the arrival of the press at Honolulu, Elder Parley P. Pratt, who was then presiding in California and the adjacent countries in and on the Pacific, was communicated with, and, after correspondence between himself and the presidency of the Islands’ Mission, it was deemed the better plan to remove the press and the printing materials from the Sandwich Islands to San Francisco, California, where Elder Pratt intended to publish a paper. These materials were accordingly shipped to San Francisco.

Soon after my return to the Valley I received an intimation from president Brigham Young that I would be called, at the ensuing conference, to return on a mission to the Sandwich Islands. Before this conference was held, however, the news had reached the Valley that the printing press, type and paper, had been removed from the Islands to San Francisco, and, as my labors were likely to be more available at that point, now that the press was removed there, I was called, at the Spring Conference in 1855, to take a mission to California to labor in connection with, and under the direction of Elder parley P. Pratt. Elder Pratt was to act as editor of the paper, which it was expected we would publish; President Orson Hyde, who had been appointed to establish and take charge of a settlement in Carson Valley, was requested to superintend the financial business of the undertaking; and I was to publish the Book of Mormon in the Hawaiian language and to take charge of the printing and the publication of the paper, writing for it also as I should have opportunity. Being requested by President Young to select two elders to accompany me, to assist me in my labors, I chose Elders Joseph Bull and Matthew f. Wilkie, who were, therefore, also appointed at this same Conference, on this mission. Starting from Great Salt Lake City on the 10t of May, 1855, in the company of President Charles C. Rich, and passing through San Bernardino, California, at which place there was then a large settlement of our people, presided over by Elders Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich, we reached San Francisco in the latter part of June.

In the preceding March, Brother parley had issued a prospectus for a periodical, – “The Mormon Herald;” but receiving scarcely any encouragement, and not being aware of the arrangements which had been made at the April Conference to strengthen him, he had made up his mind, as he had been some time absent form home, to return there. We reached San Francisco a few days after his departure form that city. By starting after him immediately, I succeeded in obtaining an interview with him, at the place of rendezvous for himself and company, and from him learned all the particulars concerning the condition of the Mission. Finding that I had been called to labor under his direction, he deemed it wise, as he was leaving, to set me apart to preside over the Pacific Mission, subject to the direction of any of the Twelve Apostles who might visit or be called to labor in that part. Prospects in San Francisco for the establishment of a printing-office and newspaper, I found to be of the most discouraging character. There were but few saints in the city, and those in the adjacent country were considerably scattered, many of those who had recently been baptized having gathered home, or to San Bernardino. The few who were left, and with whom I was brought in contact, seemed to have no faith that such an enterprise, as the publication of a newspaper advocating our doctrines, could be successfully carried out. Several causes, which I need not here refer to, had contributed to produce a feeling of distrust in a mission of this character. One of the leading brethren in San Francisco remarked to me, after hearing from me the nature of my mission, that if I had a thousand dollars in my pocket I might be able to accomplish the labors assigned unto me. I told him I had not the thousand dollars; but yet, with the help of God, they would be accomplished. I need not dwell on the difficulties that had to be contended with; the Lord opened our way in a most signal manner, and I proved, most satisfactorily, the truth of the sentiment advanced by the Prophet Nephi – a sentiment so important and truthful that it should be impressed on every heart, – “For I know,” he said, “that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” It really seemed to me that money grew in our hands, and that five dollar s– though considered a very small amount in those days in California – would go further and accomplish more, than four times the amount would under ordinary circumstances.

An office was secured on the principal street in town, and we (Brothers Bull, Wilkie and myself,) immediately commenced the publication of the translation of the Book of Mormon in the Hawaiian language. Two thousand copies of this work were issued and sent down to the Islands. While publishing this work, and attending to the other labors which devolved upon me, I maintained a constant correspondence with President Brigham Young. He still favored the publication of a newspaper, and appointed me to be its editor, and, by his kind, fatherly and hopeful counsels, gave myself and the elders laboring with me, continual encouragement in our labors. On the 23rd of February the first number of the Western Standard was issued. Elders David M. Stuart, William H. Shearman, Charles W. Wandell and Henry G. Boyle, and other elders, labored assiduously in the ministry, and rendered every assistance in procuring subscribers and other aid. Friends were raised upon every hand, and though our pathway was not free from obstacles, yet the work moved off so successfully that we felt greatly favored and blessed of the Lord.

For a period of nineteen months the publication of the Standard was continued. In the fall of the year 1857, the march of the United States’ troops on our people in the valleys of Utah, and the probability of a collision and determined hostilities ensuing, caused the recall and withdrawal of the elders from the various fields abroad to their home in the fastnesses of Zion. Sending my family home ahead of me, in charge of my brother David (who had been sent on a mission to California the year previous,) and in company with some other elders, I remained in San Francisco until the 3rd of December, 1857, when Elders Orson Pratt, Ezra T. Benson and other elders having arrived from England en route for the Valley, several of my fellow-laborers and myself started home with them to take part in the defence of our liberties and homes.



9 Comments »

  1. “It really seemed to me that money grew in our hands,”

    A wonderful sentiment, and a wonderful image. And thanks for this interesting post — yet another aspect of Church history that reminds me that I don’t know nothin’ about Church history.

    (By the way, was BY’s “kind” and “hopeful” encouragement vis-a-vis publishing motivated solely by a missionary zeal to spread the word, or did he have some sort of special affection for printing/publishing that I’ve never heard of?)

    Comment by Hunter — October 9, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

  2. Have I ever told you how much I appreciate your kindness in not letting an orphan post hang out there with no attention? I do appreciate it.

    You know, I’ve never thought about a connection between Brigham Young and publication. That’s an interesting idea. He was a man who certainly valued the printed word — I don’t know how much he read on his own, but he made it a habit to have his clerks read all the papers, books, and magazines to him (did you know he was a Dickens fan?). He made sure the Deseret News press was moved out of harm’s way at the end of the Utah War, and was eager to establish a papermaking industry in Utah so that the occasional “brownouts” of the newspaper’s publication didn’t recur. His interest in the Deseret Alphabet was due to his idea that it would ease the Saints’ way to literacy. In an odd way, even his disapproval of some books — like the first edition of Joseph Smith’s history by his mother — indicates an awareness of the power of the written word. Once stenographers like Geo. D. Watt showed the value of their reportorial skills, the steady publication of sermons in the newspapers, and approving the Journal of Discourses, paved the way for our own deep appreciation for conference reports.

    Thanks for the idea. I’ll have to think about it some more.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 9, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

  3. Cool story. Do you know if they took the printing press back to Utah with them?

    Another 19th century regional newspaper: The Latter Day Saints Southern Star, published by the Southern States Mission during 1898-99 and into the next century. I’ve been using it extensively for a project I’m working on. Here’s a fun little excerpt from the Southern Star.

    Comment by Researcher — October 9, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

  4. He evidently got to Tennessee by walking on his hands! How fun.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 9, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

  5. Thanks for those thoughts on BY. I’ve always enjoyed hearing about “cabinet-making Brigham”; it’s great to hear about his connections to literary or print concerns, too, even if attenuated.

    Oh, and speaking of 19th-century Great Basin newspapers, let’s not forget the famous Fitzgerald Adenville Weekly Advocate (here).

    [wink]

    Comment by Hunter — October 9, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

  6. I’m always interested in the men who step up as editors of these newspapers. Surely they all did not have prior training in the printing or newspaper trades. Someone had to teach them the art of setting type,the correct amount of ink to apply so that the copy was clear and readable, not gobby or too faint. And in the case of printing the Book of Mormon, they had to have some knowledge of bookmaking, how to set the type into signatures and how to sew and glue them into the books. I would really like to know more about these men (who printed the various papers and books)and their training.

    Comment by Maurine — October 9, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

  7. I go on a business trip for a few days and you start talikng about old Mormon newspapers, one of my favorite subjects. Loved the story.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — October 10, 2009 @ 8:04 pm

  8. Wanna know more about G.Q.C. and his Western Standard? Have I got a book for you! (And one that Ardis helped a whole lot with!) It’s called Defending Zion: George Q. Cannon and the California Mormon Newspaper Wars of 1856-1857, and is still in print here: http://www.ahclark.com/bookdetail.asp?book_id=4092

    Comment by Roger Ekins — October 12, 2009 @ 12:09 pm

  9. (I usually delete links to products, but this one I know and like.)

    Defending Zion is a great look at one of these newspapers and Mormon editorial interactions with other papers. Somebody (ahem) should look closely at others, for a comparison of geography and editorial temperament. I vote that we start with John Taylor’s The Mormon.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 12, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

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