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Publication Details

Public ledger.

More information about this newspaper title may be available on the source website.

Source: Chronicling America [US Library of Congress]

Country: United States

State: Tennessee

City: Memphis, Tenn.

Issues of this title available in Elephind: 5,465

Items (articles and/or pages) from this title available in Elephind: 21,503

Earliest Date: 5 March 1866

Latest Date: 31 December 1883


Memphis Public Ledger

In 1856, brothers William and Edwin Whitmore established a job printing office in Memphis. Their clients included, amongst others, the Memphis Daily Appeal. In 1863, William Whitmore purchased the printing establishment of Saunders, Clark & Co. and started the Daily Journal. The paper flourished under his management, but he soon sold his share and it was not long before the publication ceased.

Upon Edwin’s return from the Confederate Army in 1865, the Whitmore brothers began publishing an evening newspaper, the Memphis Public Ledger. The first issue rolled off the press on September 4th. The daily (except Sundays), which featured the state seal on its masthead, took its name from the Philadelphia Public Ledger after William Whitmore visited Philadelphia and was impressed with the city’s paper.  By March 1866, the Public Ledger claimed to have the largest circulation in Memphis; a fact proudly proclaimed on its masthead. However, the Memphis Daily Appeal  boasted the largest circulation in the region due to a wider distribution area, which included parts of neighboring states. The two dailies were able to co-exist successfully because one was a morning and the other an evening paper. Between 1870 and 1890, the Weekly Public Ledger, was also published.

The Public Ledger’s first editor was Frank Y. Rockett--an experienced journalist before the war--and the Whitmore Brothers were its publishers. In March 1867, William Whitmore died at the age of 29. On July 15, the name of the new publishers --Whitmore & Co.--appeared on the paper. The new partners in Edwin Whitmore’s company were F. A. Tyler and J.T. Pratt. Later that year, Pratt sold his share to Whitmore and Tyler. In October 1868, Julius “J.J.� DuBose (an early Ku Klux Klan leader, and later, a judge) became a partner in Whitmore & Co. Tyler left the paper in January 1869, and later that year became editor of the Memphis Daily Appeal. In October, Whitmore became sole proprietor again, with DuBose as editor.

As with all newspapers of the time, the Public Ledger relied heavily on advertising. Many ads appeared on the front page, providing both higher revenue for the paper and greater exposure for the clients . A distinguishing feature of the Public Ledger’s front page between 1868 and 1870 was an advertisement for a dry goods retailer, which ran across the top of four columns. 

In 1886, J. Harvey Mathes(a former captain in the Confederate Army) became proprietor of the Public Ledger, having been editor of the paper for several years. Under his leadership, the paper remained conservatively Democratic, although Mathes proclaimed the Public Ledger “very independent as well as liberal, fearless as well as bold, a leader in progressive development and the social and educational advancement of Tennessee.� A column from August 1886 declared, “It is our aim to treat all men, of whatever creed, color or politics, fairly, justly and courteously.�  However, this was not always borne out in practice. In 1893, an ill-meaning reporter from the Public Ledger sent a telegram to Ida B. Wells, an African American journalist in Chicago, who, earlier that month, had written a frank exposé of a lynching in Bardwell, Kentucky, for the Daily Inter Ocean. The reporter’s telegram told of the intentions of an all-white mob to take a black man from a Memphis jail that night and lynch him, and mockingly requested that Ida B. Wells be sent to Memphis to “write it up.�  The telegram, however, only served to underscore the premeditated callousness of the mob’s actions.

Later that year, the Public Ledger permanently ceased publication.

Provided by: University of Tennessee