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Country: United States
City: Sunbury, Pa.
Issues of this title available in Elephind: 1,127
Items (articles and/or pages) from this title available in Elephind: 4,510
Earliest Date: 1 April 1848
Latest Date: 7 April 1876
The Sunbury American and Shamokin Journal was born in response to a political emergency but lived on to become the oldest 19th-century newspaper in Sunbury, the seat of Northumberland County. What became Sunbury was once Shamokin, a cluster of three villages and the Indian capital of central Pennsylvania under Shikellemy, chief of the Six Nations. The area was the westernmost settlement in Pennsylvania in 1724 and the site of Fort Augusta in 1756. Sunbury was the seventh and last proprietary town in Pennsylvania, laid out in 1772 for the heirs of William Penn, who owned the property and sold the original lots. Located near the confluence of the north and west branches of the Susquehanna River, Sunbury became a port on the Pennsylvania Canal and a major railroad center. The area boomed with the development of local anthracite coal mines and various industries such as textile mills. Thomas Edison installed the first successful three-wire electrical lighting system in the United States in Sunbury, illuminating the City Hotel on July 4, 1883.
Northumberland County in the 1830s was overwhelmingly Democratic, and receiving a nomination from the party was tantamount to winning the election. This meant that any campaign battles took place at the nominating convention. Twice-elected state legislator Charles W. Hegins, taking re-nomination for granted, was surprised to be preempted by a rival candidate from Milton at the 1840 county Democratic convention. The upstart was supported by the two local Democratic newspapers, the Sunbury Gazette and the Milton Ledger. Hegins’s friends promptly organized another convention in protest and nominated him, but there was no newspaper to promote his campaign. Within ten days of the protest convention, on September 12, 1840, Henry B. Masser, the deputy attorney general for the county, and printer Joseph Eisely launched the Sunbury American and Shamokin Journal, initially giving away large numbers of copies as there was no subscription base. Despite the heroic efforts, Hegins’s opponent was narrowly elected, but the new four-page publication with the unwieldy slogan (“Absolute acquiescence to the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of Republics, from which there is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism. – Jefferson”) found its niche within the available reading population.
Amended to become simply the Sunbury American in 1848, the newspaper provided a solid weekly offering of national and regional political coverage, fiction, reprinted news and feature stories from all over, county legal notices, local news, and advertising. Masser customarily advertised his law office directly below the subscription and advertising rates on the front page. The newspaper was Democratic until the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, at which time it became Republican and remained so. Masser was joined in 1864 by Emanuel Wilvert, who had lived with the Masser family in the 1850s while a printer’s apprentice. In 1866, Masser’s nephew, Norman S. Engle, joined the business. Emanuel Wilvert’s son, Austin, worked with the American for a few years, during which time (on April 11, 1879) it merged with the Sunbury Gazette, at one time a great rival, and became the Sunbury Gazette-American.
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