Looking Back: Editor banished from the state

October 19, 2003|RICHARD C. BROWN

Editor's note: This story is one of several planned about the origin of newspapers in area.

When Confederate troops struggled home from Appomattox, only 182 tattered weekly newspapers had survived in the south. Years later, as conditions improved, there were 499.

The Kentucky Advocate was among the enlarged group. It first appeared June 24, 1865, and has been published in some form for 138 years since then. James R. Marrs created The Advocate because of events during the presidential election of 1864.

Marrs was born in 1840 in Danville. He began his working career here in 1854 in the printing office of John F. Zimmerman and Sons, publishers of The Kentucky Tribune. Danville's disastrous Washington's birthday fire in 1860 damaged the Zimmerman printing office severely.


As a result, The Tribune appeared only intermittently during the Civil War years. This was an opportunity for young Marrs because he was allowed to do almost everything in connection with its publication since no one else wanted to.

In 1863, Marrs began increasingly to use The Tribune's pages to oppose the re-election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. By 1864, he was editing the paper in such a way as to favor the election of Gen. George B. McClellan, the Democrat party's candidate.

Gen. McClellan was a commander of the federal military forces. It was widely believed that, if elected president, he would arrange to stop the war and let the seceding states depart in peace.

These were troublesome times in Kentucky. Newspapers whose policies were not acceptable to federal representatives in the state began to experience censorship and suppression. Those who favored McClellan's election were effectively squelched by a refusal to give them a permit to buy paper for printing.

As editor Marrs continued to back McClellan, each issue of The Tribune was limited to half a sheet. When he remained defiant, he was served with an order of banishment from the state.

Banishment would seem to be a blow to the editor's career. Actually, it was only a temporary setback. The worst result was separation from his wife, the former Sarah E. Jackson, whom he had married only a few weeks before. The presidential election took place during his banishment. It showed that the support he and others had given to Gen. McClellan was effective.

His banishment ended after the election

The general received 64,301 popular votes, more than twice as many as Lincoln's total of 27,786, thereby winning all 11 of Kentucky's electoral votes. Marrs' period of banishment ended after the election and he returned to Danville and his bride to find himself a minor hero.

Soon after his return, Danville became a two-newspaper town. The Zimmermans had sold The Tribune and the new owners gave the paper's support to Republicans or "Radicals" as they were generally known in Kentucky at that time. Marrs saw an opportunity for a new weekly paper and joined with two other Democrats, Charles Bowman and J.L. Bruce, to found The Kentucky Advocate. After a time, Marrs became the sole editor of the paper, described on its masthead as "A Weekly Journal Devoted to Politics, News of the Day, Home Matters and Choice Miscellany."

Associated with a series of owners and experiencing some temporary absences, Marrs guided The Advocate until his death in May 1895. He was a victim of Bright's Disease, a chronic inflammation of the kidneys. As his obituary summed up his activities, "He endeavored as editor and citizen to do what he could to advance the moral, educational and material interests of this community."

Marrs was a partisan lieutenant in the "Army of the Democracy," willing to do battle with the Republican radicals on his home territory of Boyle County. In 1885 Grover Cleveland, the first Democratic President elected since the Civil War, rewarded Marrs for his loyalty by naming him postmaster of Danville. In 1893, when Cleveland was once more retured to the White House, he named Marrs as deputy collector of internal revenue in Danville under collector Charles H. Rodes.

Nevertheless, politics and government service ranked second to journalism in Marrs' activities. Not only did he guide The Kentucky Advocate for 20 years. After serving as Danville's postmaster he established The Central Record, a Lancaster weekly. Earlier he had unsuccessfuly tried to enter Lexington journalism with a paper called the Farmer's Home Journal.

Farmers in and around Danville were early participants in the 1870s agrarian protest movement known as the Grange. They organized one of the first Granges in Kentucky. "It is made up up of the largest land-holders and most enterprising and influential farmers of the county," as the editor of the Advocate described its membership. He offered to open the columns of the paper "to the Grangers for the publication of any matter that they deem of importance to the public."

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