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History Corner: The First Newspapers in the Settlement

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The first newspaper published in the settlement of Montpelier happened in 1806 — shortly before the first Statehouse was built in 1808. The Vermont Precursor was issued by Unitarian minister, Rev. Clark Brown. However, Brown did not do well as either a minister or a publisher, and turned the reins over to Samuel Goss, who had been publishing the Green Mountain Freeman in Peacham. Goss moved to Montpelier, merged the papers, and changed the name to The Watchman, according to the Gazetteer of Washington County, Vermont 1783–1889, edited by William Adams and compiled by Hamilton Child. 

Goss ran The Watchman until 1810, then sold it to his brother Mark and former apprentice Ezekial P. Walton, according to Chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. Mark Goss left in 1817, but Walton and his son Eliakim Walton continued publishing it until 1868, during which time it held influence statewide. The name changed three times, from Vermont Watchman to Vermont Watchman and State Gazette to Vermont Watchman and State Journal, when it took on the anti-Masonic publication, the State Journal in 1836. Distributed statewide, it was strongly anti-slavery, and supported the National Republican Party, the Whig Party, and then the Vermont Republican Party (partly founded by the paper’s founders). The paper included general news, agricultural reports, and other matters, which incrementally overtook political content. 

The Waltons sold the paper to father and son Joseph Poland and J. Monroe Poland, who increased circulation and included more content from central Vermont communities. They transferred ownership to Maine-based William Prescott in 1882. Prescott updated the printing equipment and expanded readership.

A notable contributor, Thomas Hoskins of Newport, was a farmer and “one of the most eminent writers on agriculture and economic subjects in New England,” according to the Gazetteer. Hoskins became editor of the agricultural part of the paper, which stopped being published in 1889.

Other Montpelier-based papers included The Freeman’s Press, started in 1813 with a Jeffersonian Republican leaning, the Vermont Patriot and State Gazette (issued by George Washington Hill in 1826) with a Jacksonian Democratic leaning, and was bought in 1863 by Hiram Atkins, publisher of The Argus in Bellows Falls. Atkins moved to Montpelier to run the Argus and Patriot and eventually led to the creation of the Barre Montpelier Times Argus when the Barre Times merged with the Montpelier Argus in 1959.