Established in 1832 as a weekly publication, the Carolina Watchman of Salisbury, NC was affiliated with the Whig party and supported President Andrew Jackson and his anti-nullification policy. The Watchman‘s founder, Hamilton Chamberlain Jones (1798-1868), sought to compete with another Salisbury newspaper, the Western Carolinian. Writing in the first issue of the Watchman on July 28, 1832, Jones said, “believing in the patriotism and just intentions of the president,” he felt that it was “his duty to resist the tide of obloquy which has been so freely passed forth against the administration, and vindicate with energy its justifiable measures.”
In July 1839, Jones sold the Watchman and its printing office to Mace C. Pendleton and John Joseph Bruner (1817-1890). That partnership dissolved in 1843 when Bruner withdrew from the paper. In January 1844, Bruner re-purchased the paper and publishing office with Samuel W. James (b. 1819). James withdrew from the paper in 1850, selling his share to Bruner, who then became the sole proprietor and editor.
The Watchman continued weekly publication under Bruner until the office was captured in the spring of 1865 by the Union Army, who used the printing shop to print daily army communication. After a few months, Union authorities allowed Bruner to return to the office and resume publication of the Watchman, which supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.
After the war, the newspaper sided with the Democratic Party. As Bruner noted in a history of the newspaper published in the March 27, 1890 issue, “Nearly all the white people of the South … united in forming the Democratic party after the war, and this paper had no other home to go to.”
In January 1868, the Watchman consolidated with The Old North State and became the Watchman & Old North State, co-published by Bruner and Lewis Hanes (1826-1882). The partnership dissolved one year later when Bruner bowed out and sold his share of the newspaper to Hanes, who, in turn, dropped the Watchman from the title and published The Old North State. In 1871, Bruner re-purchased the newspaper and continued as owner and editor of the Carolina Watchman until his death in 1890.
In 1891, James L. Ramsey purchased the Watchman and allied the newspaper with the North Carolina State Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union, a political organization that represented farmers and rural residents. The newspaper served as the mouthpiece of the populist organization until 1893, when John Wesley McKenzie (1844-1901), John J. Bruner’s longtime apprentice and son-in-law, and Charles Harris Bruner (1856-1898), John’s son, purchased it from Ramsey. In the newspaper’s February 23, 1893 issue, the two lamented Ramsey’s ownership as a period when “good men who once took delight in sustaining [the Watchman] were forced to turn their backs upon it—when its old and familiar and honored name was bedraggled in the slums of demagogism by socialistic sophists.” From 1894 to 1898, the newspaper changed ownership and editorial staff eight times and then ceased publication.
William Henry Stewart (1870-1931), grandson of John Joseph Bruner, re-established the Watchman in 1904 and continued as publisher and editor until his death in May 1931. Ewart William Gladstone Huffman (1898-1953) announced his purchase of the newspaper in its August 6, 1931 issue. Under Huffman’s leadership, the Watchman appears to have made a concerted effort to feature local news. Stories from Salisbury and surrounding communities displaced national and international news on the front page, and columns by a county farm agent, the secretary of the Salisbury chamber of commerce, and an American Legion member appeared regularly. Huffman continued weekly publication of the Carolina Watchman until February 1937, when he ceased publishing under that title and replaced the newspaper with the Rowan County Herald, which he published semi-weekly.
Essay courtesy University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, Chapel Hill, NC