John L. Pennington (1829-1900) launched the Newbern Weekly Progress in late September 1858. The newspaper debuted several weeks after Pennington printed the first issue of Newbern’s Daily Progress, which he claimed was the first daily published in the eastern North Carolina town. The six-column, four-page weekly edition was published every Thursday. The Progress focused on local and state news and commerce. It also featured original poems, price lists, a significant advertisement section, and global news that arrived via telegraph. Though the newspaper boasted political independence early in its existence, its political tone evolved significantly during the 1860 presidential campaign and election and the onset of the Civil War.
During the 1860 presidential campaigns, the Progress endorsed the pro-Union Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. Just after Abraham Lincoln’s victory, Pennington wrote in the November 13, 1860 issue of the Progress of the newspaper’s continued support for the Union “as long as it is possible to do so with honor.” On April 30, 1861, as North Carolina prepared to secede, the newspaper began promoting itself as providing “the very latest news concerning the progress of the Great Revolution” and “devoted to the rights of the South and all the great interests of North Carolina.” It carried stories on Confederate troop mobilization and movement, women’s contributions to the war effort, coastal blockades and blockade running, and Federal forces’ actions in North Carolina.
Pennington left the Progress in September 1861 to serve as a lieutenant in the 10th North Carolina Artillery. The newspaper continued to publish for another seven months. As Federal forces closed in on New Bern, the staff published an issue on March 11, 1862 and then abandoned the offices and press.
When Federal forces entered the Progress offices, they found pages for the newspaper’s next issue partially set. George Mills Joy (1829-1880) and Edward L. Davenport (1838-1884), members of the 23rd Massachusetts infantry with prior printing experience, took charge of the newspaper office. On March 18, they published the pages they found, keeping the pro-Confederate reporting. However, on the second page, under a two-paragraph story headlined “The Enemy in Sight,” they added a horizontal rule and the words, “Saturday, March 15. Friday done it. We have taken Newbern. The enemy endeavored to burn the town, but were unsuccessful, the inhabitants using the fire-engines and other means in their power to extinguish the flames.” The text was signed, “Yankee Printer.” Subsequent issues included war news from the Union perspective, including stories on Federal troop movements and victories, inflation, the destruction and repair of rail lines, and war refugees and contrabands.
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, North Carolina, Pennington returned to newspaper publishing after resigning his military commission in July 1862. Confederate military records note that he was in “ill health.” By November 11, 1862, Pennington’s health had improved enough for him to publish the first edition of the Daily Progress in Raleigh. He assigned the issue the same volume number that the Newbern Weekly Progress held when its pro-Confederate staff abandoned their offices in New Bern.
In New Bern, Davenport and Joy continued to publish editions of the Progress, at times issuing daily and weekly editions, at other times publishing a semi-weekly newspaper. The semi-weekly under their leadership carried the title Newbern Progress. All editions of the Progress appear to have ceased publication in December 1863. The cessation may have been related to Joy’s launch of the North Carolina Times in New Bern that same month.