David Fulton (1821-1848) and Alfred Lanier Price (1815-1872) launched the Wilmington [North Carolina] Journal from the offices of the defunct Wilmington Messenger on September 21, 1844. Fulton and Price were both staunch Democrats and established the paper as the “uncompromising opponent” of Whig party policy and agenda. Though it was a political paper first and foremost, the editors also covered news relating to agriculture, industry, trade, and markets. Fulton, an Irish immigrant, served as editor of the paper until his death from a prolonged illness on December 17, 1848. Fulton’s brother James, who had previously served as editor of the Mecklenburg Jeffersonian, assumed the role of editor of the Journal, and Price, a North Carolina native, oversaw its publication. Under their leadership, the Journal quickly became one of the most politically influential publications in the state.
The paper’s 32-year span included features relating to local, state, and federal elections and campaigns; railroad construction; weekly wholesale and freight price lists; items regarding slave sales and runaway enslaved people; the Mexican and Civil Wars; and catastrophic events such as fires and epidemics. As a Confederate loyalist during the Civil War, James Fulton often suppressed information regarding conditions in Wilmington and other topics deemed harmful to the Southern war effort.
The Journal was the only paper circulating in Wilmington during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1862, thought to be caused by blockade runners from Nassau, Bahamas. According to an account that appeared in James Sprunt’s Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, 1660-1916, publication of the Wilmington Journal continued “under the greatest difficulties, owing to the scarcity of paper and to sickness among the printers.” Fulton and Price dedicated all available space in their September 29, 1862 issue to “chronicle . . . the character of the epidemic.” During this period, the paper covered other topics related to the war: mobilization, conscription, blockade and blockade running, coastal defenses, taxes, inflation, the interruption of mail service, correspondence from the field, and nearby military engagements including the Burnside Expedition, both Battles of Fort Fisher, and the fall of Fort Macon, to name a few.
Following the war, the editors of the Journal shifted their focus to agricultural and mercantile news. Commonly discussed topics include Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups, immigration, labor, education, reorganization of state government, Freedmen’s Bureau efforts, banking, and Confederate disfranchisement. Upon James Fulton’s death in December 1865, former Confederate officer Joseph Adolphus Engelhard (1832-1879) served as editor alongside Alfred Price. At times, Engelhard performed his editorial duties from Raleigh, where he served as chief clerk of the North Carolina Senate. Price retired from the Journal in 1873, and William L. Saunders (1835-1891), Engelhard’s brother-in-law and a former Confederate officer, assumed a position as associate editor. Saunders was an influential politician and a chief organizer of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina. Engelhard was elected first president of the North Carolina Press Association, which was organized in Goldsboro in 1872.
On September 30, 1876, stockholders of the Journal announced in Wilmington’s Morning Star that because of financial difficulties the Journal would cease publication of its daily edition, but that the weekly edition would continue through the fall 1876 campaign season. The Wilmington Journal published its final issue on October 27, 1876. William Saunders went on to found the Raleigh Observer on November 16, 1876, in partnership with Peter M. Hale (1829-1887), onetime editor and publisher of the Fayetteville Observer.