Toward that end, he sought a printer to publish the laws passed by the legislature. There was one problem: there were, at that time, no printers in business in the Indiana Territory. Instead, Harrison received permission from President James Madison to use the services of a Kentucky printer (William Bradford) to publish the territorial laws.
By the summer of 1804, however, Harrison could use the expertise of an Indiana printer who had been trained in Bradford's Lexington, Kentucky, shop: Elihu Stout had come to Vincennes. Purchasing a press and type in Frankfort, Kentucky, Stout arranged for a small craft to ship his equipment via the Kentucky River to Vincennes. Once his equipment had safely arrived in the territorial capital, Stout went to work.
From his small house located on First and Buntin Streets, he issued copies of the first newspaper in the territory, the Indiana Gazette, which were emblazoned with a quotation from Thomas Paine: "Independence is my happiness, and I relate things as they are, without respect to place or persons." Over the next forty-one years, until he sold his operation to John R. Jones in 1845, Stout and his newspaper served as the chief--for many years the only--means of information for the Vincennes community. The editor and his creation were "in the thick of the beginnings of Indiana," helping, as much as Harrison and other leaders, to mold the wild frontier into the nineteenth state.
Termed by a contemporary, Judge John Law, as the "'Nestor'" of the Western press," Stout was born in Newark, New Jersey, on April 16, 1782, to Polly and Jediah Stout, a Revolutionary War veteran. When he was ten years old, Stout and his parents moved from the East Coast to the new lands in the West, eventually settling in Lexington, Kentucky. Four years later, Stout became an apprentice printer in a shop owned by Bradford, publisher of the Kentucky Gazette. As a young apprentice, Stout went through a painful initiation into the printing world. As the low man on the totem pole, apprentices were expected to run errands for the shop owner and his family, sweep the shop, keep the fires kindled, wash type, carry water for cleaning and wetting paper, and other onerous tasks.
By the time Stout finished his apprenticeship at age twenty-one, he was eager to start a newspaper of his own. Looking for opportunities wherever he could find them, Stout, in the spring of 1803, visited Vincennes. Situated on the east bank of the Wabash River, the town seemed to offer little inducement for a young entrepreneur such as Stout. According to the 1801 census, there were 714 people living in Vincennes, with another 819 residing in the surrounding area.
There were powerful inducements, however, luring Stout to settle in Vincennes. Legend has it that Harrison promised to name Stout as the territory's printer, which would have provided the New Jersey native with a ready source of income for printing both the laws of the Indiana Territory and those enacted by Congress, if he established a newspaper in Vincennes. The governor was anxious to have a newspaper in the territory not only to publicize the government's actions, but also as a means of helping to bring together the diverse peoples whom lived in the region.
In Stout, Harrison had found a kindred spirit. Both men were proslavery, suspicious of British intentions in the region (and upset over the seizing of American sailors on the high seas by English sea captains), and concerned about possible hostilities of Native Americans. These close ties to the territorial governor hurt Stout later in his career when Indiana became a state and the Harrison faction fell from power.
For the newspaper publisher Vincennes offered him the opportunity to manage his own newspaper without competition. After he had decided upon a community in which to locate his print shop, however, Stout's real troubles began; that is, buying and transporting the necessary equipment to his new home in the Indiana Territory. With financial assistance from his father (Stout borrowed more than $2,500 from Jediah Stout over the years), in the spring of 1804 the young editor bought a wooden printing press in Frankfort, Kentucky, and had it shipped down the Ohio River and up the Wabash River to Vincennes, a trip that took three months.
The first issues of Stout's Indiana Gazette appeared on July 31, 1804. In the second issue, dated August 7, 1804, the publisher outlined the principles governing his new venture. The newspaper would strive to collect and publish "such information as will give a correct account of the productions and natural advantages of the Territory," along with the latest foreign and domestic news. Stout proclaimed that the "political complexion of the paper shall be truly Republican; but it shall never be prostituted to party." Indeed, he welcomed essays of "any political complexion," but also warned that the columns of the Gazette "shall never be tarnished with matte that can offend the eye of decency, or raise a blush upon the cheek of modesty and virtue."
Subscriptions to the weekly newspaper, issued on a single sheet, were available at $2.50 per year. If the paper had to be mailed to the subscriber, the subscriber had to pay the postage. In lieu of cash, which was hard to come by on the frontier, Stout instead accepted as payment such items as beef, port, bacon, corn, cotton, whiskey, wheat, sugar, potatoes, butter, eggs, tobacco, salt, flour, tallow, and oats--all of which were standard articles of barter in the pioneer economy.
Stout barely had been publishing his newspaper for two years when in April 1806 a fire swept through the newspaper office and destroyed its press. Undaunted by this setback, the editor traveled back to Kentucky to purchase a new press and, on July 11, 1807, Stout was back in business with a newspaper he renamed the Western Sun, which featured on its masthead a majestic sun rising over a mountain range. The new publication also contained in each issue a quote from Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume, which read: "Each century has its peculiar mode of doing business and men guided more by custom than by reason follow without enquiry, the manners which are the prevalent in their own time."
Along with the danger of fire and other natural catastrophes, there were numerous problems besetting anyone foolhardy enough to attempt to publish a newspaper on the frontier during the early nineteenth century. "The first problem of the printer," noted one Indiana newspaper historian, "was to get paper, the second to get news, and the third to get paid." Securing the necessary paper for printing a newspaper proved to be a difficult task for Stout. Until 1826, when one was opened north of Madison, there were no paper mills in Indiana. Instead of a local supplier, Stout had to rely on paper from a mill in Georgetown, Kentucky, which he transported by pack horse via the Buffalo Trace, a rough path leading from the Falls of the Ohio near Louisville to Vincennes. Often the publisher had to secure paper supplies from as far away as Pittsburgh and as close as other merchants in Vincennes in order to keep his press running. There were times, however, when paper stocks were so low that Stout had to reduce the size of his newspaper or even suspend publication for a time.
As the territorial government's official printer, Stout had a ready supply of news for his readers. The Vincennes newspaper's front page was dominated by new laws of the United States, land treaties signed between the young American government and various Native American tribes in the territory, and official correspondence from Governor Harrison's office. All of these items were related to the reader in their full, without the news analysis that is commonplace today--a boon to politicians wanting to communicate their ideas directly to their constituents.
National and international news dominated the pages of the Sun. In fact, as one scholar of the pioneer press noted, the "more exotic the location, the more news value an item seemed to possess in the minds of pioneer editors." To relay this information to his readers, Stout had to rely on the vagaries of America's early postal system. With the Vincennes mail dependent upon deliveries from Lexington, Kentucky, and Pittsburgh, Stout had to contend with the distinct possibility of printing information weeks or perhaps months out of date. Everything from bad weather to incompetent post riders, who sometimes prepared for their journeys with liberal doses of alcohol, could halt the flow of news.
The Sun's editor often had to apologize for the lack of news on important subjects due to receiving no mail for that week. In an item to his subscribers in the 31 December 1808 issue, Stout blasted the post rider for his negligence: "We say negligence; because he pretends, (and surely it is nothing more than pretence) that he [the post rider] could not cross the White river, altho' report says that some one concerned in the ferry gave him a certificate that the attempt would be hazardous;--and yet the river has been constantly crossed and re-crossed without danger; and several gentlemen left this place and proceeded to Louisville within a few hours of the return of the post-rider."
As publisher, editor, typesetter, and sometimes even carrier for his newspaper, Stout did not have the luxury of turning to a newsroom of trained reporters ready at a moment's notice to scour the countryside to unearth articles for the weekly edition. In a community that small, any local news would already have been thoroughly discussed by the time Stout could have published it in the Sun. But sometimes the Vincennes editor did find the time to cover and print local news.
One issue of importance to the territory's residents was unrest inspired by Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, also known as "The Prophet," over recent land treaties negotiated by various Native American tribes with Harrison. By using reports conveyed to him by officials involved in negotiations, Stout was able to keep his readers abreast of the latest developments. He also, when possible, did some reporting himself. In the Sun's August 25, 1810, issue for example, Stout offered a lengthy and even-handed report on the council held in Vincennes between Harrison and Tecumseh. Although offering a fair review of both the governor's and the Indian leader's views, Stout, at the end of the article, inserted his view (probably shared by Harrison) that the "confederacy which has been formed by the Prophet, was the effect of British intrigue."
Once Stout had both adequate paper supplies and fresh news from the mails, he faced yet another hurdle--obtaining payment from subscribers. This difficulty is apparent upon checking the Sun's first column on the front page. Prominently displayed in the upper left-hand corner of each issue is an announcement listing subscription costs and the terms whereby advertisements would be accepted. Stout concludes this list with the frugal note that all letters to the editor had to be postpaid. Year after year the editor pleaded with his readers to pay what was owed him. In 1809 Stout recollected in his newspaper the old adage, "and he thinks it cannot be applied to him--'he is a cross dog that bites before he barks' as he has been growling and barking at some of his subscribers for a long time."
Stout, of course, as printer for the territory, had a regular source of income for a number of years. Still, the expenses involved in running a newspaper--and his frequent forays into land speculation--often left Stout short of money. In an 1823 letter to his brother, who had promised him some funds, Stout urged him to act "speedily" in obtaining whatever he might have for him, either specie or paper money. "I may be pushed," wrote Stout, "and for want of it [money] ruined."
To help keep his printing business solvent, Stout printed and offered for sale such books as The Laws of the Indiana Territory and The Real Principles of Roman Catholics, and did other printing work--handbills, circulars, letters, blanks, etc.--needed by the community. Notices were also solicited for his newspaper that offered everything from goods for sale at Vincennes firms such as Jones and Dubois to warnings from jilted husbands that they would no longer honor the debts contracted by their wayward wives.
Along with complaining to his brother about his shortage of funds, Stout also related that he himself was "not hearty, but am compelled to work hard." Although he took on a number of partners over the years, Stout always seemed to be in need of additional help to publish his newspaper. He often ran a notice on the Sun's front page seeking a boy between the ages of fourteen and sixteen to learn the printing business at his office as an apprentice. Stout's experience with one apprentice, Solomon Smith, highlights the difficulties businessmen in the territory experienced in retaining employees.
Smith, who yearned to be an actor, had run away from his Albany, New York, home in 1815 at age fourteen. He journeyed west to seek his fortune and eventually ended up in Vincennes, taking an apprentice position with Stout in 1817. Reminiscing about his days on the Sun, Smith recalled that as "a master he [Stout] was kind and indulgent; as a husband, he was forbearing; as a father, affectionate, and as a man he was almost perfect." Smith, however, failed to have the same warm thoughts for Mrs. Stout (Lucy Sullivan). "This lady had been 'brought up' in Kentucky," he noted, "and having been in the habit of commanding slaves, and the laws of Indiana not permitting her to own any of these convenient appendages to a household, she made use of her husband's apprentices in place of them."
By the time Smith had signed on as an apprentice, Stout's Sun was no longer the only newspaper in Vincennes. On March 14, 1817, Samuel Dillworth and Charles Keemle started the Indiana Centinel, which supported Governor Jonathan Jennings. Party spirit ran so high between the two papers that one night Mrs. Stout, according to Smith, became so upset with a Centinel editor (a Doctor Elias McNamee) she grabbed "two large horse pistols, concealed a cow-hide in her sleeve, and thus equipped, commanded me to arm myself and follow her to see fair play while she inflicted summary chastisement on the doctor!" With more than a little difficulty, Smith persuaded Mrs. Stout to "'let the doctor off,' and not until I had promised to blaze away at him in the next 'Sun.'"
Although he eventually became foreman of the newspaper, Smith, after just two years of work for Stout, grew tired of the town and ran away with another apprentice in the middle of the night to Nashville, Tennessee, in hopes of joining a theatrical group there. Both men ran for a considerable distance upon fleeing Vincennes, fearing, Smith recalled, that Mrs. Stout would follow and drag them back to their jobs. By 1839 Stout's son Henry was old enough to join the business, finally offering his father someone he could depend upon.
Along with printing his newspaper, Stout involved himself in other areas of the community's life. He was a charter member of the Vincennes Library Association, helped found the Vincennes Theatrical Association, and was a devoted Mason, rising to the rank of grand master of Indiana in 1827. In 1845 President James K. Polk named Stout as the postmaster for Vincennes. That same year, the longtime editor sold the Sun, ending forty-one years in the newspaper business.
After selling his business, Stout kept active by serving as Knox County's recorder of deeds from 1850 until 1860 and also as clerk of the board of trustees of the borough of Vincennes. On June 22, 1860, at the age of seventy-eight, Stout died. According to a relative, Stout's death was very sudden and "hastened by the troubles in the Democratic Party in 1860, which he believed would result in the dissolution of the Union or a long and bloody war."