Thursday, October 2, 2008

Smithland Newspaper Editor Shot 1844

Copyright by Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG
May not copy without written consent

James K. Polk of Tennessee, a Democrat, and his running mate, George M. Dallas were engaged in a close battle for President and Vice President of the United States in 1844. Running against Polk and Dallas were Henry Clay and his running mate, Theodore Frelinghuysen, Whigs. The big issue was the annexation of Texas and a claim to the whole of Oregon. The Democrats favored it - the Whigs did not. These issues were hotly debated, even in small towns of western Kentucky. Those who opposed the annexation of Texas feared Kentuckians would all migrate to the new state.
Leonard Gibbon and his wife, Sarah, and daughter left their home in Louisville, where Gibbon had been editor of the Louisville Dime, and settled in Smithland, Kentucky, where he planned to publish the Smithland Bee, a Whig newspaper. They arrived in Smithland by July of 1844 - right in the middle of the presidential campaign - and settled in to start a new life, with Gibbon signing several promissory notes and mortgaging the printing press and equipment in order to acquire money to print the Bee.
Said to have been a mild, peaceable, quiet and inoffensive man, Gibbon, nevertheless, voiced - perhaps recklessly - his opinions of the presidential candidate favored by the Democrats. His comments offended at least one reader - Dr. Samuel C. Snyder, another recent arrival in Smithland. Not long after the article appeared in the Bee, Dr. Snyder happened to meet Gibbon walking down the street, holding the hand of his little daughter. A fight took place, pistols were discharged and Leonard Gibbon fell dead in the street.
The widow, Sarah Gibbon, was faced with no way to support herself and a young child to rear. Her only resource was the printing press and equipment. Sarah took another mortgage on the press and equipment and continued to operate the newspaper herself.
In the meantime, Samuel Snyder had been arrested, placed in jail and was indicted for the murder of Leonard Gibbon. There was a change of venue to Crittenden County, where the evidence was heard on the 29-30 of April and 1 May 1845 by a jury composed of the following men: Mickelberry Bristow, Jeremiah Lucas, Alfred Moore, William Ditterline, Thomas H. Wallace, William Clement, Lewis Saxton, Conrod Crayne, Robert Hale, John W. Jenkings, James Fowler and William Molsber. On the 2nd day of May, after all the evidence had been heard, Snyder was led to the bar in custody of the jailor to await his sentence. Finally, it was announced. “We the jury find the prisoner Not Guilty!” Samuel C. Snyder was acquitted and left the court as a free man.
Sarah Gibbon struggled on, trying to run the newspaper and care for her child. The last record of her in Livingston County was when she took out a mortgage in August in 1847. She also appeared on the 1847 Livingston County tax list with 1 town lot worth $50 and one child between the ages of 5 and 16. According to Through the Canebrake, a book on the Gibbon family and which fictionalizes the story of the murder in Smithland, Laura, the young child of Leonard Gibbon, was motherless when her father died and she went to live with relatives in Iowa.
Samuel C. Snyder owned property in Smithland also, does not appear on the Livingston County tax lists after 1846.
Even though Sarah B. Gibbon was still mortgaging the printing press and equipment as late as August 1847, a new editor had moved to Smithland. In September 1845, William Scott Haynes conveyed unto John W. Ross and Ezekiel Green all his right and title in the printing press, stands, types and all other fixtures belonging to the office of the Smithland Bee, his interest being an undivided interest in 3/4 of press, types, stands & fixtures belonging to said office. It was understood that Haynes had plans to print a newspaper called the Jackson Republican. I have three issues of the Jackson Republican from 1846 and was interested to see there was very little local news, but a fair amount of national news and quite a few advertisements for local businesses.
A couple of things have been noticed while researching and writing these articles on the early residents and events of Smithland. There were a lot of doctors for a small town and there were a lot of murders. In at least two cases, the murders involved doctors.

Livingston County Clerk's Papers, Box 12 (1845-1847), County Clerk's Office, Smithland, Kentucky.
Livingston County Deed Book HH, pp 27, 335, 380, 456-458, 465.
Livingston County Circuit Court Order Book A, pp 159, 165, 167, 175.
Livingston County Tax Lists 1844 - 1847
"An Editor Killed," Boston Daily Atlas reprinted from the Louisville Courier, 21 September 1844,


Frank D. Myers said...

The rest of the Gibbon story, so to speak. After leaving Kentucky, Sarah Gibbon married another newspaperman, Carr Huntington, and by 1860, Carr, Sarah and Sarah's daughter, Laura, were living in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, where he was editing. At Beaver Dam, Laura married her first-cousin, Dr. William H. Gibbon, on Sept. 4, 1861, and they came to Chariton, Iowa, where William had established a practice in 1858. Carr and Sarah Huntington then moved to Blue Earth, Minn., where he started another newspaper, his last, also a "Bee."

William H. Gibbon served as a surgeon during the Civil War. The only child of William H. and Laura, Anna, was born Dec. 5, 1864, while Laura was visiting family in Cincinnati.

Anna married twice in Chariton, first to Ralph F. McCollough and following his death, to Josiah C. Copeland. The Gibbons, the McColloughs and the Copelands all were among Chariton's most affluent families.

I do not know what became of Carr Huntington, but suspect he died at Blue Earth between 1885 and 1888. By 1888, Sarah Gibbon-Huntington was living in Chariton with her daughter and son-in-law. She died at their home on Sept. 11, 1888. She was buried in the Chariton Cemetery.

At some point, and it is not clear from cemetery records when and no one of this family remains here to ask --- nor was any mention made of it in Chariton newspapers --- Leonard Gibbon's body was removed from its first burial place (in Smithfield?) and reburied beside Sarah in the Chariton Cemetery --- a considerable distance from where one logically would expect to find him. The inscription on his stone, which matches all others on the Gibbon/McCollough/Copeland lot, reads "Leonard Gibbon, September 12, 1811-September 10, 1844."

Best regards.

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

Thank you for the update. I have the book, "Through the Canebrake" by William McCollough, but, of course, it doesn't completely follow the facts of what happened in Smithland.

I searched for the tombstone of Leonard Gibbon in Smithland Cemetery, the logical burial place, but found nothing. I am pleased to know where he is buried.