Edward Jordan and James Mitchell Ashley founded the Portsmouth Inquirer as the Democratic Enquirer in 1848 under the motto: “We may revere what is old, and admire what is novel, but we should adhere only to what is just and true.” The partners published the first weekly issue on April 6, in Portsmouth, the seat of Scioto County, Ohio, declaring that “our best, our sole resource is the Press—that, Argus-eyed and vigilant, cannot be cajoled or hoodwinked; and, thank God and our forefathers, it cannot in this country be silenced.” However, the two were capable of printing only one additional issue. Their financial instability and lack of experience resulted in the purchase of the paper by local businessman and politician Captain Francis Cleveland.
The paper underwent several changes in proprietorship over the years. Francis Cleveland, uncle of the future President Grover Cleveland, operated the paper as sole proprietor until joined by junior editor Jacob Miller. In 1849, they changed the title of the paper to the Portsmouth Inquirer and began daily publication with a new motto: “Liberty, Equality, Progression.” Cleveland sold his interest to Alexander Pearce in 1852, who edited the paper until 1854. Pearce sold the paper to George W. Nelson, and went on to take over publication of the M’arthur Democrat in Vinton County in 1856.
During its run, the Inquirer covered a variety of topics such as poetry, literature, agriculture, local news, and national and international politics, serving a primarily Democratic audience. The paper documented the murder trial of Dr. John Webster, Harvard professor; printed the speeches of Hungarian politician and reformer Lajos Kossuth; reproduced several letters of Kentucky abolitionist Cassius Clay and his cousin, the Whig politician Henry Clay; and supported Franklin Pierce in the presidential election of 1852. Editor George W. Nelson gained local acclaim in 1855, reporting upon evident corruption among local public officials.
Nelson ceased publication of the paper in 1855, attempting to replace it with the short-lived Ohio Pennant in partnership with Edward M. Horrell, who retired during its run. He was replaced in 1856 by George Washington Lafayette Bickley, founder of the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society dedicated to the annexation of territory in Latin America and the Caribbean. Bickley took over publication of the Pennant shortly afterward, retitling it the Daily Democratic Pennant, which failed in the same year, leaving Scioto County with no Democratic publication at the time of the 1856 presidential election. The Tri-Weekly Plain Dealer, edited and published by Edward M. Horrell, former partner of G. W. Nelson, temporarily filled this void for the duration of the election coverage, then ceased publication.
Researched and written by Jennifer Seymour