For the first time since the 1800’s there will be a second newspaper in Sunbury, PA. Joe Bartello is the publisher and, along with his daughter and editor, Britani, is the driving force behind the re-launch of The Sunbury American – initially a monthly newspaper to be distributed free of charge from local businesses throughout the area.
As they see it, the American’s mission will be to provide an alternative news source to Sunbury and its surrounding locales in a way calculated to promote a sense of pride and community in the citizens. Its content will give readers the facts and knowledge needed to develop their personal opinions, analyze the actions of their elected representatives, and empower them in the protection of their freedoms and liberties.
In its previous incarnation, the ‘American’ began life as a weekly publication, first edition being published on Saturday September 12th 1840, and ran from then through until 1879, at which time it merged with its local rival, The Sunbury Gazette, to become the Sunbury Gazette-American. This arrangement lasted a year and then the title changed once more, this time to The Sunbury American (Sunbury PA) through until 1916 when, after 76 years, the paper ceased publication.
Its first editor was local businessman, democrat and county deputy attorney general, Henry B. Masser. Subscription was set at $2 per annum, to be paid half yearly in advance.
At that time the county was overwhelmingly Democrat, and the Sunbury American proudly supported that party until the election, in 1860, of Abraham Lincoln, when it switched over to Republican.
There are some interesting parallels between the local situation as it was in 1840 and the present day.
Then as now it was felt there was a demand for an alternative news source locally, one that would offer a positive and informative perspective on events and breaking stories. It would also appear Sunbury suffered from ethically challenged politicians of low caliber, and from politically biased and agenda-based reporting from its existing newspapers. Two of these papers had conspired to remove the sitting candidate from the state legislature and get their own candidate, Jesse B. Horton, elected in his place at the nominating convention; a candidate, as you will see below, for whose competency Mr. Masser did not have too high a regard.
In his opening editorial, Mr. Masser stated that “We shall endeavor to conduct the ‘American’ in such a spirit and manner, as to induce every person desirous of obtaining a good paper to subscribe for it. How well we shall succeed, time itself must show.”
“The establishment of a new press in this place has frequently been spoken of, and was long since in contemplation whenever a favorable opportunity should occur. We believe that period has now arrived. Our design is to make the ‘American’ a permanent and useful journal, conveying useful and interesting information to all classes of readers. Conducted with the utmost decorum, its tone and sentiments shall at all times be such, that the most scrupulous parent may place it in the hands of any member of his family with perfect impunity. Low scurrility and violent personal abuse shall be carefully excluded from its columns. And while we shall always be ready and prompt in the expression of our opinions upon matters of public policy, we shall always endeavor to preserve that decorum and extend that courtesy towards our contemporaries and others, that one gentleman has a right to expect from another.”
Regarding one rival, he wrote: “We regret that the editors of the Sunbury Gazette cannot view the establishment of this press in any other than a hostile light. We had no desire to injure them, nor did we believe we should do so in the course we have pursued. They say their subscription list has increased. We are glad to hear the fact, and attribute it wholly to competition, which always stimulates to exertion and improvement, and invariably brings about beneficial results.”
“Imbecile Creature” – Editor of Milton Ledger
He was less charitable regarding another: “That weak imbecile creature, whose name figures at the head of a paper called the Milton Ledger, has thought proper to commence abusing some of the leading democrats on this side of the river, in the course of which he made an attack upon the editor of this paper several weeks in advance of its publication.”
“We will, however, inform him, what his limit of perceptions probably will never enable him to perceive, that in our opinion the duties of an editor are not at all incompatible with the character of a gentleman, and that he must not think all editors are necessarily fools for deceiving men, simply because he has made himself one. The public will hardly suppose that it will require any combinations of talent to publish a sheet equal to the Milton Ledger. From our earliest youth, we have been accustomed to think and act for ourselves. We intend, and we are vain enough to think we are competent to do so, to make the ‘American’ a respectable and well conducted journal, and if we do not succeed in making it as much superior to the Ledger, in point of intelligence and respectability, as that paper is below such a standard, we shall retire and leave the degradation of the press in the hands of such creatures as now conduct that paper.”
Regarding politician Jesse B. Horton (see above) he was exceptionally scathing:
“Those who shout his praises have not condescended to inform the public what qualifications recommend him to the office. Can he read or write? Probably he can; but he cannot draw up a bill, or law; neither can he write a report upon any subject that would be committed to his charge. He does not possess one single requisite for legislation. That he is incapable of delivering his sentiments, (if he should happen to have any) upon any subject, might be considered a minor objection, but his early and late habits have not qualified him for thinking correctly, and if we send him to the legislature, he will necessarily be obliged to ask the aid of a member from some other county, to enable him to further the business of his constituents. In short, we would be obliged to borrow a representative from one of our neighbors.”
We should point out that observed similarities between any of the above-mentioned people or organizations and any persons or organizations currently active in Sunbury, in local politics or journalism, are purely a matter of historical coincidence. We will leave it to you, our reader, to figure out which caps may fit which heads.