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In 1880, Virginia’s Eastern Shore--Accomac (until 1940, spelled without the k) and Northampton Counties--had changed little in generations. The region’s population worked as watermen, shipwrights, and farmers. In Accomac County, small towns such as Onancock dotted the peninsula, with boatyards, piers, and docks for shipping seafood and produce. Inland hamlets--such as the county seat, Accomac Court House--offered small businesses attuned to both the Bay and the many agricultural communities.
Because of its distance from Virginia’s main centers of commerce, residents of the Eastern Shore relied on several steamship lines serving Accomac and Northampton. Commerce was centered on Baltimore rather than on Hampton Roads. Despite the relative isolation of the region, newspapers were slow to take hold. For example, the Accomac National Recorder survived only one year, 1862. The expansion of the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad in the late 1870s and early 1880s helped spur economic growth. New markets opened up for Eastern Shore products, from produce to seafood, and industries as diverse as lumbering and tourism grew. By the early 1900s, the population of Accomac was still small, at 300, but the county had grown to 27,000. The economic boom generated a flowering of newspapers in the region. In Onancock alone, there were: the Eastern Virginian (1873–87), the Tidewater News (1889–90), the Accomack Democrat (1890–93), and the Eastern Shore Press (1893–96).
The Peninsula Enterprise, launched in Drummondtown (re-named Accomac in 1893) on June 30, 1881, was the first of several titles to gain a significant foothold. Founder John W. Edmunds stated in the inaugural issue that the Enterprise would “fill its columns with matter useful, agreeable and entertaining to our readers.” A strong Democrat, Edmunds wrote, “We believe that the party which rescued Virginia from the thraldom of radicalism in 1869 to be the safest custodian of her interests now.” The Enterprise published a four-page edition with a large 20-by-26-inch format. There are few circulation records for the early years of the paper, but in 1897 the American Newspaper Annual reported the Enterprise having a one-dollar subscription and a circulation of 600. While including “Moral Gems” and “Humorous Items,” the front page also displayed a large number of advertisements from Baltimore, a mark of the area’s commercial dependence on the Maryland city.
Edmunds edited the newspaper from 1881 until his death in 1914, at which time it was taken over by his sons Alfred and John W. Edmunds Jr. Such stability at the helm may have helped ensure the survival of the paper in the face of so many other failed attempts. The Peninsula Enterprise was issued until 1965, when it was absorbed by Onancock’s Eastern Shore News.
Provided by: Library of Virginia; Richmond, VA