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Located in southeastern Virginia half-way across the Peninsula between the James and York Rivers, Williamsburg served as Virginia’s second capital from 1699 to 1780. Once the capital moved to Richmond in 1781, however, Williamsburg languished. Only with the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in the early 1880s did significant change come, greatly enhancing the ability of local farmers to reach new markets. Railroad agents eagerly promoted the area’s climate and agricultural potential, recruiting farmers, many of Scandinavian descent, and in turn fostering the small businesses that served them. Late-nineteenth-century Williamsburg was small but bustling. Its incorporation as a city in 1884 and the growth of the College of William and Mary also contributed to its economic development. From 1880 to 1910, the population of Williamsburg nearly doubled--to 2,714.
Newspaper publishing began in Williamsburg in 1736 with the first Virginia Gazette, printed by William Parks. Since then, at least eleven papers with that title were published in Williamsburg. Among them was the Virginia Gazette published by W. C. Johnston from 1893 to the early 1920s, which was not related to its predecessors. An Ohio native and an alumnus of the College of William and Mary, Johnston served as clerk of the Williamsburg city council, member of the board of registrars and the Williamsburg Business Association, and postmaster. As editor of the Virginia Gazette, a Democratic weekly, Johnston campaigned vigorously to attract industry to the region. The Gazette, for example, described a new mill that opened in 1895 as “the morning star of the future that heralds a glorious dawn of prosperity upon this little city.” Typical content included local and national news, general interest stories, advertisements, business directories, college notes, and social happenings. L. S. Cottrell, Johnston’s original printer, became owner and publisher in 1894 but sold the paper back to Johnston in March 1896. Circulation by 1900 was approximately 500, and there was no competing paper published in town during the paper’s life.
Robert P. Scott became owner and publisher of the Gazette in 1917, with Johnston still serving as editor. Local news still predominated, but national issues were becoming increasingly important. In 1920, Johnston editorialized against women’s suffrage as a violation of states’ rights: “No one questions the ability of women. . . . No one questions that they are as capable as men to cast their ballots. But thousands question the manner in which women are to be enfranchised and honestly believe that the surrender to the general government of the powers of the state is too big a price to pay for a privilege which is chimerical and visionary in the extreme.”
By 1922, the paper ceased publication. Another Virginia Gazette appeared in 1925, associated with the William Parks School of Journalism at the College of William and Mary, but it lasted only three years. In 1930, J. A. Osborne established yet another Virginia Gazette, which is still published today.
Provided by: Library of Virginia; Richmond, VA