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The Richmond Dispatch and The Daily Dispatch
Published from 1884 to 1903, the Richmond Dispatch was originally established on October 19, 1850, as the Daily Dispatch by James A. Cowardin and William H. Davis. The Daily Dispatch marked a new era in newspaper publishing in Virginia. Not only was the four-page sheet the first penny paper south of Baltimore, editorially it veered away from the vitriolic political propaganda common to its daily competitors. The Dispatch, instead, offered itself to Richmond’s commercial and industrial elite as the best possible source for local, state, and national news. Cowardin also published a weekly edition of the paper, the Weekly Dispatch and in 1857 began the Semiweekly Dispatch . By 1860, the Daily Dispatch was one of four dailies printed in Richmond, with a circulation equal to that of its three rivals combined.
Though the Daily Dispatch started as nonpartisan, Cowardin, a staunch southern Whig, increasingly included conservative and pro-slavery editorials while advocating the development of local industry as a path to independence at a time of growing sectional tension. Cowardin envisioned the emergence of Richmond as an industrialized city, something akin to New York on the James, but he also believed that slavery was integral to Virginia’s prosperity. Cowardin believed that if Virginia remained in the Union it would continue to be marginalized by its wealthy counterparts in the North and never realize its potential as an industrial powerhouse.
Although the Dispatch was unwaveringly pro-Confederate throughout the war years, Cowardin retained connections to his northern newspaper friends and even delivered provisions to Union prisoners of war on behalf of a Baltimore publisher. As the war’s end drew near, Richmond’s resources and manpower grew scarce. On March 16, 1865, publication of the Daily Dispatch ceased and on April 3 its offices were destroyed by a devastating fire started during the Confederate retreat from the city.
The Daily Dispatch emerged from the war as Richmond’s dominant newspaper. In its first postwar issue, printed on December 9, 1865, Cowardin proclaimed that the Dispatch “is again endowed with the Promethean fire and speaks to its readers as though it had never lost its breath or its voice.” The Dispatch became a mouthpiece for conservative forces hostile to Reconstruction.
In 1879 Cowardin suffered a stroke and management of the paper was turned over to his son, Charles O’Brien. Later editorials focused on the need for industrial progress and modernization, although the Dispatch consistently printed racist commentary. On March 15, 1889, the paper labeled a visiting white preacher who delivered a sermon to a black congregation a “negrophilist”, igniting racial tensions in the city.
On July 1, 1884, the Daily Dispatch changed its name to the Richmond Dispatch and went from seven columns per page to eight columns. In 1903, Joseph Bryan, publisher of The Times, purchased the Dispatch and the two papers were consolidated on January 27, 1903, to form the Times-Dispatch.
Provided by: Library of Virginia; Richmond, VA