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The Potomak guardian. [volume] : (Martinsburg, Va. [W. Va.]) 1798-1800
Place of publication:
Martinsburg, Va. [W. Va.]
Geographic coverage:
  • Martinsburg, Berkeley, West Virginia  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
N. Willis
Dates of publication:
  • Began Feb. 1, 1798; ceased in 1800.
  • English
  • Martinsburg (W. Va.)--Newspapers.
  • West Virginia--Martinsburg.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01224867
  • Available on microfilm from Bell & Howell, Micro Photo Div.
  • Description based on: Vol. 8, no. 382 (Mar. 8, 1798).
  • Publisher: Armstrong Charlton, 1799-1800.
sn 84038399
Preceding Titles:
Succeeding Titles:
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Potowmac Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser and Potomak Guardian

Nathaniel Willis was the first of several great literary men in his family, including his grandson, author and poet Nathaniel Parker Willis. Willis published the Independent Chronicle and Universal Advertiser in Boston during the American Revolution. He also participated in the Boston Tea Party and served as an adjutant in the Continental Army. Willis sold his interest in the Chronicle in 1784 and relocated to Winchester, Virginia, where he was the editor of Willis's Virginia Gazette & Winchester Advertiser. He moved to Shepherdstown in 1790 and began to print the Potowmac Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser before moving a third time to Martinsburg, where the paper underwent two name changes (the Potomak Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser in 1795 and the Potomak Guardian in 1798). Willis presented his paper as a source of national and international news that curious readers could comment on through letters to the editor. Although the content on the first page varied, the second and third usually contained articles on major events and speeches from significant political figures. The fourth concluded with poetry, titled the "Seat of the Muses," and a series of advertisements.

The Early Republic was a fruitful era for newspaper content. The Age of Revolutions could be felt in France, Haiti, Greece, and Latin America. Anglo-Americans watched with interest from the United States in the aftermath of their own revolution. The adherents of Jeffersonian Republicanism who patronized the Potowmac Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser scanned its columns for the latest updates from France. There they could find Willis praising the French Revolution and celebrating the cause of democratic republicanism in France, drawing comparisons between the French and American Revolutions.

Willis and his Jeffersonian audience used the press to denounce laws that they believed were tyrannical, including the Jay Treaty (1794) and the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798). In response to the Jay Treaty, Willis published a letter dated November 15, 1796, and authored by the French Minister Pierre-Auguste Adet, which lambasted America for allying with Britain at the expense of France. "Under the guarantee of the laws of nations… [the French] expected to find in the ports of the United States an asylum as sure as at home," Adet wrote, but instead they found an alliance between their American friends and British enemies in the form of the Jay Treaty.

The Alien and Sedition Acts impacted Willis personally as a newspaper editor. The Sedition Act criminalized the making of false statements directed at the federal government during the Quasi War, an undeclared naval war with France. Critics of the act argued that Federalists were using the Quasi War to justify the suppression of dissent from Democratic-Republicans. Willis made his position clear when he changed the header of the Potomak Guardian to "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press" in January 1799.

Willis remained the paper's editor until October 30, 1799, when Armstrong Charlton succeeded him, publishing the last known issue of the Potomak Guardian on January 8, 1800. Willis professed his intention to leave Martinsburg on December 4, 1799, and subsequently moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, where he established the Scioto Gazette.

Provided by: West Virginia University