Mission Statement:

"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."

Confederate Major Bernard’s Wilmington Star Newspaper

Major William Henry Bernard

 

Author James Sprunt writes in his “Chronicles of the Cape Fear”

that Wilmington’s “Morning Star” is the oldest daily newspaper

in North Carolina, founded on September 23, 1867 by

Major William Henry Bernard, formerly of the First

North Carolina Volunteer Regiment, also known as

the famed “Bethel Regiment.” 

Bernard was born in Petersburg, Virginia on January 1, 1837,

the son of Peter Dudley Bernard who edited and published

the “Southern Planter.” Peter’s father, William’s grandfather,

fought under Washington during the Revolution and died

of wounds received at the battle of Brandywine.

While attending Richmond College, William was one of the

editors of “The Star,” a publication of the Mu Sigma Rho Society.

William relocated to Texas in 1855 to study law under William

Stedman, formerly of Chatham County, North Carolina. 

He married Maggie Stedman of Fayetteville in 1859, left

for Helena, Arkansas where he remained until the outbreak

of war in 1861; though politically a Whig and against the

secession of North Carolina, he sided with his people

against a coercive federal government.  

Bernard returned to Fayetteville to enlist on April 17, 1861

for six months at age twenty-four in Company H, First

Regiment, North Carolina Volunteers.  William joined the men

of Company H, all members of the Fayetteville Independent

Light Infantry (FILI) under the command of Capt. Wright Huske,

and sent in May 1861 to Virginia where they fought at the

Battle of Big Bethel on June 10. 

Afterward the First Regiment marched back to Yorktown

where it went to work on fortifications. 

In early September the unit established “Camp Fayetteville”

nearby in honor of the ladies of that town who had crafted a

regimental flag inscribed with the word “Bethel” and presented

it to the regiment on September 9, 1861. Thus the unit became

known as the "Bethel Regiment."

Bernard served as a private along with Charles M. Stedman,

who both attained the rank of major, and was later discharged

for infirmity and returned to Fayetteville to work at the

“Presbyterian” and the “Daily Telegraph” until the end of

the war in 1865.  

Bernard’s military career and promotion to the rank of major

after his initial service with the FILI is unclear – it is recorded

that he was discharged September 17, 1861.

In 1867, Major Bernard left Fayetteville to found the

“Wilmington Dispatch” with Col. John D. Barry, a Wilmington

native and commander of the Eighteenth North Carolina Regiment

during the war.  Col. Barry’s grandfather was Gen. Thomas

Owen and his great uncle was North Carolina Governor

James Owen.  Their Dispatch office was located on Market

Street’s south side between Front and Second Street

though their partnership lasted only a few months.

 

Col. John D. Barry

Bernard continued as an independent job-printing concern

and Barry was sole editor of the newspaper, which was

published for another three years before ceasing operations.

As noted above, Major Bernard began publication of the “Star”

in later September 1867, first as an evening edition though soon

converting to the “Morning Star.”  His office was on Water Street

between Market and Dock Street, then shortly after relocated

to nearby Custom House Alley where he published until 1876.

In that year the “Star” moved to 10 and 11 Princess Street,

a former location of an old inn.

Also beginning editions in late 1867 was the Republican paper,

the Wilmington Post, which the editor expected to be successful

given the party support given by the dominant black population.

The Republican party had to subsidize the paper for its first

three years as only one-quarter of the black residents were

literate and could read, and had no businesses to advertise

in the paper. 

Further, internal Republican politics further hurt the paper as black residents demanded the removal of editor Charles I. Grady in 1870,

who they accused of being “anti-Negro.”

The Star of Major Bernard covered the rise of the Ku Klux Klan

which had organized in Wilmington in early 1868 as a response

to the Radical Republican “Union League” which was used

to encourage black votes for Republicans and intimidate

white voters.

In its April 3, 1868 issue “the Star announced that some five

hundred people had called by its offices to view the Ku Klux Klan

drinking cup that was on display there. It described the cup as

being made from a human skull “elegantly set in lead”

[Evans, pg. 100).  The purpose of the cup exhibit may have

been to alert local black Republicans to the presence of the Klan

organization in Wilmington.

Apparently, the Klan career in Wilmington was short and by the

end of April 1868 roving bands of armed blacks “by means of a

noisy barrage of gunfire” served notice of their intent to control the

polls. That this armed intimidation was successful is indicated

by the Republicans then-carrying the city by a two to one margin,

and won four of seven counties on the lower Cape Fear.

The editorials of the Star were condescending toward the increasingly egalitarian postwar politics in the city, disdainfully characterizing

“the people” as “the great unwashed, who for a few days since,

assembled in convention amid the sands of Dry Pond,” where

they had nominated their candidates. Dry Pond was a

notoriously poor area of Wilmington populated by blacks

and working-class whites.

Politically active in the Democratic party, though never seeking office himself, for twenty-seven years Major Bernard served as a member

of that party’s Executive Committee of North Carolina, and also

as a member of the Advisory Committee of the State party.  

During his forty years of editorship he wrote daily columns

concerning important issues of the day and wielded considerable

influence in the State.  He was a severe and bitter critic of

Reconstruction and Republican political corruption

in North Carolina.

Critical of the Republican ticket for city aldermen in mid-May

1868, the Star editorialized that some of the candidates were

said to be “Radical enough to eat snake-root,” though most

were “disposed to be conservative (observe, please, we don’t

use a capital C).”

Bernard supported Col. Alfred Moore Waddell’s successful

candidacy for the United States Congress in 1870, and managed

his reelection campaign in 1874. In 1891 Bernard managed the

North Carolina Senate campaign of John D. Bellamy, Jr., who

was elected and served 1891-1892.  Bellamy went on to serve

as United States Congressman 1899-1903 with the support

of Major Bernard’s newspaper and influence.   

 

Col. Alfred Moore Waddell

Major Bernard’s newspaper was listed as one of the subscribers

to the Associate Press network of newspaper after 1893.  Before

the old Illinois Associated Press Corporation began operations

on January 1, 1893, local papers which received AP service

belonged to a group called the Southern Associated Press,

one of seven regional groups which swapped news and did

other business with the original New York Associated Press,

founded in 1848. 

While it seems impossible to say which local papers received

the Southern AP news, they must have been the same ones,

substantially, which received reports from the Illinois AP after

1893: Asheville Citizen, Charlotte Observer, News and Observer, Wilmington Star, Wilmington Messenger, and Winston-Salem

Journal.” (Stem, Jr., pp. 160-161)

Wilmington's racially-polarized political climate of the mid-1890s

saw the “Star” actively promoting the Democratic party in its

campaign to oppose the Fusion government of Populists and

Republicans.  Fusion-Governor Daniel Russell used his patronage

powers extensively which allowed him to appoint five of the

ten city aldermen in Wilmington. “[The] Morning Star . . .

persistently attacked Wilmington city officials, charging

blacks and Republicans with incompetence, venality,

and insolence to whites, especially to white women”

(Steelman, pg. 75)

In supporting the Democratic party “white supremacy” campaign,

Major Bernard’s “Star” headlined its August 25, 1898 edition

with “Riotous Negroes! Threatening Demonstration by a Mob

Last Night on Princess Street. No Known Cause for it.  Angry

Mutterings Against the whites – Police Inefficient or Indifferent –

Finally Persuaded the Angry Mob to Disperse.”

For the same purpose of inflaming white residents, from September

23 through November 7 the “Star” reprinted “the inflammatory

portions of [black Daily Record editor Alexander] Manly’s

editorial in a prominent place” in its pages. “The paper also

printed daily in conjunction with the Manly editorial the story

of an alleged rape attempt by two black boys of a fifteen-year-old

white girl.”(McDuffie, pg. 603)   

As the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce supported and

promoted the “white supremacy campaign” of the Democratic

party, it developed resolutions, which the “Star” printed on

7 October 1898, holding that the Fusion city and county

government was a “menace to the peace and order of the

community,” and “arrests enterprise, hampers commerce,

and repels investment.”

The resolution continued that good civic order “was not possible

under government by the present political regime, whose existence

and power are predicated on the blind adherence of the Negro

element of our population.” (McDuffie, pg. 623)

In the 9th of October’s edition of the “Star,” it had been discovered

that New Hanover County Republican Executive Committee

chair William Lee, a black man, had tried to secretly purchase

rifles from the Winchester Arms Company with which to arm

black residents.  Raising the alarm, Major Bernard’s front page

was emblazoned with “The Wilmington Negroes are Trying to

Buy Guns.” (McDuffie, pp. 625-626)  

Major Bernard provided a report of the conflict in Wilmington

to the Fayetteville Observer on November 10, 1898: “As a result

of the rioting in the First Ward, Brooklyn, about 11:30AM,

William Mayo, a well-known and popular young man, was

fatally-wounded and George Piner was wounded in the side. Albert Chadwick was wounded in the arm, all white.

 

 

  Four Negroes were killed and one wounded. A representative

of the Associated Press has seen a statement sworn to be by a

notary public from a reputable citizen in which it is particularly

stated that the first shot was fired by a Negro. (signed) Bernard.”

[Editor's note: William Mayo recovered from his wounds.]

The “Star” reported on November 13, 1898 that “the streets of

Wilmington will be patrolled by military until Monday night,

although a normal quietude already reigns.  The Aldermen have

ordained that the bar-rooms shall continue closed until noon

Wednesday. They have not been open since Saturday, the 5th instant.

Mayor [Alfred Moore] Waddell today sent a number of well-known Negroes through the woods adjacent to the city to reassure the

hundreds of Negroes hiding . . . [that] they will not be harmed if

they go quietly about their work and maintain an

inoffensive deportment.” (Reaves, pg. 254)

The “Star” of that day also reported the “lists of fatalities so far

reported to the Coroner, as a result of the Brooklyn fight between

the whites and blacks, has reached the number of seven.  The dead

(all Negroes) are Josh Halsey, Daniel Wright, William Mouzon,

John L. Gregory, John L. Townsend, Silas Brown (alias Charles Lindsey)and Sam McFarland.” (Reaves, pg. 254).

The “Star” covered the trial of Thomas Lane on November 15,

1898, a black man accused of firing into the Wilmington Light

Infantry (WLI) from 411 Harnett Street.  From eyewitness

accounts, this is the firing which triggered the violence. 

The paper stated that two black witnesses corroborated

the testimony of the WLI men.

Major Bernard subsequently wrote “Had not the Negro [Thomas]

Lane not fired into the military it would not have been necessary

for them to have shot John Halsey, a Negro occupant of the

place, who was killed as a sequel to Lane’s fiendish effort to kill

one of the members of the Light Infantry, who were on their

way to disperse a mob gathered on Ninth Street.”

It is noteworthy that three other black men captured along with

Lane at that house were released for lack of evidence against them. (Wilmington Star, November 16, 1898. 

In 1909, at the age of 72, Major Bernard sold the “Morning Star”

to the “Wilmington Star Company, Inc.”, “the incorporators being

James Sprunt, Henry C. McQueen, M.J. Corbett, Col. Walker

Taylor, D.C. Love, C.W. Yates, William H. Sprunt,

Capt. John W. Harper, J.A. Springer, W.E. Springer,

James H. Chadbourn, James H. Carr, Joseph H. Thompson,

Major William H. Bernard, and his son William Stedman

Bernard.”  For sentimental reasons the major and his son

retained a minor interest in the new corporate ownership.  

 

Col. Walker Taylor

Several of the incorporators were veterans or sons of veterans

of North Carolina regiments, and in the case of James Sprunt,

a purser on blockade runners.

In that year the office of the “Morning Star” and printing press

were moved to the Orton Building on Front Street near Chestnut –

and by 1913 the paper had not only doubled its circulation but

also gained readership in nearby counties and upper South Carolina.

As a fine example of responsible journalism and local control

of the newspaper and content, Sprunt writes that the paper devoted

its energies “to the educational and moral advancement of the

community, to advocacy of a commission form of government,

enforcement of law, and the general upbuilding of the community.”

In 1914, the newspaper was moved to its own building on

Chestnut Street between Front and Second Street, the current

site of the Copper Penny pub. Major Bernard passed away

on February 19, 1918 and was buried in Wilmington’s

Oakdale Cemetery.    

The Morning Star was acquired by the R.W. Page Corporation

of Columbus, Georgia; two years later the same company purchased

the afternoon-daily Wilmington News-Dispatch. At the end of

September 1929, a combined morning and afternoon Sunday

edition appeared and entitled the “Sunday Star News.”

The corporation sold the News-Dispatch, Star, and Sunday

Star-News to R.W. Page in 1940 and combined the three

into the Star News Corporation.

Until his death in early 1955, Mr. Page served as president and

publisher of this newspaper corporation.  Son Rye B. Page assumed control of the family-owned corporation for twenty years,

and in 1975 it was sold to the New York Times Company.

The ownership of Wilmington’s local paper by outside interests

affected the city and region in ways never envisioned by Major

Bernard, and which he would have certainly opposed.

The only notable contribution of the Star News to journalism

after Major Bernard’s time was the hiring of young Wilmington

native David Brinkley as a reporter in 1938. In 1940 he went on

to a national career with Chet Huntley and NBC News, and

subsequently ABC News.

Today, the current incarnation of Major Bernard’s “Star” has

lost considerable circulation and influence and was sold by the

New York Times Corporation in 2011 to Halifax Media,

then to New Media Investment in 2014.

 

Compiled by Bernhard Thuersam

Sources:

Chronicles of the Cape Fear, Sprunt, Edwards & Broughton, 1916

Politics in Wilmington & New Hanover County, 1865-1900, McDuffie, Kent State PhD Dissertation, 1979

The Tar Heel Press, Thad Stem, Jr., NC Press Association, 1973

Black, White & Gray, Bennett L. Steelman, NC Literary Review, Vol. II, No. 1, Spring 1994

North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865, A Roster, Louis H. Manarin, NCDA&H, 1971

NCpedia