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The metaphorical party hats were on and the imaginary cake all decorated for the 125th birthday of the Portsmouth Herald. According to newspaper records, the Herald was born on September 23, 1886. Then the editor asked the darned historian to check the date. Sorry to spoil the party, folks. You got your own birth date wrong. (Continued below)
The first copy of the newspaper actually appeared two years earlier on September 23, 1884. And it wasn’t exactly the Herald. Back then it was called the Penny Post because the “spicy” little, four-pager sold for a single penny. By 1886 the Post claimed to be the most subscribed penny newspaper in New England. The Post appeared daily, except for Sundays and holidays. But the first official Portsmouth Herald was still more than a decade away. So what happened to the facts?
Rags to riches
To sort out the confusion we must take a quick trip to upstate New York for the birth of the first Herald editor. Fernando Wood Hartford was born in 1870, or 71, or 72, or 76, according to various printed accounts. Apparently named for New York City Mayor Fernando Wood, head of the famous Tammany political machine, “FW” also was a force to be reckoned with.
He started at the bottom, serving as a newspaper carrier and “office devil” for the Manchester Daily Union in New Hampshire from age 10. He sweated in the city’s cotton mills for $2.75 per week. He worked his way up the newspaper chain of command to office boy and bookkeeper while attending business school at night.
Still in his late teens Hartford was sent to Portsmouth as a “utility man” for $9 a week. His job was to report the news and beef up seacoast-area circulation for the Manchester Union, forerunner of the Union Leader. In 1890, Hartford married Elizabeth Downing of Eliot, Maine. He also worked at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for many years attaining the position of chief clerk to the purchasing paymaster. Legend says that the young FW attracted the attention of former politician and ale-maker Frank Jones, then the city’s wealthiest and most influential businessman. In 1891 Jones reportedly loaned young Hartford $2,000, a princely sum, to purchase the Penny Post.
“I think that’s when Frank Jones grub-staked FW to buy the Herald,” says Portsmouth Herald publisher John Tabor today.
Tabor rummages through the surviving Herald history “archive” located in the top drawer of his desk, the same desk, he assumes, occupied by publishers dating back to Hartford himself. According to the archives, Tabor says, Jones cleverly gave young FW $1,000 worth of “sweat equity” so he could buy his way in to the paper.
“You’re my boy,” Tabor says, imagining Frank Jones speaking to Hartford in 1891. “You don’t want to be peddling the Union Leader on the street. I’ll give you a chance.”
Frank Jones had a lot to gain by investing in the local media. A former NH congressman and Portsmouth’s youngest mayor, Jones came to own local banks, hotels, railroads, utilities, and insurance companies. In 1896 Jones made a seismic shift from lifelong Democrat to Republican. According to Jones’ biographer Raymond Brighton (also an editor and owner of the Portsmouth Herald) young FW Hartford went along for the ride, and the Herald appeared the following year.
CONTINUE PORTSMOUTH HERALD UNBIRTHDAY