The earliest incarnation of the publication began in 1785, when printer Greenberg Hughes founded the Augusta Gazette. Hughes left Augusta the following year, and John Erdman Smith, considered to be the "true" founder of the Chronicle, continued the newspaper under the name Georgia State Gazette or Independent Register. Smith, who served as publisher until 1803, used a quotation from the Georgia constitution on the masthead: "Freedom of the Press, and Trial by Jury, to remain inviolate forever." In 1789 Smith changed the name of the newspaper to the Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State.
Upon Smith's death in 1803, Dennis Driscol assumed the editorship. A staunch Republican, Driscol acquired a reputation for maligning the British and attacking the editors of the rival Augusta Herald within the pages of the Chronicle. In 1810 he sold the publication to George Adams and Benjamin T. Duyckinck. These two men were involved, along with various other editors, in producing the Chronicle (known as the Augusta Chronicle and Georgia Advertiser from 1821 to 1825) until 1823. That year William Hobby, one of the Herald editors so disliked by Driscol two decades earlier, acquired the newspaper. Hobby lasted only two years before selling the operation to A. H. Pemberton.
Three years later, in 1840, the newspaper was sold once again, this time to brothers William S. Jones and James W. Jones. Under their ownership, the Chronicle became a voice for the Whig Party, which advocated states' rights and slavery. The Jones brothers adopted several modern practices during their tenure, including hiring professional editors (thereby separating editorship from ownership) and investing in updated printing technology. They were also among the first to realize the potential of the newly invented telegraph machine for acquiring news content, and in 1850 they instituted the first Sunday edition of the Chronicle. By the mid-1850s, the Joneses claimed a circulation of 5,500, the largest in Georgia at the time.
Civil War and Aftermath
Morse, a Connecticut native, was a controversial choice for the time. Although initially an advocate of the Southern cause, he became increasingly critical of Confederate president Jefferson Davis as the war continued, and he ultimately used the paper to urge an end to hostilities. In 1866 Morse sold the Chronicle to H. P. Moore and former Confederate general Ambrose Wright. Wright provided editorial guidance for the paper during the turbulent years of Reconstruction until his death in 1872. His son Henry Gregg Wright succeeded him, and the following year Moore sold his share of the enterprise to editor Patrick Walsh, who assumed full control of the Chronicle upon Henry Wright's death in 1875.
Early Twentieth Century
The Chronicle was managed by Walsh's estate until Thomas W. Loyless and H. H. Cabiness purchased it in 1903. As editor, Loyless took a dangerous stand against popular opinion in 1915 when he supported the decision of Georgia governor John M. Slaton to commute the death sentence of Leo Frank, an Atlanta Jew accused of murdering a young girl. He also condemned the subsequent mob lynching of Frank in Marietta and called for the participants to be brought to justice. In 1919 Loyless left Augusta for Columbus, where he became associated with Julian Harris at the Columbus Enquirer-Sun. He also partnered with George Foster Peabody to restore the facilities at Warm Springs and was among the first to greet future U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt when he arrived at the resort in 1924, seeking relief for his polio.
Loyless was succeeded at the Chronicle by Thomas J. Hamilton, who was notable for his editorial efforts to promote the construction of dams along the Savannah River. In 1929 Hamilton sold the Chronicle to International Paper and Power Company but continued as editor until 1937, when he was fired by company president William S. Morris Jr. Morris promoted Robert Lee McAllister Parks to the editorship.
In 1945 Morris purchased a controlling interest in the Chronicle from International Paper. Under his leadership the paper broke with its longstanding support of the Democratic Party by endorsing segregationist Strom Thurmond, a States' Rights Democrat, over Harry S. Truman in the 1948 U.S. presidential election.
In 1955 Morris purchased the remaining stock of the Chronicle as well as the rival Augusta Herald, operating both newspapers under the umbrella of Southeastern Newspapers. (The Herald ceased publication in 1993.) The following year the company acquired Radio Augusta, which managed the radio station WRDW and television station WRDW-TV. In 1959, after two decades as editor, Parks died and was succeeded by Louis C. Harris.
In 1966 Morris retired, passing the role of president and publisher of the Chronicle to his son, William S. "Billy" Morris III. In 1970 Morris III established Morris Communications Corporation, which supplanted Southeastern Newspapers. Under his leadership, the company diversified into magazine and book publishing, outdoor advertising, and commercial printing services, in addition to acquiring more newspapers. During this period the Chronicle was one of the first newspapers to computerize its newsroom and pressroom, and to digitize its archives.
In 2001 the subsidiary Morris Publishing Group was formed to administer the newspaper-publishing arm of Morris Communications. By 2009 Morris Communications held thirteen dailies, including the Athens Banner-Herald and the Savannah Morning News, and thirteen nondaily papers, including the Georgia publications Bryan County Now, Columbia County News-Times, Effingham Now, McDuffie Mirror, News and Farmer and Wadley Herald/Jefferson Reporter, and Sylvania Telephone.
Under the Morris family the opinion page of the Chronicle, in contrast to the homogenized content of many American newspapers, has maintained a politically conservative editorial voice. Some political observers believe that the influence of the Chronicle grew with Georgia's political turn toward the Republican Party in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In September 2004, however, the Chronicle surprised the journalistic community by supporting the Augusta mayor's decision to remove the Confederate flag from a display along the city's Riverwalk. "Whether the heritage people like it or not, more than just the NAACP takes offense at the Confederate flag," the paper opined. "It offends other citizens too, and not all of them are black. Some are white."
As of 2011 Morris III continued his leadership of Morris Communications as chairman and chief executive officer, while his son William S. "Will" Morris IV served as president.
Earl L. Bell and Kenneth C. Crabbe, The Augusta Chronicle: Indomitable Voice of Dixie, 1785-1960 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1960).
Alan Sverdlik, Cleveland
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