Reuben Fenton’s Death in The Sun Newspaper

Like most places its size, Jamestown has had its share of unsuccessful and minimally successful newspapers. Our current older generation remembers the Jamestown Sun that published from 1949 into 1962 as a morning paper when the Post Journal was an evening paper. The previous generation remembered the Jamestown Morning Post that began publishing in 1902 and merged with the Journal in September, 1941. In the 19th century, there were just under 15 different papers, weeklies or more frequent, known to have been started in Jamestown. Very few issues of most of them survived to the age of microfilm. It is our policy to reject newspapers offered for donation because 1.) they are assumed to be available on microfilm and usually also on the internet, and 2.) it is effectively impossible to preserve papers from the self-destruction that is natural to newsprint, itself. I make exceptions for issues, be they the Journal (some issues failed to get microfilmed) or obscure competitors, that are unavailable elsewhere in any form.

A recent inventory in our archives turned up the front page of the August 30, 1885 Jamestown Sun (no connection to the 20th century Jamestown Sun) which was Volume 2, number 10. A 1982 county wide survey found only one other issue of this paper and it isn’t listed at all in the State Newspaper Project. We found one page, in four pieces and almost too brittle to handle. However, Rick Roll, our audio/visual/scanning volunteer was able to reconstruct and scan it. He produced the image that is shown at reduced scale with this article.

This isn’t just any issue, this is the issue that reports former Governor Reuben Fenton’s death and funeral a few days previous. The coverage is wonderfully detailed and information rich. Newspapers at the time were not able to reproduce photographs, but a line sketch portrait we had not previously seen accompanies the article.

Reuben Fenton was the most well known and popular man in 19th century Jamestown. Surprisingly, only one short, unpublished biography of him has been written and few of his personal and official papers have survived. But many reports and short necrologies followed his death, undoubtedly including one in almost every newspaper in the state. Now we need a volunteer to carefully go over the text, extract facts, and compare with coverage in other sources such as local, Buffalo, Albany. and New York City papers plus the memorial booklet and the biographical chapters in published county histories.

We are creating a new exhibit based on this find and the copies were featured at our May 4 celebration of Mrs. Fenton’s birthday.

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