Benjamin Neal was a fine writer and an early partner in The News, as the Galveston paper came to be known a year after it debuted as The Daily News on April 11, 1842.
Yet, his greatest contribution to the newspaper came by way of an invitation he extended to a former schoolmaster he had met when both were working at the Houston Telegraph and Texas Register newspaper.
The colleague, Willard Richardson, had come to journalism in a decidedly roundabout fashion.
Born on June 24, 1802, in Marblehead, Mass., he moved to Charleston, S.C., when he was 15.
The state in which Richardson was born and the state he adopted jointly fashioned his world view. Both were among the original 13 colonies — the Province of Massachusetts Bay and the Province of South Carolina — which became the original 13 United States of America and as such tended to impart to their citizens an independent streak.
The latter, a slaveholding state well after the institution had been abolished in the North, also tended to promote in its citizens an expanded view of states’ rights.
Richardson embraced both.
Finding a home
The future newspaper publisher and owner adhered to the philosophy of John Calhoun, a South Carolina Democrat who served as the nation’s vice president from 1825 to 1832 and in the U.S. Senate for all but two years between 1832 and 1850, all the while promulgating what he held to be the primacy of state law over that of the nation. Richardson would go on to support the same through The News.
Richardson, after graduating from South Carolina College, started out as an educator, first in Tuscaloosa, Ala., before, in 1837, making his way to Texas, where he befriended Mirabeau Lamar, who would become the second president of the Republic of Texas, succeeding Sam Houston, the hero of San Jacinto.
Richardson briefly worked as a surveyor of vast tracts of western Texas and then, after Lamar assumed the republic’s presidency, served in minor governmental posts.
Neither occupation particularly suited him, and so it was that he returned to teaching, opening a school for boys in Houston.
During that time, he made the acquaintance of Francis Moore, the editor of the Houston Telegraph and Texas Register, who invited him to join the editorial staff. It was there that he met Neal, who soon left to join The News.
The Galveston paper by then was run by a man named Wilbur Cherry, who brought Neal on as a junior partner. Richardson, in 1844, accepted Neal’s offer to become the paper’s editor.
Soon a partner
The following year, Richardson became a partner in what was then Cherry, Neal & Co. He brought to The News a philosophy contrary to what was common to most Texas newspapers of the era: No longer would The News toe any particular political party line. Moreover, it would feature straightforward news as opposed to the pontifications that then passed for journalism.
And, too, he saw the paper — Galveston being Texas’ predominant city throughout Richardson’s life — as something that should serve to benefit all who lived in the soon-to-be state.
“The interests of the new state will be better promoted by keeping aloof from party contests,” Richardson wrote in an editorial in 1845, the year he became a partner in the paper’s ownership and the last year of the Republic of Texas. “We believe it is our duty to have decided opinions upon all public questions and to declare them frankly, giving our reasons for them, regardless of whether they are considered as favoring one party or the other.”
Torn on secession
Richardson was not a man without stain; he not only sided with those advocating the preservation of slavery, he held a slave. But he opposed secession.
Texas in the late 1850s boasted an emerging economy, in no small part due to Richardson’s widespread promotion of the state as a land of opportunity, and the publisher argued that secession would only disrupt that progress. Yet, when the state voted to throw in with the Confederacy — its second rebellion in 15 years against a nation to which it had pledged loyalty — Richardson went along with no small amount of fervor.
Yet, he continued to promote Galveston and the rest of Texas.
By 1856, he had conceived of a state-owned rail system and took his proposal to Austin for legislative approval, which wasn’t forthcoming. Still, Richardson’s well-argued and well-advertised plan spurred private development of rail lines.
His editorial push also altered established railroaders’ plans, including those of the Southern Pacific, who had envisioned a sweep of track from the western banks of the Mighty Mississippi to the Pacific shore — just not through Texas.
Richardson set out to persuade the Southern Pacific to his view.
Twenty-seven years later, in 1883, an article on the front page of The News announced the opening of Pacific Southern service through Texas as part of the nation’s transcontinental rail system.
It came eight years too late for Richardson to see.
Willard Richardson, who in 1849 had married the former Louisa Blanche Murrell, breathed his last at 3:20 a.m. on July 26, 1875, at his home on Galveston Island.
He was 73 years old.