Howe, Eber D.

Lake County Ohio GenWeb

Eber Dudley Howe

By Suzanne Walker

"With this paper, my interest in, and connection with the publication of the TELEGRAPH ceases, probably, forever." So wrote Eber Howe in his final editorial for the newspaper he had founded in 1822 and published for 14 years in the Western Reserve village of Painesville, Ohio. Thanking all those who supported and sustained his enterprise during its formative years, Howe acknowledged the tremendous growth in population and wealth of the Northeastern Ohio coast of Lake Erie, promising that Painesville and the surrounding Geauga and Ashtabula counties would surely soon become "the garden of the world".

With those words, was Howe's strong interest in spiritualism working through him to divine the inevitable growth - of what is now Lake County - into the nursery capital of the world within the next century?

Born June 9, 1798 in Clifton Park, Saratoga County, New York, Eber Dudley Howe was the fifth of six children of Dr. Samuel William Howe and Mabel Dudley Howe. Born into the privileged class, his childhood offered a wide swath of experience and knowledge not available to most children of the time. And so it may have been that his destiny as a journalist was perhaps predetermined from the age of 13, when he emigrated with his father to Canada, eight miles west of Niagara Falls. It was here he was exposed to the political attitudes and events fueling the War of 1812. So moved by the events at hand, he volunteered to serve in the New York Volunteers' Militia Regiment at Batavia, New York, commanded by Colonel Joseph Gardner Swift and was taken on, even at his young age, as a cook for the regimental officers. He subsequently served under, and assisted his own father, a surgeon, in a British prisoners' hospital at Buffalo.

Deeply impressed by the futility and waste of war, young Eber felt a compulsion to report and record his observations and participation. Subsequently he was a definitive voice for most political and social events he sensed would impact a thorough and lasting understanding of the time in which he lived. Typical of his passionate journalistic style, in his 1878 autobiography, Howe stated forthrightly, "Nearly all the events of that foolish war on the Niagara frontier I can relate with more truth and accuracy than any histories that I have seen, being an eye witness and an actor in many of them."

At the close of the War of 1812, Eber Howe apprenticed to the publishers of the Buffalo Gazette, for a first year's salary of $40. But, as is so often the case with ambious young folks, he soon found himself restless for adventure and headed west to Chautauqua (now Fredonia), New York, as an assistant in a young newspaper venture recently begun by the poet Yale-educated James Gates Percival. While living in and around Chautauqua, Howe developed a keen interest in spiritualism, a belief he professed to the end of his life. But, he apparently found Percival a bit too esoteric for his taste for hard-core news, and after seven months, Howe returned to Buffalo.

Unable to resist the urge to "go west, "Howe set out for Erie Pennsylvania in 1817. He had been persuaded by an old friend, Ziba Willes, to join Willes in a startup newspaper enterprise as a typesetter. Howe managed to set the type for the first edition of the new Erie Gazette. But, he was a journalist at heart and not satisfied in the role of a 'journeyman.' Restless to report the news to the people, he once again returned to Buffalo.

Then, in August of 1818, Eber Howe embarked on the Walk-in-the-Water, a steamboat on her maiden venture out from Buffalo into Lake Erie bound for Cleveland, Ohio. Her feeble engines were not enough to power her up the river at Buffalo and out into the Lake, so oxen were hitched to her with long ropes. With the engines chugging at full power, and the oxen straining at the ropes, Howe was on his way to Cleveland in anticipation of a new publishing venture he had already planned - and named the Cleaveland Herald.

The Walk-in-the Water, danced gaily westward across the waves of Lake Erie, with Howe on board, fighting a strong westerly headwind. She arrived in Cleveland on the second day of her passage. But by then, such were the gale-force winds Captain Rogers was unable to bring her to shore, except in great peril. The battering winds continued for three nights and two days during which the Walk-in-the-Water was tossed raggedly in the Lake. Finally, Howe and his fellow passengers were ferried ashore in small boats.

In 1818, the year prior to Howe's arrival in Cleveland, Andrew Logan had introduced the Cleaveland Gazette and Commercial Register. It was touted as a weekly, but was sorely unreliable. Upon his arrival in Cleveland, and recognizing the 300-400 residents were without a reliable and consistent source of news, Howe hastily gathered materials and news and set to establishing his Cleaveland Herald.

Howe returned to Erie and petitioned his old friend Willes to join him in partnership, convincing Willes that Cleveland offered more opportunity for expansive circulation. And so, after only one year, Willes ceased publication of the Erie Gazette and moved his press and type to Cleveland to set up shop with Eber Howe.

With some 57,000 residents being served by only two newspapers from Conneaut to Sandusky, Howe and Willes proceeded on a gutsy hunch. On October 19, 1819 with, as yet, no subscribers signed on, Howe and Willes brought forth their first issue of the Cleaveland Herald. But, before the day was ended, the Herald had acquired over 300 subscribers and was on its way to becoming one of the most recognizable names in the Old Western Reserve. Andrew Logan was certainly a capable editor and publisher, but competition for subscribers from Howe and Willes' more punctual Herald severely impacted his Gazette and Register readership. With dwindling readership, to Eber Howe's delight it was disbanded shortly after the Cleaveland Herald and Gazette commenced.

Publishing in 1819 was a dirty, complicated, grueling, all-consuming business: Howe had to import his paper from Pittsburgh and then manufacture the ink himself from carbon black, mixed with varnish and a drying agent. On horseback he, personally, delivered the papers three times a week on a route extending through Kirtland and out to Painesville and back, some 30+ miles each way. Along the way, Howe would stop at a gatepost in front of a subscriber's home and blow a horn, whereby someone (usually a child) would run out of the house to receive the "latest" (meaning 40 days from Europe, or 10 days from New York) news straight from Howe's hand. Subsequently, Howe and others like him across the country came to be known as (gate) post-riders; hence the colloquial term for newspapers - the post.

Even with the rigors of his business translating to financial success, at 21 years old - and hounded by his perpetual restlessness - after only two years of publishing the Cleaveland Herald - Howe admitted to himself he was completely bored with the project.

Eber Howe found the village of Painesville, 30 miles to the east along the Lake Erie shore much more compatible with his inherent droll Yankee temperament. It was on the main stage and post-road between Buffalo and Detroit, so in addition to delivering his paper there, he travelled to Painesville frequently for respite and inspiration. The pastoral town of some 400 residents was growing and to Howe's mind presented an interesting and provocative mix of successful business and agriculture. By then an astute businessman, Howe recognized the citizenry was quite complacent in their security. He observed an indulgent and apathetic populace quite ripe for an introduction to the realities of a nation beginning to struggle with serious government and social issues. What a tantalizing prospect for a newspaper startup!

From spirited debates he incited with locals when he visited Painesville, Howe knew the area wasn't being satisfactorily served by the Cleaveland Herald. And, ever the opportunist, Howe felt a nagging desire to start another paper in Painesville to jolt the lethargic public awake to questions that would ultimately affect their lives. He sold his financial interest in the Herald to Ziba Willes, who continued producing it, unrivaled, for another 13 years after Howe's departure for Painesville.

On July 16, 1822, Eber Howe released the first issue of his new paper, The Telegraph. Immediately, 150 subscribers signed up. The price was $2.50 for a one-year subscription. In an effort to agitate and excite the public Howe's frequent scathing editorials focused on issues guaranteed to elicit reader outcry and response. His favorite controversies included the 'hot' issues of the day: Canals, railroads, slavery and abolition, Henry Clay's bid for the presidency, and challenges to the founding premises of a new religion-Mormonism.

The Telegraph caught on quickly and continued to grow weekly. Howe soon declared Painesville his home and to put down permanent roots, he commissioned the noted Federalist/early Greek Revival architect, Jonathan Goldsmith to construct a residence for him at 215 Mentor Ave. in Painesville, which still stands today on the western corner of Mentor Ave. and Paige Place. And in 1823, after a six-year courtship, he married Sophia Hull (1800-1866), herself an active social protagonist and humanitarian in her own right.

Within a few short years, with its proximity to Canada, Painesville found itself becoming a primary thoroughfare of the "Underground Railroad", the famous 'human trafficking' route through Northeast Ohio to Canada used by escaping slaves. Sophia Howe soon became a champion of the Underground Railroad. As one of the first women in the Western Reserve to join the anti-slavery crusade, the home she made with Eber was unofficially known as a 'station' on the Underground Railroad for many years. Both Eber and Sophia were known to have personally contributed to the successful flight of several escaped slaves passing through Painesville, harboring them in an area near the village deemed Drake's or Howe's Hollow, but commonly dubbed "Nigger's Hollow", between 1840-1850. From there, escaping slaves had access to the Grand River, upon which they were quietly and stealthily floated under cover of darkness along toward Lake Erie underneath the low-hanging branches of heavily-forested banks. At the River's entrance to Lake Erie they were taken aboard the fishing boats of sympathetic captains who transported them 26 miles across the Lake to Canada to freedom.

Howe's readership knew well his attitude toward slavery. The very first issue of The Telegraph, with a strong editorial on the subject, established Howe's reputation as an ardent proponent. Stating that he would not deign use of The Telegraph as a "clearing house for human bodies", Howe never wavered in this attitude, going so far as to refuse advertising of rewards for the capture and return of escaped slaves.

That Eber Howe was a gentle man of high principle can't be doubted. He didn't use profanity, drink alcohol, nor smoke...although, he once admitted to having stuck a cigar in his mouth as a youth, when applying for his first newspaper job at the Buffalo Gazette, in emulation of Benjamin Franklin; and, admittedly, feeling quite ridiculous afterward. He preferred to live in peace with all mankind, though as a publisher he often walked a tightrope on issues of politics and religion. He printed the voices of saints, sinners, partisans, and black-hearts, and was often consequently the recipient of miscreant vituperousness. As an editor, he knew instinctively that a newspaper thrives on controversy. But, he strove to be fair and impartial, preferring to let issues be solved at the ballot box and in the jury box. However, where is the editor whose personal philosophies don't, at one time or another, hedge his reporting toward one side margin of thought?

Analytical to a fault, Eber Howe found particular satisfaction in researching and challenging the founding premises of the Mormon religion. He took the Masons to task, as well. He indulged in frequent correspondence with individuals involved or affiliated with both groups to gather any and all information that would identify truth for his readers. Howe's natural curiosity and strong sense of justice drove his relentless criticism of both groups. He challenged them as pseudo-'religiosos' engaged in campaigns of predatory blackmail - the prize being the souls of the largely spiritually-innocent and ignorant populace.

Having grown up near Canandaigua, New York, the epicenter of the American spiritualist movement during the American religious renaissance of the early 19th century, Howe was destined by circumstance, perhaps, for his mission to seek out and expose charlatans. But, his conventional upbringing as a Christian, and a heightened sense of possibility in a personal absorption in Spiritualism, kept him from directly attacking the mystical ideals of either the Mormons or the Masons. He authored few of the essays disparaging Mormonism that appeared in The Telegraph but, more often preferred to foment arguments for and against each by accepting and publishing many critical accounts containing both truth and error. That Howe crusaded against the Mormons using The Telegraph was a very curious turn of events indeed, given that his wife, Sophia Hull Howe, her mother, Polly Gillett, and sister, Harriett Hull had actually converted to Mormonism after arriving in Ohio from New York. They joined the sect and were quite active in the Mormon Church meetings of Northeast Ohio. Although only formally educated through the sixth grade, Howe was more intelligent, savvy, and enlightened than most of his readership. All of his publishing enterprises reflected his desire to enlighten the common folk to the dangers of spiritual deceit. It was a noble assignation to be sure, as during the time he lived, most folks lacked intellectual concepts beyond their own fears and prejudices. They were easily deceived by those who preyed on their pocketbooks by manipulating their base fears (punishment, poverty, death, spiritual obliteration, and/or damnation).

Although Howe disdained the dogma and what he outspokenly referred to as 'predatory' philosophies of both groups, he deliberately avoided direct responsibility for their continuous harassment and persecution in Northeastern Ohio by maintaining that his role in the discussion was to bring both sides of the question to light for his readership. Furthermore, he staunchly maintained that among the critics of both the Mormons and the Masons, an enlightened community of respectable freemen would eventually appropriately discredit them by methodically revealing their masks of propriety to be false. He availed The Telegraph as the vehicle through which the truth would be distilled. Howe, in his pursuit to expose the fallacies of Mormonism in particular, printed many critical views of powerful banking and business interests in the area, offended by and frightened of the Mormons 'separatist' financial enterprising.

In 1834, Eber Howe published his famous tome, "Mormonism Unvailed" (sic), of which the first 175 pages were saturated with articles from The Telegraph, and opinions of his own. At that, he became known as, "the editor who, more than any other, planted the seeds for Mormon persecution in Geauga County." Howe's revelations remain the definitive work of criticism against Mormon founder Joseph Smith's validity as a prophet, and what Howe considered to be the pernicious principles of the Mormon movement in Northeastern Ohio.

Eber D. Howe retired as editor/publisher of The Telegraph on January 23, 1835. For $600, he turned the newspaper over to his younger brother, Asahel Howe, with Dr. M.G. Lewis, as Editor, but retained some financial interest until 1839, when it was finally sold to Lewis L. Rice and Philander Winchester. For his contributions to historical documentation and journalism in Northeastern Ohio, Eber Dudley Howe was inducted into the Press Club of Cleveland Hall of Fame in 1984.[6] Howe's journalism career left poignant marks upon Northeastern Ohio, with implications of which he could not have dreamed. We experience one such curiosity even today. No doubt Howe would be been delighted to learn of the linguistic legacy of a simple local news report he printed in The Telegraph in May, 1827. As he would probably have related it to us:

"BOGUS!" shouted the tall man in the midst of the crowd, stretching his arm over the crowd pointing at the strange machine being hauled out of the house by six strong men.

It was May, 1827 and the event had attracted a small crowd, curious to view the operation and equipment used by a gang of counterfeiters recently arrested by the county sheriff in Painesville, Ohio. The machine was one used for pressing fake coins, so the tall man certainly knew what he was talking about. The story recounted the tall man's exclamation as an abbreviated version of "tantabogus', a word Howe, as a child, had often heard his father use in describing any ill-looking or 'weird' object.

With reiteration of the stranger's exclamation in his version of the incident of the Painesville counterfeit ring story, and subsequent regular usage of the term throughout the paper until he sold it, Howe thrust 'bogus' into the local vernacular, and The Telegraph, became the harbinger of the term's common usage. At its 1933 appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary "bogus", for the first time therein, attributed its origin to early (1827) usage in "The Painesville Telegraph".** The irony is, of course, that during Eber Dudley Howe's long career as a journalist, he spent a great deal of time and newsprint, attempting to uncover scams and expose bogus entities - despite his philosophical adherence toward spiritualism, which itself eventually earned the description "bogus."

In addition to hundreds of newspaper editorials written during his publishing career, Howe produced two historically significant volumes, which offer us strong glimpses into the political and social struggles of the times: "Mormonism Unvailed"; and "Autobiography and Recollections of a Pioneer Printer", written in his 85th year. Both offer a wealth of vignettes, items, events, and profiles of interest to historians, including great insight into the personality of a man dedicated to disseminating truth.

**Certainly the word 'bogus', itself, was not new...there were many suggestions of derivatives, most notably in The Random House Dictionary of American Slang which reported it's usage from around 1797 in the book, "Band of Brothers" touting the meaning of 'bogus' as "spurious coin", and relating primarily to the counterfeit business.

After many years of living in Painesville Howe had a fondness for the area that was deeply grounded in vibrant relationships - good friends and enemies, alike - that caused him to remain after he stepped down as editor and publisher of The Telegraph. Throughout the remainder of his life he remained good-humored and in good camaraderie with business leaders and farmers, alike. He contributed to many community endeavors and was a director of the Lake County Infirmary, forerunner of the Lake County Memorial Hospital, later Lake Hospital System, which recently became LakeHealth Corporation at the Tri-Point Medical Campus in Concord.

Eber Howe and his cherished wife, Sophia, had six children, three of whom there is nothing known, so it may be assumed they did not survive at birth. Three others did live to adulthood: Minerva born 1827, married Franklin Rogers December 19, 1844, died 1914; Edmond Dudley born 1829, who never married, died January 11, 1849; and Orville D. born September 1, 1831, married Mary Elizabeth Pepoon December 21, 1861, died February 5, 1917. Both Minerva and Orville provided Eber Howe with descendants, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren in whom he delighted.

After leaving The Telegraph in 1838, Eber Howe moved from Painesville to Concord, Ohio and went into partnership with his son-in-law, Franklin Rogers in the woolen manufacturing business. The three-story 'Howe and Rogers Mill" in Concord, Ohio, near Fay Road, was successful for many years. It was there he lived out his days with his daughter and son-in-law. Eighty-six year-old Eber Dudley Howe died at the Concord residence of his daughter, Minerva Howe Rogers, on November 13, 1885. His remains were buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Painesville, alongside his wife, Sophia, who had succumbed to stomach cancer in 1866.

At its founding in 1822, it is unlikely Eber Howe dreamed of the astounding 165-year longevity of his newspaper, The Telegraph, which continued to be published by various capable editors until 1987.

Although it is nearly impossible to abstract and wholly embrace the life of Eber Howe in just a few paragraphs, his personal "creed", portrays the essence of the man, the journalist, husband, father, and grandfather that was Eber Dudley Howe, within which professed to not believe " the orthodox scheme of salvation or damnation...'original sin,' 'atonement,' 'faith,' and 'regeneration' ", but did subscribe to and conducted himself in his belief of "the universal triumph of truth, justice and love."


Upton, Harriet Taylor, History of the Western Reserve, Vol. 1, Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago/New York, 1910.
Williams Brothers, History of Geauga and Lake Counties, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1878.
Lake County Genealogical Society. Eber D. Howe, Scrapbook, Vol. 4, Painesville, Ohio.
History Hall. Lake County Men, Morley Library Collection, Painesville, Ohio.
Lupold, Harry Forest. "A Western Reserve Printer: Eber D. Howe and the Painesville Telegraph 1822-1835," Western Reserve Magazine, July/Aug., 1979.
Historical Assn. of Lewiston, New York. "Recollections of a Pioneer Printer," The Sentinel, Vol. 1 No. 4, October 1974.
Howe, Eber D. Autobiography and Recollections of a Pioneer Printer Together with Sketches of the War of 1812 on the Niagara Frontier, Telegraph Steam Printing House, Painesville, Ohio, 1878.
Ohio Bell Telephone Co. "The Ohio Story, Radio Program Will Present Story of Eber Howe, Founder of Telegraph," The Telegraph , Painesville, Ohio, Dec. 13, 1951.
Quinion, Michael, World Wide Words e-magazine, 22 Apr. 2000.
Vacha, J.E. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History/Print Journalism, Case Western Reserve University.
Bachman, Danel W., Ed. Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Anthon Transcript, Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1992.
Bates, George A., Pres. "Lake County and Western Reserve Monumental Association," Lake County Agricultural Society, Sept. 8, 1914.
Kennedy, James Harrison. A History of the City of Cleveland, Its Settlement, Rise, and Progress, 1796-1896, The Imperial Press, Cleveland, Ohio,1896.
Shockey, Alana. The Evolution of the Anti-Mormon Legacy Backman, Jr., Milton V. The Heaven's Resound, Salt Lake City, The Desert Book Co., 1983.
Turk, Cynthia, Trans., "A Visit to Lake County Infirmary," The Telegraph, Painesville, Ohio, January 12, 1882.

This essay was written and submitted by Suzanne Walker.

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