A brief note on West Virginian George Washington Welcome selling his interest in the Pioneer Press to J. R. Clifford in 1884

As the research into the expansive travels, connections, associations and relationships of Frederick Douglass has slowly evolved in recent years we’ve come to see a fuller picture develop that tells a history of thousands upon thousands of words unwritten anywhere or yet published by any scholar past or present.

In September 1884 Frederick Douglass visited Martin’s Ferry, Ohio and Wheeling, West Virginia for Emancipation Day-related festivities celebrated on both sides of the Ohio River. During this visit Douglass shared a public stage and private banquet table in Wheeling with a young man by the name of George Washington Welcome.

The historic record presents several overlaps between Welcome, buried in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and Frederick Douglass.

During the process of researching Welcome another connection within the close-knit ecosystem of pioneering West Virginia Civil Rights advocates revealed itself.

While a litany of reliable sources from the Library of Congress to the 2007 dissertation, “For Men and Measures: The Life and Legacy of Civil Rights Pioneer J. R. Clifford,” by West Virginia University history professor Dr. Connie Rice credit John Robert Clifford as the founder of the Pioneer Press newspaper in Martinsburg they are evidently mistaken in their claims, which omit the true founder.

For example, on page 2 of Rice’s dissertation the declaration is made, “When Clifford established the Pioneer Press in 1882, it was the first African-American newspaper in West Virginia.”

As we can tell, there are two oversights in this statement. First, the Pioneer Press was established in 1883 and secondly it was established by George Washington Welcome.

Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that a “Black newspaper” was published in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1883, as a contemporary to the launching of the Pioneer Press in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

With 1882 as a date that appears to be promoted by authoritative sources such as the Library of Congress we have yet to independently confirm this founding date. The need to properly and accurately establish the year of the genesis of the Pioneer Press, whether 1882, 1883 or 1884 (which is the year Clifford acquires the paper) in no way diminishes or reduces the significant impact of Clifford’s paper for nearly 40 years. Instead, the determination of a more accurate genesis story for the Pioneer Press helps to better understand and support a fuller scholastic conversation of the local and regional politics, journalistic networks and opportunities that created the conditions for Clifford to acquire the newspaper.

How and why did Clifford acquire the Pioneer Press?

In fact, Clifford’s feature in the classic 1887 work, Men of Mark, makes no specific mention of the year nor motivation for Clifford founding the paper.

He was called to the principalship of the public school at Martinsburg, West Virginia, which he held for ten consecutive years, and only resigned to give attention to the Pioneer Press, a vigorous, influential journal which he so ably, fearlessly and consistently edits. 

The insight provided in Men of Mark that Clifford was an educator in Martinsburg, and surrounding communities in West Virginia, prior to taking the editorial desk of the Pioneer Press is supported by the historic and archival record.

So, if I am saying Clifford did not found the Pioneer Press who did?

According to several accounts in West Virginia newspapers documenting local events in real time the Pioneer Press was started as a monthly journal in Martinsburg by George Washington Welcome in 1883.

The subsequent year, in 1884, Welcome sold all of his interest in the paper to Clifford. We suspect that as well as the printing press and all the materials to conduct the publication of a newspaper Welcome sold Clifford his stock and/or certificates of interest in the newspaper. We have yet to confirm the specific details of the sale and transfer but confirm that it happened.

How did Clifford and Welcome know each other? The historic record indicates they were both in Martinsburg serving as local educators in 1879 when US Marshal Frederick Douglass visited town. (However, the reported date of Welcome’s birth would have made him a very young man at this time.)

Furthermore, Clifford and Welcome were both active within local and regional Republican party politics, counting county chairman, state chairman, delegates to state and national conventions and elected officials in the state legislature and national legislature in Washington, D.C. as contacts and confidants.

The genesis of this brief note was the prominent role George W. Welcome played in the 1884 visit of Frederick Douglass to Wheeling, West Virginia. Further research into Welcome, who tragically died in 1896, reportedly in his 30s, hints at a nearly entirely forgotten and lost leader within West Virginia’s ecosystem of community and Civil Rights leaders who welcomed Frederick Douglass to the Mountain State on several occasions.

JM


research records of Lost History Associates

The Pioneer Press.

This is the title of a paper originally started by George W. Welcome, a young colored man of this town, who learned the printing business at Cleveland, Ohio. He has disposed of all interest in the paper to Prof. J. R. Clifford, who, we have no doubt, will conduct it with ability, fairness and propriety, and make it a vehicle of usefulness and good. Many of our citizens, without regard to color, are among its subscribers, and we have no doubt it will patronized generally by the colored people of the eastern pan-handle and of the State. A race or a citizenship that can boast of such a practical institution as Storer College should have and maintain a liberal and progressive journal.

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