In 1800, Congress established the Indiana Territory, comprising present-day Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, along with parts of Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota. This 250,000 square mile chunk of the United States would exist until 1816, when Indiana gained statehood.
Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison soon realized that the capital city of Vincennes needed a newspaper to communicate laws and legal notices to the public. It had been a frustrating ordeal when Indiana Territory’s first set of laws had to be printed in Kentucky due to a lack of a local printer.
To encourage the establishment of a newspaper in Vincennes, Governor Harrison offered a $500 annual contract to a printer who would set up shop there. In 1804, the contract was awarded to Elihu Stout, a 22-year-old native of New Jersey who had migrated west with other pioneers. Stout had experience as a journeyman printer, so he ordered a Kentucky printing press and got to work.
Stout named his newspaper the Indiana Gazette. He began printing papers from the blockhouse of the abandoned Fort Knox site. The location was ideally located near the Wabash River on what is today known as First Street. Supposedly, Stout printed the first edition of his newspaper on July 4, 1804, but no copies survive. The second edition was printed on August 7, 1804.
The newspaper was printed each Thursday from 1804 to 1806. Subscribers picked up their copies directly from the print shop. The newspaper had around 300 subscribers and cost them $5 per year. In today’s dollars, that amounted to around $40,000. A living.
The Indiana Gazette mostly printed legal notices and paid ads. Stout also included pertinent stories that he gleaned from more established papers. Very few local stories were printed, as there were better methods for spreading that type of information in a small community (gossip). Obituaries and letters to the editor sometimes appeared but required a fee to print because typesetting was so labor-intensive.
In 1806, a fire at the blockhouse destroyed the Indiana Gazette’s original printing press. Stout eventually raised the funds to buy a new printing press and began again, then re-opened his paper under the name Western Sun.
After Indiana became a state in 1816, the capital city was established at Corydon. A government-sponsored newspaper was no longer necessary in Vincennes. Stout continued to publish his newspaper on his own until fire once again destroyed his printing press in 1819. A determined man, Stout rebuild his business yet again, this time running his newspaper without catastrophe until 1845. That year, he sold the newspaper to John Jones.
Stout died in 1860.
Despite many name changes over the years, Stout’s newspaper continues to supply Vincennes residents with the latest news. Now known as the Vincennes Sun-Commercial, the newspaper is currently published Tuesday through Saturday.
In 1966, Stout was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. Somewhat of a celebrity around Vincennes, Stout’s contributions to the early history of the city continue to be celebrated today.