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1838. First magazine in Delaware publishes

delaware register cover and 19th century silo

In February 1838, William Huffington combined his interests in politics and literature by becoming the proprietor and editor of the first monthly magazine in Delaware, The Delaware Register and Farmers’ Magazine. 

The editor of The Native American (by native, they mean WASPs, not Indians) newspaper in Washington, DC immediately noticed. 

“This is a youthful periodical, yet we like its sober and respectable cut.” The critic cites Huffington’s front and center deep historical dive “Annals of Delaware”, the magazine’s interview with John Benoit, “the celebrated Agriculturalist”, and the thoughtful practical recommendations of “On Planting Indian Corn” as highlights. 

“It seems to have been originated,” says the District of Columbia critic, “to suit the ‘national’ taste of Delaware, and we do not see why it should not flourish, unless there be no sectional or national feeling in the State.”

By ‘national taste’ or ‘national feeling’ this critic goes on to clarify that Delawareans (he means the state’s white, Anglo-Saxon, educated upper class) have a strong need to place their history in the context of its influence on the overall history of the still developing America. Fear of new immigrants and their disregard for Delaware’s existing culture is this critic’s overwhelming tone. 

“We are crowded over by foreigners, and they loathe the very memory of our revolution. Our old fathers must sleep near the sacred battle ground, nor murmur that we do not raise our song of gratitude more frequent over them. We dare not preach their virtues, lest some o’erboiling alien rise in the midst, and sneer us from the scene of their glory.”

Delaware’s nineteenth century immigrants were mainly Irish and German at the time William Huffington published his magazine. Members of both groups clung to cultural elements from their former homes. 

Their arrival in America shocked the settled classes, who viewed them as a threat: the Germans and Irish were poor and disease-ridden. They would take jobs away from Americans. They practiced an alien religion and pledged allegiance to a foreign leader. They were bringing with them crime. They were accused of being rapists.

Huffington’s Delaware Register, then, is perceived to be the antidote to all that. “We trust that the cause of Native Political and Literary right is on the increase,” the ‘Native American’ critic sums up. “We see signs in the heavens that lead us to believe so.”

Cartoonist Thomas Nast portrayed Irish immigrants as conniving apes.
Cartoonist Thomas Nast portrayed Irish immigrants as conniving apes.

Huffington’s magazine has no photography. Even though the new medium had already been around for 16 years, the photogravure technology to publish photographs and other artwork wasn’t available to Huffington. Nor are there any ads; Huffington relied on subscriptions to fund his publication.

Rather than being daily, weekly or monthly, Delaware Register appeared on the market with a February to July 1838 volume. And it’s not the slim 100 page magazine length we might think of today. Huffington’s first issue clocked in at 491 pages. His second issue, covering July 1838 to January 1839, was 500 pages. Two volumes per year, book sized. 

Delaware Register was not the saddle stitched, 8-½ x 11 format we think of commonly as magazine format. It was a perfect bound, 6×9 format. William Huffington clearly meant for Delaware Register to stay on the bookshelf, not be casually read and tossed.

What was his stated goal with this publication? First, to capture the fullest history of Delaware possible, with a goal of his work becoming source material for future state historians. His heroes were the Revolutionary War heroes. “From our earliest infancy,” he tells his reader in his introduction to Volume 1, “we are taught to look to our war of independence, for examples of the purest self-devotion, and most exalted patriotism, which ever adorned the pages of a nation’s history.” He writes at length, then,  about John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney, Nicholas Ridgely, Thomas McKean, all individuals whose descendants traveled in the same Dover circles as Huffington. Huffington had studied law with John M. Clayton, and while producing his Delaware Register was a member of Dover’s Court of Chancery.

Second, Huffington sought to educate local farmers to progressive techniques of cultivation. He focuses a great deal of attention, for example, on the use of marl to improve soil fertility.

Third, though he doesn’t use the term feature stories, his descriptions suggest that concept. “Accounts will be given of our public institutions: our manufacturing establishments, towns, villages, trade, shipping, soil, climate and generally, of every thing connected with our local situation.” These include observations on foibles of human nature, ‘Dear Abby’ type commentary on dating issues, and travelogs on Egypt, or America’s westward expansion. 

Huffington doesn’t mention poetry in this preamble, but he did include it sprinkled throughout his two issues. He goes on to say, “Well written articles of an amusing or instructive nature will be thankfully received and cheerfully inserted.” So he saw his new magazine as a collaboration with his readers, not a solo effort. 

Even then it was understood that Sex, Politics and Religion were incendiary topics. William Huffington wraps up his introduction by assuring his readers that he will not veer into the weeds. “Nothing shall appear in this work which may tend to arouse the angry feelings of the partisan in politics; to incense the votaries of religion, or call up a blush on the cheek of modesty.”

Artist John Moll depicts Kent County scenes as they might have appeared in the 1830s.
Artist John Moll depicts Kent County scenes as they might have appeared in the 1830s.

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