February 1, 1798: Oldest Newspaper Takes New Name Potomak Guardian

Feb 1, 2017

On February 1, 1798, publisher Nathaniel Willis shortened his newspaper’s name from the Potowmac Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser to just Potomak Guardian.

He founded the Potowmac Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser in Shepherdstown in 1790.

  

Why is this paper important? It’s the oldest known newspaper from present West Virginia.

Nathaniel Willis was a native of Boston who’d taken part in the Boston Tea Party and fought in the Revolutionary War. He founded the Potowmac Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser in Shepherdstown in 1790.

He may have been drawn to Shepherdstown by the town’s push to become the nation’s capital. At some time soon afterwards, Willis moved the paper to Martinsburg. After settling on Potomak Guardian as a permanent name in 1798, Willis used his newspaper to champion Jeffersonian Republican beliefs. His verbal attacks on John Adams and other Federalists led to physical retaliation in Martinsburg and vandalism.

When his apprentice established a rival newspaper, the Berkeley Intelligencer, Willis gave up his own paper and moved to Ohio. Armstrong Charlton became the new publisher of the Potomak Guardian.

The earliest known issue of the Potomak Guardian dates from 1791, and some editions have been preserved on microfilm.