The oldest newspaper published in Indiana is the Hancock democrat and one of the county’s leading industrial enterprises is the Wm. Mitchell Printing Company. Both of these establishments are located in Greenfield, and it is most fitting that we here record a review of the grand old man who gave inception to them and ably sustained and conducted them through a long life of useful and beneficient activity.

William Mitchell descended from notable ancestors. The first known record of his branch of the family occurs in the seventeenth century, when, in the reign of William the III, of England, William Mitchell, a commodore in the British naval service, received the dignities of knighthood for distinguished gallantry. The coat-of-arms given him was a hanld holding a pen, with the motto "Favento deo supero." The origin of the name is lost in the remote mists of antiquity, it having come down from old Roman days to modern languages in the various forms of Michel, Michael and Mitchell. Passing along some generations from the gallant commodore we find Rev. Arthur Mitchell residing in the manse of the parish of Kinnellar, Scotland, as the settled minister of its kirk. There his son, George, was born on August 20, 1750. The meager record tells naught of the education of the lad, and only that on May 13, 1784, in St. George’s chapel, Hanover Square, London, he wedded Miss Sarah Montifiore, the daughter of David and Esther Montifiore, the father a Jewish merchant and a member of that family which has become world-renowned through its extensive charities. The young couple must soon have crossed the Atlantic, as their eldest child was born in Pittsburg, Pa., on June 1, 1785. From Pittsburg they removed in 1787 or 1788 to western Virginia and within two years, as early pioneers, to Washington, Mason county, Kentucky, where was born, in a fort built by Daniel Boone, their fifth child, John Fowler Mitchell, on August 29, 1791. The family remained permanent residents of the Blue Grass state for many years and for long after the honored parents were laid to rest beneath the turf of their adopted home. John Fowler Mitchell wedded with Miss Charlotte E. Ralls, on August 20, 1820, at the home of the bride’s mother, Mrs. Frances Ralls, of Montgomery county, Kentucky. He became a man of distinction, was a captain in the war of 1812, and died on August 20, 1868, long surviving his wife, whose death occurred in 1834.

William Mitchell, their second child, the founder of the Hancock Democrat was born in Montgomery county, Kentucky, in the house where was solemnized the marriage of his parents on August 15, 1823. He received a partial education at Maysville, Kentucky, and there also learned the printing business in the old-fashioned county printing office. As a journeyman printer he traveled extensively, occasionally stopping and published a paper for a time. In 1849 he was the foreman of the Cincinnati Dollar Times, then the largest printing plant of the west. Later he was the manager of the New York office of Dye’s American Bank Note Reporter, a financial journal of immense circulation and an authority in its line. In 1856 he was in Lafayette, Indiana, whence he removed to Greenfield and began his long and influential career in Hancock county by taking charge of the Greenfield Sentinel for three years. Deeming the field ready for a sturdy and uncompromising Democratic newspaper in 1859 he founded the Hancock Democrat, which by his forceful energy and brilliant talents, during the forty years he conducted it attained and maintained a leading rank among the weekly journals of the state, and became a great power in the advancement of education and the betterment of the social and moral conditions of the county. From 1859 he was a forceful factor in the development and prosperity of the county and town of his adoption, which he lived to see arise into the importance and dignity of a city. He was one of the Henry Clay Whigs who felt that the only home for them after the death of the Whig party was in Democratic circles, and he was ever afterwards a Democrat and did battle for Democratic principles and policies unflinchingly. He was a true Union man, and in the dark days of the Civil war when affairs were gloomy enough in Indiana, he loyally supported the government. During his long connection with his paper it never failed of a weekly issue except when the office was used by the United States government to print the names of the drafted men in the Civil war days. He was with the Indiana volunteers in service against John Morgan, the raider, and was under fire at Harrison, Ohio.

Mr. Mitchell was an able business man. In connection with the Democrat he established a job office which has become one of the finest in the state, and as the Wm. Mitchell Printing Company, it successfully competes with and draws trade from Chicago and other cities. As a writer and an editor few excelled him. His command of pure and unsullied English was extensive and the vigor of his utterances and the originality of his expressions commanded attention and demanded respect. He was concise and terse in argument, with a convincing logic and a keen, caustic satire. His descriptive powers were excellent and with and sentiment were well combined in his miscellaneous writings. In public matters he was active and liberal. He was often in office; in educational positions, as postmaster, as county recorder, as deputy provost marshal, as a member of the Democratic central committee, and as the incumbent of other important official stations, he gave valuable and acceptable service, winning a high position in the community by his pronounced ability, his untarnished integrity and his liberal charity. He was never defeated when a candidate for public office, which fact shows his great hold upon the hearts of the people. Notwithstanding his undeviating custom of never asking a debtor to pay him, his business ability and far-sightedness brought him a handsome fortune for the place and period. Thirteen years before his death, which occurred on April 7, 1899, he had the great misfortune of losing his sight. This sad affliction, so much greater to an editor than to many another man, was cheerfully and uncomplainingly borne. The financial management of both the Democrat and the job printing house was most ably conducted during the period of his blindness by his eldest son, John F. Mitchell, who was for a time his partner and is now proprietor of both the Democrat office and the Wm. Mitchell Printing Company. From early life he was a member of the Christian church and for long years an active Odd Fellow. A plain man of the people, he was ever remarkably unostentatious and democratic; his word was always as good as his written agreement and neither was ever broken. In his death not only Hancock county, but the state lost one of the leading strong men of its pioneer days.

Mr. Mitchell married on May 23, 1852, in Cincinnati, Calasty Long, a native os St. Louis, Missouri, and of German parentage. She died in Greenfield, Indiana, on September 25, 1892. Thirteen children wee born from their union, of whom eight attained maturity and are still living, viz: John F., Thomas H., Fannie, William, Eliza, George, Nellie (Mrs. W. H. Kinder) and Mattie.

Transcribed from Biographical Memoirs of Hancock County B. F. Bowen, Publisher, Logansport, Indiana, 1902 Pages 267-269.

Submitted by Sylvia (Rose) Duda, Laingsburg, MI July 12, 2002.

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Tom & Carolyn Ward / Columbus, Kansas / tcward@columbus-ks.com

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