Those of us who maintain journals are, each in our own ways, small publishing concerns. I recently ran across a story from our town’s history that Bonnie and I would like to share, because it is, like many stories in J-land, equal parts sweetness and poignancy.
I don’t think I’ll be giving away any big secret if I state that we live in the town of Penfield, east of Rochester. It is, after all, a sizable town, and I doubt that anyone plans to hunt us down. The story that I would like to relate is taken from a book entitled Penfield’s Past, published in 1960 and reprinted in 1990.
The book begins with a beautifully written prologue that tells of a young man of 23, Leroy K. Williams, and his 13-year-old sister Nellie. Through the agency of a poker game, Leroy’s father had assumed possession of a printing press and had given it to his son, who began publication of a weekly newspaper called the Penfield Extra.
On Thursday, August 28, 1862, Leroy passed on the title of publisher to Nellie, as he, along with many of his friends, had just enlisted in the Army of the Union as a member of the 8th Cavalry. He was never to return to Penfield; he was shot and killed on November 12, 1864, in the Shenandoah Valley.
Little Nellie, for so she was called by those who knew her, set to with a will and produced a prospectus for her paper. This is how it read:
PROSPECTUS of the PENFIELD EXTRA, published by NELLIE WILLIAMS. A Little lass of Fourteen Summers, who is the sole EDITRESS AND COMPOSITOR, And probably the youngest Publisher and Proprietor Of a weekly Newspaper in the world. Terms only Fifty Cents a year, invariably in advance. WEEKLY CIRCULATION FOURTEEN HUNDRED COPIES.
At the very bottom she had written: All Editors giving an extract of my new prospectus & small corner, I will consider it a birthday present.
A partial front page of issue #33 is reproduced in the book; at the top, between the words Penfield Extra, is an illustration of the Holy Bible inscribed with the words ‘Our Hope’. Below, between two engravings of scrollwork, are the words ‘Little Nellie’s Little Paper’.
Ellen Therressa Williams published her paper, called by the Rochester papers a "creditable weekly", from the date of her brother's enlistment until April 2, 1866, when the costs of publishing became too onerous. She was married in 1867, had a daughter and a son, and died of consumption on May 20, 1875.
Her efforts contributed greatly to the preservation of Penfield’s early history, so that it could eventually be passed on to the readers of the waning years of the 20th century. For a young girl in her teens, her accomplishments were, and are, truly impressive. May we all, of whatever age, be able to say the same.