by Kathy B. Lauder.
Renowned Tennessee newsman Elbridge Gerry Eastman was born in Bridgewater, New Hampshire, on February 27, 1813,1 to Timothy and Abigail Eastman. As a young man, he learned the printing trade,2 which would support him throughout his life.
Young Eastman moved to Boston and then, by 1838, to Washington, D. C., where he worked at the Washington Globe and became a trusted confidant of House Speaker James K. Polk.3 In 1839 Polk brought Eastman and his new wife, Lucy Ann Carr, back to Tennessee, to install the young publisher as editor of the Knoxville Argus.4 Eastman’s incisive writing helped Polk win the governorship that October, while establishing his own reputation as “the leading Democratic editor of East Tennessee”5 – quite a political shift for Eastman, who had published The Abolitionist in New Hampshire only four years earlier.6
While in Knoxville, he also encouraged and published the writings of humorist George Washington Harris, whose works would influence Twain and Faulkner. Harris dedicated Sut Lovingood, Yarns (1867) to Eastman, “the friend whose kindly voice first inspired my timid pen with hope.”7
When Polk became the eleventh U. S. President in 1845, Eastman followed him to Washington.8 However, he was quickly called back to Tennessee by Democratic party leaders, who put him in charge of the Nashville Union (1847).9 Eastman’s newspaper not only showed Polk in the best possible light but also supported other Democratic candidates, including Andrew Johnson, then facing a difficult Congressional reelection campaign. “Take high ground on the slavery question,” Johnson wrote to Eastman in 1849.10
In 1850 the Union changed its name to The Nashville American, with E. G. Eastman and Thomas Boyers as editors. In 1853, in “one of the most important newspaper mergers in the antebellum history of the state,”11 the newspaper became The Nashville Union and American. Eastman was elected clerk of Tennessee’s Democratic House (1849)12 and Senate (1853).13 When Andrew Johnson became governor in 1853, he appointed Eastman to the State Agricultural Bureau. As bureau secretary,14 Eastman instituted Tennessee’s first county, regional, and state fairs.15 Meanwhile, his firm, E. G. Eastman & Co., Public Printers, produced many of the state’s publications, including the House and Senate journals.
On November 23, 1859, five days after Union and American editor George Poindexter was shot to death by rival editor Allen A. Hall of the Nashville Daily News,16 Elbridge G. Eastman died suddenly at his home from a paralyzing stroke.17 “The most influential political writer in the State,”18 he was only 56. Governor Isham Harris later wrote a friend that he believed Poindexter had been killed deliberately in an effort to break Eastman’s spirit.19 Both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly adjourned that day “in token respect to the memory of E. G. Eastman, the public printer.”20
Lucy Eastman was left with nine children, ages one to eighteenteen.21 She eventually sold her interest in the Union and American to Thomas S. Marr and Leon Trousdale. When the Confederates evacuated Nashville in early 1862, the operations of the paper were suspended. (2014)
1 Ancestry.com. New Hampshire, Births and Christenings Index, 1714-1904 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Accessed January 13, 2014.
2 Clayton, W. W. History of Davidson County, Tennessee. Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis & Co., 1880, 385.
3 Burt, Jesse C. The Most Tremendous Democrat: The Editing, Publishing & Public Service Career of Elbridge Gerry Eastman in Tennessee, 1839-1859. Bound, unpaged manuscript in Jesse C. Burt, Jr., Papers, 1920-1981, chapter 1. VI-L-1-2. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
4 Guild, Josephus Conn. Old Times in Tennessee : with Historical, Personal, and Political Scraps and Sketches. Nashville: Tavel, Eastman & Howell, 1878, 142-143.
5 Clayton, 385.
6 Moore, Jacob B. “History of Newspapers in New Hampshire,” in Edwards, B. B., and W. Cogswell, eds. The American Quarterly Register, Vol. XII. Boston: The American Education Society, 1840.
7 Harris, George Washington. High Times and Hard Times: Sketches and Tales. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1967.
8 Clayton, 385.
9 Clayton, 385.
10 Graf, LeRoy P., and Ralph W. Haskins, eds. The Papers of Andrew Johnson: Volume 1, 1822-1851. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1967.
11 Burt, Introduction.
12 House Journal (Tennessee), 1849, 8.
13 Senate Journal (Tennessee, 1853-1854, 19.
14 Biennial Report of the State Agricultural Bureau of Tennessee to the Legislature of 1855-56, prepared by E. G. Eastman, Secretary of the Bureau. Nashville: G. C. Torbeit & Co, 1856.
15 Burt, Introduction.
16 “Nashville Union and American.” Library of Congress website. Accessed January 15, 2014. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/essays/322/
17 Ancestry.com. U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Accessed January 13, 2014.
18 Second Report of the Board of Health to the Honorable City Council of the City of Nashville, for the Year ending July 4, 1877. Nashville: Tavel, Eastman & Howell, 1877.
19 Burt, Introduction.
20 House Journal (Tennessee), November 23, 1859, 280; Senate Journal (Tennessee), November 23, 1859, 170.
21 Ancestry.com 1860 United States Federal Census [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Clayton, W. W. History of Davidson County, Tennessee. Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis & Co., 1880.
Harris, George Washington. High Times and Hard Times: Sketches and Tales. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1967.
There is a painting of Eastman on the New Hampshire Historical Society website: https://www.nhhistory.org/object/142401/painting