The Miami-Visitor Weekly Newspaper & John Wesley Roberts
John Wesley Roberts (b. December 19th, 1824 – d. October 23rd, 1900) was born in Montgomery County, Ohio. He was the son of John Summers (most often spelled Somers) Roberts whose farm was located six miles northwest of Waynesville across the county border in Washington Township. His father, John S. Roberts, bought the 200-acre farm from the Israel Harris family in 1830 for $3,000.00. The house still stands to the north of E. Social Row Road, about one mile east of the Lebanon Pike (Rte. 42). The farm was located half way between Centerville and Waynesville, Ohio. The family thought of Waynesville as their home village. John Wesley Roberts went by the name “Wesley” or “Wes”.
J. Wesley Roberts was a deeply devout man, a Methodist preacher, an advocate of the moral teachings of the Bible, and also a great promoter of western literature. He constantly was striving to establish excellence in public education in Waynesville and perpetually campaigned for the establishment of a public library. He was also an early Republican and promoter of Abraham Lincoln. He was a strong abolitionist and Temperance man. He is an example of the great “fighting newspaper publisher” tradition of the 19th century.
J. Wesley Roberts’ father, John Somers Roberts, died at the age of 64 on his farm on July 26th, 1859. A limb from a dead tree fell and killed him (Miami-Visitor, August 3rd, 1859). John Wesley’s mother was Martha Hooper Rhodes Roberts who died a little over a year after her husband at the age of 61 of asthma (Miami-Visitor, October 17, 1860). The Roberts family continued to own the farm until 1866. As a boy, J. Wesley Roberts worked on the farm and helped to clear off some of the Ohio forests. He taught school and he developed a literary ability. When he was eighteen he began writing for the press. When he was nineteen he published a theological discussion he had with a doctor of divinity and wrote other articles in the Ladies’ Repository of Cincinnati, a monthly periodical devoted to literature, arts and religion published by the Methodist Episcopal Church from 1841-1876. He would later author articles and a book of national repute.
In 1850 he became the editor and proprietor to the Miami-Visitor weekly newspaper. He married Hulda Fairholm (b. 1822-d. July 16th, 1905) of Waynesville on October 10th, 1850. While still living in Waynesville, their infant son, Clarence Herbert Roberts, died at the age of one year and six days (Miami-Visitor, September 30th, 1857). During the 1850s, Mr. Roberts became increasingly interested in the events out west in Kansas and Missouri. As an ardent abolitionist and then a devoted Republican, he wrote passionately in his editorials about the struggle over slavery. Many of his Fairholm and Day in-laws had already moved out to Kansas. It was inevitable that J. Wesley Roberts would move his family to Oskaloosa, Kansas and become a mover and shaker there, founding the Oskaloosa Independent weekly newspaper.
In July of 1860 he sent a printing press and other materials with his brother-in-law, J. W. Day, to Oskaloosa, Kansas were he set up the Independent newspaper and was the on-site manager until the arrival of the Roberts family two years later. John W. Day (b. April 12th, 1833 –d. June 7th, 1905), who was married to Hulda’s sister, Mary J. Fairholm, had traveled to Kansas to find a position as a lawyer and had reported back to J. Wesley Roberts and the Miami-Visitor with the details of what was happening out west. Isaac V. Fairholm, the father of Hulda and Mary, had already moved to Oskaloosa, Kansas. The first home of the Oskaloosa Independent would be in a building originally designed by Isaac V. Fairholm to be his blacksmith shop. It was remodeled to be a print shop. The Independent moved in July 2nd, 1860 and stay at that locale until 1883. The weekly Oskaloosa Independent began publishing July 11th, 1860 while J. Wesley Roberts was still living in Waynesville closing down his business affairs. While still in Ohio after the Civil War broke out, John Wesley Roberts volunteered to fight but while at Camp Chase in Columbus he was caught in a rainstorm and contracted inflammatory rheumatism and came close to death. Consequently, he was unable to serve in the Union Army. After he recovered, in July 1862, he and his family left for Kansas. After they moved they sold their home in Waynesville to William Rogers in 1865. Their home had been located in Miami Square, Lot #3 (Deed Book 42, Warren County, Ohio, pp. 610-611).
Arriving in Oskaloosa, John Wesley Roberts purchased a house on the corner of Delaware and Hamilton Streets. He purchased it from John Leavell. Although added onto and modified a good deal, it was still in the possession of the Roberts family in 1935. Once in Kansas Roberts was constantly threatened by the “Jayhawkers” who wanted to burn his press and hang him for his criticism of their violent ways up until they were finally driven from the state. The Oskaloosa Independent was an advocate of Republicanism and of Temperance, just as his Miami-Visitor had been in Waynesville. It had the same emphasis on literature and morality as had the Miami-Visitor. John Wesley Roberts also acquired the Leavenworth Daily and Weekly Commercial. He edited the Rocky Mountain News for a short time.
Besides his work as a newspaper editor he was also an author of several books. After his retirement in 1882, he wrote many scientific and literary publications, and also one series of articles on “Laws of the Mind” published in Microcosm Literary Magazine of Boston. This work brought him membership in the London Society of Science, Arts and Letters. Another book was “Looking Within”, published in 1893 (New York: A. S. Barnes and Co.), a reply to Bellamy’s famous “Looking Backward.” He also wrote The Immigrants and Miracles Scientifically Considered. Two of his manuscripts on religio-scientific topics were unpublished at his death (Oskaloosa Independent, October 26th, 1900).
John Wesley Roberts was also intently interested and involved in Kansas politics. This tradition of political involvement has been passed down in the Roberts family. Today, Pat Roberts, the great grandson of John Wesley Roberts, is a Republican Senator from Kansas (see, http://roberts.senate.gov).
An index of the obituaries and death notices in the Miami-Visitor weekly newspaper of Waynesville is located on the Warren County Genealogy Society webpage: http://www.co.warren.oh.us/genealogy/ObitsMiamiVisitor.htm. Copies of the book, Obituaries and Death Notices found in the Miami-Visitor Weekly Newspaper of Waynesville, Warren County, Ohio; 1850 - 1861 compiled by Karen Campbell, which contain the scans of the obits and notices, can be purchased at The Mary L. Cook Public Library, $15.00 each, + $2.00 for shipping. It can also be purchased through the Warren County Genealogy Society.