Greenville’s outspoken Victorian publisher: Charles W. Roland


Near Darke

By Hank Nuwer

Week after week, 52 Wednesdays a year, publisher Charles W. Roland put out the Greenville Democrat from 1866 to 1899.

His name at birth on Aug. 6, 1831, was Charles W. Rowlands. He was the son of a housewife and a shipyard worker from the Isle of Wight.

His mother died around his fourth birthday. His father failed to return after a work visit to England.

Charles and his two orphaned brothers were placed with various farming families. Brother Perry moved to Hutchison, KS. Edward resided in French Lick, IN.

Charles’ education ended in grammar school, but he enjoyed reading and writing. At age 14, he apprenticed at the Ohio Eagle newspaper and printshop in Lancaster, OH.

He unofficially changed the spelling of his name to Roland. He married a local young woman name Eliza Kidd in 1851.

When the editor died in 1856, 25-year-old Charles took over the business. Loyal to the Democratic Party, he and the rival Lancaster Gazette often sparred.

During the Civil War, Charles earned the wrath of Governor David Tod. Tod was a fierce hawk who campaigned mightily to recruit volunteers from Ohio to fight for the cause.

Volume Two of the “History of Darke County” claimed Roland had written an editorial critical of the Union. Charles fought toe-to-toe with powerful Ohio politician Tod to uphold freedom of the press, the history claimed.

The furor began when Governor Tod went after a political foe named Edson B. Olds.

Olds, leader of the Peace Democrats, voiced wildly different views from the governor on Abraham Lincoln’s war efforts.

Radical Republican Tod ordered Olds to be restrained in Fort Lafayette as a disloyal “political prisoner.” At the time, Cincinnati was thought to be in danger from a Confederate invasion. In addition, some voters in the North opposed the military draft eventually enacted on March 3, 1863.

Olds lashed back in a lengthy published retort, citing his Constitutional rights, including his right to an opinion guaranteed by freedom of the press.

Editor Roland got involved in the fray as editor of the Eagle and was summoned to the Governor’s mansion.

Olds defended his actions to Roland in the presence of witnesses. “I ordered the arrest of Dr. Olds,” Tod thundered. “I have the backbone to do it.”

Roland also showed backbone, ignoring an implied threat from Olds that he too could face confinement for his Copperhead views.

Roland’s published version of his visit to Tod, along with the protestations of Olds, resulted in demands from papers such as the Lima Times-Democrat for the immediate release of Olds.

While incarcerated, Olds was re-elected as a representative in the House of Representatives.

At the war’s conclusion, the Lancaster Gazette gleefully reported in-fighting among Fairfield County Democrats who wanted to oust Roland, “the violent Copperhead editor.”

Roland defended his competency to edit the Eagle. However, worn out by party infighting, he left the Eagle to escape the fuss.

He and Eliza moved to Darke County. He became proprietor of the Greenville Democrat.

The Democrat had been destroyed by Union soldiers with “an abolition mob,” in March of 1864, according to the Dayton Daily Empire.

Charles acquired significant wealth, moving the Democrat in 1871 to new second-floor headquarters at Broadway and the Public Square. He outfitted the press room with expensive Linotype machinery.

Charles and his wife lived in an elegant home on 423 West Fourth Street. Mrs. Roland was a faithful member of a “Tuesday Afternoon” women’s club that met for bridge, euchre, and gossip.

He became not only a pundit in political affairs, but he worked with tireless energy to support philanthropies in Darke County.

Roland on occasion was on the wrong side of history concerning issues such as voting rights for women.

After radical suffrage leader Lucy Stone campaigned in Kansas in April, 1867, the Greenville Democrat clucked that “poor bleeding Kansas” had the misfortune to deal at the same time with Lucy Stone and a grasshopper plague.

In June of 1899, Roland retired and turned the paper over to sons Edward and Charles, Jr.

The rival Daily Advocate sent him off with a gracious tip of the hat on June 21, 1899.

“Mr. Roland’s life has been devoted entirely to journalistic work, and he has attained a high pinnacle in the field,” noted the Advocate.

He set out to Kansas to reacquaint with his brother, then accompanied his wife on a Grand Tour of Europe.

Mrs. Roland suffered from aphasia for some time and died at 72 in 1905.

Charles Roland died of illness at 86 on May 31, 1918. A local judge named Martin B. Trainor purchased the paper around the same time.

Trainor folded the Democrat in May, 1927, merging with the Greenville Daily News-Tribune.

Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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