In The Past, One Media Mogul Kept Lines Open
written and submitted by: Roger Landers
this article appeared in the Hernando Times Edition of the St. Petersburg Times Monday, October 30, 2006.
In the age of instant communication, it is difficult to imagine the isolation of 19th century Florida.
News from elsewhere came by mail; weekly newspapers from Tampa, Ocala and Tallahassee, and the state's only daily paper, the Jacksonville Times-Union.
Fred L. Robertson moved to Brooksville in 1879 and started a newspaper. Although his war wounds were still noticeable, four years later, he would serve as postmaster, newspaper publisher and also operate the telegraph office.
All this from his office next to the Brooksville Hotel on the dusty street where Fort Dade Avenue meets Main Street, where the SunTrust Bank parking is today. Brooksville had a media mogul.
Having borrowed $250 from a group of local businessmen, Robertson purchased an old Army printing press in Tampa and began a weekly newspaper called the Crescent. Not a businessman, he lost ownership to Austin Mann, a local candidate for the state Senate in 1884. But he purchased a local competitor's paper, the Hernando News, bought out Mann's assets in the old Crescent - renamed the Register - and christened the new paper the News-Register.
Fredrick Landrum Robertson was born in South Carolina in 1845 and educated at the Columbia Arsenal Academy (later renamed the Citadel). With the outbreak of the Civil War, Robertson, along with many of his classmates, volunteered with the Columbia Guards, Second South Carolina Infantry. Wounded five times, twice severely, he served out the war attached to the staff of South Carolina Gen. Wade Hampton.
At the war's end, many disillusioned Confederates went to Mexico to establish a government in exile. Robertson joined this movement but lasted only about a year and returned to the United States. Living in Alabama in 1868, he rekindled a relationship with Margaret S. Boswell of Fauquier County, Va. They married in October 1869. Her family, uncertain of Robertson's business skills, insisted that he sign away any rights to land and property that Margaret would inherit in the future.
Where and when Robertson learned the printing trade is a mystery. He was considered a good writer but poor businessman.
A commanding individual with a noticeable limp and missing arm, Robertson was involved in local affairs. He served on the first City Council of Brooksville, was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church and served as president of the board of trustees for the Brooksville Academy.
In the mid 1880s, he helped organize the local militia - Dickinson Guards - and later was an officer in the Hill City Guards of Brooksville. He was the enrolling clerk for the Legislature in 1881 and 1883 and a bill secretary for the Florida Senate in 1895, where he was commended for developing a new document control system.
The Florida Press Association organized in the late 1880s, with Robertson as association president in 1898.
When the United Confederate Veteran Organization came into being in 1889, Robertson became active in veteran affairs in Florida and throughout the national organization. Rising to the rank of assistant adjutant general, he was respected and known through the entire organization.
After the loss of many veterans' records to fire, Robertson began a project to collect and preserve records from the Civil War and other conflicts. Two years later, the project, financed by the Legislature, included the Florida unit records of the Seminole War, Civil War and the Spanish-American War. The book, with an introduction by Florida Gov. W.S. Jennings of Brooksville, was published in 1905. A copy is available in our local library.
Three years after completion of the monumental work, Robertson died. When the editors of the Confederate Veteran Magazine learned of his death, a lengthy obituary was included in the January 1909 edition.
A subsequent story was included with the death notice that attests to the high regard and ethical standing of Robertson.
The story read in part: "At the Louisville Reunion of the Confederate Veterans, a collection was being made for an award for the editor of the Veteran's magazine. A gentleman's purse belonging to one of the contributors was found, and upon inquiry as to what to do with it someone said: 'Leave it with Fred Robertson.'"
Roger Landers is retired from the Hernando County School District, where for nearly 33 years he was a teacher, principal and district administrator. He is the historian for the county's Heritage Museum, historical adviser to the new Hernando County Historical Advisory Commission and a member of the Florida Historical Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.