This paper was, with but few slight intermissions, regularly issued from its first number on March 27th, 1840 (sic). It is credited with being the first “permanent” newspaper in St. Clair County. James L. Boyd and John T.C. Clark were the first editors and publishers. It was printed in a building on the corner of Main and High streets and issued every Saturday morning. In form it was a five-column folio, price $2.00 per year. In Vol. 1, No. 8, wherein was printed their terms to advertisers, the following was stated: “Advertisements of personal altercations will invariably be charged $2.00 per square for the first insertion, and $1.00 for each continuous insertion, payment to me made invariably in advance.” This, no doubt, had the effect to make disputants consult their pocket books before engaging in public altercation, or the longest purse won the day.
In their Prospectus, the editors said to the public that “the Advocate will be conducted on pure Democrative (sic) principles, both editors being Democrats of the Old School of Jeffersonian politics, differing from the monopolizing Hamiltonian Autocracy in their whole political creed.” The paper warmly supported Martin Van Buren for President and Lyman Trumbull for member of the State Legislature.
Mr. Clarke retired from the Advocate a few months after the first issue; Boyd continued the publication until the winter of 1841-42 when the paper passed into the hands of Philip B. Fouke, and from him to Robert K. Fleming, the founder and publisher of both the old Gazette and Mercury. While Mr. Fleming managed the Advocate, John Baker was editor. My many, Mr. Baker is regarded as having been the ablest editor ever employed on the Belleville press.
On June 29th, 1850, the Advocate was sold to John W. Merritt, who remained in control of the paper until the latter part of the summer of the summer of 1851, when he sold to Judge Nathaniel Niles. On the 19th of July, 1854, Judge Niles’ interest in the paper was purchased by James S. Coulter and he retired from his editorial labors for a short time.
As a newspaper writer, Judge Niles was far above the average. He was a strong, forcible writer, though sometimes voluminous. Brevity was not exactly his forte, yet articles from his pen showed a thorough knowledge of the subject in hand. He gave the Advocate a prominent position and high standing among the journals of Illinois.
E.H. Fleming and James Coulter, soon after gaining control of the Advocate, commenced publication of the Daily Belleville Advocate. The first number was issued September 1st, 1854. It was a five-column folio, and a very neat , spicy publication. James S. Coulter, the editor, was a Protestant Irishman and was one of those irrepressible characters so often found among the natives of the Emerald Isle. He wielded a sharp, vigorous pen and was indiscriminate in the use of it, sometimes puncturing a friend as well as a foe.
November 14th, 1855, E.H. Fleming retired from the Advocate for reasons of ill health. His interest in the office was purchased by J.S. Coulter, who continued the paper until June 11th, 1856, when Judge Niles again became proprietor and editor. On the first of July of the same year, Edward Schiller bought a half interest in the office and continued [as] one of the proprietors until Dec. 3rd, 1856, when he retired, and Judge Niles published the paper until May 13th, 1857, when the office was sold to Collins Van Cleve and T.C. Weeden. In the Salutatory of the latter, they assure the public that the Advocate will be continued as a Free Soil paper, which position it took in 1854. With the issue of July 10th, 1857, the paper was enlarged to an 8 column folio, with the name Belleville Advocate in large, fancy letters. The next week the letters were changed to a smaller size, which was a decided improvement.
Messrs. Van Cleve and Weeden continued the publication until February 10th, 1860, when they sold to E.J. Montague, formerly of the Chester Herald. Soon after taking charge, Mr. Montague put a new dress on the paper, and it was then an exceedingly neat publication. On the 25th of January, 1861, the News Letter, published in Mascoutah, was consolidated with the Advocate. The paper was then known as the Weekly Belleville Advocate and News Letter. On the 8th of February, 1861, the office passed back into the hands of Collins Van Cleve. Alex G. Hawes, the associate editor, remained connected with the paper until May 10th, 1861, when he retired. On the 1st of June, 1861, F.M. Hawes became editor, and on Aug. 10th of the same year, purchased the paper.
With the issue of Oct. 11th, 1861, the word “Weekly” was dropped, and the paper was known as the Belleville Advocate. Mr. Hawes conducted the publication of the Advocate until December 15th, 1862, when G.F. Kimball took charge of its management and assisted Mr. Hawes in the editorial department.
On the 27th of November, 1862, Mr. Kimball purchased the entire office, including books, etc., for the sum of $1000. He continued sole proprietor and editor until January 1st, 1867, when he sold a one tenth interest to F.M. Taylor. Under the management of Messrs. Kimball and Taylor, the business of the office was greatly increased. They embarked on the business of printing “Outside” for a number of newspapers in Southern Illinois.
The firm continued until a disagreement arose between the partners as to what position the Advocate should take upon the political questions of the day. The paper had been conducted as a Republican organ during the time of Mr. Kimball’s connection with it, but now his political opinions had undergone a slight change, and he was inclined to a liberal wing of the party, and was in favor of carrying the paper over to its support. Taylor was a stalwart in his beliefs and insisted on keeping the Advocate on the well beaten track of the radical wing of the party. Their differences were irreconcilable, and the firm was dissolved in 1872. Mr. Taylor purchased the presses, material and building, and Mr. Taylor retired from the business. In the summer of 1879, he returned to Belleville.
On May 8th, 1880, the office was closed and Taylor retired from the business. J. H. Thomas purchased the material and presses and on the 4th of July, 1880, resumed the publication of the Advocate, with G.F. Kimball as editor. The latter soon retired from the paper and Mr. Thomas became both publisher and editor.
The Advocate went through many changes. It was for years the best known newspaper, perhaps with few exceptions, in the state.
(From the History of St. Clair County, Illinois by Brink, McDonough & Co. 1881).