David Ross Locke
David Ross Locke was born in Vestal, New York, September 20, 1833. He grew up in poverty and had little chance to gain a formal education. He struggled till he was thirty to support his family, working in the newspaper business.[John Killits, Toledo and Lucas, Ohio, 1623-1923, vol. 2 (Toledo: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1923): p.491]. Locke was a traveling printer and editor who operated newspapers in Plymouth, Mansfield, Bucyrus, and Findlay. While at Findlay, Ohio, he started writing the Nasby letters.[History of the Blade. (The Blade: A booklet distributed that gives a chronological history of the newspaper.)] The first one was printed on March 21, 1861 in the Findlay Jeffersonian. These letters were political satirical jabs at the pro-Southern sentiment in the North.[Morgan Barclay and Charles N. Glaab, Toledo: Gateway to the Great Lakes (Tulsa: Continental Heritage Press, Inc., 1982): p.87].
The attention Locke gained from the Nasby Letters landed him a position working for the Toledo Blade. In 1876 he purchased a controlling interest and became president of this Northwest Ohio newspaper. He was an editor, writer and publicist. The Toledo Blade became financially sound under this new management. Locke built up the weekly edition by adding sections for farmers, young people, and women, as well as poetry and fiction sections. He established a Veterans of the Union Army column so people could locate former comrades and made the weekly paper a review of current news in the world.(History of the Blade). Lockes Weekly Blade became one of the nation's most influential publications, especially in small towns and rural areas. Besides The Blade, the company published Lockes Monthly and the American Farm Journal.(Killits, p.483).
Locke is most known for the fictional name and character he created and wrote under, "Petroleum Vesuvius Nasby". Nasby, a character that one could describe as an ignorant bigot, represented everything David Locke was against. Locke, a reformist, fought for the rights of women, African-Americans, and labor. He represented these ideals through Nasby which he "effectively used to satirize racial prejudice and corruption during and after the Civil War."(Barclay and Glaab, p.86).
It was these Nasby letters that enabled Locke to influence the people of the North from 1850 until the close of the Civil War. Through his satirical writings, he became a factor in shaping opinions during this because of the wide circulation of the Weekly Blade. Each paper was believed to have been examined by three to five persons, and it is estimated that the Weekly Blade served almost a million Americans. Circulation grew quickly. In 1868 12,000 copies were sold. This soared to 200,000 in 1884.(History of the Blade).
President Lincoln particularly appreciated these letters that he thought "stirred people to right thinking and decisive action."(Killits, p.491). Lincoln declared that Mr. Locke's letters did much to solidify Union sentiment during the war and sent a letter to Locke thanking him for his services. Locke was offered political appointments by both Lincoln and Grant, but he declined.(History of the Blade).
David Locke helped the Toledo Blade to become a nationally known publication. Under his effective editorial guidance, the weekly edition of the Blade was read by Americans from coast to coast and was a precursor of the national weekly news magazine. For the next twenty years, he built himself a reputation as a leading newsman, and a large personal fortune as well. He was a nationally recognized and popular public lecturer.(Ibid).
The last letter of Petroleum V. Nasby was dated December 26, 1887.Barclay and Glaab, 87. Upon the death of David Ross Locke in 1888 Robinson Locke, David Locke's son, took charge of the Blade. He held this office for about twenty-five years, devoted more attention to the daily edition of the Blade which made it a distinguished paper in Toledo and the surrounding area. The Weekly Blade was discontinued on October 9, 1924.(History of the Blade).
David Ross Locke's grave
(Photography of Woodlawn Cemetery by Josef Schneider.)