Journalist, businessman. Born on May 29, 1857, in St. Paul’s Parish, South Carolina, Gonzales was the son of Cuban general Ambrosio José Gonzales and Harriet Rutledge Elliott. He was raised by his grandmother and aunts in Charleston. Following the Civil War and the death of his mother, Gonzales began learning business as a young man, selling poultry and cutting railroad crossties. He and his younger brother, Narciso, worked as telegraphers at Grahamville, where they fell into favor with Wade Hampton. Gonzales joined his brother at the Charleston News and Courier newspaper in 1885, where Narciso had become a leading reporter. Ambrose became the newspaper’s general agent, traveling the state telling stories and greeting townspeople. He also developed a following for his corruption-exposing articles and sketches of small towns across the state.
Inspired by the rise of Ben Tillman’s hate-mongering but successful campaign for governor in 1890, Ambrose, Narciso, and their younger brother William, founded the State newspaper in Columbia as an ardent and outspoken anti-Tillman daily. The first edition appeared on February 18, 1891, with Ambrose holding the titles of publisher, business manager, treasurer, and general manager, all of which he retained until he died. The newspaper was not an immediate success, but by the turn of the century was on its way to becoming one of the most influential newspapers in South Carolina. Ambrose’s quiet, sober leadership contrasted with Narciso’s fiery anti-Tillman editorials, which resulted in his murder at the hands of James H. Tillman, nephew of Governor Tillman, in 1903.
Immediately following the death of his brother, Gonzales reaffirmed to his readers that “The State is pledged anew to the principles for which he gave his life.” Under the leadership of Ambrose and his brother William, the State staked out its position as South Carolina’s leading progressive chronicle of the early twentieth century. William W. Ball, an acting editor of the State and later editor of the News and Courier, wrote in 1932 that Ambrose Gonzales was “the most important and greatest South Carolinian since Governor Hampton, though South Carolinians do not yet know it.” A bachelor, Gonzales died on July 11, 1926, and was buried in Columbia’s Elmwood Cemetery.
Jones, Lewis P. Stormy Petrel: N. G. Gonzales and His State. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1973.
Latimer, Samuel L., Jr. The Story of The State, 1891–1969, and the Gonzales Brothers. Columbia, S.C.: State Printing, 1970.
Pierce, Robert A. Palmettos and Oaks: A Centennial History of The State, 1891–1991. Columbia, S.C.: State-Record Company, 1991.