Editor. Born on August 5, 1858, in Edingsville on Edisto Island, Narciso G. Gonzales was the son of Ambrosio José Gonzales and Harriet Rutledge Elliott. He was the second of six children. His father had moved to the United States from Cuba in 1848. As a child, Narciso Gonzales was a voracious reader, but his only formal education was a year at St. Timothy’s Home School for Boys in Herndon, Virginia. On his return to South Carolina in 1874, he began working as a telegraph operator and became immersed in Democratic Party politics as a supporter of Wade Hampton.
Gonzales’s telegraphic skills and his political proclivities led him to become a correspondent for Robert Barnwell Rhett’s Journal of Commerce in Charleston. He also published a small newspaper of his own in Grahamville, “The Palmetto,” which had a run of just two issues. Gonzales’s reporting on the Combahee riots of May 1876 beat out Rhett’s Charleston rival, the News and Courier, and planted the seed for his future in journalism. In 1880 he was invited to join the staff of the Greenville News and was soon thereafter hired by the Charleston News and Courier, where he worked for several years as a correspondent in Columbia and in Washington, D.C. Gonzales did not conceal his political views and was a vocal opponent of Benjamin R. Tillman’s growing popularity in the late 1880s. These confrontations were not limited to the pages of the newspaper. Tillman’s nephew, James Tillman, challenged Gonzales to a duel in 1890.
Hoping to give a voice to the conservative wing of the Democratic Party after Ben Tillman’s election to the governorship, Gonzales joined with his brother Ambrose to found the State Publishing Company in January 1891, with the financial backing of conservative Democrats. Narciso Gonzales became the editor of the State, with its inaugural issue appearing on February 18, 1891. The new paper did not receive a warm welcome from the Tillman administration; the State’s reporters were not permitted in the governor’s office. Gonzales opposed various causes dear to Tillman throughout the 1890s. He railed against the Dispensary and the constitutional reforms of 1895, and, when Tillman represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate, he mocked Tillman’s mannerisms and deportment.
In addition to berating Tillman and his followers, Gonzales also advanced positive causes. He was a relentless booster of Columbia, economic opportunity, and railroads. He opposed child labor and supported labor unions and public education. Although Gonzales opposed lynching and some Jim Crow legislation, his preferred solution to troubled race relations was the forced emigration of African Americans. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Gonzales departed for Florida in an attempt to secure a position as guide for American armies. Although unsuccessful in this regard, he still went to Cuba and sent numerous reports back to the State, which were published after his death as In Darkest Cuba.
Gonzales’s feud with the Tillman family ended with his assassination. Gonzales had attacked James Tillman in the press throughout the latter’s 1902 gubernatorial campaign. Tillman was not elected, and he shot Gonzales in broad daylight on the corner of Main and Gervais Streets in Columbia on January 15, 1903. Gonzales died four days later and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery. Tillman was acquitted of the crime. A memorial erected in 1905 in Gonzales’s honor stands on the corner of Sumter and Senate Streets in Columbia. He was survived by his wife, Lucy Barron, whom he married on November 14, 1901. They had no children.
Hammet, Elizabeth. “Narciso Gener Gonzales.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1930.
Jones, Lewis P. Stormy Petrel: N. G. Gonzales and His State. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1973.
Sewell, Michael. “The Gonzales-Tillman Affair: The Public Conflict of a Politician and a Crusading Newspaper Editor.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1967.