The energetic Dawson and the News and Courier became known for speed in news gathering, accuracy, and far-flung coverage, with correspondents in Washington, D.C., and Columbia.
Journalist. Born Austin John Reeks in London, England, on May 17, 1840, Dawson was the son of Austin Reeks and Mary Perkins. He changed his name in adulthood. Dawson was educated in London schools. He was first married to Virginia Fourgeaud of Charleston, a Frenchwoman, in 1867. On January 27, 1874, he married Sarah Morgan, daughter of Judge Thomas Gibbes Morgan of Louisiana. They had two children.
Dawson wrote at least four comedies in London. A romanticist and adventurer who espoused the Southern cause in the Civil War, he joined the crew of a Confederate cruiser that sailed from Southampton in 1862 to run the Union blockade. He went on to serve in the Confederate army, engaging in eleven battles and suffering wounds three times before being captured. After the war he worked on the Richmond Examiner and Richmond Dispatch in Virginia and then went to Charleston, where he was employed by the Charleston Mercury in 1866. A year later he joined Bartholomew Rochelot Riordan, whom he had known on the Examiner, and they bought a share of the Charleston News. In April 1873 they acquired the much older Charleston Courier and combined the two papers as the News and Courier. Dawson became editor.
The energetic Dawson and the News and Courier became known for speed in news gathering, accuracy, and far-flung coverage, with correspondents in Washington, D.C., and Columbia. Dawson often took courageous, if unpopular stands. He favored putting African Americans on the ballot in Charleston municipal elections. In 1876 he supported Republican governor Daniel Chamberlain against Wade Hampton in the gubernatorial race. But after Hampton won the Democratic nomination, the News and Courier supported him. Dawson initially backed the Agrarian radical Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman but later rejected him as a demagogue, a racist, and an opportunist. Dawson was among the leading New South advocates who promoted building cotton mills and diversifying agriculture, including the introduction of tobacco. A devout Catholic, Dawson headed a crusade against dueling that led Pope Leo XIII to name him a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1888. Dawson also fiercely opposed lynching.
Ironically, this ardent spokesman against violence died of gunshot wounds on March 12, 1889. He had gone to the office of Dr. Thomas B. McDow, whom he accused of making “dishonorable advances” toward the Swiss governess of his children. The physician shot and killed him. McDow was acquitted, however, claiming self-defense. Dawson was buried in St. Lawrence Cemetery.
Clark, E. Culpepper. Francis Warrington Dawson and the Politics of Restoration: South Carolina, 1874–1889. University: University of Alabama Press, 1980.
Cooper, William J., Jr. The Conservative Regime: South Carolina, 1877–1890. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968.
Jones, Lewis P. “Two Roads Tried–And One Detour.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 79 (July 1978): 206–18.
Logan, S. Frank. “Francis W. Dawson, 1840–1889: South Carolina Editor.” Master’s thesis, Duke University, 1947.