Red Wing sentinel (Red Wing, Minn.) 1855-1861 Browse the title

The Red Wing Sentinel began in the Mississippi River town of Red Wing in the Minnesota Territory on July 20, 1855, under the editorial management of William Colvill Jr., a Democrat with a reputation for being outspoken, and Dan Meritt as publisher and proprietor. While Meritt remained comparatively silent, the Sentinel became a sounding board for Colvill’s ferocious editorials. Colvill boasted the paper was an "Independent Democratic journal . . . devoted to interests and rights of the masses..."

The Sentinel was a weekly four-page, six-column tabloid publication released on Saturdays. At the time of the inaugural issue of the Sentinel, Red Wing was a booming agricultural town housing Minnesota’s first college, Hamline University. Red Wing had grown in the 1840s and 1850s as settlers from the East and emigrants from Sweden, Norway, and Germany had arrived to farm the fertile lands of the Minnesota Territory. The Sentinel’s initial run lasted less than a year. In May of 1856 the publishers sold their equipment to Alexis Bailly of Hastings, Minnesota, who would open a new publication, the Dakota Weekly Journal. In July or August of 1857, the Red Wing Sentinel resumed publication under the same ownership, without noticeable disruption to its prior volume/issue numbering system. The Sentinel covered the transition to statehood in Minnesota in 1858, though few issues are extant from that year, and continued for several more years until 1861.

Throughout its tumultuous beginnings, the Sentinel published on a variety of subjects. By its own description: "As a Political Journal it will try all measures of men by the standard of Democratic principles, and will submit to no test but that of Democratic truth. . . the Sentinel will contain Congressional and Legislative—Foreign and Domestic—River and commercial News—Literary Matter—Tales—Biographical and Historical Sketches &e., &e. ." In fiery editorials, Colvill tackled many timely issues including states rights, slavery and the Dred Scott case. Colvill strongly opposed pro-slavery Southern Democrats, and his editorials closely followed and dissected the events leading up to the Civil War from the perspective of a Northern Democrat.

In 1860 Colvill sold his interest in the Red Wing Sentinel to William Phelps, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The transition, however, was not an easy one for Colvill. Shortly afterward, Colvill purportedly voiced his distaste for the new editor under a pseudonym in a longstanding rival paper, the Red Wing Republican. His commentary incited so much animosity that a physical exchange occurred between Colvill and Phelps in which Colvill was accosted with a shovel. Though no injuries were sustained by either party, this incident indicates the depth of emotional investment in the publication by its editors.

By 1861, the Sentinel was under the ownership of Martin Maginnis, with William Phelps as editor. The subject matter had changed only slightly, and politically charged editorials by Phelps reflected the political and social climate on the eve of the Civil War. On April 15, 1861, following the attack by Confederate forces on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for militias to be formed by the States. The last extant issue of the Sentinel on April 24, 1861, celebrates an organizational meeting of a company of the Goodhue Volunteers in Red Wing to serve as part of Minnesota’s regiments. It is notable that Colvill was elected Captain and Martin Maginnis served as secretary and was elected as the company’s 1st Sergeant. It is not known precisely when the Red Wing Sentinel ceased publication, but it was succeeded by the Goodhue Volunteer later in 1861.


Curtiss-Wedge, Franklyn. History of Goodhue County, Minnesota. Chicago: H.C. Cooper, Jr. & Co., 1909.

Johnston, Daniel S.B. "Minnesota Journalism in the Territorial Period." Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. 10, Pt. 2. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1905.