Living

Here’s how Biloxians got their news in the 1800s

The original John Walker diaries are preserved in the local history department of the Biloxi Library.
The original John Walker diaries are preserved in the local history department of the Biloxi Library.

In circa 1887, Captain John Walker (1834-1907) opened a store that offered newspapers, periodicals, stationary and toiletries and fancy goods of all kinds. The store, pictured here circa 1896, stood on the northwest corner of Lameuse and Water streets in Biloxi. Walker, a native of Pennsylvania, went to sea at as a young man and served under Commodore Mathew Perry (1789-1858) during his Japan expedition of 1853-54.

When Walker arrived on the Gulf Coast in 1858, he took command of one of the steam-powered paddle-wheelers that brought mail, supplies, and passengers to the villages between New Orleans and Mobile. When the Federal blockade interrupted navigation, he joined the Confederate navy and he took part in the July 1862 sea-battle for the possession of Ship Island. After the war, Walker continued as a steamboat master. He retired in 1883 and settled in Biloxi.

Walker quickly became an outstanding citizen of Biloxi. In addition to running a successful business, he served as Biloxi’s mayor from 1888 to 1894. Also in 1888, the governor appointed him to the county board of health. Walker went on to assist in the organization of the town’s first bank, the Bank of Biloxi, the Artesian Ice Manufacturing Co., and the Peoples Telephone Co., all in which he held the office of president.

But John Walker’s greatest legacy is the three diaries in which he daily wrote the local daily happenings in Biloxi. The journal identifies the births, deaths, illnesses, and the back and forth travels of people. He reported the advent of different organizations (including the Biloxi Yacht Club), and the economic health of various business. Also, he daily reported the temperature, the wind speeds and direction, and if sun-shining or raining, and storms and hurricanes.

Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast’s distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and phone number to Flashback, Sun Herald, 205 DeBuys Road, Gulfport, MS 39507.

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