“The Gazette is on the side of the people.”

Wisconsin State Journal, July 12, 1875

1870s Janesville, Wisconsin was not a large city, and its residents frequently encountered one another in both business and social settings. During her years in Janesville, Lavinia Goodell developed a very cordial relationship with the proprietors of the Janesville Gazette, both the local editor, Nicholas Smith, and the paper’s co-owner and editor-in-chief, General James Bintliff.

General James Bintliff (Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society)

Bintliff was born in Halifax, England in 1824. He came to New York City in 1842 and in 1851 moved to Monroe, Wisconsin where he took a job at a bank. While in Monroe he was elected the Green County register of deeds and in 1859 he was admitted to the bar. In 1860 he became part owner of the Monroe Sentinel newspaper. Bintliff was a passionate abolitionist and helped found Wisconsin’s Republican party.

In 1862, Bintliff recruited a company of Monroe soldiers and was elected their captain. In 1863, his company was attacked and captured by Confederate forces in Tennessee and imprisoned. A few months later the men were freed as part of a prisoner exchange. In 1864, Bintliff was promoted to serve as colonel of the 38th Wisconsin Infantry. In 1865, he was brevetted Brigadier General for leading a successful charge upon Fort Mahone in Virginia. After the war, he returned to Monroe and resumed publication of the Sentinel.

In 1870, Bintliff and R.L. Colvin purchased the Janesville Gazette. After taking over the paper, the men said this to their readers:

We regard the people of Rock County as constituting the most intelligent community in the State. And it is an ambition worthy of any man to deserve your confidence and support. To uphold the interests of this county and the city of Janesville, and to make in this paper a faithful record of the growth and prosperity of this people is the work to which all our powers are committed.

It is unknown when General Bintliff first met the Goodells, but an article in the April 9, 1872 Grant County Herald newspaper reported that Bintliff and another old abolitionist paid a call on Lavinia’s father, William Goodell, who was then in his eightieth year. The article noted that William Goodell continued to write for four or five newspapers, mainly on temperance.

Bintliff, too, was a strong temperance advocate. In July 1875, he published an editorial in the Gazette chastising the common council for repealing an ordinance that had prohibited saloons from remaining open after 11:00 p.m. The following day’s paper contained a letter signed “A Citizen” which called out by name Anson Rogers, a Janesville alderman. The letter questioned why Rogers desired full liberty to patronize the saloons at a late hour and said, “Gambling is just as much an offense when participated in by an alderman as any other person, and it has become the determination of some of the citizens of Janesville to unearth some of the doings of their public men, should causes for future provocation occur.”

Alderman Rogers did not take kindly to the newspaper’s criticism. The following afternoon he, William Buckingham, who “keeps a groggery” just north of the Gazette office, and others – “gamblers, drunkards and saloon-loafers,” stormed the Gazette office for the purpose of “cleaning it out.” Buckingham struck R.L. Colvin who, in turn, “disfigured the face of Buckingham considerably.” Rogers threatened to shoot General Bintliff, whereupon Bintliff told him to “fire away, I am your man.” The Wisconsin State Journal recounted the event and proclaimed, “The Gazette is on the side of the people — that is what ails them.” (Read the full account of the event here.)

Rogers was fined $5 for his role in the melee. Buckingham was fined $25. Lavinia Goodell had her own share of unpleasant dealings with both Alderman Rogers and saloon keeper Buckingham. On more than one occasion in 1873 and 1874, Lavinia and other members of the Janesville Women’s Temperance League went to Buckingham’s saloon to “remonstrate with him.” On one of those visits Lavinia reported that while she had a pleasant talk with Buckingham, she was “outrageously insulted” by Rogers. In 1876, Lavinia sued Buckingham  for failing to pay for 1100 cigars he had ordered from her client. She won a judgment for $74.75 damages and costs.

Like Lavinia, General Bintliff was a member of Janesville’s two literary societies, the Round Table and the Mutual Improvement Club. In her diary, Lavinia frequently made mention of stopping by the Gazette office to speak to Bintliff or peruse the paper’s reference materials. In 1877, it was Bintliff who wrote to Wisconsin’s Secretary of State to procure a notary public commission for Lavinia. 

General Bintliff left Janesville in 1878 and moved to Darlington, Wisconsin where he edited the Republican newspaper. Late in life he moved to Chicago to live with a daughter. He outlived Lavinia by twenty-one years, dying in 1901 at the age of 76. His obituary reported, “Long and honorable life comes to a close. Had a brilliant war record and served his state for many years.”

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s diaries; Janesville Daily Gazette (July 8, 1875, July 9 1875); Wisconsin State Journal (July 5, 1870; July 12, 1875; July 20, 1875); Grant County Herald (April 9, 1972); Northern Wisconsin Advertiser (March 28, 1901);  https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS3262; https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/70305033/james-bintliff.

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