David Ross Locke

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David Ross Locke

David Ross Locke (also known by his pseudonym Petroleum V. Nasby) (September 20, 1833 – February 15, 1888) was an American journalist and early political commentator during and after the American Civil War.


Early life[edit]

Locke was born in Vestal, Broome County, New York,[1] the son of Nathaniel Reed Locke and Hester Locke.[2]


He was apprenticed at age 12 to the newspaper, the Democrat in Cortland County, New York.

Following a seven-year apprenticeship, he tramped around[clarification needed] until his next protracted stay, with the Pittsburgh Chronicle. Around 1855, Locke started, with others, the Plymouth, Ohio Herald. On March 20, 1856, he became the editor of the Bucyrus Journal. By 1861 he had purchased and was the editor of The Jeffersonian in Findlay, Ohio, where he began writing his Nasby letters.[3][4]

In 1861 Locke revived the Hancock Jeffersonian in Findlay, Ohio until he left in 1865 to edit the Toledo Blade.[5]

Locke was in Bucyrus, Ohio when the Civil War broke out. Following the war, from October 15th, 1865 he edited and wrote for the Toledo Blade in Toledo, Ohio[6], which he purchased in 1867.[7]


Locke died on February 15, 1888, in Toledo.[8]

His work[edit]

Petroleum V. Nasby's "Dream of Perfect Bliss" (a "Post Orfis" appointment) by Thomas Nast

Locke's most famous works, the "Nasby Letters", were written in the character of, and over the signature of "Rev. Petroleum V(esuvius) Nasby", a Copperhead and Democrat. They have been described as "the Civil War written in sulphuric acid".[citation needed]

Locke's fictional alter ego, Nasby, loudly championed the cause of the Confederate States of America from Secession onward, but did little to actively help it. After being conscripted into the Union Army he deserted to the Confederates, joining the fictional "Pelican Brigade". However, he found life in the Confederate Army "tite nippin" and soon deserted again. By the end of the Civil War he was back in civilian life.

The Nasby Letters, although written in the semi-literate spelling used by other humorists of the time, were a sophisticated work of ironic fiction. They were consciously intended to rally support for the Union cause; "Nasby" himself was portrayed as a thoroughly detestable character — a supreme opportunist, bigoted, work-shy, often half-drunk, and willing to say or do anything to get a Postmaster's job. (Locke's own father had served as Postmaster of Virgil, New York.)[9] At the time the Letters were written, postmaster positions were political plums, offering a guaranteed federal salary for little or no real work. Until the glorious day when he received a "Post Orfis" from Andrew Johnson, Nasby worked, when he worked, most frequently as a preacher. His favorite biblical texts, unsurprisingly, were the ones that were used by Southern ministers to "prove" that slavery was ordained by the Bible.

Abraham Lincoln loved the Nasby Letters, quoting them frequently. Lincoln is reported to have said, "I intend to tell him if he will communicate his talent to me, I will swap places with him!"[10]

After the Civil War, Nasby went on to comment on Reconstruction. He settled in several different places, most notably "Confedrit X Roads, wich [sic] is in the Stait of Kentucky", a fictional town full of idle, whiskey-loving, scrounging ex-Confederates, and a few hard-working, decent folk, who by an amazing coincidence were all strong Republicans. He traveled frequently, sometimes not entirely voluntarily (Nasby's habit of borrowing money he never repaid, and running up tabs at the local saloon often made him unpopular) and continued to comment on the issues of the day.

Locke discontinued the Nasby Letters a few years before his death, since the times had changed and Nasby was no longer topical. While the semi-literate spelling in which they are written has often discouraged modern readers, it can also be seen as a point of characterizing "Nasby".

Several collections of the Letters came out in book form, some illustrated by Thomas Nast, who was a friend and political ally of Locke.

Works by Locke[edit]

Locke with Josh Billings and Mark Twain


wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainGilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Locke, David Ross (1833–88)". New International Encyclopedia. 12 (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. p. 376.
  1. ^ Harrison, Jerry (2000). The Next Book of the Lockes. Heritage Books. p. 188. ISBN 978-0-7884-1457-2.
  2. ^ Harrison, Jerry (2000). The Next Book of the Lockes. Heritage Books. pp. 92–3. ISBN 978-0-7884-1457-2.
  3. ^ Jeffries, Evone. "Locke, David Ross – Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library". Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  4. ^ "LOCKE, ROBINSON". Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  5. ^ "The Hancock Jeffersonian. [volume]". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  6. ^ Taft, William (June 1957). "David Ross Locke: Forgotten Editor". Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. 34 (2): 202–207. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  7. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2013). American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. ABC-CLIO. p. 1149. ISBN 978-1-85109-682-4.
  8. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2013). American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. ABC-CLIO. p. 1149. ISBN 978-1-85109-682-4.
  9. ^ Harrison, John M. (1969). The Man who Made Nasby. University of North Carolina Press. p. 85.
  10. ^ McClure, Alexander K. (1901). "Abe" Lincoln's Yarns and Stories. Henry Neil. p. 198.

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