Press Club, Greenport officials recognize once controversial journalist

A marker honoring an iconic, rebellious North Fork newspaper editor now stands tall in Greenport Village.

Members of the Village Board, Stirling Historical Society and Press Club of Long Island unveiled a plaque honoring Henry Reeves, former editor and publisher of the ormer Greenport weekly newspaper, The Watchman, founded in 1858.

Mr. Reeves, who was also a village trustee, state assemblyman and a Southold Town supervisor for 20 years, was jailed in 1861 by the Lincoln administration for sedition for writing pro-South editorials in the Watchman at the beginning of the Civil War, Stirling Historical Society president Gail Horton said Thursday.

Press Club of Long Island historic sites chairman Bill Bleyer said the editor returned to his position at the paper after he was released from Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor after a four-month stint.

Although most of the North had shifted to be pro-war after the Battle of Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April 1861, Mr. Bleyer said, the same wasn’t true for Mr. Reeves.

In her speech, Ms. Horton was quick to point out the controversial nature of the honoree: he opposed the war effort and came out in favor of the South during the Civil War.

“He’s a complicated person,” she said, “but he did an awful lot for Greenport, so we appreciate you honoring him for his devilish ways and for his great contribution to the community.”

According to an obituary published in May 1916 in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mr. Reeves graduated from Union College and the University of Michigan. He was one of the oldest volunteer firemen in the state at one point, was a member of the Greenport Presbyterian Church and served as a member of something called the State Lunacy Commission from 1889-1897. As a member of the board of trustees of the Long Island Agricultural School at Farmingdale, he advocated for a state school in Suffolk County.

The Greenport sign is the fifth marker in PCLI’s historic sites program, which recognizes notable journalists across the Island. The group has honored the founding site of Newsday in Hempstead Village; the founding site of the Long Islander by Walt Whitman in Huntington; the Sag Harbor site where David Frothingham founded the first newspaper on Long Island; and a Roslyn Harbor site recognizing William Cullen Bryant, editor of the New York Evening Post.

“The fact that any journalist would be put in jail for exercising their First Amendment rights,” Mr. Bleyer said, “and certainly in the current environment where the president considers the media the enemy of the people — it’s important to reassert that journalists have a First Amendment right to assert their opinion, no matter how unpopular it may be.”

After Mr. Reeves’s death, an article appeared in The Suffolk Times which requested a memorial be mounted for him. It was suggested that the Greenport Board of Trustees raise funds to build a memorial, Ms. Horton said.

While that effort failed, Ms. Horton said she believes Mr. Reeves is important as he was eager to speak his mind.

“The most important thing was his First Amendment rights,” she said. “No matter what your opinion is, you have the right to put it out there.”

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