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Ambrose E. Gonzales

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Title: Ambrose E. Gonzales  
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Subject: Ambrosio José Gonzales, Telegraphy
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Ambrose E. Gonzales

Ambrose Elliott Gonzales (May 27, 1857 – July 11, 1926) was born on a plantation in Colleton County, South Carolina.[1] Gonzales was the son of Colonel Ambrosio José Gonzales and Harriet Rutledge Elliot. His father was a Colonel in the Confederate Army who played an instrumental role in the defenses of South Carolina during the American Civil War. Prior to this his father was a Cuban revolutionary leader who opposed oppressive Spanish rule. His mother was the daughter of the wealthy South Carolina rice planter, state senator and writer, William Elliott (writer).

Early career as telegraph operator

Although he had no formal education past the age of seventeen, Ambrose Gonzales became the telegraph operator in Grahamville, South Carolina, in October 1874, in order to help support his large extended family. His work as a telegraph operator lead to his involvement in state politics; during the controversial election of 1876, his telegraph office became the primary source of election results in the Beaufort County, South Carolina region for both the national presidential race between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden, and the contest for the governorship of South Carolina, in which Wade Hampton III ran on a platform of ending the Reconstruction Era in the United States. As a result, Gonzales became a Bourbon Democrat.[2]

In 1879, Gonzales left the telegraph office in Grahamville to manage the family plantation, Oak Lawn, on the Edisto River. After several years of failing harvests, he left for New York City in 1881, where he became a telegrapher for Western Union, while partaking of the rich cultural life of the city. He left for New Orleans in the autumn of 1882 to work as a telegrapher, but returned to New York the following year. In 1885, he left New York for good and returned to South Carolina to join his brother Narciso Gener Gonzales (1858–1903) on the staff of the Charleston, South Carolina News and Courier.[3]

Founding of The State newspaper

Gonzales and his brother Narciso were the founders of The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina in 1891. The paper supported a number of progressive causes; its editorials called for an end to lynching, reform of child labor laws, and women's suffrage. The paper was also frequently critical of the policies of Benjamin R. Tillman, who had been elected governor of South Carolina in 1890.[4]

Ambrose Gonzales and the Gullah language

Gonzales is well remembered in South Carolina today as a pioneering journalist and the writer of black dialect sketches on the Gullah people of the South Carolina and Georgia low country.

Gonzales grew up speaking the Gullah language with the slaves (and later freedmen) who worked on his family's rice plantations, and his knowledge of the language was considered extraordinary by other members of the low country planter class. After he published a few sketches in the Gullah language in his newspaper, public interest in his stories prompted him to author several books of Gullah dialect writings, including The Black Border (1922) and With Aesop Along the Black Border (1924). Gonzales won accolades as a publisher and journalist during his lifetime, but he was especially proud of his literary works based on the Gullah language.

Modern scholars have questioned the accuracy of Gonzales' representation of Gullah speech, but his books continue to be a valuable source of information on how the language was spoken in the 19th century. The frequent critical remarks Gonzales makes about the character of Gullah people in his books—decidedly racist by modern standards—take away, though, from the author's achievement.

Ambrose Gonzales has been inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame.[5]


  1. ^ Biography from Richland County Public Library
  2. ^ Jepsen, Thomas C., "Two 'Lightning Slingers' from South Carolina: The Telegraphic Careers of Ambrose and Narciso Gonzales." South Carolina Historical Magazine, October 1993, 265-271.
  3. ^ Jepsen, "Two 'Lightning Slingers'", 275-282.
  4. ^ Jones, Lewis Pinckney (1973). Stormy Petrel: N. G. Gonzales and His State. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Tricentennial Commission, University of South Carolina Press. pp. 109–285.  
  5. ^ South Carolina Business Hall of Fame

External links

  • Biographical Sketch on Ambrose Gonzales.

Books by Ambrose E. Gonzales

  • (1922) "The Black Border: Gullah Stories of the Carolina Coast," Columbia, SC: The State Company. Available online
  • (1924) "The Captain: Stories of the Black Border," Columbia, SC: The State Company.
  • (1924) "With Aesop Along the Black Border," Columbia, SC: The State Company.
  • (1924) "Laguerre: A Gascon of the Black Border," Columbia, SC: The State Company.
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