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Gleaner 180 - They are responsible!

Published:Saturday | September 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Jacob DeCordova
Joshua DeCordova

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

The challenges and changes of a century and eight decades have not eclipsed the vision of two Jamaican brothers of Jewish descent who helped craft the media landscape in this country.

Jacob and Joshua deCordova started an indelible path that continues, to this day, to touch and impact just about every sphere of Jamaican existence.

For 180 years, The Gleaner newspaper has stood the test of time, surmounting myriad hurdles, including the 1907 earthquake that wrecked its printing press in Kingston. The Gleaner has also overcome the gamut of other challenges in an environment that has been unpredictable at best.

It was in 1834 that Jacob deCordova seized the initiative to open the first Gleaner office. Supported by his brother Joshua, the two siblings fashioned a media entity that has since covered every significant event in the history of Jamaica - from the election of prime ministers to state funerals and visits by foreign heads of state.

In the scheme of everyday activities, the burning issues that have impacted the lives of the ordinary citizens were never overlooked by the venerable newspaper.

Born Jacob Raphael deCordova, on June 6, 1808, in Spanish Town, (then known as St Jago de la Vega), the youngest of three sons of Judith and Raphael deCordova, was raised by an aunt in England because his mother died during childbirth. He was really the brains behind the formation of The Gleaner newspaper.

His father, a Jewish-Jamaican coffee grower and exporter, had moved to Philadelphia and was later joined by Jacob, who became a successful Texas land agent and coloniser, who married Rebecca Sterling and later learned the printing trade.

Jacob subsequently moved back to Kingston in 1834 where, along with his brother Joshua, he started The Gleaner and Weekly Compendium of News.

An enduring legacy of Jacob was his political astuteness and social awareness. These two attributes spurred him to visit New Orleans two years later, where he shipped cargoes of staples to Texas during its struggle for independence.

He resided in the city of Galveston before moving to Houston and is best known as the founder of Waco, the city which gained infamy in February-April 1993 when Federal agents stormed a compound occupied by self-styled cult leader David Koresh and many of his followers.

Jacob eventually settled in Texas in 1839 where he was elected a state representative to the Second Texas Legislature and served for one term before losing his bid for re-election in 1849.

Back in Jamaica, Jamaican Jews were given the right to vote in the 1800s and by 1849, eight of the 47 members of the House of Assembly were Jewish.

While in Texas, the entrepreneurial spirit of Jacob blossomed and bloomed. He acquired significant portions of land holdings that he sold to settlers. It has been reported that Jacob, at one time, had a million acres in scrip or title.

Jacob devised a strategy to lure settlers to Texas. He would make speeches on Texas in New York, Philadelphia, and other cities, and as far as the cotton-spinners association in Manchester, England. His lectures, which were published on both sides of the Atlantic, were widely read.

His land agency, which he owned with his half-brother Phineas deCordova, became one of the largest such agencies ever to operate in the southwest.

But Jacob was always a publisher at heart. After he founded The Gleaner in 1834, he and Robert Creuzbaur compiled the Map of the State of Texas, first published in 1849.

Today, The Gleaner maintains offices in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.