Peter Meek

Peter Gray Meek was the controversial editor of the Democratic Watchman for more than fifty years. He was widely known for his editorials opposing the Civil War, which led to his arrest several times.

Meek was born on July 12, 1842, in Ferguson Township. As a young man, he was a farmhand, teacher, and clerk. He had strong opinions on the issues of the times as the United States debated the future of slavery, and he joined the Watchman in 1861 as assistant editor.

The Watchman had been founded in Bellefonte to support the Democratic Party at a time when even many small towns had at least two newspapers, each usually expressing the views of a different political party.

Peter Meek

In his first Watchman editorial, Meek said he was an “exponent of democratic principles.” However, in August 1861 he was forced to resign from the newspaper for his editorials opposing the war.  

He soon rejoined the Watchman after purchasing a controlling interest. Continuing his editorial attacks on the administration of President Abraham Lincoln, he vowed to support the government “only as a government of white men . . . combatting the vile heresies of modern abolitionism.”

During the war Meek was arrested several times for publishing articles considered treasonous for denouncing the draft, but the cases never went to trial and he was released.  He welcomed the name Copperhead, a popular term for Northern opponents of the war, proclaiming that he was only sorry his fangs “were not deeper and deadlier.”

On August 5, 1862, Meek was attacked in Bellefonte by a group of young men who did not like his views, but he suffered only minor injuries. The next year he was drafted into the Union Army, but he avoided service by paying a $300 “commutation fee.”  

Meek was arrested the last time in May 1865. Lincoln had been assassinated weeks earlier, and in editorials Meek continued to condemn the president for fighting a war to end slavery. As a crowd watched, Meek was led through Bellefonte by armed soldiers and put on the train to Harrisburg. The editor spent three days in jail in before the state’s Democratic leaders secured his release. He was never put on trial.

After the war, Meek become a leader of Democratic Party in Centre County while still serving as editor of the Watchman, not an uncommon practice at the time. He served two terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1868-1869 and 1871-1872) and later was elected as chief clerk of the House of Representatives. In 1891 he was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate after running unsuccessfully three times.

Meek continued serving as editor of the Watchman until 1915. He died on February 16, 1919, at the age of 76 and was buried at Union Cemetery.

Ford Risley


Democratic Watchman (various issues during Civil War).

Glossner, Jeffrey. “Copperhead in Our Midst: Peter Gray Meek and his Peculiar Place in Bellefonte Politics During the Civil War.” Unpublished paper.

“Peter Gray Meek,” Library of the Senate of Pennsylvania (Accessed January 14, 2023).

Shankman, Arnold. The Pennsylvania Antiwar Movement, 1861-1865. Rutherford, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980.

“Watchman Veteran Editor,” Democratic Watchman, February 12, 1919.

First Published: January 30, 2024

Last Modified: May 1, 2024