For 163 years, The Montgomery County Sentinel has provided the residents of the County with weekly news coverage from its newsroom in Rockville.
“We are proud to carry on the tradition of independence, and of being a community leader,” said publisher Lynn Kapiloff. “Our commitment to this community has never been stronger.”
The Sentinel remains the only community newspaper still publishing in Montgomery County and has been named the News Organization of the Year by the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Press Association for four out of the last five years.
Under the leadership of current owner Lynn Kapiloff and her late husband, Dr. Bernard Kapiloff, The Sentinel became a beacon for civil rights and independence. During the 1960s, The Sentinel’s reporting on “The Giles Case” – often referred to as the “‛To Kill a Mockingbird’ case of Montgomery County,” led to freeing African Americans charged and wrongly convicted of rape.
A decade later, investigative reporter Bob Woodward wrote for The Sentinel for one year after being turned down by The Washington Post. Woodward later rejoined the Post and was soon reporting on the Watergate Scandal.
But the paper was founded in different times and once stood for far different interests.
Founded in 1855 by Matthew Fields, like many newspapers of the era, The Sentinel began as a partisan publication in a divisive political environment in the years preceding the Civil War. Issues such as slavery, tariffs, and state’s rights were fiercely debated across the nation.
Matthew Fields was the first of four children born in 1813 to William Fields and his wife, Margaret Ramsey Fields, on a farm located a mile from Rockville. At sixteen, he began a printing apprenticeship under prominent landowner Jesse Leach at The Maryland Journal and True American, a newspaper that published in the County from 1828 to 1834 with the intent of supporting political candidates and influencing public opinion. Leach’s publication did not survive, but Fields had attained the knowledge of a printer.
After marrying Rebecca Beckwith in 1851, Fields was appointed to be the Postmaster of Rockville, and the following year was elected Montgomery County Sheriff. Having been elected as a Whig, Fields partnered with his friend, John Braddock, Jr., at The Maryland Journal and Montgomery Advocate, a newspaper that supported the Whig political party.
As the Whig Party lost political relevance, Braddock’s publication ceased production in 1855 after just two years, and Fields found himself affiliated with the newly-formed Democratic Party in opposition to eventual Republican President Abraham Lincoln.
On August 11, 1855, Fields published the first edition of The Montgomery County Sentinel. According to an October 9, 1930 edition of The Washington Herald, The Sentinel was founded with the intent “to take flings at the Yanks.”
From the very first edition, The Sentinel became a political voice in the County, routinely advocating for Confederate causes. Printing took place at a cabin on Washington Street, which was later expanded to accommodate community gatherings as residents congregated to discuss news and politics.
During the 1860 election, Fields dedicated the opinion columns to criticize the anti-Catholic “Know Nothing Party,” as well as the Black Republicans. After closely covering the Democratic nomination process, Fields ran columns urging his readers to vote for Democrat John C. Breckinridge.
After the election of Abraham Lincoln, Fields worked to convene a citizens’ meeting in Rockville to discuss the issues of slavery and states’ rights. Much to Fields’ disappointment, attendees of the meeting favored remaining in the Union while continuing the preservation of slavery. Despite routinely publishing anti-Lincoln rhetoric, Fields published Lincoln’s entire Inaugural Address in 1861.
When the Civil War began with the attack on Fort Sumter, Fields was clear to point out his preference for the Confederacy. As troops under Colonel Charles Stone occupied Montgomery County, The Sentinel covered the raids on the various volunteer militias regardless of political leanings.
Throughout the war, The Sentinel published on the issue of slavery and when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Fields published the document’s text in full on September 26, 1862. In addition to discussing the various political issues, reports detailing battles were used to inform readers on the progress of the war.
After rioting killed Union soldiers in Baltimore, martial law was instituted in Maryland, allowing the Union Army to imprison Confederate sympathizers for disloyalty. On October 6, 1862, Union soldiers arrested Matthew Fields on the suspicion of ‘Southern sympathies.’ Court documents indicate Fields was to be released as soon as he was willing to take an oath not to publish material favoring the South. He was released on November 25, 1862, during Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Amnesty.
Following Fields’s arrest, The Sentinel continued publication under the direction of his wife, Rebecca, and the help of his sons. Fields was arrested a second time in April 1864, with no formal charge, but production of the paper had to be suspended due to a lack of expertise in operating the printing press. After Rebecca Fields wrote to Congressman Francis Thomas, a judge ordered Matthew Fields to be released.
Due to the lack of existing copies of The Sentinel, not much is known about Fields’s views on the latter events of the Civil War or the early Reconstruction period.
Fields eventually died in 1871, and his wife took over publication, often handling production entirely on her own until 1910, when Matthew Fields’s son, Henry Clay Fields, became the editor. Rebecca Fields would maintain a limited role until her death in 1930 at the age of 100.
The Fields family maintained ownership of The Sentinel until 1932, when it was sold to P. G. Stromberg. Stromberg expanded The Sentinel and hired numerous reporters and a newsboy to handle deliveries. In its centennial year, the family of P. G. Stromberg sold The Sentinel to Louis Linebach and Cy Campbell. During their ownership, Linebach and Campbell had significant disagreements, with Campbell eventually selling his stake in the publication.
In 1962, Leonard and Bernard Kapiloff purchased The Sentinel from Linebach, and the Kapiloff family continues to publish it today.