Willard Richardson, newspaperman, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, on June 24, 1802, the son of Zacheus or Zachariah Richardson. In 1818 he and his brother left New England for Charleston, South Carolina. After his brother died of yellow fever, Richardson remained in Charleston. His zeal for self-improvement soon attracted the financial assistance of a local judge who helped him attend the state college at Columbia, South Carolina. After graduation in 1828 and difficulties with a wealthy Charleston woman, Louisa Blanche Murrell, who became his wife in 1849, Richardson moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he hoped to repay his college debts by teaching school. The couple had one child. In 1837 Richardson moved to Texas to work as a surveyor. After 1841 he established a school for young men in Houston. During his nine-year tenure as a teacher, he met the editor of the Telegraph and Texas Register, Francis Moore. In 1844, during the last presidential campaign of the republic, Moore traveled to Washington, D.C., leaving Richardson as pro tem editor. Richardson's editorial competence and aggressive style prompted the interest of the owners of the Galveston News, Wilbur H. Cherry and Benjamin F. Neal, who offered him the post of editor in late 1844.
Once in Galveston, Richardson made a reputation as "prudent, persevering, cool and indomitable," with a propensity for dramatic combativeness that earned him the nickname of "the Napoleon of the Texas Press." This financially unstable, forty-two-year-old bachelor was an anomaly among editors, but despite his rough image Richardson always secured support from the upper echelon of society. Mirabeau B. Lamar, for example, was a close friend who shared Richardson's appreciation of the states' rights philosophy of John C. Calhoun. While feigning nonpartisanship, Richardson diverted attention from his Whig affiliations by urging readers to vote according to issues. Like his mentor, Lamar, Richardson was a critic of Sam Houston, a proponent of annexation, and a defender of slavery. Richardson claimed that his work as an editor "was mainly for the purpose of using our efforts to prevent the success of this abolition policy of England" in North America. In the 1850s his militant opposition to abolition escalated from advocating the reopening of the slave trade to appeals for secession. In the election of 1860 Richardson issued a special campaign sheet called "The Crisis!" which defended states' rights. After learning of Lincoln's election, he declared that "the time of waiting is past" and clamored for secession. His devotion to the South in general, and Galveston in particular, prompted him to devise the "Galveston Plan," a proposed confluence of transportation networks stemming from his hometown. Richardson built the first modern building in Galveston, as well as an opera house, and acted as mayor in 1853. But he is best remembered for establishing one of the preeminent Texas journalism empires. In 1857 Richardson and his staff began publication of the Texas Almanac.
In less than four decades Richardson guided the Galveston News from an insignificant local paper with a circulation of fewer than 200 to the wealthiest, most important newspaper of antebellum Texas. By 1845 Richardson owned as well as edited the paper. The News, commonly referred to as "the Old Lady by the Sea," was one of only four papers founded during the republic era that survived the Civil War. Richardson contributed occasional articles until his death at home in Galveston on July 26, 1875, a decade before his newspaper was reborn as the powerful Dallas News (see DALLAS MORNING NEWS).