I got an inquiry recently from reader "Aaron O." I took immediate interest because he sparked my Wolf Island visit during the Riverboat Adventure the last time we corresponded. He was a county counter like many of us on 12MC including myself, and he’d encountered a curious coincidence during his collections.
Jasper County bordered Newton County in Texas. Fine, nothing special there. This year he concentrated on Mississippi though, and once again he noticed a Jasper County bordered on a Newton County. Consulting a map, he observed that Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Indiana and Missouri each had a Jasper County and a Newton County that shared a common border. Building on Aaron’s efforts, I began my research and saw that two states, Illinois and Iowa, also had a Jasper County (with no corresponding Newton County) that located their local seat of government in a town named Newton. What was going on?
I’d never noticed the pattern before and I didn’t understand the connection although it happened too frequently to be left to chance. However, the nexus would have been obvious to someone living in the United States two centuries ago. Jasper and Newton referred to Sergeants William Jasper and John Newton, as I found through additional Internet sleuthing, historical figures from the American Revolutionary War.(¹) Jasper was genuinely valiant. Newton was a nobody, elevated in stature through creative fiction that included the alleged connection between the two men.
Fort Moultrie. A poor quality video I took a few years ago
It was still early during the American Revolution when Colonel William Moultrie hastily constructed and never quite completed an earthen fort reinforced with palmetto logs on Sullivan’s Island to protect the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina (map). British warships attacked his positions in June 1776. Palmetto, as it occurred, served as an excellent defensive material. The spongy wood and sandy soil absorbed the impact of incoming cannonballs and deflected them harmlessly with minimal effect on the fortification walls. Meanwhile American artillery returned fire, pounding and damaging the British fleet. British forces retreated after a full day of futile bombardment and wouldn’t return to Charleston for another four years.
On the official flag of South Carolina, "The palmetto tree symbolized Colonel Moultrie’s heroic defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against the attack of the British fleet…"
The Palmetto State by Wendy, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
William Jasper served under Col. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island as part of the defensive forces preventing a British invasion. The Americans raised their flag, the "Moultrie Flag" — essentially the current South Carolina flag minus the palmetto tree — above a parapet and the battle commenced. A British shell shattered the flagstaff during the fight, knocking the Moultrie Flag to the ground. Jasper grabbed the flag, attached it to a makeshift flagstaff, climbed atop a parapet and held it in place. His actions became a rallying point for American defenders during the siege and his bravery became well-known afterwards.
Jasper Monument by Dizzy Girl, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Jasper tried a similar feat at the siege of Savannah, Georgia in 1779. Once more he found himself in a position to race to the top of a parapet and affix a flag. This time, however, he was shot and killed although not before he finish his task. This cemented his legacy, he became a revered hero with numerous posthumous honors, a statue was erected in Savannah, and all eight Jasper Counties in the United States were named for him.
John Newton and the William Jasper Connection
John Newton benefited from a largely-fictionalized revisionist history courtesy of Parson Mason Locke Weems. Parson Weems wrote highly romanticized accounts of early American history at the beginning of 19th Century. Modern standards would probably characterize this genre as "historical fiction" although back then it was simply history and presented as such. He’d listened to or concocted fanciful tales and presented them as fact. Most famously, it included the allegorical account of George Washington and the cherry tree which he claimed he’d heard from an elderly woman who said she was a distant Washington cousin.(²)
Weems wrote immensely popular and influential "biographies" of Washington and other leading historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, William Penn, and more importantly to this account, Francis Marion. General Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" served originally under Moultrie at Sullivan’s Island, then at the Siege of Savannah and later as the leader of an unconventional force that bedeviled British troops throughout South Carolina. He is often credited with being instrumental to the development of modern guerrilla warfare.
What Weems did for Washington, he also did for Marion. Chapter VI of "The life of General Francis Marion, a celebrated partisan officer" presented an account of Jasper and Newton.
Sergeants Jasper and Newton Rescuing American Prisoners from the British
by John Blake White (1781 – 1859)
United States Senate Collection
In this story, William Jasper had a loyalist brother who served in the British army at the Ebenezer garrison (map), near Savannah. Jasper would secretly visit his brother undetected for days at a time then report his findings back to the Americans. He brought John Newton along on his final trip behind enemy lines. While at the British garrison, they spotted the arrival a group of American prisoners captured in Savannah who were destined for execution, included a young woman and her child. British troops later marched the group away from the garrison presumably to be hanged. Jasper and Newton waited at a nearby spring where they supposed the group would relax before completing their march. They caught the resting guards by surprise, overpowered them, and released the prisoners, which they then led back across the Savannah River to freedom.
The heroic story struck a chord with American audiences.
Go ahead and read the original story. It won’t take more than a few minutes and it will provide an good indication of Weems’ fanciful, over-the-top style. I dare you to read it without rolling your eyes.
Too bad it wasn’t true. No similar account ever made it into written records on either side of the conflict at the time. Jasper was already revered for his bravery so it seemed unlikely that his peers wouldn’t have noticed him slipping behind enemy lines and returning with freed prisoners. Weems either heard an after-the-fact friend-of-a-friend tale like the Washington cherry tree story or he made it up on his own.
Nonetheless, the story linked Jasper to Newton inextricably in the American psyche during the first half of the 19th Century. Weems’ publications were so influential that fiction became fact. This coincided with a rapid expansion of the U.S. population and ongoing formation of county structures. Although Weems is largely forgotten today, his sway was great enough that it influenced several states to create both a Jasper County and a Newton County adjacent to each other.
(¹) Newton County, Mississippi claimed that it was named for Sir Isaac Newton. While I don’t have evidence, I suspect it was named originally for John Newton like all of the others and it was changed at a later date. This would be similar to King County, Washington named originally for William Rufus King and later changed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
(²) This tale is widely known to anyone raised in the United States. I doubt the same folklore applies elsewhere so I’ll briefly summarize. George Washington as a small child, according to Weems, received a hatchet as a gift and started chopping on various objects like any small child would want to do. This included his father’s prized cherry tree. When confronted he was alleged to respond, "I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet." Weems used this as an object lesson to convey Washington’s moral fiber, that even when wrong he would confess his mistakes and deal with the consequences rather than deceive or hide the truth. My father, the king of bad puns used to tell a joke that I’ll presume was popular in the 1940’s, with the punchline "I cannot tell a lie. Popeye did it."
The Geographic Names Information System had a little "frequently asked questions" page I somehow overlooked until a couple of days ago. Most of the FAQ dealt with mundane issues although a few gems hid within its midst. For example,
The most frequently occurring community name continues to vary. In the past year, it was Midway at 212 occurrences and Fairview at 202. More recently, Fairview counted 288 and Midway 256. The name Springfield often is thought to be the only community name appearing in each of the 50 States, but at last count it was in only 34. The most recent count shows Riverside with 186 instances in 46 States, only Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Oklahoma not having a community so named.
This compilation was great from a couple of perspectives. First, I found it interesting in its own right. Second, it meant that someone else did all of the dirty work today and I could simply
steal borrow the idea and elaborate upon it. 12MC didn’t mind getting a brief respite from research for once.
Jefferson Davis Monument by J. Stephen Conn, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
The United States had more places with nice views than ones located equidistant from two points in recent years so I started there. I selected Fairview in Kentucky because the border separating Christian County from Todd County cut right through the settlement (map). I’d always favor a geo-oddity above the others.
It seemed familiar and then it clicked in my mind when I spotted Jefferson Davis Historic Site, a memorial to the Confederate President who was "born on this site on June 3, 1808." Reader Bill Cary brought this site to my attention in a comment after I posted the Jeff Davis article in April 2013.
The Jefferson Davis monument looked a lot like another object named for a different first president, the Washington Monument. I’m sure that an obelisk wasn’t a coincidence although it was considerably shorter in stature (351 feet/107 metres versus 555 ft/169 m). Jefferson Davis’ monument probably didn’t have a precious tip either.
Midway, Utah, USA
The wonderful thing about Midway was that every instance had a built-in story by definition. Someone once thought they should all be defined by their geographic placement between two or more other locations.
I focused on Midway, Utah because it was a Midway with a decent population (about 4,000) and an interesting explanation. As noted by the city:
A wagon road completed through Provo Canyon in 1858 brought the first settlers to the area. In the spring of 1859, many more families began moving farther to the west along Snake Creek. Two small communities were established, called the Upper and Lower Settlements… In 1866, Indian hostilities grew and territorial governor Brigham Young encouraged settlers to construct forts for protection. The two small settlements reached an agreement to build a fort halfway or midway between the two existing communities… thus the beginning of our modern day town named Midway.
The Simpsons house, remodeled, in Henderson, NV by rscottjones, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
Springfield came next although there’s really only one Springfield that matters and it’s fictional. Maybe I’ll give a nod to Springfield, Oregon (map) because the town recently commissioned a Simpsons mural. Also it’s just down the road from Portland which may have inspired the cartoon Springfield so it had that geographic proximity going for it.
There were so many Riversides and I chose Riverside, California because of the Parent Washington Navel Orange. I’d visit it. The city even had a little park to protect the historic tree (map). I’ll let the University of California Riverside Citrus Variety Collection explain this particular specimen:
Washington navel orange is also known as the Bahia for the Brazilian city from which it was imported into the United States in 1870. Although its origins are uncertain, it is believed to come from a bud sport found in a Selecta orange tree in the early 1800s. Upon its arrival at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. it was propagated and trees were sent to California and Florida. Although the Florida trees did not flourish, those sent to Eliza Tibbets in Riverside, California found an ideal climate for their culture
Why focus on one specific navel orange tree in a tiny park in Riverside, California from amongst the millions of others in groves throughout the state? Because this exact tree was one of the first two original trees brought to Riverside in 1873, and the other one died in 1921. All California navel oranges descended from those two trees. They were the parents of the California citrus industry.
The setup might take a little explanation. I wanted to find the lowest county highpoint in each of the fifty United States. There would only be one per state based upon a series of lists provided by Peakbagger.com. That might lead to speculation that a better solution would involve examining all county highpoints regardless of state and rank them accordingly. I’d consider that fair criticism and maybe I’ll draft a Part 2 where I do that someday. However, just for today, I found it a lot easier to deal with a sample of 50 data points rather than 3,142 because I had to transcribe everything by hand. That was the real explanation.
I’ve shared the resulting Google spreadsheet with the 12MC audience, featuring one single lowest county highpoint per state. Can you guess which states had the lowest county highpoints? I knew most of them although the order surprised me.
060314-A-5177B-035 by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Virginia provided the overall lowest county highpoint with the independent city of Poquoson (map), which was considered a "county equivalent" for census and other statistical purposes. Poquoson’s peak elevation hit only 10 feet (3 metres) in several different places, just a storm surge away from complete nonexistence. It certainly seemed flat enough judging by the image published by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Plum Tree Island. Those holes might be bomb craters by the way. The Corps explained that Plum Tree served as a bombing and artillery range before it became a wildlife refuge.
I agree, a "county equivalent" with only 15 square miles (40 square kilometres) of dry land felt like cheating. Virginia and its wacky independent cities always seemed to throw a monkey wrench into county comparisons. Looking solely at Virginia COUNTIES, the lowest highpoint would be Accomack on the eastern shore with a summit of 60 ft. (18 m.). That exalted elevation would knock Virginia several notches down the list.
road to cocodrie, la by Gerald McCollam, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
No state suffered more from my arbitrary set of rules than Louisiana. I don’t think any other state had anywhere near the sheer number of low-elevation counties than Louisiana, where of course they were called parishes. I counted 25 parishes with a peak elevation of 100 ft. (30 m.) or less, including 7 parishes at 20 ft. (6 m.) or less. Louisiana’s issues with erosion were well understood. The southern end of the state continued to wash into the Gulf of Mexico as each big storm passed.
Terrebonne Parish climbed to only 13 ft. (4 m.), and barely resembled dry land at all with its endemic pockmarks clawed by hurricanes (map). Jefferson Parish, a west bank suburb of New Orleans, ranked a close second at 15 ft. (5 m.). One of my family members lived in Jefferson Parish during Hurricane Katrina and the elevation was just high enough to keep the house from flooding.
Potato plants in a Gum Neck field by Tony Pelliccio, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Conventional wisdom led me to believe that the lowest county highpoint of North Carolina would be found on the sandy barrier islands and ridges of the Outer Banks. That would be wrong. I should have remembered that the Wright Brothers chose Kill Devil Hill on the Outer Banks for gliding experiments prior to the first airplane flight precisely because it was a hill.
The actual lowest county highpoint triangulated to a spot on the mainland nearby in Tyrrell County, a place without sand dunes (map). Tyrrell’s highest summit hit 17 ft. (5 m.).
Other Notable Highpoints
Brooklyn – Green-wood Cemetery: Minerva and the Altar to Liberty by Wally Gobetz, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
I’ll mention a few more locations briefly.
Perhaps I could be excused for thinking Monroe County, Florida — the county of the Florida Keys — would have been the winner. It wasn’t. Monroe County had a highpoint on Lignumvitae Key at 19 ft. (6 m.), the site of Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. It wasn’t accessible by road so maybe that’s why I never noticed it during my many drives along the Keys.
Much farther down the list, New York featured Battle Hill (map) as its lowest county highpoint. That was in Kings County, a place known better as Brooklyn. It led me to wonder about the namesake battle of said hill. Fighting took place on the hill at the site of the current Green-Wood Cemetery during the early phase of American Revolutionary War, August 1776, a part of the larger Battle of Long Island. American forces inflicted heavy losses on British troops who attempted and failed to capture the hill. Shortly thereafter, George Washington evacuated all of his troops from New York City anyway because he was badly outmatched.
A final nod should go to Utah with the highest of lowest county highpoints. That was a rather impressive 9,255 ft. (2,821 m.) at Rich County’s Bridger Peak (map).
Completely Different Topic: Welcome Manaus!
Twelve Mile Circle seems to have attracted a regular reader from Manaus, in the Amazonas state of Brazil. I first noticed the anomaly during the World Cup when the United States played in Manuas and I figured it was an US reader who traveled down for the game (even mentioned it on the 12MC Twitter). However I continue to notice hits from Manaus at a regular pace. This counts as my official welcome. Thank you for coming to the site!