Jasper and Newton

On September 21, 2014 · 1 Comments

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.

William Jasper



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
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
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.


Jasper and Newton Rescue
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."

Wyoming, More Than Just a State

On July 10, 2014 · 4 Comments

A visitor arrived on Twelve Mile Circle the other day from Wyoming, Iowa. Certainly I was acutely aware of the State of Wyoming as well as the predecessor Wyoming in Pennsylvania, although the Iowa rendition was a new one for me. I conducted a quick frequency check of "populated places" designated Wyoming in the USGS Geographic Names Information, and discovered numerous occurrences. That didn’t even consider counties, townships, and all manner of other features with the same name. GNIS included 288 entries for Wyoming.


20140308 31 near Wyoming, Iowa
20140308 31 near Wyoming, Iowa by David Wilson, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

First, a little bit about the hometown of 12MC’s nameless one-time visitor. It wasn’t a large town. It had only 515 residents during the 2010 Census so I feel privileged to have attracted even one of them. Wyoming was incorporated in 1873 so it had longevity. At least one source noted that it was named for Wyoming County, New York. It remained unstated in the sources I consulted although I’d guess that an original pioneer or town founder must have arrived in Iowa from that other Wyoming.


Etymology

I’ve become a fan of William Bright’s Native American Placenames of the United States recently. I’ve relied upon it a couple of times as an instrumental resource as I delve into the history of various US placenames. Many of them traced back to English, French or Spanish mangling of Native words overheard by early explorers as they encountered territories previously unknown to them. The book also offered an explanation for Wyoming.

WYOMING (Pa., Luzerne Co.)… from Munsee Delaware (Algonquian), probably ‘at the big river flat’… The placename was made popular by an 1809 poem "Gertrude of Wyoming," commemorating a conflict between Indians and whites at the Indian site; during the nineteenth century, the name was assigned not only to the state but also to many other locations.

The Wyoming Valley runs through the place known today as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Metropolitan Area. Wilkes-Barre serves as the county seat of government in Luzerne County, and an actual town of Wyoming exists there as well. The various Wyoming places invariably traced back to this source ultimately, a place based upon a word in an Algonquian language called Unami, in its Munsee dialect. This was a language of the Lenape people who the European settlers called the Delaware Indians. The phrase didn’t spread through the forced migrations endured by the Lenape in the manner of the word Delaware itself (discussed previously in 12MC). Rather it traced to an unrelated event in the American Revolutionary War.


The Battle of Wyoming


Battle of Wyoming Monument
Battle of Wyoming Monument by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

British Loyalists and allied Native American warriors from the Iroquois tribe descended upon the Wyoming Valley and the town of Wyoming in 1778. They numbered several hundred and greatly outmatched those living in the valley who supporting independence. Sources described it as resembling a massacre more than a battle, with greater than two hundred people killed including many in gruesome ways. Revolutionaries couldn’t return to the area to bury their dead for several months. When they finally did, they interred their scattered dead in a mass grave. These events were commemorated by the Battle of Wyoming monument (map).


Gertrude of Wyoming

However it wasn’t until the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell wrote, "Gertrude of Wyoming; A Pennsylvanian Tale" in 1809 did Wyoming take-off in popularity in the culture of the time.



Campbell wrote Gertrude of Wyoming in Spenserian stanza and the plot revolved around Gertrude growing up in the lovely Wyoming valley, marrying the love of her life, and then perishing with her newlywed husband at the hands of the Loyalists and their Native warriors. It became wildly popular soon after its publication, fueled by romantic themes and a tragic ending.

More than anything the poem launched just about everything Wyoming, directly or indirectly, other than the original valley and the town in the vicinity of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.


Populated Places



View Towns of Wyoming in a larger map

I discovered an impressive number of populated places named Wyoming. They are noted with blue markers in the map, with a red marker at the original Wyoming in Pennsylvania. I even discovered a Wyoming in Wyoming (map).

It didn’t stop there. Imagine Wyoming in Australia.



Wyoming, New South Wales, Australia

Gertrude of Wyoming could have contributed to the Australian place name too, according to the Gosford City Library: "Campbell’s popular work may have influenced the Hely family to name their grant "Wyoming". The local suburb and the North American State share the same name origin. The use of the term “Wyoming” locally pre-dates the American State by many years."

Gertrude certainly got around.

Not the Usual State Capital Trivia

On July 1, 2014 · 5 Comments

It was time to clear my list of unwritten articles again and I noticed several of them involved state capitals, or their capitol buildings. I’m not sure what the "usual" State Capital trivia might be much less the unusual, so let’s consider this an article on topics that the average layperson may not know. The always astute 12MC audience probably knows many of these peculiarities already although I’m hoping everyone will walk away with at least one new bit of information.

Highest Altitude State Capital


New Mexico State Capitol
New Mexico State Capitol by Mr.TinDC, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

I would imagine that the preponderance of the general public might think of Denver as the highest state capital as a matter of reflex. After all, Denver has long touted itself as The Mile High City and parts of it do measure up to a mile (1.6 kilometres) above sea level, and in some instances a little higher. Santa Fe, New Mexico blew that figure out of the water with an elevation of 7,199 ft (2,134 m) above sea level. I consulted an altitude calculator and measured the New Mexico capitol building (map) at 7,005 ft (2,135 m) at the actual seat of government. That still bested Denver by a remarkable amount.

If I were to hand out an award for the capitol that looked least like a stereotypical capitol I’d probably have to give it to Santa Fe, understanding that it would be a subjective determination. The capitol didn’t have a dome or many of the traditional architectural flourishes observed elsewhere. It was also the only ROUND capitol building in the United States, "designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol when viewed from above." That was bonus trivia.


A State Capital with Odd Governance


Michigan State Capitol
Michigan State Capitol by Graham Davis, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

It would seem to make sense that the seat of any state government would not be beholden to a local government. At the national level in the US, the District of Columbia was created as an independent entity removed from any state for that very reason. In 49 states, the state capital city also served as the local county seat of government. Michigan was the only exception.

Lansing (map), the capital of Michigan fell primarily into Ingham County, with a tiny sliver in Eaton County. Lansing was not the county seat of either county; Mason was the county seat of Ingham and Charlotte of Eaton. It came about as fallout from an unsuccessful attempt to locate the state capital in Mason:

In 1836 Charles Noble knew that Michigan would be seeking a central location for a new capital when it became a state. He purchased an area of forest, cleared 20 acres (81,000 m2), and founded Mason Center. The "Center" was soon dropped. In 1847, however, the state chose Lansing Township 12 miles (19 km) northward to be its capital due its potential for water power. Noble managed to make Mason the county seat instead.

The odd arrangement was a consolation prize for a pioneering settler.


Where the State Capitol is the Tallest Building in the State


West Virginia State Capitol
West Virginia State Capitol by Jonathan Rieke, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

There was one, maybe two with an asterisk, state capitol buildings that were the tallest buildings in the state. The West Virginia Capitol (map) at 293 ft (89 m) in Charleston was definitely one.

That might also be true for North Dakota:

The North Dakota State Capitol Building Tower is often lovingly referred to as "The Skyscraper on the Prairie" although it is only 241 feet 8 inches tall. Locally, we like to think of it as a "mini skyscraper" because of its sleek form and the fact that it happens to be the tallest manmade structure in the area.

However, depending on what one considers a building, the tallest might actually be the Antelope Valley Station power plant rising to 361 feet (110 m) in Beulah, ND. Additionally a real estate developer was hoping to construct the 252 ft (77 m) Dakotah Place tower in Fargo that "…would include a parking ramp, retail and office space, a hotel and high-end condos.."


State Capital on an International Border


State Capitol
State Capitol by cubby_t_bear, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

This was a trick question revealed in a comment on State Capitals Meet Time Zones from August 2009. Juneau, Alaska (map) is the only state capital that borders another nation. The city and borough of Juneau unified in 1970. Naturally the unified entity filled the same physical space including a border with Canada ("The newly created boundaries of the City and Borough of Juneau consolidated the City of Douglas, the City of Juneau. and the Greater Juneau Borough."). Good luck trying to climb the mountains and cross into Canada, though.

The Alaska State Capitol building might also be a contender for least like a stereotypical Capitol, now that I think about it.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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