I received an interesting query from loyal reader "Katy" via the 12MC Google+(1) account the other day. She was looking for examples of towns that were named after people that included the namesakes’ first and last names.(2) Several possibilities came to mind and one name in particular, Jefferson Davis, kept recurring.
Jefferson Davis — which I’ll mention primarily for the international audience less familiar with United States history — was the first and only President of the Confederate States of America (1861-1865). His name still invokes a wide spectrum of reactions based upon specific points of view about the Civil War, the Confederacy, Reconstruction and the evolution of the New South. I won’t wade into that topic except to note that different parts of my family fell onto both sides of that conflict so I’m abundantly aware of the range of considerations. I’ll take the cowardly exit and focus solely on the use of Jefferson Davis as a geographic identifier.
The largest territorial expressions of Jeff or Jefferson Davis occur at the U.S. county level: Jeff Davis Counties in Texas and Georgia; Jefferson Davis Parish in Louisiana; and Jefferson Davis County in Mississippi. Additionally there is a Jeff Davis Township that is a part of Little River County, Arkansas. Their formations tend to cluster chronologically at either side of the flip between the 19th and 20th Centuries; far enough removed from the Civil War to not seem treasonous while close enough to be a part of the emotional fabric of people directly involved.
View Jeff Davis in a larger map
Jeff Davis County, Texas
Texas was part of the Confederacy, however it seemed odd to find a county named for Davis so far out along the western edge of this immense state. It actually hearkens back to an earlier history, though.
The direct association between Jefferson Davis and the Civil War is so strong that his earlier life often goes unnoticed. Davis graduated from the prestigious U.S. military academy at West Point, fought as a Colonel in the Mexican-American War, served in the US Congress, and completed a term as Secretary of War during the Franklin Pierce administration (1853-1857). The county in Texas drew indirectly from Davis’ term as Secretary of War.
Fort Davis was established in west Texas in 1854 to protect travelers along the San Antonio-El Paso Road who were being attacked by Native American tribes including the Mescalero Apache (defending their homeland). The fort was named for the Secretary at the time, Jeff Davis. That was nothing unusual. Nobody could predict how his role would change.
Confederate forces captured Fort Davis without firing a shot in 1861 in what would certainly be an important symbolic victory albeit the Union Army wasn’t much of a threat in this remote corner. The Handbook of Texas, published by the Texas State Historical Association noted that the real threat were actually the Mescalero Apache who were described as "unimpressed" by the change of leadership at the fort. Confederate forces abandoned the fort a year later after ongoing harassment and ambushes led by the Apache.
McDonald Observatory; Jeff Davis Co., TX — View Larger Map
Jeff Davis County is notable for a couple of other reasons:
- It shares a border with Mexico at a single point; a nearly impossible capture for county counters who adhere to every border variation.
- It’s home to the Davis Mountains which the handbook of Texas called the "highest mountain range located entirely within the state of Texas," and also named for Jeff Davis. McDonald Observatory was built in the dark skies of the Mount Locke summit at 6,791 feet (2,070 metres) and is accessible by the "highest state maintained road in Texas."
Jeff Davis County was established in 1887. One could argue whether the name truly referenced the antebellum Jeff Davis or reflected lingering Confederacy nostalgia, however, it’s undeniable that a prior connection existed.
Jeff Davis County, Georgia
I wish every state had its own version of the Handbook of Texas. It would make research a lot easier. My problem with Texas was culling and summarizing (a nice problem to have); with Jeff Davis, Georgia I had a deficit of information. What little I found confirmed that the county was named for the former Confederate president in 1905.
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Jeff Davis Co. was an outgrowth of Appling and Coffee Counties. It was necessitated by the growth of the town of Hazlehurst which became the seat of government for the new county. Hazlehurst started as a rail town during the Reconstruction era and grew from there. The town’s history page noted: "Georgia’s 142nd county would have been named Cromartie County if not for a custom to name counties only after deceased citizens." John Cromartie was Appling County’s state legislative representative, and very much alive at the time, while Davis had passed away in 1889.
Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana
Birthplace of Louisiana Oil Industry – View Larger Map
Jefferson Davis Parish in Louisiana came into creation within the same basic time period, 1912. It was one of five parishes carved from what was known as "Imperial" Calcasieu Parish, a behemoth of more than 3,600 square miles. I couldn’t find much more information about the circumstances of its naming, although I will note that I’m fascinated by a couple of completely unrelated bits of trivia:
- This is part of Acadiana – Cajun Country – so it’s interesting to see a departure from French to a Confederacy theme.
- Jennings, a town in Jefferson Davis Parish, is credited as the birthplace of Louisiana’s oil and gas industry based upon the first oil well placed on the Mamou Prairie near Evangeline in 1901. "To date, over 220,000 wells have been drilled in Louisiana." Here’s a slightly less known fact: that first well, the Heywood #1 Jules Clement well, was actually over the border in neighboring Acadia Parish (map). Just sayin’.
Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi
Jefferson Davis represented Mississippi both as a member of the House of Representatives and as a United States Senator. It’s not unexpected that Mississippi created a Jefferson Davis County in 1906. The African American population of said county was 57.38% in the 2000 Census, though. I’m a little puzzled that the name hasn’t been changed.
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Beyond the borders of Jefferson Davis County and farther south along Mississippi’s Gulf coast in Biloxi stands Beauvoir, the home where Jefferson Davis spent his final years. It is also the site of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library. Both properties were damaged extensively in Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, and the library is scheduled for its grand re-opening in June 2013 after extensive renovation.
I don’t have the ability to discuss all 115 geographic features named either Jeff Davis or Jefferson Davis in the US Geological Survey database, although they include mountains, valleys, streams, reservoirs, buildings and schools. A surprising number of them are located outside of the traditional Southern states, too.
(1)12MC is pretty active on Google+ and Twitter; consider joining up if you enjoy Twelve Mile Circle. Those outlets allow me to share items that don’t make it onto the pages here. Links are available at the top of the page and in the column to the right.
(2)Katy offered Maxbass, ND and Carol Stream, IL. I’m still exploring possibilities and will likely feature this in a future article. Feel free to add other examples in the comments and you may find yourself mentioned on 12MC!
This is the story of John Kennedy. No, not that John Kennedy! I’m referring to John Wright Kennedy who I guarantee you know nothing about, nor should you. It’s about how a formative event in his life resulting in the naming of a town twenty years later. He was a farmer who underwent a harrowing ordeal, lived to tell about it, who went back to a quiet agrarian life and survived to a ripe old age.
Tangentially, I suppose it’s also about the huge paper trails we leave behind since every bit of information I discovered for this story I found online in less than an hour. If I could learn this much about someone who passed away nearly a century ago, imagine how much people will find out about you and I a hundred years from now in our digital wakes.
Mr. Kennedy was born in Stamford, New York (map), on April 18, 1838, a child of Scottish immigrants as the census records describe it. This put him at a prefect age to serve in the military when the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861. Stamford straddled the line between Delaware and Schoharie Counties, and he joined many of his neighbors when they enrolled in the Union Army in nearby Schenectady to form Co. F of the 134th New York Infantry on August 22, 1862. He mustered in as a Private and worked his way up to Sergeant, then was commissioned as a Lieutenant and eventually gained a promotion to Captain.
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The regiment was attached to XI Corps of Army of the Potomac, a corps best remembered for its role in the Battles of Chancellorsville in Virginia and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, in mid-1863, and in not an entirely flattering light. The Eleventh Corps was caught unprepared at Chancellorsville and was routed on the first day of Gettysburg, retreating through the streets of the town before reaching the high ground of Cemetery Hill. They redeemed themselves somewhat on the second day with a valiant defense of the hill, although XI Corps never truly recovered its reputation and was later dismantled and spread amongst other units. The 134th New York was in the thick of the battle at Gettysburg and lost 42 killed 141 wounded and 59 missing. This put 242 of the regiment’s 400 soldiers out of action in a single battle.
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The 134th New York monument at Gettysburg in the distance. See photo.
John Kennedy never make it to Cemetery Hill. He became one of the 59 missing on July 1, 1863. It turned out he was captured by the Confederate army on the first day at Gettysburg. He became a prisoner of war and was moved to Richmond, Virginia. The story didn’t end there, however. Kennedy escaped imprisonment and rejoined his unit in Savannah, Georgia in December 1864. He then served in the Union army for the remainder of the war, finally mustering out with his company on June 10, 1865.
He relocated to South Dakota sometime after the war, establishing a home and a farm in Potter County. Others moved to the area and it was time to form a town. They needed a name for their new settlement. As Genealogy Trails explains,
The group [of Civil War veterans] sought to name the new town Meade in honor of General Meade, renowned for his leadership in the Battle of Gettysburg. When the Post Office rejected that name because it was already too popular, Captain John W. Kennedy, a member of Gen. Howard’s 11th Corps during the Battle of Gettysburg, submitted the name Gettysburg instead. That was accepted.
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Gettysburg, South Dakota has more than 1,100 residents today and is the seat of government for Potter County. In 1991, the two Gettysburg towns became "sister cities." Kennedy passed away on February 13, 1918, in Gettysburg — the one in South Dakota — and was buried there. His tombstone noted that he fought at Gettysburg.
I can’t think of any other town named explicitly to commemorate a battle, by a veteran of the battle. I hope I can discover others.
Who could ever grow tired of this view?
I haven’t although I do like a little scenic variation now-and-then. I have a pleasant 20-mile bicycle route I like to take that hugs the Potomac riverside, including this segment I described previously in Monumental View. From there I curve onto the old Washington & Old Dominion railroad bed, a paved rails-to-trails path, and eventually circle back home. This is great circuit and it’s my most common route. Sometimes I do like to take things a bit differently, though.
That need for change led to and idea for me to combined two of my joys, Geography and History, with an activity that I know is important but requires a little more motivation on my part, my physical health.
View Arlington County Historical Markers in a larger map
The Every Whatever concept influenced me. I came up with my own "every whatever" challenge, a quest to ride a bicycle to every historical marker in Arlington County, Virginia. There are more than 80 of these markers spread fairly evenly throughout the county, and they even provide a convenient list. Arlington is also rather compact, the smallest self-governing county in the United States at barely 26 square miles, so this is a completely feasible goal.
I hopped on my bike and completed several historical marker scavenger hunts to start the quest about a year ago. Then I fell back into my routine. Recently I started the adventure back up again and my progress is finally sufficient to share. I dare say I’ve just about completed this challenge. Only a handful remain, including those markers newly added by the county and those too stubborn to reveal themselves thus far although I continue to search. I also discovered four county markers apparently not included on the official list as I wandered the county randomly. There were an additional four markers placed by the Commonwealth and one placed by the National Council of State Garden Clubs (a Blue Star Memorial Highway sign) that I also recorded. My captures and misses are noted on the Google Map.
These adventures provided an opportunity for me to explore obscure nooks and crevices of practically every neighborhood in the county. It’s so much different on a bicycle than by automobile. I always knew that Arlington fell on a geographic line between the coastal plain and the Piedmont. It’s one thing to understand that intellectually and another to experience it on the ground under my own power. Sometimes I’d curse the continuously undulating hills that were masked when I stuck to the flat terrain along the river and up the gradual incline of the old railroad bed that never exceeded a 2% grade. Away from the river, ever acre of the county seemed to be an uphill or a downhill, with very little flatness. I gained a much better appreciation of the terrain while getting an awesome workout.
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A Crazy Spot for an Historical Marker!
Most of the historical markers were easily accessible and easy to find. Others were downright dangerous. The marker for Fort Cass, a part of the Civil War Defenses of Washington was probably the worst. It’s located on Arlington Boulevard, a major thoroughfare and commuter route leading directly into the District of Columbia skirting the western edge of the current Fort Myer. I timed my visit for an early Sunday morning and peddled furiously when a traffic light stopped the traffic flow. It provided an ever-brief window to reach the marker before three lanes of swiftly-moving vehicles caught up to me. I do understand the need to place a marker with historical accuracy. However, how many people will ever stop to read this particular marker, other than someone with questionable judgment such as myself?
There is one marker I will probably never capture. It commemorates Fort Richardson, another part of the city’s Civil War defenses. Unfortunately the marker was located on the grounds of a private golf course that doesn’t appear to appreciate bicyclists. I’ll keep my eyes open and maybe someday they’ll have an open house or some other public event that I can attend just long enough to visit the marker.
I got "lost" a few times although that’s a bit of a misnomer. One can’t truly get lost here. It’s a small place and I’d hit a familiar road soon enough. That was part of the fun. I’d also get some weird stares from people who thought it odd for someone to pose a bicycle in front of a marker and snap a photo. Oh yes, I reveled in my geekery during those moments.
I’m not sure what comes next as this project nears its conclusion. I need a new geo-fitness challenge. I’m considering bicycling along every length of street in the county. That would keep me busy for quite awhile.