Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jasper and Newton, Forever Together

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Years ago I ran a small piece in my newspaper genealogy column, Rootbound in the Hills, about the weird geographical association between Jasper and Newton.  My interest had to do with local history because there are two adjoining counties in southwest Missouri that bear those names - and together those two counties are home to the city of Joplin.  I noted in that piece that there are counties with those same names in several other states, and in states that have a Jasper County and a Newton County, they are always adjacent.  They were named to respect two lesser-known heroes of the American Revolution.

Sergeant William Jasper and Sergeant John Newton were a pair of grunts fighting for the infamous General Francis Marion, aka "The Swamp Fox."   In August of 1779 the young sergeants succeeded, by themselves, in freeing ten American prisoners from a detachment of British soldiers just north of present-day Savannah, Georgia.  The incident would have likely been relegated to the dustbin of history had it not caught the attention of Mason Locke "Parson" Weems.

Parson Weems was a preeminent propagandist during colonial times.  He was the person who invented the stories of George Washington chopping down his father's cherry tree and throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac.  Neither event actually happened, but Parson Weems was not concerned with the truth.  His goal was to foster patriotism in the citizens of the young nation.

Parson Weems also wrote a book on General Marion, the Swamp Fox, that was entitled Life of General Francis Marion, and can be found on the Internet.  Chapters 7 and 8 of that flowery and ultra-patriotic tome recount the brave action of Sergeant Jasper and Sergeant Newton in saving the band of captured patriots.  Weems, who was not a first-hand witness to the heroic action (and probably did not even talk to anyone who was there), took the basic facts of the incident as he knew them, and spun them into a tale of unbridled bravery that made national heroes of the pair.

And shortly thereafter the young states of the young nation began naming counties and cities after the sergeants.

There are eight states that have a county named Jasper:  Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas.

There are six states that boast a county named Newton:  Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas.

Of the five states that have both Jasper and Newton Counties (Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas), the two counties are adjacent in each.

There is also a city by the name of Newton in Jasper County, Illinois, and a city named Jasper in Newton County, Arkansas.  (Jasper, Arkansas, was the home of Dogpatch, the theme park built around the comic characters of Al Capp.)

There were also multitudes of children named in honor of Sergeant Jasper and Sergeant Newton.  The gunfighting Earps had an older half-brother who pursued a calmer life than his rambunctious little brothers.  Newton Jasper Earp grew up to become quite an accomplished carpenter.  And Jasper Newton Daniel became a famous whiskey distiller.  His label used his nickname:  Jack.

And that is the story of the strange and enduring connection between Jasper and Newton:  two young sergeants who knew each other only briefly, had an impromptu date with destiny (and a great publicist), and went on to be linked forever across the American landscape.

No comments: