12 I L L I N O I S H E R I T A G E
I L L I N O I S H E R I T A G E 13
Although it is certain that not all of the Newtons were named for this Revolutionary hero, there are fourteen cities in the United States named Newton. There are four counties named Newton. There are eleven cities with variations of the name Newton. Many of these have a relationship with places named Jasper, so that we can be relatively certain that these cities or counties were named for the Revolutionary War hero.
South Carolina, which is where Jasper was born and performed his most noted exploit, has not named anything for him, except one of the redoubts at Fort Moultrie which is now called "the Jasper Battery." He is the central figure in a painting by J. A. Certel, an engraving of which was published with the title, "Defence of Fort Moultrie, S. C., Heroism of Sergt. Jasper."
Neighboring Georgia, the scene of his other exploits and death, did quite a bit better having a city and a county named Jasper, as well as a city and a county named Newton. More significantly, Savannah erected, in its Madison Square, a statue depicting Jasper's hoisting the flag during the Seige of Savannah. Presumably this shows him just before receiving his mortal wound.
Neighboring Alabama has a city named Newton and a city named Jasper. Florida, farther south, has only a city named Jasper. In Mississippi, we find a city named Newton in Newton county, and an adjoining county named Jasper. Across the river in Arkansas, we find a city named Newton in a county named Jasper. Texas, which always does things in a big way, has a city named Newton in Newton County, and, in adjoining Jasper County, a city named Jasper. Coming north of the Ohio River into the Northwest Territory, we find in Ohio, a city named Jasper and ambivalent Newton Falls and Newtonsville. Indiana spread out its memorials, having a city named Jasper, a county named Newton elsewhere in the state, and also cities named Newton Stewart and Newtonsville. Now we come to Illinois, with its city named Newton as the county seat of the County of Jasper, and we cross the river over into Iowa, where again, there is a city named Newton, in a county named Jasper. Wisconsin supplies us with a city named Newton, and neighboring Minnesota gives us a city named Jasper. Missouri somewhat emulates Texas with a Newtonia in Newton County, and a Jasper in Jasper County.
To see how much farther west this enthusiasm went, we find in Kansas there is a Newton. However, the Encyclopedia Britannica sternly tells us that Newton, Kansas, is named for Newton, Massachusetts. Newton, Massachusetts, in its turn, was originally called New Town and changed its name to Newton long before the Revolutionary War. This does suggest that the Newton in New Hampshire, the Newton in New Jersey, and the Newton Falls and Newtonville in New York, as well as the Newton Hamilton in Pennsylvania, and perhaps the Newton in West Virginia, were not named for any Revolutionary War soldier. Sir Isaac was well known in all these eastern States, but I've seen no suggestion that he was so memorialized. Farther out West, we find that there is a Newton in Utah and a Jasper in Oregon—suggesting that the early settlers in that part of the country may have still been remembering their Revolutionary history. Across the border in Canada, we find Jasper, Alberta, Jasper National Park, and Jasper Lake—all of which were named for one Jasper Hawes of the Northwest Territory Company.
All this led to a search for the identity of young Mr. Newton so we can know what acts of incredible bravery and possibly what untimely death he suffered in order to capture the imagination of his countrymen in this way.
A telephone call to the Newton Public Library here in Illinois hit "paydirt". The librarian was able to fax to me Pages 5 and 6 from the History of Jasper County, printed in 1884. This tells what we have already learned about Jasper, plus an account of his adventure with his friend Newton, routing ten British guards and releasing a number of American prisoners. We still don't know Newton's first name or age.
A similar phone call to the librarian of the Public Library in Newton, Iowa, was especially informative. When Newton, Iowa, celebrated its 100th anniversary, it received congratulations from the Mayor of Newton, Illinois, who supplied to them the account from the Jasper County, Illinois, history. This was almost all that they knew in Iowa, but
14 I L L I N O I S H E R I T A G E
they did have access to an article on William Jasper in The American Revolution, 1775-1783: An Encyclopedia. This article by Robert Scott Davis, Jr., recounts essentially the same story that appears in the Dictionary of American Biography. It does not touch on Newton, but it does reveal Jasper's public relations agent in the last two paragraphs, which are as follows: "Jasper won his greatest public acclaim, however, with the publication of Parson Mason L. Weems' The Life of Gen. Francis Marion in 1809. Weems is chiefly remembered for inventing the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. However, in weaving a novel loosely around a now lost history manuscript by Peter Horry, Weems was credited with his greatest work of fiction. Horry, a comrade of Jasper and Francis Marion, had loaned Weems the manuscript, and Weems not only stole this work, but in no way gave Horry credit for the original manuscript. Horry bitterly wrote Weems that the novel 'Tis not my history but your romance.' Marion and Jasper were highly regarded by their surviving comrades, but these old soldiers condemned the Weems book as a fantasy.
"However, most Americans were unaware that the Weems book was only a novel, and gave Marion and Jasper deserved honors, even if for the wrong reasons. Babies, towns, and counties were named for these men."
Parson Mason L. Weems! We all remember him. The Encyclopedia Britannica brushes him off as the discredited author of the Washington cherry tree story, and the author of The Life of Gen. Francis Marion, who spent his final years as a traveling book salesman for R.M. Carey & Son. Libraries across the country have apparently recycled his books as being unworthy of preservation. They did not credit his imaginative writing, which evidently appealed to his contemporaries.
Failing to find Weems' book or the books written by Garden and Drayton, I appealed to a relative in the History Department at Columbia University. There, history books are not thrown away just because they have been proved to be unreliable, for after all, they are—in their own way—history. Now, I have photocopies of the works of the three authors as they related to Newton and Jasper.
Francis Marion served throughout the War with his friend Peter Horry, as his Executive Officer. Horry kept a diary of their actions. It was loaned to Weems, who based his biography of Francis Marion on it—elaborating many details and ascribing extended conversations to all of the characters. The first publication was by Weems himself, in 1809, evidently a runaway best seller of its day. Weems had published the second, third, and fourth editions by 1816, and by 1818, two more editions had been issued by R. M. Carey & Son. General Horry's protests to the
I L L I N O I S H E R I T A G E 15
use of his manuscript and to the fabrications in it, apparently prompted Weems in the later editions to ascribe the authorship to "Brigadier General P. Horry, of Marion's Brigade, and M. L. Weems". A preface signed "Peter Horry" was also included in those later editions. If Horry wrote this, he had a talent for grandiloquence well matched to that of Weems.
The account of Sergeant Jasper at Fort Moultrie is found in chapter four of the Marion biography. The account of Jasper and Newton freeing the prisoners occupies chapter seven. The account of Jasper's death at Savannah is found in chapter eight. All other accounts of Jasper, which I have found, rest on Weems' accounts. In addition to the references in the Dictionary of American Biography and in The American Revolution, 1775-1783: An Encyclopedia, John Drayton's Memoirs of the American Revolution, published in 1821, mentions Jasper's flag incident at Fort Moultrie.
Alexander Garden's Anecdotes of the American Revolution, released in 1822, includes the engraving, "Defence of Fort Moultrie, S.C." showing Sergeant Jasper replacing the flag. Garden provides no text on this subject.
Weems appears to be the only primary author who mentions Newton. And we still do not know his first name. One must, in any event, read Weems' words to understand how he captured the imagination of his fellow Americans, and made Jasper and Newton household heroes throughout the land.
If you are wondering how well Weems succeeded in making his major subject, Marion, famous, I can tell you that a recent Rand McNally road atlas shows sixteen counties named Marion and twenty-three cities named Marion.
I am especially grateful to the reference librarian at the Newton Public Library (Illinois), to Shiriey Houghtaling of the Newton Public Library (Iowa), and to Professor Henry Smith of Columbia University for research assistance.
16 I L L I N O I S H E R I T A G E