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A ball from the

enemy's ships

carried away our

flag staff. Scarcely

had the stars of

liberty touched the

sand, before Jasper

flew and snatched

them up and kissed

them with great

enthusiasm. Then

having fixed them

to the point of his

spontoon he leaped

up on the breast

work amidst the

storm and fury of the

battle, and restored

them to their daring

station -- waving

his hat at the

same time and

huzzaing "God save

liberty and my

country for ever."

From Weems' The Life of
Gen. Francis Marion.


A Search for
Their Stories

Did you ever wonder why the states of Illinois and Iowa each have a city named Newton, in a county named Jasper? Possibly you didn't even know that there were such places. Traveling with my father by auto years ago, I didn't even have to ask the question when we went through Newton, Illinois, in Jasper County. He mentioned to me, as something practically anyone ought to know, that Newton and Jasper were two Revolutionary War heroes and were the only private soldiers in all of history to have ever been honored by having cities or counties named for them. My father didn't have any personal knowledge about the Revolution—he having been born in 1890, more than 100 years after the events took place. I neglected to ask him how he knew this, and I didn't think anything more about it for many years.

In fact, I didn't think about it until a year or so ago. My wife and I were driving through a Newton County, and during her turn at the wheel, I passed the time searching the index of our road atlas for Newtons and Jaspers. Twelve Jasper cities and five Jasper counties appeared in the atlas; fourteen Newton cities and four Newton counties were also listed. Surely, these men were widely remembered.

Scanning the map of Illinois—especially in the southern part, which was settled earliest—it is clear that the citizens of Illinois, through their elective representatives in the early 1800s, had Revolutionary War and early historic figures in mind as they went about naming counties. Included are Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, Wayne, Marion, Moultrie, Pulaski, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Morgan,. Hancock, and many other names of soldiers, statesmen, and men of wealth. Jasper was in good company, having a county named for him.

12   I L L I N O I S     H E R I T A G E

It's enough to make one wonder what remarkable deeds he did. Did he save General Washington's life? Did he capture a British regiment single-handed? Why is his story not still told in our history books?

It was easy to find Jasper at Lincoln Library in Springfield. There is only one person named Jasper in the Dictionary of American Biography. He is William Jasper from the state of South Carolina, who lived about twenty-nine years. He was enlisted by Francis Marion—later known as "the Swamp Fox"—for service in a unit commanded by Colonel William Moultrie, who later became a general. He served under Moultrie at Fort Sullivan (the fort was renamed Fort Moultrie after the battle), reinforcing the fort. There, under bombardment by the British fleet in 1776, he recovered the United States flag after it had been shot from its staff and "facing deadly fire," attached it to a sponge-staff (an artillery ramrod used to clean the barrel after firing) and remounted the flag on the walls of the fort. The Governor presented him with a sword for his bravery and offered him a commission, which Jasper declined on the grounds that his lack of education would be an embarrassment to him. Moultrie, Francis Marion, and Benjamin Lincoln sent Jasper repeatedly to scout behind the British lines in Georgia. The British had taken Savannah, and he participated in the assault on Savannah in 1779—being killed while planting the colors of the Second South Carolina Infantry. His exploits were recounted in a number of writings about the Revolution, particularly those relating to Moultrie and Marion. These are the exploits which so captured the imagination of people in the United States that now there are twelve states with cities named Jasper and five counties named Jasper.

There is nothing in this record of Jasper that shows any relationship to Newton, so I assumed their activities were separate. A recent edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica assures us, unhelpfully, that the City of Newton, in Jasper County, Iowa, is named for "a Revolutionary soldier". We need to look elsewhere for his identity, his unit, his point of operations, and the exploits which made him noted.

"Defence of Fort Moultrie, S.C.," an engraving from Alexander Garden's
Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War in America published in 1822.
"Why, I feel," said

(Jasper), "that I

must rescue these

poor prisoners, or

die with them;

otherwise that

woman and her

child will haunt me

to my grave."

"Well, that is

exactly what I feel

too," replied

Newton—"and here

is my hand and

heart to stand by

you, my brave

friend, to the last

drop. Thank God, a

man can die but

once; and there is

not so much in this

life that a man

need be afraid to

leave it, especially

when he is in the

way of his duty."

I L L I N O I S  H E R I T A G E  13

They had

scarcely... got (sic)

out of sight...,

before they

struck into

the piny woods,

and pushed

hard after the

prisoners and

their guard,

whom they

closely dogged

for several miles,

anxiously watching

an opportunity to

make a blow.

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

"Now! Newton, is

our time!" said

Jasper. Then

bursting, like two

lions, from their

concealment, they

snatched up the two

muskets that were

rested against the

pine, and in an

instant shot down

the two soldiers that

kept guard.

From Weems' The Life of
Gen. Francis Marion.

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."

Sergeant Jasper rescuing American prisoners
Courtesy of the Illinois State Historical Library.
This woodcut
showing Sergeant
Jasper rescuing
the American
prisoners appears
in Mason Locke
Weems' The Life
of Gen. Francis

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

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