Three Not-So-Ordinary Joes: A Plantation Newspaperman, a Printer's Devil, an English Wit, and the Founding of Southern Literature

Three Not-So-Ordinary Joes: A Plantation Newspaperman, a Printer's Devil, an English Wit, and the Founding of Southern Literature

by Julie Hedgepeth Williams


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One of the more eccentric figures in the antebellum South was Joseph Addison Turner, born to the plantation and trained to run one. All he really wanted to do, though, was to be a famous writer—and to be the founder of Southern literature. He tried and failed and tried and failed at publishing magazines, poems, books, articles, journals, all while halfheartedly running a plantation. When the Civil War broke out, he no longer had access to New York publishers, and in his frustration it dawned on him that he could throw a newspaper press into an outbuilding on his Georgia plantation. Furthermore, his newspaper would be modeled on The Spectator, the literary newspaper of the early 1700s by Joseph Addison, for whom Turner was named. The Spectator in its day, and 150 years later in Turner’s day, was considered high literature. Turner carefully copied Addison’s style and philosophy—and it worked! His newspaper, The Countryman—the only newspaper ever published on a plantation—was one of the most widely read in the Confederacy. Following Addison’s lead, Turner suggested that slaves should be treated well, lauded the contributions of women, and featured humorous copy. And, of course, his paper celebrated Southern culture and creativity. As Turner urged in The Countryman, the South could never be a great nation if all it did was fight. It needed art—it needed literature! And he, J.A. Turner himself, would lead the way.

The Civil War, however, didn’t go as Turner had hoped. Sherman’s army marched through and took Turner’s world with it. His newspaper collapsed. He died a few years after the war ended, thinking he had failed to start Southern literature.

However, he was wrong. The Countryman’s teenage printer’s devil was Joel Chandler Harris, who grew up to write the first wildly popular Southern literature, the Uncle Remus tales. Turner had taken in the illegitimate, ill-educated Harris and had turned him into a writer. And while Harris worked for the plantation newspaper, he joined Turner’s children at dusk in the slave cabins, listening to the fantastical animal stories the Negroes told. Young Harris recognized the tales’ subversive theme of the downtrodden outwitting the powerful. Years later as a newspaperman, he was asked to write a column in the Negro dialect, and he reached back to his days at The Countryman for the slaves’ narratives. The stories enthralled readers in the South—but also in the North, particularly Theodore Roosevelt. The Uncle Remus stories were hailed as the reconciler between North and South, and they directly influenced Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and Beatrix Potter. Most importantly, Uncle Remus knocked New England off its perch as the focus of American belles-lettres and made Southern literature the primary national focus.
So, ultimately, Joseph Addison Turner really did found Southern literature—with the help of two other not-so-ordinary Joes, Joseph Addison and Joel Chandler Harris. Julie Hedgepeth Williams tells their story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588383235
Publisher: NewSouth, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/01/2018
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Julie Hedgepeth Williams is a media historian who always favored the media of America’s colonial era ... until she stumbled across issues of The Countryman in the Samford University archives. The newspaper offered such an entertaining look at the Confederacy that she thought maybe she should study the Civil War. She was smitten when The Countryman announced it was a reincarnation of the famous colonial-era newspaper, The Spectator. What more could a colonial news aficionado want? Thus began the research that led to the writing of Three Not-So-Ordinary Joes.

Williams is the author of two other books, the award-winning A Rare Titanic Family, about her great-uncle who survived the famous shipwreck, and Wings of Opportunity, about the founding of our country's first civilian flying school in Montgomery, Alabama, by the Wright Brothers, both published by NewSouth Books. Williams has published many academic works on the colonial American press. Williams lives in Birmingham and teaches journalism at Samford University. She is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Uncle Remus and the Little Girl Atlanta, Georgia-1913 11

Chapter 2 Joseph Addison Turner Eatonton, Georgia-1860 17

Chapter 3 Joseph Addison Lichfield, England-1683 22

Chapter 4 Joe Turner Lane-Turner Plantation, Nine Miles from Eatonton, Georgia-1834 34

Chapter 5 Joe Turner Lane-Turner Plantation, Near Eatonton, Georgia-1842 43

Chapter 6 Joe Turner, Author and Editor Eatonton, Georgia-1846 54

Chapter 7 Joseph Addison Turner, Family Man Monk Hall Plantation, Near Eatonton, Georgia-1851 61

Chapter 8 Joe Harris Eatonton, Georgia, USA-1858 72

Chapter 9 J. A. Turner Turnwold Plantation, Georgia, USA-1857 78

Chapter 10 Joseph Addison London, England-1711 90

Chapter 11 J. A. Turner Turnwold Plantation, Georgia, Confederate States of America-1862 102

Chapter 12 Joe Harris, Printer's Devil Turnwold Plantation, Georgia, CSA-1862 122

Chapter 13 Joe Syd Turner and George Terrell Turnwold Plantation, Georgia, CSA-1863 132

Chapter 14 Joseph Addison Turner Turnwold Plantation, Georgia, CSA-1864 140

Chapter 15 J. A. Turner Georgia, of no country-1865 145

Chapter 16 Joel Chandler Harris Atlanta, Georgia-1876 157

Chapter 17 Southern Literature and Reconciliation 1881 166

Chapter 18 Dorothy Schwab Congleton Raleigh, North Carolina, USA-1975 173

Contradictions and Credits 178

Notes 184

Photo Sources 206

Index 208

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