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Southern Frontier Humor

An Anthology

Edited by M. Thomas Inge & Ed Piacentino

Publication Year: 2010

If, as some suggest, American literature began with Huckleberry Finn, then the humorists of the Old South surely helped us to shape that literature. Twain himself learned to write by reading the humorists’ work, and later writers were influenced by it. This book marks the first new collection of humor from that region published in fifteen years—and the first fresh selection of sketches and tales to appear in over forty years.
            Thomas Inge and Ed Piacentino bring their knowledge of and fondness for this genre to a collection that reflects the considerable body of scholarship that has been published on its major figures and the place of the movement in American literary history. They breathe new life into the subject, gathering a new selection of texts and adding Twain—the only major American author to contribute to and emerge from the movement—as well as several recently identified humorists.
            All of the major writers are represented, from Augustus Baldwin Longstreet to Thomas Bangs Thorpe, as well as a great many lesser-known figures like Hamilton C. Jones, Joseph M. Field, and John S. Robb. The anthology also includes several writers only recently discovered to be a part of the tradition, such as Joseph Gault, Christopher Mason Haile, James Edward Henry, and Marcus Lafayette Byrn, and features authors previously overlooked, such as William Gilmore Simms, Ham Jones, Orlando Benedict Mayer, and Adam Summer.
Selections are timely, reflecting recent trends in literary history and criticism sensitive to issues of gender, race, and ethnicity. The editors have also taken pains to seek out first printings to avoid the kinds of textual corruptions that often occur in later versions of these sketches. Southern Frontier Humor offers students and general readers alike a broad perspective and new appreciation of this singular form of writing from the Old South—and provides some chuckles along the way.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Praise, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

Note on the Texts

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pp. xiii-xvi

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Introduction: The Humor of the Old South; or, Transgression He Wrote

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pp. 1-24

The humor of the Old South, also known as Old Southwest or frontier humor, flourished between the 1830s and 1860s, most extensively in the lower South, encompassing the rural and frontier regions of Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, but also, though to a lesser extent, in...

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Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790–1870)

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pp. 25-42

Although the larger body of humorous writing in the Old Southwest arose almost simultaneously as a groundswell in several parts of the region, the man usually nominated as the father of the movement is Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. The eldest of the major figures in years, he first began to publish his sketches in...

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Solomon Franklin Smith (1801–1869)

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pp. 43-51

Born in Norwich, New York, the son of farmers, young Sol Smith fell in love with the theater when he was only fourteen after reading Shakespeare and seeing a dramatic performance in Albany. Before finding an opportunity to become a part of the theatrical world, he was a store clerk, a printer’s apprentice...

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Charles F. M. Noland (1810–1858)

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pp. 52-56

Born into an aristocratic Tidewater family in Loudon County, Virginia, in 1810, at age thirteen Charles F. M. Noland was appointed to West Point through the influence of his prominent father. His poor academic performance brought his dismissal after two years, so he followed his father to Arkansas where he studied...

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William Tappan Thompson (1812–1882)

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pp. 57-69

Born in Ravena, Ohio, in 1812, William Tappan Thompson made his way South in seeking experience and opportunity. He worked for the Daily Chronicle newspaper in Philadelphia, and served as a secretary to a politician in Florida, before taking a job in 1835 with Augustus Baldwin Longstreet to help produce his newspaper...

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George Washington Harris (1814–1869)

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pp. 70-88

George Washington Harris was neither a writer by trade nor a southerner by birth. But he contributed to American literature one of its most distinctively southern comic figures in Sut Lovingood and brought the American literary vernacular to its highest level of achievement before Mark Twain. Harris was brought...

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Johnson Jones Hooper (1815–1862)

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pp. 89-111

Born in Wilmington, N.C., in 1815, Johnson Jones Hooper would move to the first tier of the South’s antebellum humorists as the creator of Simon Suggs, one of the most famous con artists and rapscallions in American literature. In 1835 after his father had experienced a series of financial setbacks, Hooper...

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Joseph Glover Baldwin (1815–1864)

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pp. 112-127

One of the best educated humorists of the Old Southwest may have been Virginia-born Joseph Glover Baldwin, who attended Staunton Academy where he studied Latin and read English and American literature. After leaving school, he read law and by the age of twenty was a practicing attorney. A failed romance...

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Thomas Bangs Thorpe (1815–1878)

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pp. 128-148

A native of Massachusetts, Thomas Bangs Thorpe grew up in Albany and New York City, and at the age of fifteen studied painting with artist John Quidor. Painting would remain a major part of his life even as he pursued other professional interests. He attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut for two years...

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Henry Clay Lewis (1825–1850)

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pp. 149-170

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, into a large family, Henry Clay Lewis had a more cosmopolitan and European-informed background than most of the other humorists as his parents were of French and Italian Jewish descent. He was only six when his mother died, and afterward he was raised haphazardly by family...

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835–1910)

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pp. 171-190

The receding frontier was a shaping influence on both the life and career of Samuel Clemens as he reconfigured his persona into Mark Twain, the white-haired and white-suited (in his final years) patriarch of American literary humor who voiced the spirit and character of the nation. Early on, however, his boyhood...

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David Crockett (1786–1836)

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pp. 191-201

David Crockett was an example of the self-made man who rose to fame and popularity through his mother-wit and an ability to tell tales with effective comic exaggeration. Born in Greene County, Tennessee, in the midst of the westward frontier development, he denied himself formal education by being quarrelsome...

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“Riproarious Shemales”: Legendary Women of the Crockett Almanacs

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pp. 202-206

The designation “riproarious shemales,” coined by Davy Crockett scholar Michael A. Lofaro, refers to frontier women who performed phenomenal feats and who were featured in some of the anonymous tall tales published in the Crockett Almanacs between 1835 and 1856. These “half-horse, half-alligator” kind of women actually reflect characteristics of their male frontier counterparts in that...

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Joseph Gault (1794–1879)

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pp. 207-211

Joseph Gault is an unfamiliar name in the genre of Old Southwest humor, having published locally in Marietta, Georgia, only one book containing humorous material of the frontier variety, Reports of Decisions in the Justice’s Courts in the State of Georgia, from the Year of Our Lord 1820 to 1846, a collection that its lofty-sounding title suggests is a compilation of serious accounts of cases in the justices...

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James Edward Henry (1796–1850)

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pp. 212-223

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Henry migrated to Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1816, taught school for several years, while at the same time he studied law, and in 1821 was admitted to the South Carolina Bar. A civic-minded person, Henry served on the first town council of Spartanburg in 1832, and became...

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Hamilton C. Jones (1798–1868)

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pp. 224-229

As a humorist, Ham Jones was known by the byline under which he published his comic sketches and tales: “the Author of ‘Cousin Sally Dilliard.’” “Cousin Sally Dilliard,” Jones’s first and most popular work, is a repetitive and rambling sketch, which initially appeared in Atkinson’s Saturday Evening Post in 1831, and which...

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William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870)

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pp. 230-240

A native of Charleston, South Carolina, William Gilmore Simms, along with his contemporaries Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe, was among the first American writers to dedicate their careers to making a living as professional authors. Wide-ranging in his intellectual and social interests...

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Joseph M. Field (1810–1856)

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pp. 241-249

Actor, playwright, newspaper editor, theater manager, and humorist, Joseph M. Field, probably born in England, migrated to the United States sometime after the end of the War of 1812, and settled in New York City with his family. He began his acting career at the Tremont Theater in Boston in 1827, and then...

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Hardin E. Taliaferro (1811–1875)

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pp. 250-257

Though a prominent Baptist minister on the Alabama frontier, where he moved in 1835, and senior editor of Southwestern Baptist, a periodical principally intended for Baptist preachers and laymen in the state, Taliaferro (pronounced Tolliver) was born in 1811 on a farm on the Little Fisher River in Surry County...

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John S. Robb (1813–1856)

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pp. 258-267

The most prominent and prolific of the humorists who wrote for the St. Louis Reveille, John S. Robb (whose pseudonym was “Solitaire”) like the best-known humorous contributors to this newspaper—Joseph M. Field, his brother Matt, and Sol Smith—moved to the Old Southwest from the North, seeking opportunities...

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Christopher Mason Haile (1814–1849)

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pp. 268-274

In the late 1830s, Christopher Mason Haile, a young adventurer from Rhode Island who had recently resigned from the United States Military Academy because of extended illness, migrated to the Gulf South and settled in the small Mississippi River town of Plaquemine, Louisiana, in Iberville Parish. In making...

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Adam Geiselhard Summer (1818–1866)

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pp. 275-280

Journalist, planter, lawyer, naturalist, horticulturist, state printer, legislator, humorist, and publisher of antebellum humorous writers, Adam G. Summer was born in the Dutch Fork section in central South Carolina on the family plantation in Pomaria. He was the principal promoter of the Dutch Fork School...

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Orlando Benedict Mayer (1818–1891)

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pp. 281-288

One of the South Carolina Dutch Fork humorists, like his close friend and kinsman Adam G. Summer, Orlando Benedict Mayer was born and raised in Pomaria, an area between the Broad and Saluda Rivers in central South Carolina, and spent most of his adult life as a country doctor in the town of Newberry...

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William C. Hall (c. 1819–1865)

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pp. 289-298

Little is known about the life of William C. Hall. Though his family was originally from Tennessee, Hall, born in Yazoo County, Mississippi, attended Transylvania University in Kentucky, and became a newspaperman in New Orleans. His fame rests principally on five humorous sketches, the “Yazoo Sketches,” published...

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Francis James Robinson (1820–1872)

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pp. 299-318

Born in Georgia in 1820, Francis James Robinson, using the pseudonym Kauphy, published in Athens, Georgia, a collection of seven humorous sketches, Kups of Kauphy: A Georgia Book in Warp and Woof in 1853. Robinson acknowledges in his preface that two of the “kups”—“Snipe Pie” and the “Fright’d Serenaders, or...

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Marcus Lafayette Byrn (1826–1903)

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pp. 319-330

Medical doctor, real-estate investor, evangelist, book printer, author of medical pamphlets and booklets imparting useful information, publisher of a newspaper, the United States Gazette, and a medical journal, the New York Medical Journal, and humorist, Marcus L. Byrn was born in Statesville, Tennessee, on September...

Southern Frontier Humor: A Selected Bibliography

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pp. 331-338

About The Editors, Back Cover

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pp. 339-359

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272201
E-ISBN-10: 0826272207
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826218865
Print-ISBN-10: 0826218865

Page Count: 357
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1