Christopher Mason Haile (1814–1849)
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268 Christopher Mason Haile (1814–1849) 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 the north-to-south migration, Haile followed the path of other young men, who, like him, would become professional journalists and amateur humorists, such as George Wilkins Kendall, Thomas Bangs Thorpe, Matt and Joseph Field, Johnson Jones Hooper, Sol Smith, and John S. Robb. Marrying into a prominent Cajun family, Haile established and edited a weekly bilingual newspaper, the Planters’ Gazette, in late 1840, an enterprise he would continue for the next five years. During this same period, Haile, under the pseudonym of Pardon Jones, began writing a series of dialect letters using the salutation “Pic,” to George W. Kendall, the editor of the New Orleans Picayune. These letters were his principal contribution to the genre of southwestern humor, in the same epistolary tradition practiced by northeasterner Seba Smith in his letters from Jack Downing and southerners Charles F. M. Noland in his Pete Whetstone letters and William Tappan Thompson in his letters from Major Joseph Jones, and brought Haile local as well as some national exposure. Of the sixty-seven extant Pardon Jones letters, sixty-five were published initially in the Picayune between December 1840 and April 1848, and some of these were reprinted in Porter’s Spirit of the Times. Though Haile’s fictional epistles generally fit the cultural profile of Old Southwest humor, they are unique in several ways. Unlike most other writers in this humorous tradition, Haile, in the letters from Pardon Jones, frequently reminds the reader of his northern origins, even in some of the letters he sets in Louisiana . In still other letters, Haile has Pardon Jones return to his old home in Massachusetts , sending letters from that locale that focus on the antics and scrapes involving Jones and local characters, many of whom are his friends and relatives , thus making Haile the only southwestern humorist to make the Northeast a prominent setting for his humor. In addition, in a more emphatic manner than most of his fellow southwestern humorists, Haile often alludes in his letters to Christopher Mason Haile 269 national political issues—the tariff debate, boundary disputes between the U.S. and Canada, the controversy over a national bank, the conflict between states’ rights and nationalism, the annexation of Texas, and the conflict with Mexico, which led to war. During the Mexican War, the Picayune hired Haile as a special correspondent, and in that professional capacity he proved to be one of the best warfront reporters of several crucial battles, activities, and camp life. He wrote over one hundred detailed, engaging, and sometimes even humorous dispatches, which were published in this newspaper and some reprinted in northern papers as well. In April 1847, however, he resigned from his position at the Picayune, joined the regular army, and was appointed first lieutenant. While in Mexico, both as a professional correspondent and soldier, Haile continued to write his Pardon Jones letters, which, between 1846 and 1848, appeared sporadically in the Picayune. In their portrayal of Pardon Jones’s rag-tag volunteers and some of their ludicrous noncombatant activities in their encounters with Mexican soldiers, the final missives in the Pardon Jones series are discernibly transnational in scope, giving Haile the distinction of being the most Southwest of the Southwest humorists, the only one to treat a culture south of the Old South. Shortly after his discharge from the army, Haile returned to Louisiana and in 1849 was hired by the state’s Department of Engineers as the captain of a Mississippi River snag boat. Suffering from yellow fever that he had contracted in Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1847, during the war, Haile died at Indian Village on Bayou Plaquemine in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, on September 10, 1849. The obituary in the New Orleans Daily Picayune offered testament to Christopher M. Haile’s achievement, acknowledging that he “was endowed with a fertile fancy, and was as remarkable for the vigor of his style as for his genuine humor.” Texts:“Dear Chase,” New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 16, 1841.“Pardon Jones on the Rio Grande,” New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 6, 1846. Dear Chase. UP THE COAST, April 10, 1841 My Dear Pic,—I’m eenamost tired tu death...


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