Did Jones County Secede?

A media furor over the so-called “Free State of Jones” erupted in sync with the eponymous film starring Texan Matthew McConaughey in the summer of 2016, but the subject has been a bone of contention for a very long time indeed, as is evidenced by this essay by Alexander Lee Bondurant that appeared in Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, vol. 1 (pp. 104-6), printed for the Society in Oxford, Mississippi in 1898. Other entries include “Mississippi as a Field for the Student of Literature”, by W.L. Weber, “Suffrage in Mississippi”, by R.H. Thompson and “Some Inaccuracies in Claiborne’s History in Regard to Tecumseh” by the aforementioned Riley (If you ask me–and I know you didn’t–Claiborne had a lot of slips, but he covered a lot of ground, and his errors often lead to discoveries.)

 Most alumni of the University of Mississippi will find Professor Bondurant’s name familiar if only for the classes they took in Bondurant Hall, though some of the most hard-core Ole Miss fans will remember him as the man who established the University of Mississippi football team and served as its coach during its first season in 1893. For the record, the Rebs had a 4-1 season, losing only to the Southern Athletic Club in New Orleans (0-24) on Nov. 30; they stayed in the city long enough to beat Tulane there two days later (12-4). Bondurant was also a classics scholar with degrees from the University of Virginia and Harvard.

I reproduce his essay “Did Jones County Secede?” refuting the existence of the Free State of Jones out of historical interest. I myself remain solidly convinced that the Free State of Jones was never a cohesive entity, much less one with noble objectives, most likely nothing more than a handful of outlaws protecting themselves and their families against the depredations of a moribund, corrupt regime.

It seems that many within and without the State would answer this query in the affirmative, and even their ordinance of succession is given by one writer on the subject as follows:

WHEREAS, The State of Mississippi, for reasons which appear justifiable, has seen fit to withdraw from the Federal Union; and,

 WHEREAS, We, the citizens of Jones County, claim the same right, thinking our grievances are sufficient by reason of an unjust law passed by the Confederate States of America forcing us to go into distant parts, etc., and therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That we sever the union heretofore existing between Jones County and The State of Mississippi, and proclaim our independence of the said State and of the Confederate States of America; and we solemnly call upon Almighty God to witness and bless this act.”

Such being the case, it has seemed to me in order to advert to a discussion in The Nation beginning March 24, 1892, which throws considerable light on the question. In the paper of this date Samuel Willard, of Chicago, writes that he had been a soldier in the army which invaded Mississippi, and that he had never during the war heard of such an occurrence. When, therefore, he saw the statement made in The New England Magazine for November, 1891, the author being professor Hart, he doubted its accuracy. It may be stated just here that Professor Hart, in a subsequent history of The Nation, gives as his authority Mr. Galloway, historian of the Sixth Army Corps, who published in The Magazine of American History for October, 1886, an article entitled “A Confederacy Within a Confederacy”; but upon what authority Mr. Galloway based his statements does not appear. He therefore wrote to the Governor of the State of Mississippi and to the clerk of Jones County, and elicited replies from both of these gentlemen, and Governor Stone enclosed a letter from his predecessor, Hon. Robert Lowry, who was sent to Jones County during the war in command of troops for the purpose of arresting deserters. The texts of the letters are too long to quote in full, so a few passages will have to suffice. Gov. Stone writes:

“It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the whole story is a fabrication, and there is scarcely any foundation for any part of it. To begin with, Jones County furnished perhaps as many soldiers to the army of the Confederacy as any other county of like population. * * * Many of them declined to go into the army in the beginning, but so far as formal withdrawal or resolution to that effect is concerned, no such thing ever occurred in Jones County. Hon. Robert Lowry was sent to Jones County during the war for the purpose of arresting and returning deserters to their commands, and there was some little fighting with these bands of deserters, or rather bush-whacking of his men by the deserters; and some of the deserters were arrested and executed, but only a few. The whole story is the veriest fabrication, and I presume few persons of intelligence will believe any of it.”

Ex-Governor Lowry writes: “The county furnished nearly and probably its entire quote of soldiers, many of whom did splendid service. No such effort as establishing a separate government was ever attempted. The story of withdrawal and establishing a separate government is a pure fabrication—not the shadow of foundation for it.”

Governor McLaurin, in a recent letter to me on this subject, writes: “I was a boy thirteen years old when the war commenced. I was ‘raised’ in Smith County, a county adjoining Jones. I was at home the first three years of the war, and, if there was any attempt by Jones County to secede and set up a separate government, I did not hear anything of it. I was in a brigade that intercepted a federal raid that started from Baton Rouge to Mobile in November or December, 1864, and we passed through or very near Jones County, and I never heard of any attempt to set up a separate government in the county. I think it it safe for you to negative the whole story.”

E.B. Sharp Esq., chancery clerk, writes: “The report is utterly false in every particularly.”

The authority of these well-known gentlemen is quite sufficient to dispose effectively of this canard reflecting upon the good name of a county which rendered brave and efficient service to the Confederacy.

A Second Battle of New Orleans

It’s a jolt to find a recipe for what amounts to an oyster po-boy in Jane Grigons’s English Food, but even if we concede that anywhere there are oysters and mankind the oysters are bound to end up on someone’s table between two pieces of bread, Griegson’s foray into New Orleans cuisine is still no less than a British assault.

Grigson’s recipe–“Oyster Loaf”–begins: “This is one of the best of eighteenth-century dishes,” she begins, adding, “It was taken to America, and became popular in New Orleans in the eighteenth century, where it acquired the endearing name médiatrice.” In this simple statement Grigson covers a lot of ground with a host of erroneous assumptions, not the least of which is the po-boy’s English origins. To begin with, though the British made a heroic effort to capture New Orleans in the winter of 1814-15, the city was never under British rule. Granted, in the late 1800s oyster sandwiches on French loaves were known in New Orleans as well as San Francisco as “oyster loaves”, a term still used in San Francisco, but Grigson’s recipe calls for the oysters to be placed on a bun after being sautéed in butter and poached in sour cream as well as “double” cream, a uniquely British ingredient. It’s more stew in a bread bowl than a sandwich.

The earliest known account of what eventually came to be called a po-boy was published in The Daily Picayune on Dec. 7, 1851: “A big loaf of bread is ‘dug out’ – reserving a crust end as a stop – any quantity of delicious fried or broiled oysters is piled in; the top is neatly put on; and a gentleman can carry home his loaf and his ‘dozen’ – all hot – or have them brought home, for a lunch or a relish to dinner.” The legend of what Grigson calls the médiatrice is fraught with confusion, involving even James Beard in the likely fanciful legend of a sandwich involving various ingredients brought home by a carousing husband to his irate wife—no doubt waiting up with a rolling pin—as a “peacemaker”. Such is the case with the name po-boy (and its various spellings) as well, with diverging claims of authenticity.

Though Grigson’s sumptuous English Food certainly deserves every bit of praise it has received since its publication in 1974, her claim that the English oyster loaf is the predecessor of NOLA’s po-boy is as useless as Pakenham’s final, fatal assault on Old Hickory.

Cherries Maraschino

Unless you have a home bar and know people who drink Manhattans, Old Fashioneds or the occasional Tom Collins, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have any maraschino cherries. Oh, you’ll buy a jar during the holidays or if you’re having a kid’s birthday party, but otherwise maraschinos aren’t a standard kitchen item at all. On the other hand, bartenders have been stocking maraschino cherries next to the stuffed olives since before Prohibition, and in their heyday soda jerks routinely placed them atop sundaes and in sodas.

The term “maraschino” originates from the Marasca cherry—a sour, dark variety cultivated on the coast of Dalmatia (now part of Croatia) beginning in the mid-19th century. The original version was brined in ocean water, then preserved in a liqueur made from its own juices, and ground-up pits. In the 19th century, these became popular in Europe, but the supply was so small that they became a delicacy for the rich and royalty and other cherries came to be preserved in various ways and sold as “maraschino.”

Fine bars and restaurants in the United States began serving the cherries in the late 19th century. To meet the growing demand, by the turn of the century American producers were experimenting with other processes for preserving cherries, with flavors such as almond extract rather than the original alcohol liqueur and substitute Royal Anne (‘Napoleon,’ or ‘Napoleon Bigarreau’) cherries. In 1912 the USDA defined “maraschino cherries” as “Marasca cherries preserved in maraschino” under the authority of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906. The artificially-colored and sweetened Royal Anne variety were required to be called “Imitation Maraschino Cherries” instead. Food Inspection Decision 141, signed on Feb. 17, 1912, defined Marasca cherries and maraschinos.

Ernest H. Wiegand, a professor of horticulture at Oregon State University, developed the modern method of manufacturing maraschino cherries using a brine solution rather than alcohol since alcohol dehydrated the fruit, shrinking them, making them hard and wrinkled. By focusing on preserving the shape and structure of the cherry in its plump, beautiful ripeness, Wiegand discovered that adding calcium salts to the preserving brine firmed up the fruit, a method that with modifications is still used  today.


Belle Calas

We’d sit in Mama’s kitchen and listen to old Tante Zoe. She talked all the time when she was cooking, about what she was making and how she knew how to do it right from the old days. If she was making a big dinner for special guests, she’d say why she was serving this because it was something you’d serve, “To the mayor, not the bishop!” Then she’d sing and talk to herself, look up, smile and coo like the old dove she was and make us honey butter to put on that morning’s biscuits.

Daddy smoked his pipe in the house, but Zoe said she had better manners than to smell up the furniture cushions and puffed on hers in the swing on the back porch. Zoe ran that house more than he did. Mama was Zoe’s lamb from the manger, to her an icon of love itself, and that was that. He knew that Zoe was listened to outside out house, had the respect of everyone up and down St. Charles. And in those days, that was saying a lot. I don’t think Mama ever knew Zoe the way everyone else did.

Sunday mornings she’d make the old rice beignets, the calas. She’d put a little water and a yeast cake in some old rice she had on the back of the stove, cover it and in the morning mix in eggs, flour and sugar into a loose dough and drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. And she’d tell us how they used to sing, the ladies with their calas, ““Belles calas! Mo gaignin calas, guaranti vous ve bons! Belles calas, belles calas!” and the girls would come from the bedrooms and kitchens to load their coffee trays to take back in where their men were waiting.

Calas (Beignets riz)

Add a packet of yeast to two cups well-cooked rice made to a pulp and let work overnight. In the morning, add four beaten eggs, a half cup sugar, a hefty pinch of nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon. Throw in enough plain flour to make a thick batter and drop by spoonful into very hot oil. Dust with powdered sugar while hot. Serve immediately.

Grinch Cookies

Forget those sissy elves, simpering Santas and ridiculous Rudolphs, here are Christmas cookies with a cranky twist based on the meanest, baddest Christmas character of all.

Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodore Giesel, wrote the story of the Grinch—a grouchy, solitary creature who attempts to put an end to Christmas—in rhymed verse and Random House published How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 1957. The book was adapted as a Christmas special twice; once as a 1966 animated TV film starring Boris Karloff as both the narrator and the voice of the Grinch in which Thurl Ravenscroft sang “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” with lyrics written by Dr. Seuss himself, and again in a 2000 live-action feature directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey.

These cookies are fun, but they’re a mess to make, as you should expect; still, that’s all the more reason to get the kids involved in rolling the dough in the powdered sugar mixture, which is the messiest part. Mix together one box vanilla cake mix—I used the French vanilla—two eggs, one stick softened butter (NOT margarine) a tablespoon of vegetable oil and a 1.25 oz. bottle of green food coloring; all of it. In another bowl, mix one cup corn starch with 1 cup powdered sugar. Using a large spoon, scoop up a lump of the (very stiff green) dough, shape it into a ball and roll it around in the starch/sugar mixture until coated. Place on a cookie sheet lined with lightly oiled parchment paper and bake at 375 for about 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the dough balls. The trick is to make sure they’re baked through without any browning.

Once done, remove from oven and let sit 2 minutes before placing on wire rack to cool completely. Mix a half cup each of flour, corn starch and powdered sugar mixed with a half stick soft butter, just enough cold water to make a stiff dough and plenty of red food coloring (eyeball it, but you want them really red, not pink) cut into heart shapes and bake on an oiled cookie sheet at 350 until crisp. Glue to the cookies with icing and serve wearing a Santa hat and a sneer.

The Whore of History

I was in the bar having a beer and sulking over my tilted world, thinking nothing worse could happen when Ricky slaps me upside my back and says, “You look like shit.”

Rubbing the bridge of your nose with three fingers and an extended pinky is not a gesture to use frequently, but it fit on this occasion, punctuated by an emphatic groan. “Don’t be mean to me, Ricky. Just buy me a beer and go away.”

“Oh, but Jesse, you realize if I buy you a beer, you buy my company!”

“Unfortunately, yes,” I said. “I was just hoping you’d picked up a sense of decency after going to that fund-raiser for the Belhaven Creek Preservation Society.”

“Oh, my GOD! You should have been there,” he said. “The buffet looked like a crime scene with croutons.”

“Go away, Ricky,” I said. “Just let me stew. Thanks for the beer.”

Then of course first thing Ricky did was run this acid blonde drinking a screwdriver off the stool next to me and sits down with a rude and sinuous motion. Once settled, he lit a cigarette, fiddled with his hair, took a sip, looked at me and said, “You can talk to me.”

I flashed back over a year of juggling one disappointment after another and looked at Ricky, at a face as open as a page. Yes, I could talk to Ricky; I could tell him things I could tell no one else because he wouldn’t care enough to remember. Ricky is one of those people who see others as catalysts for their own self-edification much as Truman Capote did, and Ricky reminded me a lot of Truman: wispy balding blond hair, tortoise shell specks and a wit like a whip, a good guy most of the time, but when he’d had too much scotch you had to dance around him because he got so feely-touchy.

“I know what it is anyway,” he said, leaning back and swiveling on his stool “It’s those damn landmark things.”

“There’s more to it than that… ,” I began.

“No there isn’t,” Ricky smiled as he cut me off. “They’re landmarks, those little pieces of earth that those who are paid to think they know more about history ordain are more valuable than other pieces.”

“That’s not it at all, Ricky, and you know it.” Now he’d gotten my dander up. “This is history! I mean, where do we draw the line? What do we keep? What do we lose?”

Ricky scooted his stool closer and patted me on the shoulder. “Jesse, what is history? What is it to you, I mean.”

“Very well,” I said, “History is a record of human events.”

“Ah,” he said, crossing one leg over the other and scowling at a fat women at a corner table, “Sure, history is a human construct, without us, history is only time, if that,” he said, waving at his sister Ralph. “And on a planet with so much water and vulcanism who’s to say today’s landmark might not be tomorrow’s tidal pool? And what about those “vast and trunkless legs of stone” in a desert stamped ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings/Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’?”. The eastern seaboard used to be eaten up with properties touting that ‘Washington Slept Here’ in hopes some ignorant patriot with a fat wallet might be in the market. Of course, you can say any sort of thing special applying any given set of values, but dates and personages tend to take precedent over architectural details, which if you ask me are more important.”

“No, no, no,” I said, putting my palms on my cheeks. “Ricky, history is important, it’s how we position ourselves in the great Scheme of things.”

“No, it isn’t,” he said, smiling. “It’s only as important as you think it is, otherwise it’s just somebody saying something about a house where somebody lived, or a tree somebody hid in or a place where somebody supposedly stepped ashore. These are just labels on things that history puts her price on. She’s a muse, you know, not beautiful at all, just a skinny old woman with gorgon hair who sits in that winter temple on a bluff with dull ignorance as her partner and repetitious greed as her pimp; she’ll sell you a sign, make out a certificate, roll over, get on her elbows, knees or up ass for enough money.”

“Ricky,” I said, “I really wish I hadn’t asked.”

“You’ll be okay,” he said. “Live well and love deeply.”