Thursday, March 14, 2019

How the City of Newton and Jasper County, Illinois, got their names.

The City of Newton, Illinois.
Sergeant John Newton (1755–1780) was a soldier of the American Revolutionary War who was popularized by Mason Locke Weems, better known as Parson Weems (an American book agent and author who wrote the first biography of George Washington immediately after his death) in his school books in the early 19th century. Newton served under Brigadier General Francis Marion, the famous "Swamp Fox." Today Newton appears to have been a very minor figure. However, place names across the United States demonstrate his former fame. He is considered one of the popular fictionalized heroic enlisted men of the American Revolution.
            1875 map of Jasper County, Illinois and the County Seat of Newton.
Parson Weems' has Sgt. Newton bravely save a group of American prisoners from execution by capturing their British guards at the 1779 Siege of Savannah. However, no contemporary account of this rescue exist, and the only source is the very unreliable Parson Weems. In fact, according to Lieutenant Colonel Peter Horry, who took part in the campaign, "Newton was a thief and a villain"

Sgt. Newton's tale is similar to the true story of Sgt. William Jasper, who was a genuine hero but was exaggerated by Weems. 

The County of Jasper, Illinois.
Sergeant William Jasper (1750-1779)was called to Sullivan's Island to help protect Charles Towne Harbor. There he served under Colonel William Moultrie, who was in charge of the defense of Charleston against the British Navy. A few days before the British were due to arrive, Colonel Moultrie decided to build a fort to protect the harbor. His officers were sent local plantation owners, to borrow their slaves to help with the creation of the fort. Soldiers, slaves, and volunteers banded together to chop down palmettos and use them in its construction.

Initially called Fort Sullivan, some time after the battle the fort was renamed to Fort Moultrie. The British arrived before the fort was finished, its whole back remaining incomplete. The Moultrie flag was raised over the structure, and a ten-hour siege began.

Low on ammunition, the 2nd South Carolina Regiment only fired when ships closed in on the fort. The flag, designed by Moultrie himself at the behest of the colonial government, was shot down, and fell to the bottom of the ditch on the outside of the fort. Leaping from an embrasure, Jasper recovered the flag, which he tied to a sponge staff and replaced on the parapet, where he supported it until a permanent flag staff had been procured and installed. With this rallying point, the colonists held out until sunset, when the British retreated. They did not succeed in taking Charleston until several years later.

Because of Jasper's heroism, Governor John Rutledge presented him with his personal sword, and offered him a lieutenant's commission. He did not accept the offer to become an officer, saying that he would only be an embarrassment since he could neither read nor write. He was also presented with two silk flags by Mrs. Susannah Elliott.

Newton is the largest, oldest and only city (although several there are villages) in Jasper County. Because of its favorable location within the county, it was named county seat in 1835. Jasper County was formed in 1831 out of Clay and Crawford Counties and approved on December 19, 1834.

Several states have a Newton and Jasper county adjacent to each other, as though they were regarded as a pair. Several other states have a Jasper County with a county seat of Newton, or vice versa. There are twelve Jasper cities/towns and five Jasper counties; fourteen Newton cities/towns and four Newton counties that are located in the United States. 

Surely, these men were widely remembered.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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