I always wondered about these guys

The famous sergeants Jasper and Newton rescue American prisoners from British capture in this painting by John Blake White.

A long line appears to be forming for morning breakfast here at the McDonald’s in Jasper, Texas. I am in Jasper — where I was born more than 51 years ago — and specifically in McDonald’s because they have a wi-fi connection. I was unsure if the town where I am staying for the weekend with one of my brothers, Newton, has wi-fi.

Even though I was born here, I never spent an inordinate amount of time in Jasper while growing up 15 miles east in Newton. Oh, I went to dances at the youth center, hung out every now and then at Top Burger and would go most years to the Jasper Lions Club Rodeo (That was where I first saw a much more neatly-trimmed, tie-wearing and cowboy-hatted Willie Nelson more than 40 years ago — before he was “Willie”).

In later years I only passed through Jasper, something which some of my friends of darker skin colors have avoided judiciously. That is with at least one exception, my friend, Joyce King, who wrote a book about the horrific dragging death here of James Byrd Jr. by three worthless crackers. Joyce actually fell in love with the place, which is easy to do, as well as with its people (something that might not be all that easy for some folks.)

But as Joyce has pointed out time and again in her books, the town didn’t murder James Byrd Jr., three racist, violent, low-lifes did.

This area of Texas is beautiful. I have lived the majority of my life in one area of East Texas for most of my life. Driving on Hwy. 190 this morning, I breathed in the exceptional vista afforded one during spring in these parts.

Such great natural beauty and a sociological discussion of the area’s folks could take up pages and pages, but that would leave out the point I was going to make as exemplified by the title and above picture.

A number of places — both cities and counties — across the U.S. are named Newton and Jasper. In some instances, these towns or counties are located adjacent to one another as is the case of Newton and Jasper in Texas. Both counties share the name as well as both county seats.

Being a student of local history, because my momma was a student of local history, I only had a vague idea of just who were namesakes of these counties and cities? The description given for these gents was generally that Sgts. William Jasper and John Newton were heroes of the American Revolution. In some cases, Newton would be a corporal, thus what is probably the reason a general inferiority complex that is prevalent in Newton County. That and it being one of the most impoverished counties in the country.

Beyond that these two gents were heroes, little else illuminated what it was they did which was so full of valor that some 20 counties and towns across the country are named for these guys. They were reputed to be under the command of Gen. Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion. And that was about the jist of what it was I knew about Sgt. Jasper and Sgt. (or Cpl.) Newton.

A little information on Newton and Jasper the soldiers is available via Wikipedia, but one must always be wary of using that as a primary source of information:

“Although he appears today to have been unimportant, place names across the United States attest to his renown in the early 19th Century, one of the popular fictionalized heroic enlisted men of the Revolution, as if there were not enough actual heroes to honor.

“Parson Weems’s fictional Sgt. Newton saved a group of American prisoners from execution by capturing their British guards at the Siege of Savannah in 1779, in which the Americans recaptured Savannah, Georgia. According to Lieutenant Colonel Peter Horry however, “Newton was a Thief & a Villain.”

“Sgt. Newton’s story is similar to that of Sgt. William Jasper.”

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter what Newton and Jasper did or didn’t do. They apparently were well-known enough that people named places after them. Who knows if in the future new American cities will be named after modern day heroes, or their replacement in our society for heroes, celebrities.

A Paris Hilton
, Ark? I don’t think so.

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