The Acquisitions Table: The Countryman  

The Countryman (Turnwold, Georgia), 1862–1866. 163 issues.

The Countryman is the only newspaper published on a Southern plantation. The owner of the plantation, Joseph Turner, started this paper on March 4, 1862. In advertisements he placed in various newspapers he wrote, “We do not profess to publish a NEWS paper, for, under the circumstances, that is impossible. Our aim is to model our journal after Addison’s Little Paper, The Spectator, Steele’s Little Paper, The [sic] Tatler, Johnson’s Little Papers, The Rambler and The Adventurer, and Goldsmith’s Little Paper, The Bee; neither of which, we believe, was as large as the Countryman. It is our aim to fill our Little Paper with Wit, Essays, Poems, Sketches, Agricultural Articles, and Choice Miscellany. We do not intend to publish anything that is dull, didactic, or prosy.”[1]

While Turner professed he was not publishing a newspaper, it did contain both local and national news concerning the war. He also promoted causes that helped the Confederacy in fighting the Union. For example, in the issue of March 25, 1862, he wrote an article promoting the Ladies’ Gun-boat Fund, which encouraged women of Putnam County to donate money towards the building of a gun-boat for the defense of the Georgian coast. Throughout the life of the paper, Turner also attacked Abraham Lincoln and Yankees and strongly advocated for a separate Southern identity in politics, culture, and literature. The end of the war struck him hard, but Turner blamed the defeat of the South on God and not the North.

Turner also employed a bright young local lad as a printer’s devil in his printing shop. He gave the youth access to his extensive library and encouraged him to write stories, essays, and jokes for the paper. That apprentice was Joel Chandler Harris, who later became famous for his Uncle Remus tales. By 1863 Harris was writing little pieces and jokes, signing them as “Countryman’s Devil.” For example, in the April 14, 1863, issue he wrote:

“What key is it that has sought to lock up Southern ports to the commerce of the world?

The monkey – Abraham Lincoln.”[2]

It isn’t until the issue of September 27, 1864, that we find a poem attributed to Harris under his own name.

This collection of issues is of further significance to AAS because it belonged to Joel Chandler Harris himself and was passed down his family. Timothy Hughes, the dealer who sold us the file, provided the following details:

“As for ‘The Countryman’ newspaper from Turnwold Plantation, Georgia, which now resides in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society, the collection was purchased by us within the last month from a family in Georgia….In corresponding with them the following information was provided….

‘I inherited these issues from my mother…after her death in 1989. Her mother, my grandmother…was Joel Chandler Harris’ youngest daughter. These newspapers belonged to Joel Chandler Harris, and were saved by my grandmother after his death.'”

Including the issues already in the collection, AAS now has 172 issues. The second largest collection is located at the Boston Athenaeum with thirty issues. We are just fourteen issues shy of having a complete run. This is definitely one of the top newspaper acquisitions for AAS in the past fifteen years.

[1] Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), April 22, 1862.

[2] Turner had also written pieces in earlier issues regularly comparing Lincoln to a baboon.

Published by

Vincent Golden

Curator of Newspapers and Periodicals, American Antiquarian Society

One thought on “The Acquisitions Table: The Countryman  ”

  1. Wow, AAS, you have a lucky find there! My upcoming book, “Three Not-So-Ordinary Joes,” was sparked by The Countryman. I stumbled onto the three guys named Joe who together founded Southern literature when I saw a copy of The Countryman that had been casually thrown out on a table in my local university library. What a blast to see! Three Not-So-Ordinary Joes is about The Countryman’s founder, Joseph Addison Turner, whose frankly stated desire was to start Southern literature. He had tried and failed, tried and failed at all sorts of writing endeavors in his attempt to start Southern literature. Finally during the Civl War, he thought, “Hey, I own a plantation. Why not put up an outbuilding, throw in a press, and start a newspaper?” And at last he had his hit — his Countryman was one of the most widely read newspapers in the Confederacy. Turner very publicly said he was modeling his newspaper after Joseph Addison’s newspapers — Turner was named for him. Addison was the famous editor of The Spectator of the early 1700s, and Turner religiously followed Addison’s recipe for good writing and the architecture of The Spectator — all with the goal of starting Southern literature. However, the war didn’t go the way Turner had anticipated — the South lost, and he died a couple of years later, having failed to start Southern literature. HOWEVER, he had hired a teenage printer’s devil on that plantation newspaper, and this kid held some real promise. Joel Chandler Harris, the third Joe, was a penniless boy with no father, so Turner took him in, kept him from being drafted into the Confederate army, taught him to set type — and to write. And many nights, Harris, along with Turner’s children, would go to the slave cabins to hear the slaves tell the old tales they had always told, which the little Turners heard as fantastical tales about animals such as Brer Rabbit and his nemesis, Brer Fox. While the little Turners heard them as animal stories, Harris was mature enough to see them as subversive — the little guy outwitting the big guy — which the slaves did themselves in relation to their master. Many years later, Harris, now a newspaperman, was asked to write a column featuring a “Negro” character. In desperation, he returned to his days on Turnwold plantation where he had been The Countryman’s printer’s devil, and he wrote those tales the slaves had told, calling them the Uncle Remus stories. When they were published into a book, they were a worldwide hit. And these indeed are recognized as the first widely popular Southern literature. In fact, they were hailed in their day as the reconciler between North and South after the Civil War. They directly influenced other writers such as Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and Beatrix Potter. They also knocked New England off its perch as the focus of American belles-lettres and indeed the focus now became Southern literature. So in the end, J.A. Turner really WAS the father of Southern literature — he just didn’t live to see it. The book is being published by NewSouth Books.

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