One of the more eccentric figures in the antebellum South was Joseph Addison Turner, born to the plantation and trained to run one. All he really wanted to do, though, was to be a famous writer―and to be the founder of Southern literature. He tried and failed and tried and failed at publishing magazines, poems, books, articles, journals, all while halfheartedly running a plantation. When the Civil War broke out, he no longer had access to New York publishers, and in his frustration it dawned on him that he could throw a newspaper press into an outbuilding on his Georgia plantation. His newspaper, The Countryman―the only newspaper ever published on a plantation―was one of the most widely read in the Confederacy. Turner suggested that slaves should be treated well, lauded the contributions of women, and featured humorous copy. And, of course, his paper celebrated Southern culture and creativity. As Turner urged in The Countryman, the South could never be a great nation if all it did was fight. It needed art―it needed literature! And he, J. A. Turner himself, would lead the way.The Civil War, however, didn’t go as Turner had hoped. Sherman’s army marched through and took Turner’s world with it. His newspaper collapsed. He died a few years after the war ended, thinking he had failed to start Southern literature.
So, ultimately, Joseph Addison Turner really did found Southern literature―with the help of two other not-so-ordinary Joes, Joseph Addison and Joel Chandler Harris.
Julie Hedgepeth Williams is a journalism professor at Samford University. She's the author of several historical books about journalism. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English and history from Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, and a Masters in Journalism and a Ph.D in Mass Communications from the University of Alabama.