Myth On The Map


In William Jasper, at least, the public was not entirely deluded. He was a hona Ode hero, whom General William Moultrie called a “hrave, active, stout, strong, enterprising man, and a very great parti/an,” and “a perfect Proteus in his ability to alter his appearance.” He held a roving commission as a scout and part-time spy, but mostly he is remembered for rescuing his regimental banner during the bombardment of Fort Sullivan (later called Moultrie) in iyyO, after which new colors were presented to the regiment by a Mrs. Susanna Elliot. Jasper died defending them during the siege of Savannah.

Weems seems to have used his imagination freely in creating that “blessed angel” of the fiery eye and brave demeanor, Sergeant Newton. He said that New ton was Jasper’s “particular friend … son of an old Daptist preacher and a young fellow for strength ami courage, just about a good match for Jasper himself.” Rut Horry, uselessly of course, wrote: “Jasper was an Honest Man; but Newton was a Thief & a Villain.” Since neither Weems nor Horry gave Newton a first name, it is hard to prove just who he was. Four Newtons served with the regiment, but two were filers and another a private. 1 he only Sergeant Newton— his name was John—was discharged on April 17, 17/8, a year before the alleged exploit at Savannah.

The inscription on the Jasper Monument in Savannah doesn’t mention Sergeant Newton, but his name docs appear on a marker that now stands a few miles west of Savannah at Jasper Spring, the site of the alleged incident. All later writings seem to take Weems’s book as the ultimate source of the incident, but perhaps the basis for the entire story was this excerpt from an article in the Virginia Gazette of May 15, 1779: “The brave Sergeant Jasper, with another sergeant, crossed Savannah River, took, and brought to Major General Lincoln’s headquarters, two Captains, named Scott and Young, of the British troops in Georgia.”

It is unlikely that we will ever know the real truth of the matter, and it doesn’t seem quite fair to the memory of General Horry. Weems was applauded for his writing, Jasper and Newton were honored throughout the land, but Horry had just one little county in South Carolina named after him. And alter all, it was his notes, mightily improved upon by the Parson, that started the whole thing.