Date Awarded


Document Type

Dissertation -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James P Whittenburg


This study explores the historical significance of the literary activity, hoaxes, and humor of Joseph Seawell, or "Shocco," Jones. Born in the Shocco Springs region of Warren County during the first decade of the nineteenth century, Jones was a wealthy, privileged third generation North Carolinian. Although dismissed from the University of North Carolina in 1826, in 1833, Jones received a degree from Harvard's law school, where he was exposed to a world vastly different from his native Warren County. as the son of a planter of means and the relative and friend of state and national politicians, Jones was primed to take his place among North Carolina's leaders. But instead of becoming a southern planter and politician, Jones became a historian, a media hoaxer, a humorist, and a literary character featured in Old Southwestern humorists' texts. His identification as a North Carolina gentleman intellectual, his experiences as a southern transplant in New England, his exposure to and participation in American print culture, and his 1839 move to Mississippi influenced his unconventional evolution from serious southern gentleman historian to playful media hoaxer. In 1834, Jones published A Defence of the Revolutionary History of the State of North Carolina from the Aspersions of Mr. Jefferson. Motivated by the desire to prove his state's primacy in the narrative of American's Revolutionary history, this text was intended to restore the historical reputation of a state with a past and contemporaneous reputation for socio-economic and cultural stagnation. Although the text was not a resounding success and had its fair share of flaws, his peers recognized him as a legitimate historian, even if his work was divisive and problematic. The text was also the first of his several attempts between 1834 and 1838 to make a name for himself as a significant American intellectual and literary figure. Jones attained national attention and recognition of his intellect not with his historical pursuits but with his orchestration of a major media hoax. Jones's 1839 duel hoax was more than a prank in which he convinced some newspaper readers that he had killed a man in a duel. Reflecting his adherence to the values of southern honor culture and his understanding of the changing literary marketplace and environment, the hoax was a skillful manipulation of the press and a commentary on the cultural values and personal experiences that failed to make Shocco Jones either a typical southern gentleman or intellectual. The duel hoax was the first of two major hoaxes in 1839 that made Jones a nationally recognized media celebrity. Jones was popular because he was an odd figure whose behavior defied categorization, but his fame was also a consequence of his representation of himself as an amalgamation of various national character types that both challenged and confirmed perceptions of regional stereotypes. Jones's identity as a southern gentleman trickster transcended regional and class cultural confines, making him an even more suitable candidate than his contemporary P.T. Barnum for the role of a representative nineteenth-century American.



© The Author

On-Campus Access Only