Augustus Baldwin Longstreet served as president of four southern colleges, including the University of Mississippi, and was the author of Georgia Scenes (1835), the first major work of southwestern humor. Born on 22 September 1790 in Augusta, Georgia, to Hannah Randolph Longstreet and William Longstreet, he studied at Rev. Moses Waddel’s academy in Willington, South Carolina, and at Yale, where he graduated with honors. After reading law in Litchfield, Connecticut, he was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1815 and became a circuit-riding attorney for a seven-county district. Longstreet and Frances Eliza Parke, whom he married on 3 March 1817, had eight children, only two of whom survived to adulthood.
A states’ rights activist, Longstreet was well known as an assemblyman, criminal trial lawyer, circuit court judge, political satirist, and newspaper owner-editor. Although his popular comic collection Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, &c. in the First Half Century of the Republic (1835) was published anonymously, Longstreet was quickly identified as the author. His articulate narrators, Lyman Hall and Abraham Baldwin (both named after Georgia politicians), tell tall tales of men’s horse-trading and women’s gossip, incorporating the sometimes vulgar voices of rural Georgians. Edgar Allan Poe reviewed Georgia Scenes enthusiastically in the Southern Literary Messenger, and a fashion developed for the vernacular dialogue and robust physicality of the southwestern humor genre, which took its name from the Old Southwest, a region extending from Georgia to Mississippi and Arkansas. Antebellum practitioners included Thomas Bangs Thorpe, Johnson Jones Hooper, and even a Mississippi governor, Alexander G. McNutt. Mark Twain and contemporary humorists such as Clyde Edgerton and Mississippi’s Barry Hannah have continued the literary tradition.
Longstreet never completed his plans to publish a second volume of comic sketches. He became a Methodist preacher in 1838 and was subsequently elected president of the Methodist-sponsored Emory College in Atlanta, where he also taught and wrote proslavery pamphlets. In the years before the Civil War, Longstreet also served as a professor and chief administrator at Centenary College in Louisiana, the University of Mississippi, and South Carolina College.
Between 1849 and 1856, while serving as chancellor at the University of Mississippi, he wrote on political and theological subjects and worked on Master William Mitten; or, A Youth of Brilliant Talents, Who Was Ruined by Bad Luck (1864), a moralistic novel that never achieved the fame of his early humorous fiction. Longstreet’s son-in-law, L. Q. C. Lamar, chaired the committee that drafted Mississippi’s Ordinance of Secession; Confederate general James Longstreet was Longstreet’s nephew. Through much of the Civil War, Judge Longstreet and his wife lived as refugees in Elon, Alabama, but they subsequently returned to Oxford, home of both of their daughters. Longstreet published essays in the Nineteenth Century in 1869 and 1870 and was working on a treatise about biblical interpretation when he died on 9 July 1870. The Longstreet-Lamar House on Oxford’s North 14th Street has been restored as a national historic landmark.
- Joan Wylie Hall, Writers of the American Renaissance: An A–Z Guide (2003)
- M. Thomas Inge and Edward J. Piacentino, eds., The Humor of the Old South (2001)
- Kimball King, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1984); Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, &c. in the First Half of the Republic: By a Native Georgian (1992)
- David Rachels, ed., Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’s “Georgia Scenes” Completed: A Scholarly Text (1998)
- Scott Romine, The Narrative Forms of Southern Community (1999)
- Jessica Wegmann, Southern Literary Journal (Fall 1997)