Joseph Glover Baldwin, an attorney, historian, legislator, and judge, is known principally as the humorist who wrote The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi (1853), a memoir of his early days as a frontier lawyer.
Baldwin was born in Friendly Grove Factory, Virginia, on 15 January 1815, to Eliza Cook Baldwin and Joseph Clarke Baldwin. After his education at the Staunton Academy, he tried his hand at journalism, editing two small-town papers in the Shenandoah Valley while studying law with his uncle, Briscoe G. Baldwin, to whom Joseph Baldwin later dedicated his first book. In 1836, Baldwin left economically depressed Virginia (“urged by hunger and the request of friends,” he later recalled) and sought out new opportunities in the West. Arriving in De Kalb, Mississippi, he was admitted to the state bar (by a circuit court judge who asked him “not a single legal question”) and quickly emerged as one of the state’s leading attorneys. In 1837 he moved the short distance to Gainesville, Alabama, where he married Sidney Gaylord White in 1840; they had seven children, of whom only three—Alexander, Joseph, and John—reached adulthood. Baldwin continued to prosper at the bar and became active in Alabama politics, serving in the state House of Representatives and as a delegate at the Whig Party’s national convention in 1848. He eventually ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress, losing narrowly.
By 1851 Baldwin had begun work on the memoir that became his best-known book. It emphasized the rawness of the southwestern frontier of the 1830s and the comic ineptitude or outright fraudulence of most of its lawyers and judges but presented them with tolerant good humor. Published in 1853, The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi garnered good reviews and sales. It is regarded today as a major contribution to the important literary subgenre known as southwestern humor, which flourished from the 1830s through the 1860s. In 1855 Baldwin published his only other book, Party Leaders, a collection of serious historical essays about notable moments in American politics.
By this time Baldwin had moved to San Francisco, where he again prospered at the bar, eventually winning election to the California Supreme Court. After a visit to the East during the Civil War (he met Pres. Abraham Lincoln, who expressed admiration for The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi), Baldwin began work on a sequel, The Flush Times of California. This work remained unfinished when Baldwin died of tetanus on 30 September 1864 in San Francisco.
- John M. Grammer, Pastoral and Politics in the Old South (1996)