Joseph Glover Baldwin was born in Friendly Grove Factory in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. He had little formal education but did well in English composition and developed a love for the great English writers. At age fourteen, Baldwin began working as a courthouse clerk, and, in his late teens, he studied law with an uncle and a cousin. He could not get a license to practice, however, until he reached twenty-one. While waiting, Baldwin moved to Lexington, Va., to help his brother Cornelius publish a local newspaper. From there, he moved to Buchanan, Va., to start a newspaper with another man, but the paper soon failed. After turning twenty-one and obtaining his license to practice law, Baldwin decided that he might prosper financially in the Southwest. In 1836, he moved to DeKalb, Miss., to practice law. The practice was successful, but, in 1837, Baldwin moved to Gainesville, Ala., thinking that there was more financial opportunity in that state. He prospered as a lawyer and entered politics. Baldwin served a two-year term in the Alabama House of Representatives and was a delegate to the Whig National Convention in 1848. He also ran unsuccessfully for the United States Congress in 1848.
In 1850, Baldwin moved his family to Livingston, Ala., where he practiced law and began writing a series of humorous sketches of the characters he had encountered in his early days of legal practice. These were published in the Southern Literary Messenger, whose publisher urged him to collect them in book form. The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi was published in 1853 and was an immediate success. Baldwin spent a brief time working in Mobile but soon returned to Livingston and began working on his second book, a collection of political portraits. Still seeking financial success, Baldwin left Alabama for San Francisco shortly before this book was published. His success as a lawyer there led to his election to the California Supreme Court, where he became an expert on land, mineral, and water rights and established a reputation for excellent legal writing. Early in 1864, Baldwin began writing another book, a serious look at the California boom years. The work was never finished, however. Later that year, Baldwin developed tetanus following minor surgery and died a few weeks later.
Joseph Glover Baldwin is a key figure in the genre of “Old Southwest” humor. His The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi contains many accurate observations of frontier life during a financial boom time. His stories tend to focus on the legal profession and are notable for their subtle humor and astute character analyses.
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Photo from The Flush Times of California, 1966.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.