John Gorman Barr was born in Milton, N.C., but his family soon moved to Raleigh. His father died when Barr was three, and his mother died shortly after moving the family to Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 1835. Barr was apprenticed to a Tuscaloosa printer, but, in 1838, a local merchant arranged for him to enter the University of Alabama as a scholarship student. Barr earned an AB in 1841 and an MA in 1842. From 1842-1845, Barr was a mathematics tutor at the University. He also studied law privately and was admitted to the bar. Barr began practicing law in 1845. He began writing for the Tuscaloosa Observer during this time. He ran for the Alabama House of Representatives in 1847 but was unsuccessful. When the Mexican War broke out, Barr recruited a company of soldiers from Alabama. He served as captain of this company from November 1847 through July 1848.
After his return from Mexico, Barr resumed his law practice and became editor of the Tuscaloosa Observer. He also wrote for the paper, and some of his stories were reprinted in larger newspapers. In October of 1855, one of his stories appeared in the national weekly The Spirit of the Times under the pen name, “Omega.” Barr’s stories were published nationally for several years. In 1857, Barr again ran for office, this time for the US House of Representatives. The four-way race was acrimonious, and Barr eventually withdrew. In 1858, President James Buchanan appointed Barr to serve as US Consul in Melbourne, Australia. Barr set sail for Australia but died of sunstroke before reaching his post.
John Gorman Barr’s stories of frontier life in Alabama are characteristic of the genre of “Old Southwest” humor.
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Photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.