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By Ed Payne

(NOTE:  This brief history of the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the Ellisville Patriot is being posted both to explain the newspaper’s relationship to the theme of the Renegade South and in the hopes that someone may possess some yellowing remnant of this fleeting Piney Woods publication–Ed Payne.)

On April 26, 1895 the citizens of Ellisville, Mississippi were greeted by the appearance of a third weekly newspaper in their small community, the Ellisville Patriot.  While the rival Ellisville News acknowledged the event with a few dry comments, the more partisan New South launched a vicious attack upon the upstart publication, its politics, and most especially its co-founder, Jasper Collins.  The fact that New South editor Frank Parker and Jasper Collins belonged to the same Masonic Lodge did not inhibit Parker, who characterized his journalistic rival as “the old Beelzebub”—which was among his milder invectives.  But the sparks emanating from this newsprint tempest were short lived.  Within two years the Ellisville Patriot and the cause it espoused had passed into history.

For many Southern renegades, their actions during the Civil War marked a single instance in which they felt compelled to defy the expectations of the larger Southern community.  The increasing glorification of the Lost Cause during the late 19th Century caused some of these renegades to affect a selective amnesia about their wartime activities.  But others, such as Jones County native Jasper Collins, never apologized for their opposition to the Confederate cause.  Indeed, Jasper’s actions during the Civil War were just one example of a lifelong willingness to take stances that ran counter to those of the prevailing Southern culture.

Although he receiving only minimal schooling, Jasper Collins was by all accounts a well-read and thoughtful man.  He enlisted in the 7th Battalion Mississippi Infantry in May 1862 only when confronted with the threat of conscription.  While in that unit he participated in the Battles of Iuka and Corinth.  However, the passage of the “20 Negro Law” by the Confederate Congress—which granted military exemptions to slave owners at the rate of one per 20 slaves owned—outraged his sense of Jacksonian democratic egalitarianism.  In a characteristic display of his sense of propriety, Jasper informed his company commander of his impending desertion, giving the reason for his actions.  He returned to Jones County where his involvement in the Knight Band has been described in Victoria Bynum’s Free State of Jones.

After the war Jasper continued to exhibit an independence of thought and action.  In 1867, he named his first son born during the Reconstruction era Ulysses Sherman Collins.  However, he and others—whether former secessionists or Unionists—had their hands full trying to adjust to the harsh realities of the post-war Southern economy.  A decade and a half after the defeat of the Confederacy, the 1880 census listed Jasper heading a household composed of a wife and five children.  That year he reported a farm income of $250, about average for those trying to scrape a living out of the Piney Woods soil.

It was the plight of the agricultural economy that compelled Jasper into another noteworthy period of contrarian political action.  In the final decades of the 19th Century farmers throughout the United States became entrapped by an ever-tightening economic squeeze.  The combination of government action to reduce the amount of currency in circulation as part of its return to the gold standard and the increase in agricultural output emerging from newly settled prairie lands produced a protracted deflationary spiral.  Farmers received less and less for their crops while paying off bank loans and purchases in ever more scarce dollars.  As their situation worsened, those who tilled the soil came to see both the Republican and Democratic parties as captives of Eastern financial interests.  Out of this frustration grew the Farmers Alliance cooperative movement and, when its leadership proved reluctant to adopt an openly political role, the People’s Party—more commonly referred to as the Populist Party.

In the South the rise of the Populist Party was greeted first with skepticism and then hostility by the Democratic press.  Even though former slaves and their descendants were being steadily disenfranchised, any political movement that offered the faintest hint of a return to a two-party system threatened the status quo.  And protecting the status quo united Southern political, journalistic, and religious leaders in sounding a chorus of alarm.

Jasper Collins took part in the Farmers Alliance and its transformation into the Populist Party.  His most active accomplice in this endeavor was his youngest son, Loren Riley Collins.  Even more than his father, Loren had a passion for politics and political journalism.  Twenty months in advance of the crucial 1896 election, father and son launched the Ellisville Patriot to provide a voice for the Populist cause in Jones County.

During its brief heyday, Populist Party candidates achieved some electoral successes in agricultural states, including some in Mississippi.  But the movement failed to transform itself into a viable third party.  Democratic Presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan so successfully espoused Populist themes that officials at the 1896 national Populist convention convinced delegates to choose Bryan as their Presidential candidate as well.  As a result, the Populists went down in defeat with the Bryan-led Democrats and, in the process, managed to hopelessly compromise their independent status.

It seems likely that the Ellisville Patriot ceased publication by the spring of 1897.  What little we know about its run comes from the comments of its competitors.  No copies have been located, nor has republication of content from it been found in surviving issues of other state Populist periodicals.

Four years after the demise of his newspaper, Jasper Collins participated in another event that seems to have constituted one final expression of his dissatisfaction with the status quo: he helped found a Universalist church near his farm in Moselle.  Jasper may have come to view his native Baptist church as too closely aligned with the Democratic power elite he opposed.  If so, it would not have been a trivial decision.  The Collins family had long-standing, if occasionally contentious, ties with Primitive Baptist congregations.  There can be no doubt that Jasper had received a lifetime’s worth of highly articulated descriptions of the eternal damnation awaiting those who took the wrong spiritual path.

Iconoclasts who live long enough may eventually gain respect for, if nothing else, sheer endurance.  Jasper Collins outlived many of his detractors.  In April of 1913, at age 86, he was the subject of a lengthy article by the editor of the Jones County News.  The paper was a renamed offshoot of his old nemesis, the New South.  The article recounted his descriptions of antebellum life in the Piney Woods.  When he died that same August, the News paid him glowing tribute—although carefully omitting any mention of his Civil War or Populist activities.  Instead, it judiciously observed that the deceased “was ever noted for his independence of action and great force of character, and when he believed that a cause or principle was right, he espoused the same and heeded not public censure or applause.” His neighbors respected Jasper’s independence enough to have elected him to several terms on the county Board of Supervisors.  Later they would elect his defiantly named son, Ulysses Sherman Collins, to the same post. ‘Lyss’ Collins would also win several countywide elections, including two terms as Chancery Clerk.

After the 1896 election effectively sounded the death knell of the Populist Party, Loren Collins became a lifelong Republican.  This relegated him to the role of a political gadfly whose sole outlet was sending oppositional letters to the editor to newspapers in New Orleans, Vicksburg, and Jackson.  Late in life he typed up a collection of these epistles along with a brief autobiographical sketch, but he included no mention of his tenure at the Ellisville Patriot.  Loren’s aversion to the single-party political establishment did not mean he disavowed all Southern customs.  His vision was of a healthy competition between Southern-based Democratic and Republican parties, both lily white.  He railed against the blacks who held the reins power over Mississippi’s token Republican apparatus and who dispensed patronage—often to white Democrats—during Republican presidential administrations.  At the time of his death in 1952, Loren was engaged in a quixotic campaign as the Republican candidate for Congress.  Another dozen years would pass before the Presidential bid by conservative icon Barry Goldwater finally make it palatable for large numbers of white Mississippians to cast ballots for a Republican candidate.

Jasper Collins and his son Loren serve as two examples of how the Renegade South manifested itself not only during the Civil War, but also into the 20th Century.  If any copies of the Ellisville Patriot could be uncovered, it would shed new light on this history.

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