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JOLLIFICATION
NEWTON COUNTY, MISSOURI

In 1848, a whiskey distillery was built on Capps Creek in eastern Newton County, less than a mile west of the Newton/Barry county line.  The village of Jollification grew up around the distillery and became a stage stop on the road from Springfield to Neosho and the Indian Territory.  Except for the distillery, all or most of the town was burned during the Civil War, then rebuilt.  In 1870, however, the railroad bypassed Jollification, which was ultimately more devastating than war and arson.  Again today, only the distillery -- later converted to a grist mill -- survives.  Shown above, it is called Jolly Mill and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

JOLLIFICATION BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR

The distillery and town of Jollification were located on a 40-acre tract of land formally described as the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter (SWNE) of section 11, township 25 north, range 29 west, in Newton County, Missouri.  Recorded real estate instruments related to this land are one of the principal sources of local history.  The widely-quoted story that Jolly was located in Barry County until a county boundary change in the 1870s is false.  The boundary between Newton and Barry counties did change about 1876, but only for township 24 north.  All real estate records for the mill property were recorded in Newton County going back to the original land patent issued in 1845.  Summary of Jolly Title Instruments.

The Isbells

In the mid-1840s, the Jolly tract was owned briefly in turn by Frederick Crackel, Anthony Bledsoe and Frederick Hisaw.  On September 4, 1848, Hisaw sold the 40 acres to John Isbell and his father Thomas D. Isbell for $300, or $7.50 per acre.  The Isbells apparently built the distillery shortly thereafter.  By the 1850 census, John Isbell, age 31, listed his occupation as "distiller of spirits" and valued his real estate at $5,000.  He and wife Nancy Wormington eventually had two sons, George (born ca. 1848) and James (ca. 1855).

In the building of the distillery, Thomas D. Isbell most likely played the passive role of financier for his son.  In the 1840s and 1850s, he was a real estate speculator in Newton County, receiving government patents on almost 1200 acres of land and making several sales.  In the 1850 census, he listed himself simply as a "farmer" and valued his own real estate at a mere $1,500.  In March, 1852, he sold his half interest in the mill property to John for $2,000.

The area where the distillery was built was one of the principal slaveholding areas in Newton County.  At the time of the 1850 census, John Isbell was not yet a slave owner, but his father Thomas owned five male slaves and his cousin-by-marriage Addison Brown owned four male slaves and seven females.  Other prominent slaveholding families in the area included the Wrights, the Fergusons and the Barkers.  Local lore records that some of these slaves helped build the distillery, and slaves probably helped run it.  By the 1860 census, John Isbell himself was the owner of seven slaves, three males (all young children) and four females.

From census and real estate records, it appears that the town of Jollification only took shape in the early to mid-1850s.  In the 1850 census, the Isbells’ near neighbors included a mason and two carpenters, suggesting ongoing construction, but no one else whose listed profession indicated the existence of a town.  By the 1860 census, the original mason and carpenters had moved on and been replaced as Isbell neighbors by two grocers, two millers, two painters, two physicians, a merchant, a store clerk, a blacksmith, a teacher and a different stonemason.  Some of these people lived in the town itself and others on nearby farms in both Newton and Barry counties.  In 1854, the recently established Missouri Geological Survey explored Newton County and studied the local geology on a line "from Grand Falls, through Neosho, Jollification and Mt. Vernon, to Springfield."  The survey's 1855 report (online here) is the earliest published use of the name Jollification that I have found.

In 1850, John Isbell and his father owned the entire 40-acre mill tract.  Reflecting the growth of the town between 1850 and 1860, the original tract was carved into four smaller parcels.  John Isbell retained ownership of the main tract consisting of about 37 acres on both sides of Capps Creek.  John’s father Thomas D. Isbell sold John his interest in the main tract in 1852, but retained ownership of 1½ acres from the original 40.  This was south of the mill pond and just east of the mill.  A third tract was purchased from John Isbell in 1853 by A. J. and J. W. Wright and a fourth in 1860 by John P. Osborn.

One of the minor mysteries concerning Jollification before the war involves John Isbell’s finances.  In January, 1860, he borrowed $5,000 from his cousin George Isbell secured by mortgages on his slaves and on a tract of land adjacent to the mill.  Two months later, in March, he borrowed another $2,600 from George secured by a mortgage on the mill itself.  Finally, in September, 1860, he placed a second mortgage on everything to secure payment of roughly $5,700 to James M. Wilson.

In 1860, of course, $13,000 was a lot of money -- over $200,000 by present values.  There is no surviving record that John Isbell bought land or slaves at this time, so what did he do with the money?  At any rate, these transactions, combined with the effects of the Civil War, eventually cost John ownership of the mill property, which cousin George foreclosed in 1865.

The Wrights

At the time of the 1850 census, several Wright families lived along Capps Creek.  West of the mill in Newton County were two William Wrights, one 52 born in Tennessee and one 42 born in North Carolina.  Next door was Mary Wright, age 39 born in NC, who was the widow of William Shipman and current wife of Edward Banks.  East of the mill in Barry County was Thomas Wright, a physician, age 40 born in NC.  Exactly how these people were related to each other is unclear.  Possibly, Mary, the younger William and Thomas were siblings, with the older William an uncle or cousin.

Sometime in the 1840s, John Isbell’s younger brother Thomas Isbell Jr. married Rachel Wright (1826-1858), who was the daughter of the older William Wright.  On July 28, 1853, Rachel’s brothers Andrew Jackson and John W. Wright bought a small parcel of land (about 6500 square feet) from John Isbell.

The 1853 Wright deed indicated that the Wrights already had a store on Capps Creek on the Isbell property, although its exact location in relation to the mill is not clear from the legal description.  The deed also included the following interesting proviso:

At the time, a "grocery" was a saloon or drinking establishment.  In 1856, according to Goodspeed’s History of Newton County Missouri(1888), William Wright obtained a county liquor license to keep a dram shop at Jollification.  William was another brother of Rachel Wright Isbell.  In the 1860 census, both William and A. J. Wright were living in Jollification and listed as "grocers."

In September, 1856, A. J. and J. W. Wright sold their property at Jollification to James Hambleton (or Hamilton) for $350.00.  Two years later, in September, 1858, Hambleton sold it back to A. J. Wright for the same price.  A. J.’s wife was Elizabeth Nutt.  Both the Wrights and the Nutts were related by marriage to the Abel Landers family, which lived about a mile west of Jolly until 1858 and then moved to Hood County, Texas.  Sometime after the 1860 census but before the outbreak of the Civil War, Wright relocated his family there.  After serving as a Confederate soldier from Missouri during the war, he too moved to Texas, where he was later sheriff of Hood County and a prominent stock raiser.  He sold his land at Jolly back to the Isbells in 1877.  For more on Wright's career in Texas, see Thomas Taylor Ewell, Hood County History (1895), chapter 36.  Ewell's Hood County History Online.

John Isbell’s father Thomas died in August, 1855.  Five years later, in October, 1860, his estate sold his 1 ½ acres near the mill to Thomas Wright, presumably the Barry County physician.  How this Wright used his property at Jolly is unknown, but after the Civil War, in 1868, C. W. Thrasher and J. E. Vickery purchased it at a sheriff’s sale to satisfy a civil judgment against Wright.  They were lawyers in Neosho and probably speculated in properties sold at execution sales.  John Isbell repurchased the property in March, 1870, apparently at another sheriff's sale.  How it was used in the interim is unknown to me.

Finally, no account of the Wrights at Jollification would be complete without mentioning Isaac Wright, a slave of the elder William Wright.  Isaac was married to one of the slaves on the nearby George Barker farm and had three sons also born into slavery.  He is credited with supporting the white women and children of the area during the Civil War, when violence drove their husbands and fathers from the area.  After the war, he ran a small store at the crossroads west of Jolly.  Much of the oral tradition concerning the area has been passed down through his descendants.  For a good summary of local lore concerning the mill, see Otis Hays Jr. & Juanita Chapman Hays, A History of Jolly Mill.  Pioneer Enterprise & Historic Treasure (1995).

John P. Osborn

The fourth and final subdivided tract at Jollification was 1 ¼ acres purchased from John Isbell by John P. Osborn on March 26, 1860.  Again according to Goodspeed’s, Osborn had settled in the Jolly area as early as 1834.  In January, 1838, in what was then a part of Barry County, he married Agnes Oliver, the daughter of Lunsford Oliver, who was the first white settler in Newton County in 1830 and the namesake of nearby Oliver’s Prairie (Newtonia area).  When Jasper County was split off from Newton County in 1841, Osborn became its first sheriff.

By 1851, Osborn was back in Newton County, where he was appointed the postmaster of Capps Creek on December 3.  In 1870, the Neosho Times described Osborn as "keeping hotel" at Jollification, which apparently had more to do with feeding people than housing them.  His role there prior to the Civil War is unknown, although he ran a store of some kind.  Recorded real estate instruments from 1860 indicate that he had already built a residence and store on the property before his ownership was formalized by a deed.

In the 1860 census, Osborn described himself as a "merchant" and valued his real estate at $1,000 and his personal property, presumably his store inventory, at $6,000.  Living with Osborn were his daughter Amanda and her husband, John H. Wooldridge, who was described as a "clerk."  Later, Osborn’s younger daughter Myra married James S. Day, who was running the I. H. Richards store at Jollification at the time of its 1870 ad in the Neosho paper (left) and who was appointed postmaster of Capps Creek on July 11, 1870.

After the founding of Peirce City in 1870 ruined Jollification as a commercial center, Osborn and his wife sold their property at Jolly to H. H. Bushnell on May 25, 1873.  Less than a year later, on May 22, 1874, Bushnell sold it to Moses Banks, who in turn sold it back to the Isbells on February 21, 1879.  When Osborn died in February, 1874, he was clerking at a Peirce City store, probably the store opened there in 1870 by his son-in-law Wooldridge.

Anthony Bledsoe, Joel Grindstaff and Related Families

In the 1860 census, Anthony Bledsoe was listed as the blacksmith at Jollification.  His association with Jolly, however, went much further back and was somewhat mysterious.  Well before there was a distillery or town, on July 7, 1845, Bledsoe purchased the 40-acre tract on which the mill would eventually be built from Frederick Crackel for $300.  Less than a week later, on July 13, 1845, he sold it to Frederick Hisaw for a price recited in the deed as $200.  This "flip" was so quick that it was presumably planned beforehand, but for what purpose or at what real price is now unknowable.  Census records show that one of Bledsoe’s sons was born in Texas about 1846, shortly after this strange transaction, then he and his family were back in Newton County, in Marion township, by 1850.

Bledsoe’s wife was Catherine Butler.  Her sister Mary Butler was the widow of Joseph Henderson Jr.  Sometime in the 1850s, Mary Butler Henderson married Jacob Grindstaff, and her daughter Sarah Henderson married Joel Grindstaff.  How Jacob and Joel were related is unknown.  In the 1860 census, Joel and Sarah Henderson Grindstaff were living in Jollification between John Osborn and Sarah’s uncle Anthony Bledsoe.  Joel was listed as a farmer.

Also in the 1860 census, the household of John Isbell included John Ross, age 21, born Indiana, listed as a painter.  Some of the Newton County Rosses were related to the Grindstaffs by marriage.  Next door to John Isbell was Joseph Henry, age 42, born TN, listed as a farmer.  In the same township, Van Buren, was his brother John Henry, age 40, born TN, also listed as a farmer.  John’s wife was Mary Ann Simmerley, whose mother was Elizabeth Grindstaff.  A mile or so west of the mill lived the Banks family, whose matriarch was Charlotte Grindstaff.

Others Townsmen Mentioned in the 1860 Census

The 1860 census showed Martin Lowry and John Pannell as millers, with Lowry living in town next door to John Osborn and Pannell living in the country.  Harvey Stansberry was listed as a stonemason.  Robert Cowan and Thomas Wright were shown as physicians, both living in the country, Cowan in Newton County and Wright in Barry.  As mentioned above, Wright bought property in Jollification in October, 1860.  Alfred Fletcher was listed as a painter and, like fellow painter John Ross, was living in the John Isbell household.  James Wooten was listed as a school teacher, living on the Jane Kelly farm just west of Jolly. 

THE NAMING OF JOLLIFICATION

20 April 1870, Neosho Times

Letter from Jollification

Jollification, April 16, 1870

Editor of the Neosho Times:

In the column of the Investigator, under date of March 24th, will be seen an article headed, "Along the Line."  The editor of that paper, while on his trip to Lebanon and back, stopping at very many points, finally about noon, on his return, called at Jollification.  While waiting here for dinner, he first learned how this town came by its name.  Some one informed him when only a distillery was here many years ago that old Able Landers was accustomed to visit the distillery every Saturday, and after exchanging corn for whiskey, would call a crowd of men up and propose to them to have a "jollification."  After drinking and fighting, the old man invariably using the word "jollification," the name was applied to the town.  This statement in regard to the place getting its name is most assuredly erroneous, and not only that, but an outrage on old man Landers, who was one of the most highminded, respectable citizens of the county, and was never known to come to town for the purpose of raising a jollification, which can be substantiated by numerous friends.  Two fights only occurred near the distillery, neither of which he was involved in, and it is asserted by his friends that he had nothing to do with naming the place.

RARA AVIS

NOTES

The Times and Investigator were rival Neosho papers of this era.  No copies of the Investigator have survived.

Abel Landers was a prominent Newton County lawyer, landowner and politician in the 1840s and 1850s.  He moved to Hood County, Texas, in 1858, where he was a prominent judge after the Civil War.  For details see Abel Landers.

It is perhaps a measure of Landers political skill that he was able to convince the pious of Newton County that he shared their ways.  He is remembered somewhat differently in Texas.  There it is written that he periodically adjourned his trials to the saloon for refreshments and that he overruled three elections in a row locating the county seat.  Only when the voters had the wisdom to locate it near land owned by him and his family did he find the election without procedural flaws.  Thomas Taylor Ewell, Hood County History (1895), chapters 10 and 36.  Ewell's Hood County History Online.

Abel was married to Sally Shipman, whose brother William was their neighbor near Jollification.  When William died in early 1846, Landers was appointed administrator of his estate.  The probate records show that beginning in 1848 Landers annually ask the court to approve contracts renting the Shipman lands for growing corn.  With the construction of the distillery in that year, corn had become an important cash crop.  For several years after the Civil War, one employee of the mill was Stephen Bailey, William Shipman's son-in-law and Abel Landers' nephew by marriage.

My great grandfather was William Abel Banks (right), named for his grandfather William Shipman and his great uncle, Abel Landers.  In the 1870 Newton County census, his brother Moses and sister Annie were living with the John Isbell family at Jolly.  As a young man, William worked for his Uncle Stephen Bailey at the distillery and fell out of one of the upper floor windows, nearly breaking his back.  The family assumes that he, like Great Uncle Abel, was too high-minded to have sampled the wares before this unfortunate accident.  For genealogical information, see William Abel Banks.
 

JOLLIFICATION DURING THE CIVIL WAR

In the Official Records of the Civil War, Jollification is mentioned several times, beginning May 7, 1862, and ending August 1, 1863.  The village was on the road from Springfield to Neosho and the Indian Territory and is mainly mentioned as a place the contending forces passed through, although it seems likely that both sides would have used the mill to grind grain.  Here are brief summaries of the various reports with links to their full text.

May 7, 1862.  Captain Breeden and Lt. Worley of the 14th Missouri State Militia Cavalry (Union) made a scout with 103 men from Mt. Vernon to Neosho, passing through Jollification and killing a rebel named William Walker there.

July 1862.  Colonel Hall of the 4th Missouri State Militia Cavalry (Union) reported a chase of 18 guerrillas at Jollification, with 10 guerrillas killed.

September 30, 1862.  The first battle of Newtonia, which is about 6 miles west of Jollification, was fought September 30, 1862. Some Union troops passed through Jollification on their march.

October 3, 1862.  In the days after the first battle of Newtonia, Union forces converged for another encounter.  A Confederate force attacked the Union advance at Jollification and took several prisoners, but was forced to withdraw and leave the prisoners locked in the blacksmith shop.

August 1, 1863.  About August 1, 1863, a Union scout from Cassville to Elm Springs, Arkansas, then to Springfield, passed through Jollification without incident.

JOLLIFICATION AFTER THE CIVIL WAR

6 January 1870, Neosho Times

Jollification

The town of Jollification is pleasantly situated on Capps Creek, in the eastern part of Newton County, some 18 miles from Neosho.  Being located in the centre of a fine agricultural region, surrounded by an intelligent and thrifty population, makes it a very desirable point.  There are innumerable fine sites for machinery on Shoal and Capps Creeks, which at no distant day will be improved.  So soon as the railroad is completed, and the lands now owned by it, pass into the hands of private individuals, we expect to see that end of the county make still more rapid strides in the general march of improvement.

The dry goods business of Jollification is managed by E. P. Linzee and I. H. Richards & Co.  Both establishments are fully prepared to accommodate their friends with anything to be found in a general stock of merchandise.

J. P. Osborn will take pleasure in supplying the wants of the hungry, and for our individual experience in times past, we can say that he knows exactly how to "keep hotel."

What few "ills flesh is heir to" will be looked after by Dr. Sanders, who is not only an experienced physician, but an accomplished and genial gentleman.

A large mill is located in town, owned by John Isbell, Esq., but at present under lease to Brown & Guthrie, who are kept constantly busy. They are making a good article of flour.

We understand that Mr. Isbell intends to make many improvements to this property in a short time.

A mile or two this side of Jollification, on Shoal creek, a good saw mill is in operation.

NOTE

The full text of the Linzee ad above read:  "E. P. Linzee, Jollification, Missouri, Would respectfully announce to his old customers and the public generally that he is now receiving the largest and most complete stock of STAPLE & FANCY GOODS ever brought to Jollification, consisting of Brown and Bleached Domestics, Alpaccas, Merinoes, Checks, Stripes, Cassimeres, Jeans, Flannels, Shawls, Cloaks, Linens, Linseys, &c, which will be sold at prices to defy competition.  * * *  IN BOOTS AND SHOES my stock cannot be surpassed.  * * *  IN HATS AND CAPS I have everything desirable.  * * *  In the CLOTHING line I am prepared to compete with any house in the Southwest both to quality and price.  * * *  My stock of GROCERIES, Hardware, Queensware, Books and Stationary, Horse Shoes, Nails and Agricultural Implements will be found very full.  Call and examine my stock, and satisfy yourselves that this is the house to buy at.  * * *  Country produce taken in exchange for goods.  * * *  I tender my sincere thanks to the public for the very liberal patronage heretofore extended to me, and ask a continuance of the same.  E. P. Linzee."

Within a few weeks after the article above describing Jollification appeared in the Neosho Times on January 6, 1870, the town of Peirce City (later Pierce City) was founded a few miles north of Jollification on the line of the coming railroad.  The birth of Peirce City with its railroad connection was the beginning of of the end of Jollification as a small commercial center.  The last Linzee ad for Jollification appeared in the Neosho Times on April 7, 1870.  The following week's paper carried a notice that Linzee was selling out in Jollification and opening a new store in Peirce City.  Ironically, in the ad at left from the April 28, 1870, newspaper, Linzee's train logo appeared under a Peirce City ad blaring "Look Out!"

The I. H. Richards & Co. ad from Jollification shown above in the section on J. P. Osborn ran in the Neosho Times from February 10, 1870, to May 26, 1870.  Apparently Richards & Co. was a Springfield concern with a branch at Jollification managed by James Day, Osborn's son-in-law.  How long it remained in business there is unknown.

John H. Wooldridge, Osborn's other son-in-law, opened a store in Sarcoxie after the Civil War and then moved to Peirce City in 1870.  When Osborn died on 1 February 1874, he was a clerk in a store in Peirce City, presumably Wooldridge's.  Osborn and his wife sold out in Jollification on May 25, 1873.


16 January 1879, Neosho Times

On Thursday there were 60,000 young salmon fry or minnow salmon received at Peirce City, for distribution in the waters that flow westward from the Ozark mountains.  Of these there were 20,000 put in Shoal Creek in a large spring at Barker Lake, 20,000 in the big spring at Jolly in Capps Creek and 20,000 went to Carthage, under charge of Judge Jas. P. Bettis.  Of the 40,000 that were put in Capps' and shoal Creeks there were not altogether one hundred dead ones.  This is really wonderful when it is considered that they were brought all the way from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in cans that would hold about 10 gallons, and 10,000 little minnows about one inch long to the can.  They were accompanied this far by Mr. E. R. Shaw; a son of the gentleman who owns the hatchery in Iowa.  The fish were quite lively and sportive when they got in the creek and went to hiding in the moss near the banks.  --  Peirce City Record.

NOTE

Mentions of Jolly in the Neosho Times after 1870 were rare, usually only a brief note on a political rally there or a visit to Neosho by one of the Isbells.  On December 23, 1880, the Times mentioned that John Isbell, original owner of the mill and "one of the fixtures of the county," was planning to move to California.


CRIME AT JOLLIFICATION

The Messages and Proclamations of the Governors of the State of Missouri (1924)

PROCLAMATION:

          WHEREAS, James Sexton did, on the 14th day of December, A. D. 1866, near Jollification, in the county of Newton, and State of Missouri, murder JOSEPH HENRY; and

          WHEREAS, The said James Sexton has fled from justice and is still at large;

          Now, therefore, I THOMAS C. FLETCHER, Governor of the State of Missouri, for good reasons appearing, and by virtue of authority in me vested, do offer a reward of Three Hundred Dollars for the apprehension and delivery of the body of the said Sexton to the Sheriff of Newton county.

DESCRIPTION OF THE FUGITIVE:

          James Sexton is about six feet high; of slender build, and somewhat round shouldered; has large blue eyes; sharp Roman nose; peaked chin, and long, thin, light hair.  He talks very fast, and frequently refers to himself as "Jim"; is fifty-seven years of age, and very fond of smoking and whiskey.

          IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my Hand, and caused to be affixed the Great Seal of the State of Missouri.  Done at the City of Jefferson, this 11th day of January, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty-Seven, of the Independence of the United State the Ninety-first, and of the State of Missouri the Forty-Seventh.

THOS. C. FLETCHER

By the Governor,
Francis Rodman, Secretary of State

NOTE

When it was printed in the Missouri Weekly Patriot at Springfield MO on February 7, 1867, this reward notice mistakenly named the culprit James Seaton.  The actual proclamation as reprinted in the book mentioned above gives the correct name.  James Sexton was 37 at the time of the incident, not 57.  For more information on Sexton and his relationship to the Henrys, see Note 1, Roster of the Stone Prairie Home Guard.

30 March 1867, Carthage Banner

AN OUTLAW SHOT.  --  We are informed that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Moles attempted, last Saturday evening to arrest the notorious outlaws Fred Baker, of Howell county, and Jim Sexton, the murderer of Mr. Henry, of Newton county.

Our informant states that Johnson and Moles got in company with Sexton and Baker Sunday morning, and were with them all day.  In the evening, they accompanied them to Mr. Hoobs on White river, in this county, where they passed the night.  Shortly after their arrival, Johnson and Moles declared their object, and demanded a surrender, whereupon Baker and Sexton drew their revolvers and commenced firing.  Eight or ten shots were exchanged in the house, when a general stampede took place.

Baker, it is thought, escaped unhurt.

Sexton received a wound in his side, but owing to the darkness succeeded in making his escape.  None of the party attempting the arrest were hurt.

Sexton was seen the day after the party left -- he seemed deranged and in great misery.

Rewards were offered by the Governor for the apprehension of both these men.

These were desperate characters, and a terror to the people in the section where they have been prowling.  --  Cassville Republican.


10 February 1870, Neosho Times

The Homicide at Jollification

Lacy M. Smith who shot and killed Polk Grimes at Jolly a few days ago, was tried before S. W. Wolcott and Esq. Smith and committed to await the action of the Grand Jury.  He was placed in the custody of two men and started for Neosho, but since then nothing has been heard from either prisoner or guards.  The papers in the case were left by some one at Graves & Co.'s on Saturday.

NOTE

This is the first use of the place name "Jolly" that I have seen.  James P. Grimes is buried in the Grimes cemetery near Jolly.  The tombstone says he died February 1, 1870, age 25 years, 2 months, 8 days.  He was the son of William Grimes and Sarah England, who settled in Newton County in 1857.  Sources:  Larry A. James, Pioneers of the Six Bulls, Volume 2, page 23. Biographical Appendix, Goodspeed's History of Newton County Missouri, pages 360-361 (1888).


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