George Washington Harris

Writer, Satirist 1814-1869


BORN: March 20, 1814, Allegheny City, Pa.

In 1835 he married Mary Emiline Nance, tried large-scale farming in Blount County, Tenn., and lost everything. By 1843 he moved to Knoxville, operating a metalworking and jewelry shop.

Mr. Harris is best known for his 1854 comic depiction of Southern backwoods life. His character Sut Lovingood, a Tennessee youth and “nat’ral born durn’d fool,” who declares his brains are “mos’ove the time onhook’d,” recounts; his family background in a comic, grotesque fable of conflict with his father and his flight from home.

Throughout the 1850s Mr. Harris created a variety of adventures for his character, many revised and included in Sut Lovingood’s Yarns in 1867.

Writers such as Mark Twain, William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor have praised Harris’ characterization and language. Critics’ responses have been from “Rabelaisian” (coarse humor) to “repellent.”

Southern writer’s unmarked grave believed to be in Trenton cemetery

by chloe morrison

staff writer

TRENTON, Ga. — A team of fans of 19th century satirist George Washington Harris believes they have found the grave of the Tennessee writer, humorist and politician in a cemetery here.

The find was the result of a team effort, said John Bayne, who is writing a book on the grave sites of Southern writ­ers and is one of the team who found the unmarked grave.

They believe the resting place is beside the grave of Mr. Harris’ first wife, Mary Nance Harris. But there has been no scientific confirmation.

“We are kind of putting the message out, in case anyone wanted to be more ambitious (and try to confirm this),” Mr. Bayne said.

He said the satirist, whose work influenced authors like Mark Twain and William Faulkner, has been buried for 138 years. He’s not sure remains could be found, Mr. Bayne said, “But, we are pretty well con­vinced and pretty happy.”


Dr. Randy Cross and Phil Wirey joined Mr. Bayne in the search because of a shared interest in Mr. Harris and in finding his burial site.

“A newspaper said he was buried in Nashville,” Mr. Bayne said. “I called the cemetery … and that was not he, so I despaired.”

After that false lead, he con­tacted Mr. Wirey, a genealogist and historian, to help.

Mr. Wirey reasoned that if they could find Mary Harris’ grave, they would also find Mr. Harris. At the time of his death, Mr. Harris had been married to his second wife only a couple of months. So, Mr. Wirey sought Mary Harris’ grave.

“It was normally a tradition for you to be buried with your first wife, or the mother of your children,” Mr. Wirey said

After confirming Mary Harris was buried in Trenton, the group went to Dade County.

“We went into the cemetery, and there by Mary Harris’ grave was a fieldstone marker, just what the historian had told us to look for,” Mr. Bayne said.

Dr. Sheila Byrd, the national executive director of the English honor society Sigma Kappa Delta, is a fellow professor of Dr. Cross’ at Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Ala.

She said the honor society is making it a national project to give the author a tomb stone and monument.

“I have not yet found the words to describe the way I felt when I walked up and saw where his grave was,” Dr. Byrd said.

Intrigue surrounding Mr. Har­ris’ death adds to interest in him “He died mysteriously,” Mr. Bayne said. The writer was on his way to Virginia in 1869 to get his second book published when he became sick on the train. Passen­gers thought he was drunk, but just before he expired, Mr. Harris said “poisoned,” the researcher said.


Mr. Harris* works, written in the thick phonetics of Southern dialect, influenced such greats as Mark Twain and William Faulkner.

“It is a really extraordinary discovery,” Mr. Cross said of the burial site.

He and Dr. Byrd said that a young Mark Twain had favorably reviewed Mr. Harris’ work, and Dr. Byrd said Mr. Harris’ works helped preserve the dialect he preserved, and in which subsequent authors wrote.

“I loved being involved situation that is really history making,” Dr. Byrd said.

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