Joseph Glover Baldwin was born in Virginia on January 21,
1815. He was educated in Staunton schools until family finances forced
withdrawal, and he became a deputy clerk for the Staunton courts. He started
studying law, and earned his license to practice at age twenty-one. A supporter
of the Whig party, Baldwin co-owned and edited several newspapers. The failure
of one of these papers, the Advocate and Commerical Advertiser, and
heartache from a rent romance sent him westward. He practiced law in DeKalb,
Mississippi, where he often represented Choctaw Indians, and moved on to
Alabama, where he served one term as a Whig in the Alabama House of
Representatives (1843). He ran for Congress, but lost.
Baldwin started writing
sketches in the Southwestern humor style about his adventures as a frontier
lawyer. These sketches were first published in the Southern Literary
Messenger in 1852, and later collected and published in book form in 1853.
The sketches described the boom time, the flux time, the “flush” times of
the newly expanding Southern frontier. Confidence men and sketchy lawyers became
the targets of much of Baldwin’s humor while others were biographical in
nature, often moralistic. The Flush Times, supposedly one of Abraham
Lincoln’s favorite books, was Baldwin’s most popular book — though the Messenger
perhaps exaggerated when it claimed the book was nearing sales of 20,000 — but
he also published another work, Party Leaders: Sketches, which was
popular but not as widely read as Flush Times.
Baldwin followed the gold miners to California, arriving in
the post-flush times era, but he wrote sketches about California, which were not
published until 1966. He died on September 30, 1864, in California.
The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi.
New York: D. Appleton, 1853.
Party Leaders: Sketches of Thomas Jefferson, Alex’r Hamilton, Andrew
Jackson, Henry Clay, John Randoplh of Roanoke, Including Notices of Many Other
Distinguished American Statesmen. New York: D. Appleton, 1855.
The Flush Times of California. Ed. Robert E. Amacher and George W. Polhemus.
Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1966.