Along with George Washington Harris, Johnson Jones Hooper is
the best known of the Southwestern humorists. Born in Wilmington, North Carolina
on June 9, 1815, Hooper would head west at the age of twenty to join his
brother's law firm in Lafayette, Alabama. It is here in 1840 that Hooper helps
take the census for Tallopoosa County. This authorized intrusion into the lives
of the backwoods frontier families serves as material for his first story in
William T. Porter's Spirit
of the Times, "Taking the Census in Alabama", in 1843. After
the success of this story, Porter encouraged Hooper to write more humorous
sketches for the Spirit.
Hooper would become nationally recognized in his day as the creator of Simon Suggs. His first Simon Suggs stories appear in the East Alabamian, of which Hooper was editor, in 1844. By 1845 Hooper's Suggs stories are reprinted in the Spirit and earn praise. Suggs is the quintessential confidence man, establishing a shifty character that Twain will later use as a model for his dishonest King in Huckleberry Finn. Two of his most representative Suggs stories, "Simon Becomes Captain" and "The Captain Attends a Camp Meeting" (which may have sparked Twain's chapter "The King Turns Parson" in Huck Finn) give an indication of the humor that was admired by Hooper's contemporaries.
most Southwestern humorists, Hooper was a passionate Confederate and was deeply
affected by the politics of his day. Unlike Harris, a strong Democrat, Hooper
was an avid enemy of the Democrats and vacillated between his support of the
Southern Whigs and the Know Nothing parties -- often using Suggs as an agent of
propaganda for his own political views. Although Hooper spent most of his life
as an editor and politician, he is best remembered for his humorous sketches in
the Spirit and his books, Some Adventures of Simon Suggs, Late of the
Tallapoosa Volunteers and The Widow Rugby's Husband.