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George Cary EgglestonGeorge Cary Eggleston

Hoosier Connection: George Eggleston was born in Vevay, Indiana, and lived there until he was seventeen. He wrote about southeast Indiana in his memoirs and some of his novels.

Works Discussed: Jack Shelby

George Cary Eggleston was born in Vevay, Indiana, on November 26, 1839. His older brother, Edward Eggleston, was also a writer and is more widely known than George. When the boys were quite young, their father died, leaving their mother to raise four children. A strong influence in the boys’ early education was their high school teacher, Julia Dumont. George attended Indiana Asbury University, now known as DePauw, for a year. At that point he was forced to become a school teacher himself due to a lack of funds for continuing his education. His brother’s famous book, The Hoosier Schoolmaster, was based on George’s experiences teaching.

A Rebel's Recollections
George Eggleston's most famous novel

At the age of seventeen, George inherited his family’s plantation in Virginia, an event that drastically changed his life. He attended college at Richmond and became greatly involved in social and intellectual circles in the South. He joined the Confederate Army, and his work, A Rebel’s Recollections (1875), first published as a series of papers, was written about his experiences during the Civil War.

After the war, Eggleston moved around frequently, living in Illinois, Mississippi, and New York. He married Marion Craggs in 1868. He worked at various newspapers throughout his life, including the New York World, where he wrote for eleven years under Joseph Pulitzer. He was quite prolific outside of his journalistic and editorial career, writing novels, histories, biographies, and an autobiography.

Much of Eggleston’s writing was set in Virginia and South Carolina. However, some of his boys’ novels took place in Indiana. Jack Shelby is the story of a group of brothers trying to establish a home for their family in 1838 in southern Indiana. It contains many passages that portray the way that early pioneers viewed the land. His writing also displays the strong contrast between Indiana before and after the arrival of white settlers.

Eggleston gives an example of many settlers’ attitudes toward the land as they came into the area in Jack Shelby: “It’s just plain, simple, black mud. It’ll make fine cornfields some day when somebody drains it with ditches. But just now it’s a nuisance” (7). This thinking is precisely why almost all of Indiana’s wetlands were drained.

At the beginning of the seventh chapter of the same book, Eggleston vividly describes the condition of Indiana as the first pioneers moved in:

The road lay mainly through the dense forest that clothed all that region, a forest composed chiefly of great, smooth-barked beech trees, growing so thickly in their wide-spreading upper parts that the sunlight found difficulty in sifting through. Here and there in the beech woods, there stood clumps of hickory, or ash, or oak, or walnut, and at certain points there were great groves of sugar maples, or “sugar trees,” as they were called in Southern Indiana, with few or no other trees growing among them. These sugar trees were forest giants, rising to a great height, as straight in their trunks as if they had been so many arrows, and almost as black as ink, because every spring their over-abundant sap, or “sugar water” oozed out and dried on the bark to the color of ink.

There was little or no underbrush in these forests, whether the trees happened to be beech, hickory, maple, oak or ash. The foliage above was so dense that bushes could not grow beneath the trees. Here and there a little open space permitted the sun to reach the ground, and in such places there grew clumps of paw-paw bushes, or little groves of leather-wood. But in the woods themselves the spaces between the trees were as free of all undergrowth and vines as if the forest had been a planted and carefully cultivated grove. (56-57)

The forests were not the only part of the landscape changed by settlers. Most of the prairies were also converted into farmland. With much hard work, Eggleston’s characters in Jack Shelby clear the prairie lands. Jack, the oldest brother, explains to the others, "[Prairie] grass sod has been growing there year after year for ages perhaps, till its roots have struck deep into the earth, and it’ll be hard work to get it into good condition for corn by spring” (82).

Eggleston’s writing is particularly important because it gives the perspective of early settlers moving into Indiana when it was still heavily forested. He gives us an idea of what they were thinking and feeling as they first began to change the land into the Indiana we know today.



Eggleston, George Cary. Jack Shelby: A Story of the Indiana Backwoods. Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Co., 1906.

---. A Rebel's Recollections. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1875.

Shumaker, Arthur W. A History Indiana Literature. The Indiana Historical Society, 1962.

Banta, R.E. Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1816-1916. Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash College, 1949.


Virginia Historical Society. In Daniel E. Sutherland. "Virgina's Expatriate Artists." Virgina Magazine of History and Biography 91 (1983): 149.

Eggleston, George Cary. A Rebel's Recollection. Cover image.