The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Higginbotham (Prieur Jay) Papers
Prieur Jay Higginbotham was born on July 16, 1937 in Pascagoula, Mississippi, the eldest of three children born to Prieur Jay Higginbotham, Sr. and Vivian Inez Perez Higginbotham. His siblings are a sister, Mary Kay (born June 13, 1940) and a brother, Robert Dale (born December 29, 1943).
Jay Higginbotham was educated in the Pascagoula city schools, and upon graduation, he entered the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford, Mississippi, receiving the Bachelor of Arts in 1960. During his college years (1955 - 1960), he served as an Assistant Clerk in the Mississippi House of Representatives.
After graduating from Ole Miss, he taught high school, first in Mississippi, then in the Mobile County, Alabama Public Schools from 1962 until 1972. During that time, he married, and he and his wife, Louisa, now have three children --Jeanne, Denis, and Robert. In the same time period, he began to pursue a career as an author. The ensuing years saw Higginbotham evolve into a writer of history, novels, short stories, travel, adventure, family biographies, and articles for newspapers and historical journals. Among his books are The Mobile Indians; Pascagoula: Singing River City; Mobile: City By the Bay; Fort Maurepas: The Birth of Louisiana; Fast Train Russia; Autumn in Petrischevo; and Old Mobile.
Higginbotham is known for his narrative style of writing, which makes his books infinitely more readable than most scholarly works. His books have been widely acclaimed in the United States, France, Britain, and Spain. In 1966, Old Mobile won five literary awards.
It is no coincidence that five of Higginbotham's books deal with the French Colonial Period. His ancestors were predominantly French, and from an early age, he exhibited an abiding interest in the history of the United States Gulf Coast.
An extensive genealogical study of his family revealed that one ancestor, Joseph Simon Sieur de la Pointe, helped erect Fort Maurepas, on the east coast of Biloxi (Mississippi) Bay in 1699. Other ancestors were prominent political figures of the Gulf Coast area, including at least two mayors of New Orleans, Louisiana during the eighteenth century. Family pride is reflected in the handing down of names -- Jay and all of his children were given old family names.
In 1966, as a young, unattached school teacher, Higginbotham traveled to the (then) Soviet Union. While there, he rode the Trans-Siberian Main Line from Nakhodka (a port city on the east coast of Siberia, which borders the Sea of Japan) to Moscow, keeping a journal as he traveled. The journal lay dormant until about 1979, when a chance meeting with a Soviet citizen rekindled his interest. Soviet author, Lev Knjazev, visited the Mobile Public Library, where Higginbotham was employed, in search of books by Russian authors. The two men became so involved in a discussion of Higginbotham's trip through Siberia, that Higginbotham invited the other man to his home for dinner. Encouraged by the Soviet author, he began to write a book based on his journal. He continued his acquaintance with Knjazev, who had returned to his home in Vladivostok (in the former Soviet Union), and made five or six attempts to send him the manuscript for his perusal. However, it was lost in the mail each time, and he finally hit upon the idea of sending the manuscript one page at a time, in his letters. This plan proved viable, and Knjazev gave his enthusiastic approval, urging Higginbotham to complete the project. The result was Fast Train Russia.
In 1984, he visited the Soviet Union for a second time, and wrote Autumn in Petrischevo, based on that experience. He was impressed by the honesty and goodwill of the Soviet people, whose uppermost desire, according to Higginbotham, was to "... safeguard peace and avert nuclear war."
In 1973, Higginbotham applied for the position of Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, but was passed over in favor of Mr. Elbert Hilliard, who remains in that position at this writing. In that same year, he secured employment at the Mobile Public Library, serving as Head of the Department of Local History between 1973 and 1978, and as acting Head of Special Collections from 1979 to 1980. Since 1980, he has acted as a research consultant for the library.
During his tenure at the Mobile Public Library, he assisted in the establishment of the Mobile Municipal Archives, becoming Director thereof in 1983. At this writing, Mr. Higginbotham resides in Mobile, and remains as Director of the Mobile Municipal Archives. He also serves on the editorial board of the Gulf Coast Historical Review.
Copies of books by Jay Higginbotham are available in the Cook, McCain, and Cox Libraries:
The Mobile Indians (2nd ed., Mobile, Ala.: Sir Rey's, 1966), call number E99.M698 H53 1966 (Cook).
The Pascagoula Indians (Mobile, Ala.: Colonial Books, 1967), call number E99.P26 H53 1967 (McCain).
Pascagoula: Singing River City (Mobile, Ala.: Gill Press, 1967), call number F349.P3 H5 (McCain).
Family Biographies: Brief Portraits of Some Ancestors and Members of the Higginbotham Family of Pascagoula (Mobile, Ala.: Colonial Books, 1967), call number CS71 .H6367 1967 (McCain).
Fort Maurepas: The Birth of Louisiana (Mobile, Ala.: Colonial Books, 1968), call number F349 .O23 H53 (Cook, McCain).
Sauvole de la Villantray de, The Journal of Sauvole: Historical Journal of the Establishment of the French in Louisiana, translated and edited by Jay Higginbotham (Mobile, Ala.: Colonial Books, 1969), call number F372 .F8713x 1969 (Cook).
Fort Maurepas: The Birth of Louisiana, 1699-1702 (Pascagoula, Miss.: Jackson County Historical Records, 1971), call number F349.O23 H53 1971 (McCain).
Brother Holyfield, a Novel (New York: Thomas-Hull, 1972), call number PS3558.I353 B7x (McCain).
Old Mobile: Fort Louis de la Louisiane, 1702-1711 (Mobile, Ala.: Museum of the City of Mobile, 1977), call number F334.M6 H48x (McCain), F334.M6 H483 (Cox).
Fast Train Russia (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1983), call number DK28 .H48 1983 (McCain).
Autumn in Petrishchevo (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1987), call number DK29 .H54x 1987 (McCain).
Man, Nature & the Infinite: Random Thoughts and Impressions from the Journals, Interviews, Letters, Speeches and Notebooks of Jay Higginbotham, 1961-1977 (Mobile, Ala.: Lighthouse Books, 1998), call number BJ1581.22 .H54 1998 (McCain).
While this collection is relatively small in size and narrow in scope (with only two exceptions, materials are confined to the period 1972 - 1974), it does contain some informative items concerning the personal and professional lives of Jay Higginbotham.
The collection begins with a brief biographical sketch, followed by two photographs, and progresses to a series of correspondence which has been divided into four parts -- personal, professional, business and civic oriented, and greeting cards. Of interest among the professional correspondence is a letter from William F. Winter, who, at that time, was Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi, and president of the Board of Trustees, Mississippi Department of Archives and History (Mr. Winter went on to become Governor of Mississippi in 1980). The letter advises Jay Higginbotham that Mr. Elbert Hilliard has been selected as Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, a position for which Higginbotham had applied. Also of interest are several letters, written in French and Spanish, to libraries in Paris, France and Valladolid, Spain.
Noteworthy among the greeting cards is a Christmas card that features a design drawn by artist, Ann Adams, a polio patient who trained herself to draw, holding a pencil between her teeth.
Following the correspondence is the item of the most intrinsic value - the handwritten manuscript of The Pascagoula Indians - inscribed in a simple, spiral notebook.
The manuscript is followed by a sundry selection of items relating to the Higginbotham family, including such articles as Jay's Army Reserve identification card; a temporary driver's permit issued by the state of Alabama; a check stub from the University of South Alabama; genealogical information on Joseph Simon Sieur de la Pointe; and a description of Jay's responsibilities at the Mobile Public Library.
Completing the collection are information concerning the Spanish Fort Museum in Pascagoula, Mississippi; newsletters - "The Arts in Mississippi" and "Six Flags Reporter" (Mobile, Alabama); and a photocopied article from the Florida Southern Quarterly, "Arriola's Report on the Founding of Pensacola."
Volume: 5 items
Provenance: Mr. Jay Higginbotham.
Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).
Form of Material:
Three biographical sketches of Jay Higginbotham, one bibliography of articles by Jay Higginbotham, and one copy of The World Around, by Jay Higginbotham.