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Oxford celebrates 175th anniversary

In 1837, the year Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson in the presidency and the year Michigan became the 26th state admitted to U.S., three pioneers, all named John, bought 50 acres of land from two Chickasaw Native Americans, Princess Hoka and E Ah Nah Yea. They named that 50 acres after a town in England to promote an air of class to their new settlement.
This weekend will mark Oxford’s 175th birthday since that purchase.
Oxford’s founders, John Martin, John Chisom and John Craig, hoped the town would eventually become the site of a flagship university, and in 1848, a little less than a decade later, the University of Mississippi opened its doors to 80 students.
The first chancellor was Frederick Austin Porter Barnard, later the founder of the all-female Barnard College in New York City. He is remembered on campus for his aspiration to create the small university, a Harvard of the South, by his project: the Barnard Observatory. However, the Barnard Observatory was put on hold until 1992, 131 years after the Civil War, because of a dreadful event that halted Barnard’s dreams for Ole Miss.
During the Civil War, the university closed and the Lyceum was used as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops. Two hundred and fifty soldiers died at the make-shift hospital and were buried on university grounds in a cemetery. The University Greys, a student- and faculty-composed regiment enrolled into Company A, 11th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment, were wiped away by injuries, capture and death. The only survivor spoke to the student body when the university reopened post-Civil War. Matters worsened in 1864 when Union General A.J. “Whiskey” Smith and his men, rumored to be intoxicated, set fire to the town.
A few buildings on campus survived the fire, one of which was the Barnard Observatory. General William Tecumseh Sherman, a longtime friend of Chancellor Barnard, ordered that the building be left alone during the battles. He later wrote to Barnard about how he recalled Barnard’s pride and hope in Ole Miss.
Oxford recovered and grew into a bustling town that Faulkner called his “patch of native land.” He immortalized Oxford as Yoknapatawpha in his literature, a gift for which he is thanked years after his death, as people leave full bottles of whiskey, his favorite drink, on his grave.
From its beginning, Oxford has grown; it started as a white settlement on land that ran through the Trail of Tears, suffered through the town’s loss due to General Smith’s drunken rampage and became the inspiration of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, where cotton and students rolled about the celebrated town. Oxford is now the beloved hometown of many, bringing rich history and culture to stories of the South.
The Double Decker Festival has celebrated the town’s anniversary every year since 1995.