Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 35, Number 2

And the Rest is History

Author Jon Jordan, '92, finds synergies between practicing litigation and writing serious history

by Grace Renshaw Jon Jordan

Jon Jordan, '92, was "stuck outside County Court Number 3 in Dallas, waiting for a jury to quit deliberating" in a high-profile case he was litigating when he noticed a plaque commemorating the Texas Navy's capture of Cozumel, which it had claimed for Texas in the 1840s.

The Texas Navy?

A dedicated history buff, Jordan was instantly intrigued. "I subscribed to several history magazines, and I'd already realized I could write something similar," he recalls. "By the mid-1990s, the itch to write had become too strong for me to keep from scratching it. I looked down the mastheads, contacted the editors, and asked them what their authors' guidelines were."

"Lone Star Republic's Navy," which was published in the Fall 1999 issue of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, became the first of 13 articles Jordan has written so far for MHQ, Military History Magazine and World War II Magazine.

Jordan found that his newfound hobby of writing history articles dovetailed nicely with what was then his day job as a litigator with Weil Gotshal & Manges' Houston office. Originally a bankruptcy lawyer, Jordan admits to being "dragged, kicking and screaming, into the tort group" at Weil Gotshal when bankruptcy cases declined as the Texas economy boomed during the mid-'90s.

He soon realized that litigation gave vent to his talent for telling stories. "I've always thought telling stories in litigation and telling history stories were similar," he says. "You try to take something that happened in the past, using the most reliable evidence you can find, and piece it together in a way that your audience—whether they're readers or a jury—will understand and enjoy."

Trying cases also required frequent travel to "pig and chicken courts" all over the South. "I first heard the term 'pig and chicken court' from a lawyer at King & Ballow in Nashville," Jordan says. "But spending time in those courts greatly increased my enjoyment of the practice of law and introduced me to a large segment of the population I'd never have run into if I'd stuck with an upscale commercial practice. I learned to love it."

The small-town courthouses he visited also afforded research opportunities, although Jordan notes that current information technology has made historical research much easier. "The internet allows you to amass information authors of the previous generation never had access to," he says. "And the ability to word-search a document allows you to make connections that once required a tremendous amount of time and effort."

By 2000, Jordan had decided to expand his research on the Texas Navy into a scholarly book. "I used the magazine article as a proving ground to see if the topic would make a good book, and there was certainly enough material there," he says. "I contacted a bunch of agents and came back with a big stack of rejection letters. Ultimately, I found an excellent agent in Connecticut who specializes in serious histories."

Lone Star Navy, Jordan's first book, was released early in 2006. Jordan acknowledges that the story of the Texas Navy has overtones of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera. "The existence of a Texas navy was in itself a surprise," he says. "The fact that Texas ultimately had two separate navies is truly astounding."

Jordan, whose wife Katherine, '92, is general counsel to the Southeastern Legal Foundation, has three children, now 8, 6 and 3, and he acknowledges that his avocation for writing takes a back seat to his current job in King & Spalding's bankruptcy group and time with his family. "I literally had times when I was editing my book lying on my bed with a kid sitting on my back," he says. "You just have to love the kids and love writing enough to make time for both."

However, although Jordan has recently limited himself to magazine articles to spend more time with his kids, he admits he is currently "putting together the basics" on two new books: a biography of a civil war general from Georgia, and a book about the American military command structure during World War II.

And the rest will be history.