Duncan C. McKenzie (1826-1878): Nineteenth Century Mississippi Farmer

DuncanMcKLoyaltytoUSGovt
Duncan C. McKenzie signed a loyalty oath to the United States government in August of 1865, very soon after the Civil War ended.

During the Civil War in May of 1863 as federal troops are weeks away from the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Duncan McKenzie writes to his Uncle Duncan:

I have heard by a courier

that the Yankees are advancing in large force on Jackson

how they will succeed a few days will determine probably

they will fall back to their gun Boats if not a fight

will decided the fate of Mississippi, Great God, uncle

what an age we live in did I think I should ever

live to witness Such Slaughter and Blood Shed,

the planters on the River are moving their negroes East

there has been not less than five hundred passed here in the

last two or three days with a few white families for protection — Duncan C. McKenzie

In his letters Duncan evokes optimism at the beginning of the war that transitions into despair and dread as his youngest brother and other family members endure the fighting at Vicksburg. Though his job as Postmaster at Taylorsville in Smith County protected him from service in the Confederate Army, he would witness war horrors in his community and during the Reconstruction period, all the while evolving into a representation of the embittered southerner of the postwar years. The legacy of this too-common bitterness continues into the 21st century.

Duncan McKenzie, fourth son of thirty-three year old Barbara McLaurin and Duncan McKenzie, was born in 1826. At the time of his birth the family was farming on property near the Pee Dee River in North Carolina within visiting distance of Barbara’s family. His older brothers were Kenneth, Hugh, and Daniel. His younger brothers were Allen and John, the only brother to have been born in Mississippi. Duncan had an older sister Catharine, who died at age twelve in Richmond County, North Carolina and a younger sister who was born and died in Mississippi at a year of age.

Perhaps having read for years of the rich fertile Mississippi Territory, a state since 1817, and now completely opened to white settlers after the Native American removal under President Andrew Jackson, the family left their farm in North Carolina. They arrived in Covington County in January of 1833 after a forty-five day journey. Young Dunk’s father may have not only read the local news of opportunities in the West, but had likely heard success stories from family and friends, earlier migrants. That first year Duncan McKenzie, Sr., Duncan’s father, shared rental property with Duncan McBryde and Allen Johnson, who arrived in Covington County, MS at the same time. The families were welcomed by long-time friend, Allen Stewart, and rented property very near the Stewart farm.

By 1836 Dunk’s father requested brother-in-law, John McLaurin, in NC to choose a good, large rifle from a reputable dealer to send for his boys to use. The boys spent a great deal of time in the pine forests of the area. However, their father worries that he will not be able to educate his children. Hugh Trawick, their guide on the road from North Carolina to Mississippi, becomes their first teacher in their new home. The community provided a simple structure in a convenient location to serve as a schoolhouse. Though a teacher could not be counted on to stay permanently, the boys managed to acquire literacy. Duncan was nearly eight when the family arrived in Mississippi, so he may have had some formal schooling under his uncle’s tutelage in North Carolina. By 1838 an acquaintance, Malcolm Carmichael had a small school nearby, which the youngest boys, including Duncan, attended. Duncan would not seek further education as did his brother Daniel. Managing a farm became Duncan’s life.

By 1838 the family paid taxes on land at Dry Creek that increased in acreage and value through 1843. In 1841, according to the Covington County Tax Rolls, Duncan’s father had entered land ownership in Township 9-N Range 17-W, near Williamsburg, though they used the Jaynesville Post Office or Dry Creek as an address. The family seemed to work as hard as anyone on the place raising corn, potatoes, oats, wheat, peas, and cotton. Young Dunk was not the largest of the six McKenzie boys but made up for it in energy, stamina, and competitive will. His father bragged on his ability to pick more cotton than anyone on the farm. In 1840 when Duncan is about fourteen, his father brags, “Dunk when in good humor can pick out 250 lbs (cotton) per day.” Several years later he says again, “Dunk can pick verry fast when in good order he can pick as much as any other if the other will be by him.” By 1846 the family owned eight slaves, one by the name of Ely Lytch (Leitch or Leech), who may have come with them from North Carolina or might have been sent later. Evidence exists that Dunk’s NC uncle knew Ely Lytch by another name. Though work on the smaller farms was probably shared by everyone on the place, the enslaved workers surely had little investment in the success of the farm beyond their own survival. Of all the boys, Dunk is rarely mentioned as being “out of the fields” unless he is working in someone else’s.

Apparently, Dunk’s father was a cautious man when it came to overextending himself financially. For this reason, he probably did not seek to purchase any more human chattel than he needed on the farm. A small farm such as the McKenzie’s was worked with a large amount of shared labor and only eight enslaved people; whereas, a plantation such as that of their close neighbor, Judge Duncan McLaurin of Simpson County, worked forty or more slaves and probably required more organization and task management skill. It is possible that on the smaller farm relationships between enslaved people and owners were much more familiar and perhaps more congenial, to the extent that was possible in a master-slave relationship. When, in 1845, Judge Duncan visits the McKenzies looking for one of the McKenzie brothers to help oversee his plantation, Hugh knows at once he is not interested. On the other hand, nineteen-year-old Dunk likes the prospect of earning eight bales of cotton for his services. Judge Duncan and his son John promise to help Dunk. His father describes the encounter:

the old man (Judge Duncan McLaurin), remarked that he must

now tell his business which was that he had come after one

of the boys I told him they were scarce enough for myself now

but the judge insisted I finally told him that there they were

on which he turnd his address to Hugh who bluffd him at once

he then addressd Dunk who askd him what he proposed giving

the judge told him he could not promise him money but

would give him eight Bales cotton on which they agreed

Dunk will no doubt have a hard task to keep between

45 to 50 hands at work this the old man told me that he

and his sone John would help Dunk all they could — Duncan McKenzie, Sr.

Dunk was probably ill-prepared for the problems he would face on the much larger farm and with a much larger labor force. His time at Judge Duncan’s did not work out well. It seems two of the laborers gave Dunk some trouble. The Judge’s son shot one of the enslaved people, probably “rendering him useless.” He also shot at another, but the man ducked out of the way just in time. Dunk was advised to quit his job there since his life could be in danger. This must have been quite a lesson for Dunk. Even after he was ultimately in charge of running a farm on his own, he never managed more than nine enslaved people and some of them were children. His father expresses some relief at Dunk’s quitting this venture.

Duncan’s father passed in1847 during an epidemic of typhus, which also took the life of two enslaved people on the farm. Kenneth writes,“at the time of his (Duncan McKenzie’s) dissolution Jonas the oldest of Hannahs children was lying dead in the house he died on the same night at 9 o’clock on the 15th of January Ely, the negro Father bot of John C. McLaurin, known to you as Archd Lytch died.” Their father’s death comes while Dunk’s brother Daniel is away with General Quitman and the Covington County Boys at the Battle of Vera Cruz in the Mexican War. One Covington County member of the group dies, William Lott. Others are injured but not seriously; all endure illness. An account of the experience of the Covington County Boys can be found in Daniel’s letter to Duncan McLaurin from the Duncan McLaurin Papers cited in the post, “Daniel McKenzie and the Mexican War.”

It must have been left to Duncan and his brothers to maintain the Covington County property in a kind of shared ownership after their father’s death in 1847. Likely it was Duncan, Hugh, and Allen who did most of the farm work as Daniel spent much of his time teaching and Kenneth dabbled in politics, other trades, and ventures. Kenneth owned and lived on his own property according to the 1850 Federal Census for Covington County. In the same census, Duncan is working as a farmer and living in the household of his mother Barbara McLaurin McKenzie. His youngest brother John was only seventeen that census year and had attended school within the year.

The family dynamic had drastically changed after Duncan’s mother, Barbara, passed in 1855. By 1857 Barbara’s sons had purchased, probably for the first time on their own, an enslaved man then exchanged him for a nine year old boy. Kenneth reports that this exchange has earned them one hundred dollars. Kenneth also comments upon his “Fathers stock,” letting us know that those enslaved persons held by his father at his death, remain with the family. This includes “Cely the woman he brot from Carolina” and her child who is old enough to be ploughboy; Miles, one of Hannahs children; and Elly’s children — Isaac, Ivy, and Caroline. Within a year, Cely has become ill and is not expected to recover. In March of 1858, Duncan writes his uncle that they will sell their land in Covington, County in order to purchase land in Smith County:

we have ofered our

land for sale last winter at about

$4 per acre there is about 960 acres in all

but did not find any purchasers our land

here is good enough and enough of it for us

yet for some time but we canot divide

it agreeable if we can sell our land here

we can get new land at a reasonable price

in Smith County — Duncan C. McKenzie

Duncan is also involved in mule speculation. He explains to his uncle that, “a Texas mule drover came along about the first of February.” Duncan and a neighbor bought 14 three-year-old mules for 70 dollars each. They sold five of them for $570 dollars and hope to sell the others for about $95 dollars each. Duncan also ordered a gold pen from New Orleans. These are signs that the family is becoming a bit more successful, or is at least taking greater risks to achieve success, before the outbreak of war.

It was after Daniel’s marriage into the well-propertied Blackwell family of Smith County in 1858 that the remaining brothers are encouraged by Daniel to sell the Covington land and purchase property in Smith County near Daniel. In the 1860 Census for Smith County, MS, Duncan was the head of household and had one child, Barbara E., four months old. His brothers Hugh and John were living with him, John with his wife Susan, sister to Duncan’s wife Martha Duckworth. A farm laborer from Alabama, Malvary Johnson, is also listed in the household. Duncan has real estate worth two thousand dollars and personal property worth two thousand five hundred.

On the eve of the Civil War, Hugh is a merchant and living and working on the property his wife’s deceased husband had left; Kenneth, unmarried, is living with a friend and working at carpentry; Allen is single and a saddler; John is married to Susan, the younger sister of Dunk’s and Hugh’s wives respectively Martha Duckworth and Sarah Duckworth Keys. Duncan had been elected Postmaster at Smith County. Possibly this was a calculated move, so that one person would be home to tend the farm for the duration of the war – Postmasters were exempt from conscription.

Duncan and John had joined the Baptist Church by the time the Civil War began. Daniel and Sarah Blackwell McKenzie were members of the Methodist Church. Dunk’s uncle is sending him copies of the North Carolina Presbyterian publication, which he appreciates very much:

I received the North Carolina Pres

-byterian which I find verry interesting

reading in those leters from Scotland

is first looked after, on the receipt of

the paper, I think it probable there will be

some new subscribers from this neighborhood — Duncan C. McKenzie

Dunk comments later that he has been to hear preaching about two miles away by the Presbyterian preacher, Reverend Mr. King. Dunk gave Mr. King two copies of the North Carolina Presbyterian to look over. Reverend King enjoyed the magazine very much but was already taking a number of other religious papers. Dunk continues by commenting on the papers he and his brothers read, “I like to peruse it (North Carolina Presbyterian) very well as I do not take any paper tho there is two or three sheets comes to the other boys.” Dunk’s opinion of the Presbyterian magazine is likely improved by the fact that a distant relative of his edits the paper from Fayetteville, NC. The relative is John McLaurin (B family), son of Neill McLaurin. Neill was a cousin of his uncle’s who came to America on the same ship in 1790 — Uncle Duncan age four, Cousin Neill about age seven.

By 1858 the railroads, initially brought about by the timber industry, have become a common method of transportation and valuable to farming and merchandising families in the area. Dunk tells of a trip he took with Daniel’s father-in-law, R. G. Blackwell. Evidently, the two families are growing closer since the birth of Sarah and Daniels’ son, John Duncan. Dunk and R. G. Blackwell take a buggy to the train depot  at Brookhaven to catch the train to New Orleans. The horse founders, so they exchange it for one of Dunk’s horses. All is well until their return trip when the buggy strikes a stump sending the horse in a panic carrying the broken buggy. Luckily, no one was badly hurt. Dunk also mentions a wagon accident in which Allen is injured. Though the injury to his leg at first appears significant, he soon recovers.

CattleDisease
Vicksburg Whig 15 September 1858

Duncan also reports in each letter the condition of their crops and the impact of the weather. In the fall of 1858 the cattle and deer are dying of the same disease, which he names Black Tongue. He says the buzzards are also dying from eating the carcasses. This Black Tongue event in Mississippi is well-documented in the local Mississippi newspapers of 1858.

The summer of 1860 brought dry weather that damaged crops in south Mississippi. In the midst of the drought, Dunk’s older brother Daniel, weakened by previous illness, did not survive his fight against typhoid fever. He died on July 13, 1860, leaving his wife Sarah, a son, and an infant daughter. In August Dunk reassures his uncle that Daniel’s wife Sarah is able to take care of herself and children since she has extensive family connections. Still, Daniel has not been efficient at collecting his physician debts, though Dunk says the people who owe him are reliable. He mentions that his McLaurin cousins from Hinds and Rankin Counties have not visited. The Reverend A. R. Graves of Zion Seminary preaches Daniel’s funeral as he had Barbara’s. Daniel had been a teacher at the school for a short time. Apparently Dunk’s uncle had been visited by A. R. Graves on a trip to North Carolina. Dunk says Graves is not one to distribute community news, “he is not a man to get much information from concerning neighborhood news Politicks Religion and Rail Roads is his theme.”

GSIRR
This article appeared in the January 9, 1861 issue of the Vicksburg Whig, apparently just in time for the outbreak of war, ending the venture for some years. It would be 1887 before actual work on the railroad would become a reality. The line eventually ran through nearby Jones County. Duncan would not live to see the existence of this much anticipated GSIRR railroad line.

Dunk himself is optimistic about the building of the Gulf and Ship Island railroad through their section of Mississippi. The war will intervene, but evidently Dunk and many others are less concerned that a long and costly war will soon transform their lives:

Directors are making

much noise about it (the railroad) Holding meetings and

Barbacues and Speakings, there is about 300,000

Dollars subscribed and as soon as they get

200,000 more the work will be commenced So they

Say, I have not much doubt but we will in

five years from this date Hear the iron Horse

neighing through these fine forests it will be

a great thing if it will civilize some of our

citizens — Duncan C. McKenzie

The “uncivilized citizens” Dunk references here is explained in the letter. Dunk tells the story of a man, probably not a property owner, that he hired without contract to sink a well. When the work was done, Dunk offered him two dollars a day and provisions from his store. The man said he was in need and Dunk’s prices were too high. Dunk called him a liar and not to repeat the insult, but he did. He “gathered his gun” and continued the abusive language, but Dunk produced his own weapon. The incident ended in a standoff during which apparently no one acted foolishly. Dunk says, “Dear Uncle I never want to be placed in such a situation again for why I did not kill him I know not or he kill me there was no one near us that I know of … I have tried to live at peace with the world and in the fear of an allwise being which Directs my hand.” Dunk’s father also expressed this prejudice against an unpropertied class of whites — that they were not generally reliable workers because they worked as “Hirelings” or for someone else. Dunk would use the expression “Lincoln’s Hirelings” during the coming war in reference to federal troops, many of whom he assumed did not work the land.

On the 9th of January 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede from the Union, citing slavery as the cause: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.” Ft. Sumter was surrendered to the Confederates on April 13, 1861. Though not every Mississippian had supported secession, war had begun.

Dunk remembers little of his Aunt Effy except that she was his mother’s favorite sister. Effy, who never married, died on July 31,1861, leaving her property to Barbara’s living children and Daniel’s two. Her property is in the form of slaves, people who are sold to provide monetary inheritance. There is no evidence that anyone but Kenneth ever receives the monetary inheritance. However, the record of her will is evidence today of the family connection.

By September of 1861 the drought that abated that season in Mississippi has come to North Carolina. Dunk describes a wind and rain that leaves the cotton dirty and difficult to clean but other crops are doing quite well, especially the peas they planted in their recently cleared Leaf River Swamp land. In spite of the Yankees coming into possession of Ship Island when General Twiggs of Mexican War fame gave it up due to his lack of “guns of long range,” Dunk maintains his optimism, especially since their crops are thriving:

So I think Lincoln will have to wait for another dry year before

he starves the people of Southern

States with his pretending Blockade and

Hordes of Hirelings, — Duncan C. McKenzie

Early in the war when weapons for the soldiers were few and manufactured goods from northern factories were scarce, Duncan made knives and leather scabbards for his brothers and other soldiers. Martha cleverly made ink from berries with which Duncan wrote some of his letters. In September of 1861 Allen and Kenneth were both deployed to Enterprise, MS with the “Yankee Terrors” and “True Confederates” from Smith County respectively. At Enterprise many in their encampment were ill and dying, especially of the measles. Both of Dunk’s brothers and a number from Smith were safe from the disease having survived it as a childhood infection. Since childhood illnesses did not spread as quickly in remote and rural areas, many remained susceptible to the disease. When gathered in close quarters in large numbers under stressful conditions, vulnerable soldiers were doomed to perish of disease in the course of the war.

By October Duncan, as Postmaster in Smith, does not appear to worry about the cost rise on letters traveling over five hundred miles that has been imposed by the Confederate government. At this moment in the war, Hugh and John remain on the farm. Hugh is working land that once belonged to his wife Sarah’s deceased husband. John works the property the family purchased in Smith along with Duncan. In this first year of the war, Duncan remains optimistic about the railroad too:

Hugh is on his farm and has a tract of valuable

land which he came in possession of by marriage

John is on the farm which we bought when

we moved from Covington Co., it certainly is

worth as much as any land in this Section

of the country and Sales have been made and

is now making for $12.50cents per acre John Allen &

myself has near 600 acres of that quality of

land and Hugh has four eights of about the

same quality besides we have 440 acres in Cov

Co yet which lies on the Survey of the Gulph and

Ship Island Railroad we have our hands

full at this time we owe some money. — Duncan C. McKenzie

The fact that they owe money will be Dunk’s financial downfall at the end of the war and a significant source of his deep bitterness. Even though he signs a loyalty oath to the United States government at the end of the war, he is never able to overcome his debts, admittedly and mostly from the purchase of slaves, to make a real profit on farming under the Reconstruction government or after.

Duncan is also telling his uncle that no one is able to meet his request for one of the nephews to come to North Carolina to help him carry on his business and care for his family in his old age. Though Dunk says he will if he can wind up business, he would rather have his Uncle live with them in Mississippi, for there is plenty of room. Of course, his uncle has much too much family responsibility and business in North Carolina to ever leave.

Once more Dunk reveals optimism regarding the war news, which he apparently gets from the telegraph that may be installed at the Post Office. Once again Dunk appears to discount the loss of the Confederate hold on Ship Island:

the war is progressing very well

for our Side or at least it apears so from rumor

and publications, we have another splendid victory

at leesburg stated confederate loss 300 federal

loss 300 killed and 300 drowned in crossing the potomac

according to Telegraphic statements, before this you

have heard of the route (rout) of the yankee Blockading

Squadron at the mouth of the Mississippi

river it was a complete surprise on their part — Duncan C. McKenzie

In January of 1862 Dunk writes his uncle with some trepidation since he has not heard from him in a while. He mentions the scarcity of essentials, “we all are scarce of meats coffee & salt as for the mater of sugar and molases it is not so high priced here as you speak of with you.” Goods such as sugar, processed nearby, can be obtained from the source, avoiding speculator’s prices. However, bacon and pork that are raised nearby carry a hefty price. The weather is unusually warm for January and unfavorable for storing meat. Dunk was able to get a quantity of leather before the speculators bought it all. A trip to Jackson is planned, where he will purchase not only sugar and molasses but factory thread for low cost at the penitentiary. The penitentiary at Jackson, known as “The Walls,” opened in 1840 on the site of the present day new Capitol Building. The prison had become a manufacturer of “course-cotton fabrics, bale rope and hemp, and cotton bagging for mechanical trades.”  Dunk says, “I will get it (thread) out of the penitentiary if it has not risen at $1.00 one dollar for Bunch.”

With a good new gin the family is selling cotton as the only way they can pay their debts. Dunk hints at the presence of subversive forces in the area, “Keeping it (cotton) even in the seed on the account of fire, one cant tell who is his friend in such times as these.” This is the first allusion perhaps to the Confederate deserters, whose numbers would grow. Deserters and people who had escaped slavery would eventually hide out in nearby Leaf River swamp very near the McKenzie property. Slaveholders’ property would become a target of much mischief.

Apparently, enslaved people in North Carolina are being hired or “let” without any compensation to the owner except that food and clothing are provided by the one hiring. The hiring out of people by owners had been an element of slavery for a century or more, and it continued during the Civil War. For example, Stephen V. Ashe writes an account in A Year in the South: 1865 of one Louis Hughes and his wife, enslaved people from the McGehee Plantation in Missississippi who are hired to work as a butler and cook for Benjamin Woolsey at the Salt Works in Clarke County, Alabama in 1863. The account is taken from plantation records, correspondence, and Louis Hughes’s own account. Many enslaved people were hired out as laborers in the Clarke County salt works, important to the Confederacy. Slave renting from plantation to plantation was common. During the war Dunk says he wishes he could find labor in Mississippi at only the cost of their upkeep:

you speak of negroes being hired or let for their

victuals and clothes I wish I could get some in

that way negroes is hiring here for from $75 to

$200 Dollars victualed clothed and tax and

Doctorbill paid thus a farmer canot make

the money by his or their labor to pay for

them making cotton and corn but not with stan-

ding they for the sake of a negro to wait on them

will promise unreasonable amounts — Duncan C. McKenzie

Dunk references a class prejudice here held by the struggling small farmer, whose laborers were all needed in the field against those who had been able to pay high prices for household laborers.

In his war news Duncan also alludes to a diplomatic crisis now known as the Trent Affair. The U.S. took into custody two Confederate diplomats, John Slidell and James M. Mason, from aboard the RMS Trent. The two were aboard the British vessel on a diplomatic mission to the United Kingdom and France seeking support for the Confederacy. A rupture in relations between the United States and the United Kingdom was averted after a few weeks when the U. S. government released the two to continue their mission. The Confederate mission failed. The United States maintained their friendly status with the United Kingdom, and no European country ever recognized the Confederacy. However, at first the event gave the South some reason to hope as Dunk expresses, “Queen Victoria has issued her proclamation for the confederate commissioners to be placed on the deck of a British vessel and ample apologies for the seizure of Meason and Slidell or we (the UK) will Blockade their Ports verry soon may it be so.” It wasn’t so.

Duncan begins a February letter describing the call in Mississippi for ten thousand new recruits to serve for sixty days. Those who answered the call were sent to Bowling Green, KY but returned home without a fight. Typhoid fever then took its toll on the recruits, “12 out of 64 which left this place … were put out of the trouble and tumult of this time of trouble.” Another call for twenty companies to serve a year did not bring enough volunteers to make a company, and Duncan fears a draft. Allen and Kenneth are well and in Warrenton and Pensacola, Florida with their companies.

Duncan reports little fighting in Mississippi, though he does relate an incident that happened on the coast, a revealing story about enslaved people taking refuge with the Union Army. Evidently, the owner and three enslaved people were moving some cattle on the mainland near Ship Island, which was controlled by the Union Army. The three enslaved people managed to find some sort of small boat and escaped to Ship Island, where the Union soldiers told an envoy sent by the slaveholder that the men could leave if they wanted but they were free as long as they were in Union controlled territory. In the end the escapees stayed with the army, the envoy was unsuccessful, and the owner lost his property. Duncan concludes, “the Yankees told the messenger if the negroes wanted to go back they might go but could not be forced they were free if they stayed there they stayed and the poor fellow lost his reward and the other his negroes.” Early in the war, the Union forces were obligated to return enslaved people when they sought refuge. However, as the Confederacy began employing slaves to support their military cause, the Union military began calling slave refugees “contraband of war.” By the end of 1861 enslaved people fleeing to Union lines were being employed as laborers. Nevertheless, Duncan apparently grasps at every rumor in the newspapers about foreign nations recognizing the Confederacy. Though he maintains his optimism of foreign support, the reality was not what he hoped.

The taxable property the McKenzie family owns in February of 1862 includes, “9 negroes averaging $600.00 apiece and on 1,000 and 10 acres of land … notes drawing interest at ten per cent … other taxable property merchandise.” Dunk continues to explain that the war tax alone on this amount of taxable property will reach over seventy-four dollars. They have purchased cotton and added it to their own, selling in order to pay the taxes. At this writing he is confident he can manage his debts.

Theft of the mail is another aberration of the times. Dunk relates an account of a mail robbery, “two weeks in succession.” Both times the mail rider, aware that the Postmaster at Enterprise, MS had put money in the mail bags, broke into the bags and destroyed the mail.

By July of 1862 Dunk has lost some of his optimism about the war. He realizes the gathering of Union and Confederate troops at Vicksburg portends the great possibility of defeat, “they (Yankees) are in large numbers on the Miss, River congregating in the vicinity of Vicksburg I am afraid to hear from them for fear that they will have to surrender the hill city of Mississippi to the vandal Hordes of Lincolns Hirlings.” In addition, he suspects John and Allen are there. Dunk is also concerned that the rules of electing officers have been changed. Rank in the militias  of Mississippi will now be determined by the highest ranking officers rather than democratically elected as in the past. It appears Mississippi has decided that recognizable skill and judgement are more valuable on the battlefield than popularity and loyalty. In the face of this perceived outrage, Duncan decides he would sooner be under one tyrant as another, “… and it looks verry much like we are to be placed under anarchy tyrany or even in a worse condition if we survive this struggle.” The reality of their situation in Mississippi appears to be taking hold.

Allen is in Mufreesboro, Tennessee with the Smith County soldiers in January of 1863. Kenneth has been discharged from Confederate service, comes home for a short time, and sets out to visit John at Vicksburg, where the Yankees have commenced bombardment. John has been ill once and able to recover at home, but he is rumored to be ill again. Hugh is captain of a militia in Smith County that has been ordered out several times but returned home. By May Kenneth and Hugh have joined the cavalry; John, at Vicksburg, is ill again with typhoid fever; and Allen has written from Tullahoma, TN. The Siege of Vicksburg begins May 18 of 1863 and lasts until July 4, 1863. John will survive his illness to participate in the fighting at Vicksburg. After receiving a federal pardon, he would come home to recover in order to fight again at Nashville in 1864.

Duncan says his crops of the season will be enough to feed the family. He is using pea vines, rice straws, and even potato vines as fodder. Duncan and Martha appear to be quite resourceful when pressed. He also uses his January 1863 letter to list the price of necessities in Smith County and to explain his bit of speculating in leather:

Corn is selling at 3 to 3 1/2 dollars per bushel

Pork at 25 to 30 cts per lbs flour cannot be had

for less than 55 or 60 dollars per BBL (barrel) sugar in

this county is worth or at least selling for

25cts per lb molases at one dollar per

gal cotton cards at $30 per pr Woolen cloth

will bring Plain $2 home made Kersey (coarse and cheap ribbed woolen cloth) $2.50cts

and jeans from $3 to $5 per yd cotton shirting

cannot be had for less than 75 cts $1 per yd

and the article of shoes and leather canot

be had scarcely at any price I was in time

for the later I bought 80 sides of unfinished

leather at $2.50 per side and then gave 80 cts

a side to a tanner to finish it for me I sold

all but 20 sides getting the money back

which I paid and a nice proffit making

the amount which I kept clear for which

I can get $8 dollars per pr for comon shoes

Salt is selling at from 40 to 50 cents per lbs

and scarce at that I sent my wagon down

to the sea coast and procured 1,000 lbs which

cost me $25 I divided it out among the neigh

bors at about cost and freight — Duncan C. McKenzie

In May Duncan reports that white families along with hundreds of slaves are fleeing east from Vicksburg, and that, Jackson is destroyed to the amount of 5,000,000 so estimated.” He adds, “they have been fighting at Vicksburg for seven or eight days the news is varied and from all kinds of sources.”

Years before, in February of 1862, Duncan mentions the plight of non-slaveholding families living near him during the war. Smith to the north and Jones counties share a border and the Leaf River. The Jones County population included fewer slaveholders than counties in the rest of Mississippi. He writes:

I am agent (in Smith County) for the Destitute wives of Volunteers comissioned

by the Board Police which is a great Trouble and not

much profit to me …

there is a good many in this county women and

children who are in a destitute condition as

to Eatables and they must be suplied with enough to

sustain life The Legislature has thought proper

to assess and colect 30 per cent on the state and

county Tax for the purpose of supporting the Destitute

women and children … — Duncan C. McKenzie

Though Dunk appears to sympathize with these families, changes in the Conscription Act will affect him directly. The first Conscription Act came about in April of 1862. All white males between eighteen and thirty five would be drafted into military service. By October of 1862 the Twenty-Slave Law was passed by the Confederate Congress that allowed the owners of twenty slaves or more to be exempt from conscription. The Twenty-Slave Law was directly related to the fear of slave rebellion incited by the Emancipation Proclamation. This fear manifested itself among larger plantation owners who felt their families threatened. They preferred to be home to protect their property. By January of 1863 Duncan writes:

our cause is much injured

by dissatisfaction growing out of the exemption laws

where men were exempt by owning or controlling

twenty or more slaves which is the bone and

sinew of dissatisfaction among the soldiers

I hope it will be repealed and place all on an

equality for some to be exempt because they

are rich to stay at home and make more riches

it is not just I know men who are exempt

and are at home receiving the benefits of that

law who should be in the army, they are the

men who with a verry few exceptions have the

provision and a soldiers wife nor child cannot

get a bushel of corn or pound of meat for less

thru prices and then not without the cash

when at the same time they cannot bear the

idea of being refused credit them selves — Duncan C. McKenzie

By May of 1863 the Twenty-Slave Law was made more specific. It would apply to only overseers on plantations owned by underage persons, mentally disabled persons, a single woman, or a person away from home in service of the Confederacy. However, by this time the harm had been done, for Confederate deserters had begun appearing in many places across the south but particular to this story in Jones County, Mississippi.

Before the changes in the Twenty-Slave Law, Duncan remarks on the appearance of deserters from the Confederate Army:

There has a great many Deserted from

the army in the last two months the cavalry were sent

through the country picking up all who were absent

from their commands, they carried off a good many men

from this Section some are lying out in the Swamps

to Shun them, I understand below here in the next county

south of us (Jones) the deserters were banded together and bid

difiyance to the confederate authorities how they will

succeed I do not know, our cause is much injured

by dissatisfaction growing out of the exemption laws

the Senator from Miss Honl E. Barksdale petitioned

Congress to repeal that portion of the exemption Bill

… I hope it will be repealed and place all on an

equality — Duncan C. McKenzie

According to James R. Kelly, Jr. in a Mississippi Historical Society summary  entitled, “Newton Knight and the Legend of the Free State of Jones,” early in the war many non-slaveholders in Jones County had joined the Confederate Army. Included among these were Newton Knight and his friend Jasper Collins. When the Twenty-Slave Law was effected, many across the seceded states began to question its fairness as Dunk had in his 1863 letter. In fact Kelly quotes Collins saying that the law had created a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. Newt Knight left the Army without permission when he heard that  the Confederates under the tax-in-kind system had confiscated his family’s horses. Many non-slaveholders from Jasper, Smith, and Jones counties were conscripted and their families left behind completely impoverished during the war with little means of sustaining their existence without aid. The aid did not come. Accounts illustrating the cruelty and insensitivity of Confederate troops confiscating crops and livestock abound.

After Vicksburg many Confederates had signed loyalty oaths to the US military, promising not to return to the Confederate Army. Some decided to live by that oath. During the late summer of 1863 Confederate Major Amos McLemore was first tasked with returning the deserters to the Army in and around Jones County, but in October he was shot to death in Ellisville, MS at Amos Deason’s home, which still stands today. Some contend he was shot by deserter Newton Knight. Jones County became a haven for Unionists and deserters, causing Lt. General Leonidas Polk to appoint Major Robert Lowry, future governor of Mississippi, to undertake a special operation intended to rout the deserters from the swamps of the Leaf River. Lowry’s task was made more difficult by the local women and escaped slaves who provided food, news, and protection to the deserters. Newton Knight became the leader of about 125 men from Jones and surrounding counties. Knight would later father children by the enslaved woman, Rachel, who helped keep the Knight Company alive as did Newt’s wife, Serena. Sympathizers with the deserters were purported to blow on cow horns as a warning that trouble was afoot. In April of 1863 Lowry and his troops, armed with sharpshooters and bloodhounds, routed a portion of the deserters. Some were injured and mauled, but a number of the Knight Company were hanged and left there in the village of Gitano as a warning. Duncan McKenzie, after having his farm vandalized by the deserters, witnessed the hanging:

we have had our share of the war here in this interior country

until a few weeks past Killing robing burning and every other

kind of malicious depredations were perpetrated on the citizens by

bands of deserters which would go prowling about at night

taking such things as they needed my house was visited by

the raid and they robed me of Sixteen pr cotton cards

which Stood me in $75 — per pr they also made another raid

and burned my bridge which Stood me in $800 dollars besides

other mischief such as killing stock &c they got to such a desperate

rate that the authorities of the govt were caused to know the

condition of the country and two Regiments were sent in here

to put a stop to the proceedings and well did they do it

they hung nine and killed two by shooting and lost three

of their own men I was present when four of them were

put up on one pole they were two and two brothers Whiteheads

and Ates was the names, there has been a good many hung in

this state from all accounts for outrages against the Govt — Duncan C. McKenzie

Lowry succeeded in forcing many back into the army, but the Knight Company continued for the duration of the war with the ever-elusive Newton Knight as its head, hiding out in the Leaf River swamp. Some of the deserters were able to escape to New Orleans, where they joined the occupying forces of the US Army. Of those forced back into the Confederate forces, the Jasper County 7th Battalion would be part of Colonel Hood’s futile slaughter of troops at the Battle of Franklin in November of 1864 as the war was nearing its end. However, Major Lowry, relentless pursuer of deserters, would miraculously survive. 

Two of Lowry’s men would express concern about the Confederacy cracking down on deserters. Though Colonel William N. Brown would agree that the hangings might have been justified, he emphasized the destitution of the soldiers’ families. The government had confiscated any property needed for their survival and had forced women and children to face this struggle alone. According to the text of The State of Jones, Brown apparently believed that if the Confederate government had been generous enough to send “a load of corn to the conscripts’ wives and children” the desertion problem might have been diminished. Another officer, Walter Rorer, while listening to military court-martial cases, lamented the “meanness” and the “mismanagement” in the Army. Both of these men would fight at Franklin, Rorer would not survive and Brown would be wounded, their fates indicative of large numbers of Mississippians at Franklin.

On April 9, 1865 the Civil War ended, leaving the country to face the overwhelming problem of how to reconstruct the South socially, economically, and physically. By 1866, Duncan has come to grips with his situation enough to respond to his uncle’s last letter. Dunk expresses sorrow at the deaths of so many family members in North Carolina: his Uncle John, Aunt Isabella, and cousins — John Douglass, Solomon McCall, and Sandy McKenzie. Dunk also reports the loss of his youngest brother, John, who had been captured at the Battle of Nashville. He died of illness on January 30, 1865 as a POW at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. Dunk describes Allen’s 1865 return home in ill health, “a mere skeliton.” Though he declares Hugh “well”, his older brother would be dead of illness by the end of the year. Kenneth had made his way during the war to North Carolina, where he spent a short time at his Uncle Duncan’s home. Dunk describes conditions at home:

the condition of our country is almost awful to think

of the destitution, and dependence on what has been so

lately our avowed enemy for the Staff of life in the

matter of Bread and meat which has to come in a great

measure from the northern States, and no money to Send

to buy it with the mass of the citizens overwhelmed

in debt with out credit without representation or

even civil law with Taxation insurmountable, with

poverty and famine in store for us — Duncan C. McKenzie

In her book, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War, Victoria E. Bynum references the initial attitudes of many Mississippians: “In the first years of peace, few people used terms like ‘noble,’ or ‘lost cause’ to describe the war. Citing the deaths of numerous Duckworth men to a Texas relative, R. C. Duckworth complained that ‘the war was certainly [sic] a curse on the American People.’ ”

Many of Duncan’s neighbors have been selling out and leaving for Texas, though this is not Duncan’s choice. His brother Hugh considered going but stayed. Their crops are not doing very well due to drought conditions and the transition from slave to hired labor. These are his words:

the hirelings will I fear not be able

to remunerate me the advance I made them, I hired hands

furnished everything necessary for making the crop and give

the hands the 1/3 of what was made on the place, the mater will

be determined in the course of two months, it has been

raining nearly all day. what of the cotton the drought

did not ruin I fear the wet will. — Duncan C. McKenzie

Duncan has become more religious over the course of the war. He practices the Baptist faith, which probably sustains him in his loss, but it does little to diminish his bitterness. He is contemplating a move to a place about fifteen miles from where he lives to have the advantage of a nearby school for his growing family: Barbara Elizabeth (Bettie) and Sarah Virginia (Sally) and a young son John Lafayette, which he calls a “strange name for a Scotch man.” He and Martha had also lost an infant son during the war.

Dunk’s financial situation is tenuous. They have not bought or sold any land since the war. At the end of the war they still had a few bales of cotton, a few mules and horses, some cattle and hogs, and their land — unusually good circumstances for a Smith countian at the end of the war. However, he adds, “I am involved as security to a considerable amount which and or … we cannot pay, if the Sheriff sells everything I have left.” He makes the untenable suggestion that perhaps, “they will levy on and Sell Free Negros, which the debts were contracted for, … I am now sued for a considerable amount.” Although he takes a loyalty oath to the United States government, he is unable to get out from under this debt, which ruins him financially for all practical purposes. He writes in September of 1866 concerning the problems he has with the Freedman’s Bureau, an agency that perhaps Duncan did not realize was making some progress in stabilizing a community of freedmen, especially by providing them with an education, which many desired. However, it did not appear to be doing him any good:

I suppose you have the same that is the county court or

Freedman’s court, there is a petition going round recommending

or instructing our representative to abolish or appeal the

the Freedman’s court in this county, as it is a verry Great

expense … with out much good arising from

it, the expense of the county court alone will reach on the

average about or near $150.00 per month which has to be

raised by Taxation, the people cannot support themselves and

pay such taxes — Duncan C. McKenzie

North Carolina’s experience of Reconstruction differed considerably from that of Mississippi, whose freed community consisted of at least fifty-five percent of the population. Mississippi’s people experienced violence, and some used extreme tactics to achieve political white supremacy in the decades following the war. Following the war through the end of the Reconstruction period, freedmen vied for land to support themselves with the farming skills they had, but found their condition little improved and the federal government ultimately opposed to any form of land redistribution. What the freedmen wanted most was land and education. According to Eric Foner in his book, Reconstruction, many freedmen felt justified in calling for redistribution of confiscated land, which they had worked at the whim of the “lazy” white man. For small farmers like Dunk, this argument rang most hollow. In the end political expediency took precedence over a sense of justice toward freedmen. The surviving owners of large plantations needed a labor force they could control. Few whites were willing to work alongside blacks in industrial jobs. Racial separation would prevail. Segregation and repressive Jim Crow laws, sometimes enforced by terrorism, would last for another century.

In September of 1865 Duncan applied for a presidential pardon, the text of which can be found in Confederate Applications for Presidential Pardons, 1865-1867 on ancestry.com. According to a list of pardons granted appearing in The Daily Clarion of Meridian, MS on Wednesday, January 3, 1866, Duncan was requested to call or send for this official document at the office of Col. W. T. Withers, perhaps of the military government overseeing Reconstruction in that vicinity. Likely, this pardon gave Duncan some hope of maintaining control of the land he could afford to keep.

SarahVMcKenzieThigpin copy
Sarah Virginia McKenzie Thigpen is shown here in her declining years. Born in the first year of the Civil War, she would spend the last of them with her daughter Zara Thigpen in Texas. Her death came in the early days of WWII, September 1942.

By 1867 he and family are living at Taylorsville then move to Etahoma in Jasper County. Daughter, Bettie, almost seven, dies after a short illness, devastating her parents. In a letter to his uncle, Duncan reveals the deep loss felt by the family. He also conveys the news of Hugh’s death of typhoid fever. The 1870 Federal Census of Jasper County, MS, lists Duncan as forty-six, Martha thirty, Sarah V. nine, and Joseph L. four. The Duckworth family situation is summarized in a letter written by Robert Crocker Duckworth, Dunk’s father-in-law, to his nephew, Sam, in Bastrop, Texas.  Susan and Sarah, John and Hugh’s widows, had moved back into his home with the children. Duckworth writes that there was “property enough between the girls to support them but they were unable to retain it.” R. C. Duckworth was living in Jasper County. He had lost his son-in-law John and two sons, Robert and Cooper, during the Civil War.

Though Duncan had grown up working right along side the small group of slaves on the family farm, his rantings in letters to his uncle are characteristic of an outright white supremacist. He complains of the wrongheadedness and futility of the Freedman’s Bureau and that God had marked the Negro as inferior. He suggests that if he pays wages to Negro farm workers, he doesn’t get value for his money, but when he won’t hire them, they steal from him: “if we have anything to do with the Freedmen we sink money and if we have nothing to do with them nor hire them they will steal everything they can lay hands on. I sincerely wish I was able to go to Brazil or Honduras or some other govt.” The vileness of his attitude increases as he contemplates the release of Jefferson Davis, who he believes since the beginning of the war, “has been living like a Prince.” He wonders how that benefits himself now that they are subjugated by their enemies who, “try to raise to superiority the poor ignorant stinking negro, who god himself has placed the mark of distinction upon.” Following this white supremacist rant, Duncan more calmly observes to his uncle that southerners were all mislead in their “boasted pride and strength to maintain ourselves and establish a new government on as weak a basis as was ours.” Perhaps Duncan never acted upon his bitter and noxious feelings of resentment towards his conquerers and the former enslaved people in his community, but he assuredly was encouraged by others in that resentment and probably passed it on to future generations. An irony exists in this sense of victimization, which would lead to the “lost and glorious” cause narrative. Thus, a century and a half later we find ourselves, a more scientifically and socially enlightened generation, still grappling with systemic problems of race and class inequality.

RCMcKJPCandidate
Hattiesburg American 23 May 1947

By the close of their lives in 1878 and 1880 Duncan and Martha had six children: Barbara E McKenzie (b.1860  d.1867), Sara V McKenzie (b.1861), Joseph L McKenzie (b.1865), Robert C McKenzie (b. 1871), Frank Hugh McKenzie (b.1872), and Martha Leola McKenzie (b.1878). Duncan died when he was fifty-two years old and Martha when she was forty. After their deaths, the youngest children were evidently sent to live with relatives. According to family Bible records submitted on ancestry.com by C. Todd Young, Joseph L McKenzie was raised by relatives Wilson and Mary Duckworth and their own five sons. Joseph died in 1899 in Forrest County, MS at age 33. Robert C. McKenzie also died there in 1968 at age 97. R.C. was recognized in 1960 for being one of two surviving members of the 1916 Board of Aldermen in Hattiesburg, MS. By 1900 Frank Hugh McKenzie was living in Hattiesburg, MS, where he enjoyed a career as a police officer along with the vicissitudes of politics. Over the years Frank served as sheriff, tax collector, and justice of the peace. The 1900 U. S. Census shows Martha Leola living with the family of her older sister Sarah Virginia Thigpen. Martha Leola McKenzie died of the Spanish influenza in 1918 near San Antonio, Texas not far from a WWI military base.

Duncan and Marthas’ oldest child, Sarah Virginia, married John Thigpen in 1882. According to direct descendent Kenneth Foster, his second great grandfather John Thigpen was a photographer. Daughter Ethel, Kenneth’s grandmother, traveled with her father and assisted him in his photography work. Ethel and her sister Zara “Aunt Zabe” were both born in Mississippi. Their next sibling was born in Deming, New Mexico. Apparently, Sarah Virginia McKenzie Thigpen suffered from an illness, perhaps asthma. The family moved to New Mexico hoping that the climate would be better for her. Her suffering was not alleviated, so they finally settled in Texas. Sarah died in Hidalgo in 1942 of cancer at age eighty-one.

Zara and Inez Thigpen copy
Zara Virginia Thigpen, left, and her sister Inez are shown here in their younger years.

Perhaps Dunk had been simply venting his spleen to Uncle Duncan rather than burden his family, because Sarah Virginia must have absorbed some optimism during the troubled atmosphere of her childhood during the Civil War and Reconstruction years. She must have passed on a heavy dose of optimism to a selfless and curiosity-driven daughter, Zara. Dunk would have been very proud of the granddaughter he never knew, whose attitude towards life departed easily and significantly from his own deep postwar bitterness.  Zara Thigpen was born on June 23, 1888 in Sylvarena, MS in Smith County. She and her sister Ethel never knew their grandparents. By 1900 her family had moved to Nueces,Texas. She began her life as an educator in September of 1918 when she moved to McAllen, Texas. According to an article in The Monitor of McAllen, Zara had turned down a more lucrative and sought-after position as bookkeeper at the Alamo National Bank in San Antonio in order to come to McAllen to teach. During her long life there she would teach two generations of Latin-American students and become a fluent bilingual speaker of Spanish and English. A talented teacher, she cared deeply about the welfare of her students. Her humanitarian efforts included the availability of free lunches for hungry children in McAllen schools, launching a welfare project in 1936, providing soup kitchens in Roosevelt and Sam Houston schools, helping to clothe children and find work for parents. Troubled juveniles were sometimes paroled into her care. She was one of two local delegates to the Pan-American Round Table in 1938 in Mexico City, the first conference of Anglo and Latin American women ever held. She was a member of the Altar Society of Our Lady of Sorrows Church and served on the McAllen Relief Committee. She also presented book reviews at the McAllen Study Club. The highlight of her career came in 1948 when a new McAllen elementary school was named after her, by unanimous request. Zara cared for Sara Virginia until her death. Zara’s own death came in on February 22, 1978 in a McAllen nursing home. She is buried in Roselawn Cemetery in McAllen. Her Thigpen parents and Martha Leola McKenzie are buried in the cemetery at Alice, TX. Dunk’s Uncle Duncan McLaurin would not have been disappointed in Zara. “Aunt Zabe,” as she was known to nieces and nephews, embodied his own civic-mindedness, intellectual curiosity, and family loyalty.

A Note About Mississippi’s Governor Lowry and Justice

Robert Lowry had advanced to the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army by the end of the Civil War. He had successfully routed the deserters in the area of Jones County. He had sent many of them to their deaths on the battlefield rather than dying at the end of a rope, as had the four brothers Ates and Whitehead whose hanging Duncan had witnessed. By 1882 Lowry was Governor of Mississippi, creating a political structure and atmosphere for a century of Jim Crow.

Mississippi had been characterized by frontier violence, but the level of savagery in the state during Reconstruction and after was unprecedented. Justice was not always served when it came to the newly freed people. A decade after the war ended, Reconstruction too was nearing its close. The Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups were active in effectively suppressing the freedmen’s vote. An illustrative example of racial violence occurred in Madison County, MS in the spring of 1875 that would involve Governor Lowry and exemplify the systemic denial of justice for blacks that prevailed in the state. When the federal government did not respond to stop the violence prevalent in Mississippi in 1875, the period of Reconstruction had come to an end.

On Tuesday April 13, 1875 at eleven o’clock at night a seventeen-year-old white youth climbed the porch of the home of Lewis (Louis) Tanner, “Colored.” Lewis Tanner and his family were freedmen, who lived and worked on the Beal Place in Madison County. The occupants  heard a voice call out for Lewis Tanner to come outside. Henderson Parrott wanted to talk to him. The two had had an earlier disagreement over some hogs. As Tanner opened the front door, a double barreled shotgun went off killing him instantly. The next morning a friend of Tanner’s went to the sheriff’s office and accused Parrott of the murder. When Parrott was brought before Justice Beauchamp he plead not guilty. Parrott had an alibi, his family had seen him asleep at his home.

AssassinationLouisTanner
The Weekly Mississippi Pilot of Jackson, 24 April 1875

It was discovered that the use of the Parrott name had been a ruse to get Tanner to come to the door, where a reportedly “weak-minded” seventeen-year-old youth killed him. After committing this brutal murder, the youth had run to Mr. Thompson’s house and confessed to the killing, saying he did it because Tanner had threatened to kill him. The youth then ran away, a fugitive. By April Sheriff Ross of Madison County had arrested the youth in Vicksburg and Justice Pitchford held him on a six thousand dollar bond. The youth was probably confined in the newly constructed jail at Canton, which stands today. The accused murderer was brought to trial on Tuesday, April 21st and sentenced to the penitentiary for ten years. The state’s attorney was Robert Powell and the defense attorney was Col. O. R. Singleton, Civil War veteran.

MadCoJail3 copy
The Old Madison Jail, 1870, was newly constructed when the youthful murderer was likely incarcerated here during his trial.

Upon his admission to the penitentiary, the youthful murderer is listed as prisoner number 330 age 18, 5’7” tall, complexion fair, hair and eyes black, an anchor tattooed on his right arm, and both knees scarred from disease. His occupation is listed as laborer. His crime, manslaughter. On August 30, 1877 the youth was part of a convict work crew on board a steamer headed for a plantation on the Mississippi River. In an unlikely turn of events the youth escaped by jumping into the water and swimming to shore.

Disappearing into the woods, the youth, was not seen again until six years later on November 10, 1883 when he gave himself up. For six years this “weak-minded” youth had managed to elude authorities, supposedly on his own. What is yet more incredible is that the very day he turned himself in, he was pardoned by none other than the newly elected Governor of Mississippi, Robert Lowry of deserter hanging fame.

Prison records are some of the most well-kept and accurate. If a pardon was given, a reason for it existed in the records. Unbelievably, for this youthful murderer’s pardon, no justification from Governor Lowry exists in the record.

In this corrupt manner, justice for blacks in Mississippi would not exist for yet another century. Lowry, however, knew never to return to Jones County. According to Victoria E. Bynum, in 1904 Jasper Collins, deserter friend of Newton Knight, “told Goode Montgomery that he would ‘get up on the coldest night he ever saw to kill Lowry if he knew he was passing through Jones County’”

SOURCES:

“A Brief History of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.” Mississippi Department of Corrections. https://www.mdoc.ms.gov/About/Pages/Brief-History.aspx. 2019. Accessed 9 March 2019.

Ash, Stephen V. A Year in the South 1865: The True Story of Four Ordinary People Who Lived Through the Most Tumultuous Twelve Months in American History. Palgrave Macmillan: New York, NY. 2004. 19-28.

“Assassination.” The Weekly Mississippi Pilot. Jackson, MS. 24 April 1875. Saturday. 2. newspapers.com Accessed 4 March 2019.

“Bible Record of R C Ducwoths (Duckworth’s) Family.” https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/28360441/person/27130952980/media/b1047f4a-2f4b-454c-b9db-5f342cd158d2?_phsrc=wqU941&usePUBJs=tr… Originally shared 25 August 2013.

Bynum, Victoria E. The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War. The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill. 2001. 128 – 129.

“Cattle Disease.” Vicksburg Whig. Warren, MS, 15 Sept 1858, Wed. 3. newspapers.com. Accessed 20 February 2019.

County Tax Rolls, 1818-1902, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, accessed June 20, 2017, http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/taxrolls/

“Duncan McKenzie Civil War Pardon.” The Daily Clarion. 3 January 1866. Wednesday. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction. Harper & Row, Publishers: New York. 1990. 47-48.

Foner, Eric. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Vintage Books: New York. 2005. 44-45.

Foster, Kenneth. email information and photos.

“Frank H. McKenzie Dies In Hattiesburg.” Clarion-Ledger. Jackson, MS. 31 March 1954. Wednesday. 19. newspapers.com. Accessed 12 February 2019.

“Gen. Cornelius McLaurin & Gulf Ship Island RR 1861.” Vicksburg Whig. Warren County, MS. 9 January 1861. Wednesday. newspapers.com. Accessed 11 March 2019.

Jenkins, Sally and John Stauffer. The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded From the Confederacy. Anchor Books: New York. 2009. 205-208.

Kelly, James R. Jr. “Newton Knight and the Legend of the Free State of Jones.” Mississippi History Now: An online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society. http://mshistory now.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/309/newton-knight-and-the-legend-of-the-free-state-of-jones. Posted April 2009. Accessed 10 February 2019.

“Killing of Lewis Tanner, Col.” The Canton Mail. Canton, MS. 17 April 1875. LOC. chroniclingamerica.org.

Lee, Susanna Michele. “Twenty-Slave Law.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities. https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Twenty-Slave_Law#start_entry. Last Modified 31 May 2012. Accessed 24 February 2019.

Letters from Duncan McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. November 1855, 21 March 1858, 16 May 1858, 11 July 1858, 10 October 1858, 21 July 1860, 24 August 1860, 21 September 1861, 29 October 1861, 4 January 1862, 12 February 1862, 5 July 1862, 28 January 1863, 14 May 1863, 20 June 1864, 9 and 10 September 1866, 25 February 1867, 20 July 1867. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letters from Duncan McKenzie, Sr. to Duncan McLaurin. September 1840, December 1842, March 1845, April 1845. Boxes 1&2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. December 1856. Boxes 1&2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

“New School Here is Named for Zara Thigpen, Veteran Teacher.” The Monitor. McAllen, Hidalgo, TX. 10 August 1948. Tuesday. 1. newspapers.com. Accessed 12 February 2019.

Olsen, Christopher. “Secessionist Movement.” The Mississippi Encyclopedia. Ed. Ownby, Ted and Charles Reagan Wilson. University of Mississippi Press: Jackson, MS. 2017. 1120-1121.

“Penitentiary Convicts.” Roll 13785 Book D. Index to D 37006. Mississippi State Department of Archives and History.

“R.C. McKenzie A Candidate For J. P.” Hattiesburg American. Hattiesburg, MS. 23 May 1947. Friday. 1. newspapers.com. Accessed 14 February 2019.

“R.C. McKenzie Surviving Member of 1916 Board of Aldermen.” Hattiesburg American. Hattiesburg, MS. 4 June 1960. Saturday. 7. newspapers.com. Accessed 14 February 2019.

“Recurring to the killing of Louis Tanner.” The Canton Mail. Canton, MS. 17 April 1875. Saturday. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 4 March 2019.

“Register Mississippi State Penitentiary.” 187. No. 330. Roll 13785 Book D. Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

R. C. Duckworth to Samuel Duckworth, May 24, 1868, Duckworth-Smith-McPherson Family Papers, Center for the Study of American History, University of Texas, Austin. Accessed on ancestry.com.

“Sheriff Ross.” The Canton Mail. Canton, MS. 24 April 1875. LOC. chroniclingamerica.org.

Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982. Mailha L. McKenzie (Martha Leola McKenzie). [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA” ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

“We learn that Leonard Lee.” The American Citizen. Canton, MS. 5 January 1878. LOC. chroniclingamerica.org.

Year: 1850; Census Place: Covington, Mississippi; Roll: M432_371; Page: 309B; Image: 207. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1850usfedcenancestry&h=3391941.

Year: 1860; Census Place: Smith, Mississippi; Roll: M653_591; Page: 353; Family History Library Film: 803591. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1860usfedcenancestry&h=38861910.

Year: 1870; Census Place: South West Beat, Jasper, Mississippi; Roll: M593_732; Page: 622B; Family History Library Film: 552231. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1870usfedcen&h=36589602.

Daniel C. McKenzie : Farmer, Teacher, Doctor

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Daniel’s great grandchildren, visited Smith County and found Daniel’s grave, his headstone broken by time and wear. Daniel’s grandchild, Mittie McKenzie Geeslin, who lived to be 101 years old, had the marker replaced with the exact wording as the original. Information generously contributed by Paula Harvey, Daniel’s direct descendant.

In an 1851 letter, Daniel’s brother Kenneth describes him physically as the smallest one of the “tribe,” perhaps one reason he was inclined toward pursuits that required some education. Duncan McKenzie would also describe Daniel as “reserved” in nature.

After his experience in the Mexican War, he may have become more cautious. He hesitates for some years before practicing medicine because he is weighing the risks of having to make a life or death decision. His lack of formal education in this profession undoubtedly gave him pause.

By the time Daniel C. McKenzie’s parents, Duncan and Barbara (McLaurin) McKenzie arrived in Covington County, MS in 1833, they had already provided their older children with educational opportunities better than many. Barbara’s brother, Duncan McLaurin, was a respected educator in Richmond County. His own school records show that he taught the oldest children of Duncan McKenzie and the children of Duncan’s brother, John. Daniel’s Uncle Duncan was an inspiring teacher for many of his students, evidenced by the number who corresponded with him as adults even from distant places. Of the six McKenzie brothers, Daniel was most inspired to further his education.

Daniel was born on 9 August 1823 when his parents were both about thirty years old and farming on property in Richmond County, NC. Daniel’s McLaurin grandparents, a number of unmarried aunts, and Uncles Duncan and John McLaurin were living within visiting distance at Gum Swamp. His grandfather, Hugh McLaurin, had named his new residence Ballachulish after the home in Scotland he had left in 1790. Until about 1832, paternal grandparents Kenneth McKenzie and Mary (McLaurin) McKenzie also lived near. Mary died in 1825. Kenneth would leave Richmond County around six years later. Duncan McKenzie, likely responding to the siren call of abundant land and cotton wealth, would follow a number of relatives and friends, who were successfully making money farming in Mississippi. Daniel was probably about ten when the family arrived in Covington County, MS near Williamsburg.

Farming would occupy everyone living on the place. For some time the farm land in North Carolina had become increasingly overworked, and a farmer with five sons would be desirous of establishing an inheritance for them. The prospect of making a fortune growing cotton on fertile land newly opened by Native American removal is what likely drew them to migrate. However, Duncan McKenzie admits after about a decade that any success is hard won. The family probably remained of the yeoman class. The vicissitudes of economic trends, the currency and banking problems that plagued the nation, challenged the family. What ultimately concerns Duncan about having migrated is the diminished prospect of educating his children. Duncan, as most Mississippi small farm families, would depend upon locally operated tuition schools. Teachers did not often remain in one place for very long. He laments in his letters to his brother-in-law that, though he is satisfied with his move, a satisfactory formal education for his children is elusive. Daniel in particular is most desirous of an education and has benefited from an early emphasis on such in the place of his birth.

In an 1838 letter Duncan McKenzie considers sending Daniel, and perhaps his younger brother Duncan, back to North Carolina for schooling. The departure of a mutual friend, Gilchrist, for a visit to North Carolina has tempted Duncan to send them with this responsible person:

I am almost tempted to send Danl with

Gilchrist to your school, his youth will for the present

Save him the ride, Should you continue teaching for any

length of time equal to that which would be necessary

for the complition of his education, let me know the cost

of board books & tuition anually in your next, I may

Send him or per haps both Danl & Dunk, it is not

an easy matter to educate them here — Duncan McKenzie

Of course, Daniel never makes the trip to North Carolina for his education. In the end it is too expensive, and every person is needed on the farm.

A year later, Duncan is somewhat appeased when the community near Williamsburg is able to persuade a Mr. Strong of Clinton Academy to conduct a school near them in which Latin will be taught. Duncan even finds Daniel a pony to ride the four miles it will take to get him back and forth from school:

Danl has once more commenced the studdy of Lattin under

the instruction of a Mr Strong late principal of the

clinton Academy Hinds Co. Mr Joshua White and others

of the neighborhood Succeeded in getting a School for

Strong in 4 miles of me I procurd a pony for Danl

to ride, he is in class with Lachlin youngest Sone of

Danl McLaurin of your acquaintance of yore and Brother to Dr Hugh Fayetteville —

Danl tho 3 years from that studdy appears to have retained

it tollerable well — Malcolm Carmichael, Squire

Johns sone has a small School near my house Dunk

Allan and Johny are going to him, he Malcolm came

here early in Janry and took a Small school worth

Say $20 per month — Duncan C. McKenzie

Duncan ends this March 1838 letter by describing Daniel’s hurry to be off to school. On the way to school, he will be mailing the letter Duncan has just finished at the designated Post Office in Williamsburg.

By 1839, Daniel’s father is present at a school examination and was not pleased with the progress of the students, though Daniel and a friend, James L. Shannon, appear to have been the best in the class, according to his father.  He tells Duncan McLaurin that if he had them for a year, he “would not be ashamed of them.” By 1841 Daniel is crushed when his friend and classmate James Shannon leaves to attend St. Mary’s Catholic College in Kentucky. Earlier another classmate, Lachlan McLaurin, had also quit the local school. Despite the loss of his companions to other pursuits, Daniel appears to have maintained his desire for an education.

Daniel likely joins in with his brothers hunting in the forests near their home and engaging in what they call “swamp drives,” attempts to flush out a wild boar. In 1839 Duncan reports that Daniel had an accident pricking his foot on a rusty nail. In the 19th century this would be the cause for some concern, because the chance of infection was great with no antibiotics available. Evidently, the wound was kept clean so that infection was avoided.   

At his uncle’s request in July of 1843, Daniel composes his first letter to former teacher Uncle Duncan McLaurin at Laurel Hill, NC. Daniel would have been about twenty years old when writing, with some justifiable pride, about his first teaching position. Clearly, the language of the letter is carefully constructed to impress upon his uncle that he has been a worthy recipient of Duncan’s early tutelage. His use of literary allusion, Latin phrase, and political reference reveals an intimate knowledge of his audience. Perhaps Duncan McKenzie, long time correspondent with Duncan McLaurin, hovers nearby offering suggestions to his son as to content. Daniel authors only five letters that survive in the Duncan McLaurin Papers, but each one attests to historical events and personal landmarks in his own lifetime.

He begins this first letter by admitting that his father has told all of the interesting news already, “which renders one almost barefoot in commencing.” However, he commences by describing his teaching position. It is a small school about seven miles from their home in Covington, County. He teaches about twenty five students at one dollar and fifty cents per month. The tuition is two dollars and fifty cents for teaching Latin. Daniel is boarding with a Revolutionary War veteran, John Baskin. Baskin, “comfortably wealthy,” lives with an aging daughter and orphaned grandson. Baskin’s library includes books that are meant to improve the mind of the young, and Baskin’s storytelling pleases Daniel very much. He relishes the quiet as well — likely the kind of peace after a long day only a teacher could appreciate. Daniel describes Baskin’s stories as “history to me they are interesting and entertaining he considers an hour occasionally is not ill spent when devoted to Politics.” I can imagine Duncan McLaurin settling in to read this letter with earnest at the mention of politics. Daniel explains that Baskin’s opinion rests somewhere between that of John C. Calhoun and Thomas Jefferson. Daniel explains with literary allusion:

he is cherished

in principle like Paul at the feet of Gamaliel between

the contrasted feet of Calhoun & Jefferson this stripe

in his political garment he says is truly Republican

but in reality it seems to me to be of rather a different

cast more like the gown of the old woman Otway

if you will allow me to make such

comparisons — Daniel C. McKenzie

Gamaliel was a Jewish teacher and Christian Saint, a person admired by both Christians and Jews. The “old woman Otway” is a dramatic character created by the 17th century English dramatist Thomas Otway. Otway casts a beautiful woman as a catalyst for war. Apparently, during the nineteenth century the plays of Thomas Otway were receiving somewhat of a revival.

Daniel continues in this first letter to express a desire for further education but says he will be patient since he is of an age now that he must be getting on with his adult life. In a political vein, he also mentions that his employers are preparing a barbecue at or near the schoolhouse, “intending to celebrate the day hard as the times are.” This barbecue is held in conjunction also with an election for a representative, “to attend the call session of the legislature.” He ends this letter offering his best to his grandfather, Hugh McLaurin of “Ballachulish”.

In October of 1843 Duncan McKenzie writes of Daniel’s devotion to his students. Apparently, Daniel has been grieved by the death of two of his young charges, the funeral of one from which he has just returned. In the coming years Daniel would teach in Laurence County. By 1845 Daniel would encourage his brother Kenneth to teach as well, though Kenneth’s attempt to do this work does not last very long. Daniel would teach in Garlandsville in Jasper County, where he enjoyed, “the rise if 30 scholars his rates are $1 1/2 to 3 per month.” In Garlandsville he is boarding with a Dr. Watkins, whose library he uses to study medicine. Apparently, Dr. Watkins is a physician of some respect in the community. Unfortunately, the school becomes overcrowded. Likely, a study regime in addition to teaching a large school was a challenge. His father describes him as having lost some weight by the time he returns from Garlandsville.

Whether Daniel will follow teaching as his life’s career is still an open question to his father. Daniel evidently is still yearning for more schooling, likely towards becoming a physician. His father writes in 1845 regarding his difficulty in reading Daniel’s intentions:

Danl has not at any time reveald to me directly his intentions in

regard to his future plans or intentions in fact it is a matter of common

remark that he is distant and reservd and very difficult to become

acquainted with I think he seldom tells anyone what he intends

doing until he is engaged in it — Duncan McKenzie

While Daniel is fighting in a Vera Cruz skirmish during the Mexican War, his own father is at home dying. Daniel’s next letter to his uncle is written after his return from serving briefly as a volunteer in the war with the “Covington County Boys” and after his father’s death. Daniel opens his August 1847 letter by saying that he had been home more than a week. Daniel had been one of eight Covington County men, who voluntarily served as amateurs in the war with Mexico. They were “enrolled in Captain Davis’s company, Georgia Regiment, under Gen. Quitman,” according to the article, “From Tampico and the Island of Lobos,” published in The Weekly Mississippian from Jackson, 19 March 1847.

Daniel explains that the group was sent home after one of them, Thomas H. Lott, died after a skirmish at Vera Cruz. The injury to his thigh was not lethal until it became infected — the only casualty of the eight. Many soldiers in this war died of diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, or dysentery. Another of the group, Cornelius McLaurin, was very ill during the skirmish at Vera Cruz. Indeed, all of the group were ill of dysentery at one point or another. Their return was expedited after Daniel receives news of his father’s death and the general ill health of families in Covington County. Upon return he found their health improving:

I was at the gate before I was recognized, tho

at midday — They had heard here that we had gone to

ward Jalapa (Xalapa), a town in the interior, by was of Cerra Gordon (Sierra Gorda)

and of course was not expecting me. — Daniel C. McKenzie

While in Mexico, Daniel is impressed enough with the Castle San Juan de Cellos to attempt a description in his letter. Situated over a half mile into the sea, large ships are able to anchor very near the walls. Daniel illustrates in the following words:

This castle, worthy of the

name too, covers ten acres of ground on water the wall in

the highest place is seventy feet being eight feet through at

the top and thirty where the sea water comes up to it. I should

judge forty feet through at the base The wall is built of coral

stone the light house out of the same is as much larger

than the one at the Balize (La Balize, LA) of the Miss River, which is a

large one, as the latter is larger than a camson brick

chimney on the walls of this castle were … 300 heavy

pieces of cannon which were kept warm from the morning

of the 10th to the 27th March tho they did but little damage — Daniel C. McKenzie

Daniel admonishes his uncle to tell Uncle John McLaurin that he had purchased a new gun in New Orleans. His brother Kenneth refers to this gun as “Daniels Spaniard gun.” Daniel says that he paid forty-five dollars for the gun, “which will hold up — 300 yards I shot Mexicans at 100 yards distance with it — I will put it to better use and kill birds and squirrels.”

Two references in Daniel’s letter are indicative of racial attitudes at the time. He refers to his Mexican enemies as “the tawny creatures.” Toward the end of his letter he complains, I think in a lighthearted manner, that his ink is pale and a “rascally nigger young rumpled the paper about the time I was finishing.” Although this last comment was perhaps even affectionately made, it was based in the general belief of the superiority of the white race. The child to whom Daniel refers was the very young daughter of one of the female enslaved persons on the farm. According to her husband Duncan McKenzie, Barbara had developed a special relationship to this female child. Both of Barbara’s daughters had died, probably leaving her quite open to having a close relationship with a female child. Part of Barbara’s daily task on the farm was to have charge of the enslaved children too young to work. Today we understand from the science of the human genome that differences among the people of the earth have little to do with skin color. The differences we have from one another cannot scientifically be used to indicate racial superiority. However, Daniel, his mother, and her favored enslaved child were living in a 19th century world.

Daniel is farming with the family but admits that he has, “taken up my medical books again.” These two pursuits occupy Daniel’s time. He knows he is needed on the farm now more than before his father’s death and reassures his uncle that their crops will likely sustain them this season. One battlefield experience for Daniel was apparently enough. He considers returning to fight in the military but quickly decides his absence in a war would increase his mother’s grief. After his Mexican War experience, Daniel would commit himself to farming, teaching, and studying to be a physician, a lifelong dream.

As far as becoming a practicing physician, Daniel admits to some hesitancy. In his letter of November 1851, he has apparently been considering it seriously. Traveling in Mississippi has occupied much of his time. Since October he has  traveled over, “some dozen counties or more in the upper part of the state.” Franklin County, Mississippi near Natchez was another destination. While there he stopped to visit John Patrick Stewart, son of Allan Stewart and a friend of his uncle’s. Daniel, decades younger than Stewart, describes him as “again elected clerk in that County (Franklin) I was in Meadville and found the contented old Bachelor with fiddle in hand trying to learn to play some sacred songs on that instrument.” In addition, Daniel discovers that Dr. Lachlin McLaurin has enjoyed a successful medical practice in Franklin county. In the end, Daniel tells his uncle, “I prefer school teaching for a little to jeopardizing the lives of fellow creatures for mere money.” Evidently, he still lacks the confidence that a formal education and licensing program may have given him. Mississippi had declared its attempt at medical licensing requirements unconstitutional some years earlier. However, many physicians left the state for a medical education. One such person, and likely a distant relative of Daniel’s, was Dr. Hugh C. McLaurin of Brandon, MS. Hugh would have been a bit older than Daniel, but his family had the means to send him to Pennsylvania to study medicine. According to Duncan McKenzie, in 1846 while teaching school Daniel reads from some of Hugh’s medical books. (Hugh is of the B family of McLaurins and Daniel from the F family. Ancestors of these two family lines came to America in 1790 aboard the same ship. A number of descendants migrated to Mississippi from the Carolinas.)

In the 1850 census Daniel is listed as living with his mother, who is head of household. He is twenty-seven when he travels over parts of the state considering his future. Between his travels he manages to be at home in order to vote in the elections. Duncan McKenzie had been a southern Whig and his sons at first follow in that political tradition. Daniel and his brothers at this point are Unionists and do not want to see the Democrats, or Locofocos, as they are called, control state politics. It appears that in early 1850s Mississippi at least the idea of breaking up the Union over slavery remains a partisan issue. Daniel writes,

The political contest in Mississippi is over

and though the waves still run high the storm

has moderated to a gentle breeze. Foot has gained

the day by a few feet about 1500 votes as I hear …

Brown in this the 9th district has succeeded in beating

our Union Candidate Dawson by a considerable

majority In this part of the state the people

are so tied up in the fetters of Locofocoism

that nothing is too dear to sacrifice for its

promotion. — Daniel C. McKenzie

The “Foot” he references is Henry S. Foote, Whig candidate and winner of the election for governor of Mississippi in 1851. He explains that Democrat former Governor Albert Gallatin Brown’s hue and cry was that keeping the Union in tact was a “Whig trick.” Daniel knows that his Uncle Duncan would be interested in the political success of another relative: “John R. McLaurin son of Neill of Lauderdale County who prides himself in being called a, descendant, of Glen Appin is elected to the Legislature from that county Disunion of course.” John R. McLaurin is Daniel’s second great Aunt Catherine of Glasgow’s grandson from the D family of McLaurins.

In this letter, Daniel mentions a McKenzie relative, his Uncle John McKenzie’s son, who has apparently been overcome with religious zeal to the point that he has been declared insane. This begs the question at what point religious enthusiasm crosses that fine line from fervent piety to mania. Daniel writes his opinion on the matter: “though the cause which he advocates is much assuredly the one and only thing needful yet certainly so much zeal as to destroy that better part which he wished to save and which survives the grave was not at all necessary.” He expresses hope that time will restore his cousin’s reason.

Daniel ends his 1851 letter saying that the talk of Covington County is “money and marrying” and starting for Texas.

In the middle of the 1850s, tragedy strikes the McKenzie family with the suffering of Barbara McKenzie. Daniel reveals in a December 1854 letter to his uncle that his mother Barbara appears to be afflicted with a cancer of the mouth from which she is finding no relief. Daniel has been working as a physician and has been treating his mother’s illness since July when the sore in her mouth and glands in her neck began to enlarge. At first he used available treatments for a non-cancerous ulcer but fears he may have made the malignancy worse. He has had several other physicians look at the growth, and they concur that it is what was called then a Gelatinform cancer. Daniel writes, “The sore in her mouth continues to enlarge it now covers nearly all the roof of her mouth affecting the glands of her neck on the right side.”

During Barbara’s horrific illness Daniel says that Miss Barbara Stewart, daughter of Allan Stewart, has been staying with his mother. Barbara Stewart, has been living with the family of her brother-in-law by the surname Davis. She has also been working at the Seminary School founded by Rev. A. R. Graves. However, at this point she has left Barbara’s side. John, the youngest McKenzie son, regularly sits with his mother, and Daniel says he will stay with his mother for a while. The community has been plagued with “scarlatina” and the mumps. His brother Kenneth has contracted the mumps, and has had to stay away from the house for fear his mother might contract them. By April of 1855 Barbara was forced to give up her struggle. Reverend A. R. Graves preached her funeral service. More than likely she was buried on the family property near her husband and infant daughter in Covington County.

Apparently, Daniel begins his work as a physician in 1853 at Augusta, MS, according to his brother Hugh. As for the success of his work as a physician, Daniel says that his net profits for 1854 would not “amount to but little more than a cipher. I have not collected and am in debt for board and expense.” Daniel ends his letter with a comparison of the medicine and politics. He has found that he no longer supports the Whigs or the Democrats but is finding himself in line with the Know Nothing Party. He says in medicine and politics, “there has been and is yet many vague theories.” He also ads that if one enshrouds anything with mystery and secrecy it draws the attention of the curious, who must then, “see analyze and understand.” With that he says he really knows nothing about the new Know Nothing party but advocates most of the published principles. In simple terms he is probably leaning towards that party while still considering his political stance.

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Sarah M. Blackwell. Photo courtesy of Paula Harvey.

In 1856 Kenneth writes that Daniel is living in Raleigh, Smith County, MS. Daniel had married eighteen-year-old Sarah M. Blackwell of Smith County, MS in 1857. Their son John Duncan was born there on June 2, 1858. Mary “Mollie” Isabelle was born on February 29, 1860 in Raleigh in Smith County. According to the 1860 census, Allen Mckenzie, Daniel’s brother, was living in their household and working as a saddler. Since about May of 1853 Daniel had been practicing medicine. He is working in 1860 as a physician with real estate valued at one thousand two hundred dollars and a personal estate of seven thousand two hundred sixty-five dollars. Apparently, Daniel purchased property from his father-in-law, John G. Blackwell, who is a successful Smith County farmer. Before 1860, Daniel has persuaded his brothers to sell their parents’ Covington County property in order to purchase in Smith County. According to their correspondence, they are living on property along the Leaf River: “I have bargained for a track of land in this County 480 acres which is considered the best in the Co. for which I am to give $1000 … I want them to sell in Cov and pay the $1000 and take this.” It is possible that the land in Smith had not yet been entered in their names, for these McKenzie brothers are not listed in Boyd’s Family Maps of Smith County, Mississippi. However, their fathers-in-law are listed as owning Smith County property in 1860: John Blackwell and R.C. Duckworth.

John G. Blackwell (1819-1890) and Mary Thornton (1820-1892) were Sarah’s parents. According to Smith County, MS and Its Families, “John was a merchant and before the War between the States owned a vast amount of land.” In 1858, Daniel’s brother Duncan describes a trip to New Orleans with John Blackwell, likely on a merchandising trip. The two decided to drive a one-horse buggy to Brookhaven in order to save money by only boarding one horse while they took the train to New Orleans. Blackwell’s horse foundered early in the trip, so they substituted with one of Duncan’s horses. All went as planned until about fifteen miles from home:

he (Duncan’s horse) did well untill we got within about 15 miles

of home on our return when the wheel

Struck a Stump the axle tree broke

the horse scared ran with broken Buggy

a short distance when the Buggy turned

over hurting my side verry much so it has

not entirely got well yet tho not serious

like I thot it was  — Duncan C. McKenzie

During the few years before the Civil War begins, Duncan McKenzie becomes the primary farmer on the Smith County property. Hugh is working as a merchant in a store on the property. Kenneth is working as a carpenter and Allen as a saddler. John, now married to Susan Duckworth is farming with his father-in-law. Daniel and his wife have their own property. Daniel is working as a physician when he decides to give up medicine for merchandising with John G. Blackwell. In November of 1858 he writes:

My health has been very bad since about the middle

of Sept. I had an attack of Typhoid Dysentery from

which I recovered very slowly. I was able to ride about

the first of this month. I rode several nights successively

a good distance. I now have Bronchitis in spite of my

efforts and those of another physician. The inflammation

was not arrested in its acute stage it is assuming

a chronic form, which I dread very much — Daniel C. McKenzie

Daniel continues to speak of his family:

My wife and child are well, my child, John Duncan,

is five months old remarkably large of his age,

Since I came to this place my professional ambition

has been fully gratified. When able I have had generally

about as much to do as I could. Collections have been

slow. I have determined to quit even if I fully regain

my health. I am engaged in merchandizing with

my father-in-law, John G. Blackwell …

If my life is spared and I gain sufficient health to attend

to anything I shall devote my time to this business. you may

see me next summer perhaps we will be getting our goods in N. York.

… If I am spared I will write again.   — Daniel C. McKenzie

Unfortunately, he cannot be spared. Daniel dies in 1860 of typhoid fever on July 13 at home. He is buried in the older portion of the Raleigh Cemetery. According to his brothers Dunk and Kenneth, he was ill for nineteen days and was aware of his condition until the last three days. He told them he was probably going to die unless he rested easy on the 17th and 18th days of his illness. Dunk describes his death as follows:

On the morning of the day before he

died aparently not conscious of what

he was doing or Saying he wished to

be raised up in the bed, and Sarah

his wife told him he was geting beter

his answer was I am going home to serve

my Savior, and reached out his hand

to her, after he was laid back on the bed

he was conscious no more — Duncan C. McKenzie

According to MS Cemetery and Bible Records Volume XIII: A Publication of the Mississippi Genealogical Society, Daniel’s headstone can be found at Raleigh, MS Cemetery: Sacred to the Memory of Dr. D. C. McKenzie/ b. Richmond County, N. C./Aug. 9, 1823/ d. July 12, 1860.

Daniel’s Children

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Daniel’s son John Duncan McKenzie in Texas. Photo courtesy of Paula Harvey.

Daniel’s Aunt Effy McLaurin, his mother’s favorite sister, died about a year after Daniel. In her will she acknowledges all of Barbara’s living children and Daniel’s two children, John Duncan and “Mollie” Isabelle. A direct descendant of Daniel said that her mother and brother, Daniel’s great grandchildren, visited Smith County and found Daniel’s grave, his headstone broken by time and wear. Daniel’s grandchild, Mittie McKenzie Geeslin, who lived to be 101 years old, had the marker replaced with the exact wording as the original. Sarah M Blackwell died on August 25, 1884, in Mississippi, when she was forty-four years old, having never remarried. Sarah is buried with her parents and several siblings in Forest County, MS. Her great granddaughter replaced Sarah’s gravestone.

Daniel’s daughter, Mary “Mollie” Isabelle McKenzie, married Samuel H. Woody. On June 12, 1936 in Travis County, Texas, at the age of seventy-six Mary “Mollie” Isabelle died. The 1930 census names her as a patient in the Austin State Hospital. According to her death certificate, her residence was in Mills County, city of Goldthwaite. She is buried in North Brown Cemetery, Mills County, Texas. Never having children of her own, Mollie raised Helen, Orbal, and Willie P., her three stepchildren. Helen’s mother was Sam’s first wife Lelia. Lelia’s sister Elizabeth, Sam’s second wife, was the mother of Orbal and Willie. According to the 1900 Federal Census, Samuel H. Woody worked as a merchant in Goldthwaite. The photo of Mollie McKenzie and her “Aunt Lizzie” Elizabeth Blackwell, five years older, was originally submitted to Ancestry by a direct descendant.

John Duncan, Daniel’s son, was born on 2 June 1858 and married Mildred Parshanie “Shanie” Risher in 1886. Her parents were Hezekiah S. Risher and Mary Elizabeth Duckworth Richer. Mildred had eighteen half siblings. In 1900 the Federal Census shows John Duncan working as a dentist in Mills County, Texas, though he also farmed. He died on March 28, 1931 in Goldthwaite, Texas at the age of 72 and is buried there. His son Hugh was born in March of 1892, his daughter Mollie was born in May 1894, and his daughter Mittie was born in October 1898. According to the 1910 Federal Census, he also had a son Anse (known as Dutch) born about 1901, a son Ben born about 1904, a daughter Elsie born about 1904, Allen and Allie are listed as having just been born in 1910. Five of John Duncan’s children died in childhood: daughters Una and Sarah and sons J.D. and Allen.

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Mary “Mollie” Isabelle, with her “Aunt Lizzie” Elizabeth Blackwell, five years older. Photo courtesy of Paula Harvey. 

According to a direct descendant, John Duncan and Mary “Molly” Isabelle left Smith County, MS for Texas probably after their mother’s passing in 1884. One of the family stories is that “Auntie Woody” came to Texas by train via New Orleans and attended the 1884 New Orleans, LA Cotton Exposition. She had a ring made from a gold piece at the Exposition which is still in the family’s possession. It is also likely that John Duncan and “Auntie Woody” made this trip together.

Susan and her Blackwell family would have to take the credit for raising John Duncan and Mollie. Daniel and Susan would have taken great pride in the adult lives of their children. Daniel would have taken particular pride in his granddaughter, Mittie McKenzie Geeslin. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse before her marriage and sought to further her education through lifelong reading.

Naming Daniel C. McKenzie

Duncan and Barbara McLaurin McKenzie, first generation Americans, attempted to follow the rules of Scottish naming. Their first daughter Catharine is named after her maternal grandmother, first son Kenneth is named after his paternal grandfather, second son Hugh is named after his maternal grandfather. According to the rules, the third son should have been named after the father or the father’s father’s father. However, his parents seem to have taken the opportunity of Daniel’s birth to make an homage to his second great Uncle Dr. Donald (Daniel) C. Stewart. Donald and Daniel are used interchangeably. Also, Daniel may not have been the third son. According to her husband, Barbara had eleven pregnancies. We can account for only eight, so there could have been an intervening child, who died very young.

Daniel is first mentioned in the Duncan McLaurin Papers in April of 1827 when he was about five years old. Donald (or Daniel) C. Stewart (d. 1830) of Greensboro, Guilford County, NC writes to his nephew and Daniel’s grandfather, Kenneth McKenzie (abt. 1768 – abt. 1834). Stewart offers his belated sympathy on the death of Kenneth’s wife. According to The Greensboro Patriot newspaper of this time period, Donald Stewart is an influential supporter of the Greensboro Academy. In this letter he also mentions Daniel:

I am glad to hear that my little

namesake is so healthy, and grows so well

I requested Mr. McLaurin (Duncan) to bring him up

the next trip he makes to this county;

if the little fellow should possess a capa=

=city, or turn for it, I will educate him — Donald C. Stewart

Unfortunately, Daniel never benefits from his second great uncle’s offer to pay for his education. According to The Greensboro Patriot of Wednesday, January 6, 1830, Dr. Donald Stewart dies “Wednesday last at 7 o’clock P.M.” Kenneth mentions “Dr. Donald Stewart” in his 1832 Power of Attorney when he leaves Richmond County, NC. During the probate hearing of Dr. Stewart’s will, it becomes clear that his extensive property has been exhausted in paying off creditors. Kenneth had hoped to inherit a portion of this property. Some believed at the time that the administrator of the estate since Stewart’s death had mismanaged and sold off some of the property to his own advantage. This, however, is never proved.

If Daniel inherits his second great uncle’s name in its entirety, it may be possible to discover what the middle initial C represents. The problem is that even in the Duncan McLaurin Correspondence, not many use their middle names in signatures, though they may use middle initials. Donald Stewart’s middle initial does not appear in a letter written to him by a relative, Dugald Stewart, from Ballachulish, Argyllshire in 1825. This letter is referenced on page 275 of Sketches of North Carolina by Rev. W. H. Foote. It describes the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in the American Revolution. Captain Dugald Stewart participated in this conflict with the 71st Frazier’s Highlanders under Lord Cornwallis.

Since Daniel’s middle initial likely derived from the Stewart family, it might not have stood for Calhoun. Calhoun may have been his younger brother Duncan C. McKenzie’s middle name, though that too is speculation. A few years after Daniel’s death, his brother John writes from the battlefield at Vicksburg to his Uncle Duncan that he has named his firstborn after Daniel, “I would be glad to see Susan and my little boy Daniel we named him after Brother give him his full name.” Since John dies in the Civil War, the C in his son’s name may have eventually come to stand for “Cooper,” a Duckworth family name. It would be gratifying to find the entire name listed in a family Bible.

Special thanks are here given to Paula Harvey for her generous contribution to this post.

Sources

Boyd, Gregory A., J.D. Family Maps of Smith County, Mississippi. Arphax Publishing Co.: Norman, Oklahoma. www.arphax.com. 2010.

Foote, Rev. William Henry. Sketches of North Carolina Historical and Biographical Illustrative of the Principles of a Portion of Her Early Settlers. Robert Carter: New York. 275.

Harvey, Paula. Photograph of Sarah Blackwell. Photograph of Sarah Blackwell and Mary “Mollie” Isabel McKenzie. Photograph of John Duncan McKenzie. Family Stories. via ancestry.com and email. 2016 – 2018.

Letters from Daniel C. McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 3 July 1843, August 1847, 11 November 1851, 8 December 1854, 25 November 1858. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letters from Duncan C. McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 11 July 1858, 21 July 1860. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. February 1844, March 1845, April 1845, July 1845, January 1846, June 1846. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 13 July 1862. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Mississippi Genealogical Society. Mississippi Cemetery & Bible Records. University of Virginia. 1954.

Original data: Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas Death Certificates, 1903-1982. Austin, Texas. USA. ancestry.com. Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982 [database on-line]. Provo, Ut, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

Smith County, Mississippi and its Families 1833-2003. Compiled and published by Smith County Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 356, Raleigh, Mississippi 39153. 2003. 77.

Wade, Nicholas. Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors. The Penguin Press: New York. 2006. 18.

Year: 1850; Census Place: Covington, Mississippi; Roll: M432_371; Page: 309B; Image: 207. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1850usfedcenancestry&h=3391938

Year: 1860; Census Place: Smith, Mississippi; Roll: M653_591; Page: 353; Family History Library Film: 803591. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1860usfedcenancestry&h=38861910

Year: 1900; Census Place: Goldthwaite, Mills, Texas; Page: 5; Enumeration District: 0111; FHL microfilm: 1241659. https;//search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1900usfedcen&h=54391200

Hugh McKenzie: Kind in His Family and to His Friends

Hugh L. McKenzie (1822-1866)

4c Carting Cotton Bales
“Hauling Cotton to the River,” from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, March 1854. Vol. 8 Issue 46. p. 460

Hugh McKenzie can be imagined as a kind, sure, and calm man, perhaps as “unobtrusive” as his spinster Aunt Mary McLaurin – possibly a family trait, for the word is inscribed on Mary’s tombstone in Stewartsville Cemetery. Early in life Hugh engaged in driving a wagon, perhaps a large flatbed wagon, stacked with 400 to 500 pound cotton bales. Hugh may have sat atop these bales or they may have towered behind the youth as he sat on the buckboard. Alone under a canopy of night stars with only the mules for immediate companionship on his long journeys, the sense of solitude and escape from his daily farming routine must have been stunning. Perhaps he felt, at first at least, that this was an improvement over the back-breaking farm labor he had done for most of his life.

He was a boy of eleven in 1833 when the family arrived in Covington County, MS after a forty-five day journey from Richmond County, NC. Hugh was old enough to have significant responsibilities on the farm. Though times were hard the boys enjoyed running free in the dwindling old growth forests, hunting for wild critters like the boar and bear and panther that would soon disappear from the Mississippi landscape. At sixteen when he makes his first “waggoning” run to Mobile he is likely among a small caravan of wagons with other drivers from the Covington County area: young Duncan McLaurin, son of Daniel McLaurin, and a Mr. Lee. Meanwhile an anxious Duncan and Barbara McKenzie await their son’s return. Though  encountering unsavory characters on the road was likely a justified concern, and inclement weather an unpredictable hazard, they need not have worried so much in the case of Hugh’s sense of responsibility, for he was probably as steady and grounded a young man as any one of their six sons would be.

DraymenOilPants1860
Perhaps some sort of weather protection was around during the 1840s and 1850s when Hugh enjoyed his occupation as drayman, hauling baled cotton to distant markets. This advertisement appeared in the Vicksburg Daily Whig 4 January 1860.

On this first trip from Covington County, MS to Mobile, Alabama to haul a neighbor’s cotton, he would have absorbed unfamiliar surroundings. The bustle  of a large port city must have been thrilling for the youth, perhaps posing temptations, but leaving him with a sense of accomplishment to have fulfilled such a significant task. Duncan McKenzie, Hugh’s father, is at first proud that his son has taken an interest in this occupation but later worries that it is not safe. Often he could be found riding out to meet the wagon on the return route. Their Covington County home was not ten miles from the Williamsburg court house, which was right on the Mobile road . After Hugh’s first successful trip as a drayman, Duncan says he will allow Hugh to go on a waggoning trip once a year if he likes it. He did. Though still residing with his parents, Hugh would be at times away from the farm, driving wagons as far as Covington, LA near New Orleans.

Hugh’s father describes the first waggoning trip: “the load that Hugh took to Mobile was not ours, he took it for Old Danl McLaurin on freight, … I would prefer selling in the seed and taking freight of the land to go down and get our supplies of groceries and all heavy articles.” He specifies the goods they were able to procure for the return trip: “all are well Their cotton sold at 13 cts They gave 25 per sack for salt 11 1/2 cts for sugar, 18 cts for coffee, 8 cts for grain Hugh likes waggoning very well.”  By 1842 Duncan says of  his son’s wagon trips: “Hugh is now from home and is expected to return to night from Covington Louisiana whither he went with the 3rd load of cotton this fall the distance is about 100 miles he will require to go at least three more before all is sent off thus you find he will necessaryly travil 1200 miles in hawling off say the amount of 30 bales of cotton.” Duncan laments that the family has not profited well in the current economic climate by making cotton their primary crop. Though Hugh’s labor is probably missed considerably on the farm, their father describes his sons Daniel and Hugh as the worst cotton pickers in the labor force, picking only about one hundred pounds a day.

Hugh L. McKenzie was born in 1822 in Richmond County, North Carolina to Duncan McKenzie and Barbara McLaurin McKenzie, both twenty-nine. When he was born the family was farming there. After migrating to Covington County, MS, they paid a dollar in property taxes, sharing rent for land adjacent to Allan Stewart’s farm with Allan Johnson and Duncan McBryde. They moved onto cleared land, though their shelter was probably an early yeoman farmer house on stilts for which they may or may not have had a chimney. In a later home on nearby purchased property, they would need to bake their own bricks to provide an indoor chimney for cooking. By 1838 Hugh’s father had accrued property at Dry Creek near Williamsburg, enough to have paid one dollar and eighty-two cents in taxes, and in 1841 owned six hundred and forty dollars worth of land at Dry Creek. Son Hugh owned one hundred and twenty acres worth one hundred and sixty-three dollars on the Bowie River for which he paid ninety cents in taxes. His father writes that he has given the responsibility of making a tract of land productive to his oldest two sons, Hugh and Kenneth.  The family is listed as owning eight slaves by 1846, though the tax rolls show the family owning none in 1833, when they arrived in Covington County. However, an impression from the correspondence is that one enslaved person may have traveled with the family. It is possible a number of people for slave labor were purchased very soon from North Carolina, as John McLaurin writes of a contingent of slaves being taken west to Mississippi. In addition, Duncan McKenzie reports back to Duncan McLaurin in a letter that a particular enslaved person has defied her reputation and given him no trouble. Likely it was more advantageous to a small farmer to know the background of the people with whom the family would be working very closely on the farm.

By the Federal Census of 1850, Hugh’s father had died (1847 of typhus), but Hugh was still living with his mother, who is listed as head of the household. He was twenty-eight years old and working as a farmer. The value of Barbara McKenzie’s property was one thousand two hundred and seventy dollars. With the death of Barbara in 1855, the fabric that had held the brothers in a shared farming relationship probably began to fray. It would be only natural that the brothers would eventually create families of their own. However, their prosperity had always depended on each other as part of the workforce on a farm. A few years later Hugh’s brother Daniel married Sarah Blackwell of Smith County. Daniel, having his own income from years of teaching, owns property there. He encourages his brothers to leave the Covington County farm and purchase in Smith County. They do. Since their father’s death, any attempt to settle up a division of property interests on the Covington County farm has met with difficulty, so an alternative would have been to sell their father’s farm. Hugh writes the following in December of 1859 to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin in North Carolina:

We have bought the place Taylorville

from Daniel and his father in law (John Blackwell) for

which we gave $5.00.00 It contains 2 acres of land

a large and good store house grocery lot and

stables cribs we then invoyesed the goods at

New orleans cost for $2200,00 and I am now

selling goods we have bought in Mobile

$2000 00 worth more making in all over

$4000 worth of goods and I am selling over

$ 50 00 worth per day, how long it will

I know not if it does last and we can

collect we can make money … — Hugh McKenzie

On the verge of the the cataclysm that would change everything for Hugh and his family, the Civil War, the 1860 census shows H L, Hugh, at thirty-seven years old. He is working as a merchant in Smith County. His real estate is worth two thousand dollars and his personal estate worth two thousand five hundred. The records reveal Hugh is part of a large household that of his younger brother Duncan, listed in the census as a farmer. The household includes also Duncan’s wife Martha Ann Duckworth McKenzie and their four month old daughter Barbara Elizabeth, known as Bettie. Also in the household are listed younger brother John, twenty-seven and farming as well as his wife, sixteen-year-old Susan Duckworth McKenzie. Another household member is twenty-four-year old Malvary Johnson from Alabama working as a farm laborer. At some point after this census, Hugh also marries into the Duckworth family and sets up his own household. He marries Sarah, Martha’s sister, who already has three children from a previous marriage: R. C., Susan, and Laura Keyes or Keys. What must have been a short time before his marriage, he writes in 1859 regarding the marriage of his youngest brother, John:

Day after tomorrow John will

find his lost rib in the person of a

Miss Susan Duckworth and sister to Dunks

wife I think though she is poor, John

does very well, they Dunks wife and

Johns intended has done all they could

for Allen and myself, but it is no go

I cannot marry any woman that will marry

me because she can do no better

how Allens case is I know not I think the same — Hugh McKenzie

Evidently, it did not take much time for Hugh to change his mind. He and Sarah were probably married by 1862 because he is the father of three children born during the Civil War: Mollie C., James C. and Daniel F. McKenzie.

Hugh was literate thanks to his North Carolina teacher Uncle Duncan McLaurin. In adulthood, Hugh pens a number of the letters in the Duncan McLaurin collection. When he becomes a merchant in 1859 from Smith County, he writes his Uncle Duncan a revealing letter describing the store. He is a merchant before he marries and is lamenting his lonely life, except when the business of the store draws a congregation of local people, likely most of them male. Merchandizing allows him a great deal of social contact that he seems to find rewarding in a job that could often be solitary. It is possible that due to his quiet nature Hugh did a great deal of listening when customers congregated at the store. Having been raised by parents who did not tolerate alcoholic beverages, he may not have sold them at his store or done much drinking himself, though his customers might have. The following account from a letter written to his uncle in 1859 may or may not have happened at or near his store. He surely heard the story there:

Sometimes I feel lonesome

by myself then crowds come in

and keep me all day from my dinner

and sometimes late in the night

We have some fighting a Mr.

Powers a member of the Presbyterian

Church loaded a pistol and said he

intended to kill a Mr. Little Powers

went to Little and told him if he would

come out of the house he would beat

him to death Little came out and

powers drew the pistol and shot at Little

but missed Little picked up a sick (stick)

and began beating Powers

and Powers running until L beat him

to the ground Powers is badly hurt

and Littles ear is powder burnt

some booth are respectable men — Hugh McKenizie

War loomed on the horizon and none of their lives would ever be the same. Hugh’s brothers John, Allen, and Kenneth all joined infantry regiments from Smith County during the Civil War. Hugh, according to his own account and his brother Dunk’s, served as Captain in a Cavalry Unit that was not called into action until around the time of the Siege of Vicksburg. H. L. McKenzie is listed in a database of Civil War Soldiers with the 12th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment, Company H. He enters as a private and ranks out as a sergeant. In September of 1863, Hugh writes, “I must take my chances with the rest or take the bushes with the deserters which I do not expect to do for a while.” Dunk remains on the farm for the duration of the Civil War, serving as Postmaster. The Postmaster position likely kept Duncan from conscription, since owning less than twenty slaves rendered you subject to conscription by the Confederate Army. At home Dunk would have to deal with Confederate deserters hiding out in the woods very near his Leaf River farm but in Jones County. They would steal his cotton cards and burn his newly built bridge.  At the outbreak of the war, the family had become more successful and may have purchased more than the original eight slaves their father owned in the 1840s. Still they would have been yeoman farmer status, and may have been expanding their farm or labor force on credit. After the Civil War ended, Hugh intended to leave Mississippi with his family and migrate to Texas, where some of his wife’s Duckworth relatives had migrated. However, he would never leave.

Perhaps he stayed after his own health began to deteriorate. His brother Duncan writes in 1866 that Hugh is doing very well. Possibly Hugh’s health had been compromised by the extreme deprivations endured by soldiers on the battlefields of the Civil War. Duncan could not have foreseen that his brother would be dead before the year was out. Hugh died on the 14th of December 1866 of typhoid fever leaving Sarah Duckworth McKenzie a widow for the second time but with six children now. Her three oldest children are from a previous marriage. According to the 1870 Federal Census, the rest of Hugh’s family is surviving. Sarah is thirty-seven and has personal property worth four hundred dollars. She is head of the household in Jasper County, MS, which includes “Robert C – 17, Susan – 15, Laura – 12, Mollie – 8, James C – 6, and Ella – 4”. Sarah has no other occupation listed other than keeping house, which was probably the employment status of many war widows. She lives near her younger sister, Susan, the widow of John McKenzie, Hugh’s youngest brother. Susan is also keeping house with personal property worth three hundred dollars. Susan lives with her three children: “Daniel – 10, John Duncan – 8, and Allen – 6”. A decade later according to the 1880 Census, Hugh’s widow Sarah continues to live in Jasper County with all of her children except Susan, who has likely married.

On the cusp of war in 1860 the forty-nine year old father of Martha, Sarah, and Susan McKenzie, R C (Robert Cooper) Duckworth, lived in neighboring Jasper County with his forty-seven year old wife Elizabeth. The Duckworth household also included Benjamin, twenty-three; Elizabeth, fourteen; Robert G, twelve; Wilson, ten;  and Joseph, six. R. C. Duckworth farmed with real estate worth one thousand eight hundred dollars and personal property worth seven thousand dollars. His son Benjamin worked as a clerk. Duckworth and his wife had migrated much earlier from South Carolina to Mississippi with a large contingent of relatives. Robert Duckworth would die during the siege of Vicksburg and another son, Cooper, would be killed at Missionary Ridge, GA. Benjamin would be wounded at Vicksburg but recover. John McKenzie recovers from the typhoid fever he suffers while at Vicksburg during the siege but is captured at Nashville in 1864 and died at POW Camp Chase in Ohio. After the war R.C. Duckworth writes to a nephew in Bastrop, Texas, describing the family losses during the war: “Hugh McKenzie Married Sarah Margaret, and Died in Dec. after the Surrender, leaving Both the girls (Susan and Sarah) widows and the children on my hands there was property enough to have Supported them Hansomely if they could have retained it .”

Hugh and Sarah’s son James Cooper McKenzie, born in 1863, married Ella Josephine Wilson b. 1875. James Iived out his life in Jasper County, where he was working as a farmer in 1900. He died in 1906 and was buried in Bay Springs, MS Cemetery. James Cooper and Ella had five children: Bernice was born in 1896, James L. in 1899, William Oma in 1901, Grace T in 1903, and James C in 1905. James C. McKenzie’s widow Ella McKenzie married James A. Erwin to whom were born three children.

Hugh’s brother, Duncan McKenzie, writes poignantly about family deaths in a letter dated February 25, 1867. Following Hugh’s death, Duncan’s oldest daughter died of a brief illness. The loss of his daughter Bettie, age seven, has compounded his grief. Still he writes of his brother: “Hugh also is gone, on the 14th December he breathed his last of Typhoid Fever Hugh was a good man and kind in his family and to friends.” What greater tribute than to have been remembered as a good and kind man by one who knew him well.

Hugh’s Letters to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin

1853 — During this year Hugh is prompted to open correspondence with his uncle by receiving a number of postage stamps from him. In his May 1853 letter Hugh writes, “I received the stamps you sent me and only had to regret it was not something that I could keep as a keepsake to your memory.” Hugh’s uncle was not only a relative for whom he had close childhood memories, he was Hugh’s childhood teacher and a former postmaster at Laurel Hill, NC. The stamps Hugh receives were some of the first ever issued after 1847, George Washington three cent stamps. One remains to this day attached to an archived letter in this collection.

Hugh tries to interest his Uncle by offering sensational stories about several murder cases, one involving a husband ordering his wife to kill their child. The accused has died before the judge could sentence him to hang. In another case character witnesses for the accused were discovered apparently in deceiving the court. One only has to peruse southern newspapers of the 1850s decade to recognize evidence of the general violence and fear growing among southerners over slavery. Hugh relates a story from Lawrence County Mississippi of two young men in pursuit of a runaway Negro:

(They) found him in an ale house the Negro finding

himself hemmed rushed out at the door

and after he passed sufficient not

to endanger each other both fired on the

negro the negro was gone some days and

came in with three Buckshot in his back

one above his sholder blade and one each

side of his back bone between the

Sholder Blade he is geting well — Hugh McKenzie

Another of Hugh’s brothers completes a letter begun by Hugh but does not sign his name. It is likely Duncan or Kenneth. This person relates two more criminal incidents. In Simpson County a mulatto belonging to a Thomas Hubbard was executed after being sentenced, escaping to Mobile, being re-sentenced, and finally hung. A white man in the same county accused of murder under “very plain” circumstantial evidence escaped sentencing by having the case dismissed. The jury deliberated for fourteen hours and could not reach a verdict.

Hugh reports that the family is well except his brother Kenneth has been suffering from his usual chronic rheumatic illness. However, in the next month’s letter he reports that the flu and measles are making the rounds. Hugh offers his opinion on the practice of medicine, concluding that “without the assistance of nature (it) is all of no use.”  It is with pleasure that he remarks upon his Aunt Isabella’s return to sanity. Unfortunately, Isabella relapses and in 1857 will be admitted to the first North Carolina Insane Asylum, later known as the Dorothea Dix Hospital. His brother Daniel will begin fulfilling his lifelong dream of practicing as a physician in a few days. Hugh also remarks on the marriage of Cousin John McKenzie in North Carolina to Sarah Ann Hasty and mentions his McCall and Douglas cousins. The brother who finishes one of Hugh’s letters adds that he has visited the “hatter John McNair,” an acquaintance of his uncle’s. He writes, “When I informed him that I was a grand son of Hugh Balchellish (Ballachulish), his eyes appeared to Sparkle with the full vigor of youth.” McNair then clasped his hand and said, “I loved Balchellish I love Duncan, I love them all.”

Their crops are a bit late but they have a great deal of corn since they planted an extra fifty acres in land they rented for a dollar an acre. By the next month, Hugh is lamenting the lack of rain.

As for politics, Hugh says Governor Foote has been trying to unite the unionists and secessionists in the state. Hugh reveals his propensity for casual listening without getting involved when he remarks on the political ignorance in an overheard conversation. The conversants cannot see why Andrew Jackson had to be “turned out of the office of the President and if he is not qualified any longer why not put Governor Brown of Miss in his place.” Though there were no term limits for the Presidency, Andrew Jackson had been dead for the better part of a decade. Hugh continues to comment that, “You may think this is all burlesque but I heard the conversation between two Locos.” Locos, short for Locofocos is a pre-Civl War political moniker Whigs often used for the Democratic party.

1855: This year the family farm has experienced drought. It has been a scattered drought affecting the McKenzies and neighbors Duncan McLaurin, a Mr. Gray, and Duncan B. Easterling. Their Irish potatoes did not grow, though cotton sold for 10 to 12 1/2 cents per lb. Their returns are at Columbia, though they have not been there to receive them due to a smallpox outbreak in the area. The birds, squirrels, and raccoons are, “devouring our corn the worst I ever saw.” The brothers hunt the raccoons at night. Daniel shoots at birds and squirrels during the day.

In politics Kenneth has switched from Whig to Democrat. Senator Brown has embraced the Locofoco platform and calls it democracy. Hugh says, “the fleece and not the flock is the object of Senator Brown’s words.”

Some neighbors in Covington county are intending to sell out. Hugh mentions that Duncan McLaurin will relocate to Hinds County and his brother Daniel will migrate to Texas. It would make Hugh happy if his Uncle Duncan would move to Mississippi and settle on newly vacated Duncan McLaurin place. Hugh’s brother Daniel intends to relocate to Raleigh in Smith County.

Education in Mississippi is improving and Hugh knows his uncle’s interest in that subject. He mentions there are 145 students this session at Zion Seminary in Covington county under the supervision of Reverend A. R. Graves. In Marshall county Oxford University is run by Methodists and Baptists and ranks as one of the best in the country in Hugh’s opinion. One Professor Longstreet, author of Georgia Scenes, is President. Hugh promises to send a published letter by Longstreet to his uncle.

1856: This April letter is a short one and begins with Hugh expressing his uneasiness to hear from his Uncle when he does not write regularly. However, Hugh himself does not appear to write regularly. He reassures his uncle that his remaining unmarried is not due to the example of a number of his life-long bachelor relatives. He says to tell his McCall and Douglas cousins that it is time for them to step up and marry. Some of the McKenzie brothers are evidently courting during these years. Earlier Hugh had written to his uncle that a marriage might be in the future for someone in the McKenzie family but that is, “entirely broke up.” His Uncle Duncan has perhaps been lamenting the fact that he has few, if any, great nieces and nephews. A little over a decade later, Duncan would outlive the only nieces and one nephew, all childless, that might have carried the surname of Hugh McLaurin of Ballachulish.

Hugh reports the death of one of Duncan’s acquaintances, Alexander McDonald. He died in his field after appearing fine at breakfast. Plowing his field for about an hour, he complained of a headache. He tried to sit on a log but missed, sitting on the ground instead. His youngest son Neill came to him asking if he was sick. He replied that he thought he might be dying. Neill sent to the house but his father never spoke again after that. Alexander McDonald was buried at Charles McNair’s in Simpson County where his mother-in-law was buried.

1859: September of this year finds the family on their new place in Smith County. Hugh writes, “their is so much to do that we hardly know which to do first.” Their crop was planted, “too rough and too late,” to be very productive. They will be, “hard pressed for money,” during the winter since the price of corn was up during the summer. It is typical of Mississippians during these years to depend on cotton to save them. Hugh writes, “if the price of cotton keeps up I think perhaps we can get through without much difficulty if we try.” He continues to explain that they are still clearing their land, building houses, and picking cotton. Hugh continues by describing their land:

We have five hundred and fifty

acres beside 94 that Daniel owns

individually I will send you the plot

of it there is about 40 acres in the

hills the rest is all in Leaf River

Swamp and not five acres but

may be cultivated with very

little draining we have about

50 acres cut and piled since we

finished laying bye our crop

that with the 40 acres that we

cleared last spring is enough of

open land for Daniel and Dunk

the neighbors say they will never

give Allen John and myself

an equal interest with them in

the place how they know I know not but time will determine

the correctness of their Prophecy — Hugh McKenzie

The last few lines regarding their brothers not sharing equal interest proved not to be true. At least the war would soon intervene to make the “prophecy” irrelevant. Possibly the source of this rumor about the brothers was the same as earlier rumors — Kenneth. He may have spread rumors which had sewn discord among the brothers and once caused Allen to become physically violent with Kenneth. Hugh also criticizes his brothers, Daniel and Dunk, for trading too much. He says they are “bowth bad hands to collect,” and he will not trade on a credit or collect for them. He says they never collect anything that is due them. Duncan will later confirm this tendency regarding his brother Daniel’s work as a physician.

Hugh mentions that Daniel does not do much practice as a physician, but he did “$5000 worth last year.” Whether or not he collected that much, Hugh does not say. He does also mention that the country is generally healthy. Daniel and his wife have joined the Methodist Church in Smith County. According to Hugh they, “joined .. last Sunday week under the eloquence of a Drumkin Irishman I hope they will do better than their pastor.” He says that Dunk’s wife has, “joined the Babtists last spring.” Later Dunk will write to his uncle that he also has joined the Baptist faith. Hugh sends his love to his Uncle John and all of his aunts.

By December of 1859 Hugh writes that they have purchased the Taylorville place from Daniel and his father-in-law, John Blackwell. The purchase is two acres of land upon which there is a, “large and good store house grocery lot and stables cribs.” This is when he begins his merchandising. They are looking at “promising crops.” Perhaps this will serve to hold them over for at least the early years of the war. They will have to haul bricks twenty miles to build a chimney for the store.

According to Hugh, John married Susan Duckworth on the 15th of December. In the same letter Hugh mentions that Daniel and his wife are expecting another child. Also, Dunk and Martha are expecting their first child.

1863: Hugh begins this wartime letter by reassuring his uncle that they are all relatively well and have plenty to eat, though that is through lucky escape:

Yet Lincolns thieves have not molested us

but how soon they will I cant tell there is

nothing to hinder them as Johnsons army

is all gone from the state with the exception

of three cavalry Brigades and Lorings Division

of Infantry We have some state troops

just enough to be an expence to the state

and no proffit I  had a company of state

cavalry and was conscripted I then obtained an

order to rais a company to wait on the conscript

Branscough what next I know not but

I cannot keep out of the army any longer  — Hugh McKenzie

On his way to mail the last letter Hugh will write to his uncle, he stops by John’s place.  John is finishing up a letter to Kenneth, who has survived his trip to North Carolina to visit his uncle. Hugh and John combine their letters to send in one envelope to their uncle’s address at Laurel Hill, NC. Hugh writes that John’s health is improving since the Siege of Vicksburg, though he worries that, “he will not be able to make an efficient soldier … his constitution is not verry good at best.” John’s inability to recover his former health is likely the reason he does not survive the pestilential conditions as a prisoner of war in 1865.

In 1861 their Aunt Effy, Barbara’s favorite sister and childhood companion died a spinster. Her property of enslaved people is sold and a small portion of the proceeds are inherited by Barbara’s children and grandchildren. Hugh kindly tells his uncle to keep his portion since, in his old age, his uncle may need it more. He remarks upon what his uncle likely knows that any amount in Confederate money will probably be worthless soon. Hugh also says that beef drivers from Texas to Covington county have rumored that “France will interfere on our behalf to save the Mexican teritory.” Hugh remarks that if France does “interfere” on behalf of the South, it will either prolong the war or may be a means of saving the Confederacy. His opinion probably leans toward prolonging the war as he comments about any secessionist or unionist who has not been sobered by this war:

All the consolation that I can have is

in Saying to the un cowed that I hope they

will get a full gorge of Secession and

that any sane man could see that the

democratic wagon was going down to the

abolitionists it has been the wrath of the

Democratic party to rule or ruin the fairest

Government that ever did exist but it is

now gone hopelessly gone and the

innocent has to suffer if we conquer

a peace on any terms we are ruined in

fact I see nothing but ruin let the

conflict end as it may — Hugh McKenzie

At age 41, three years before his death, Hugh poignantly ends this last epistle to his uncle by asking Kenneth to share with him descriptions of people and places they remember from childhood in NC. He jokingly asks Kenneth about paying a long-held childhood debt to a Mrs. Mayfield — if he has not, Hugh would pay.

Ask Kenneth to write to me

I think he could if he would …

tell him to give me his

impressions from childhood about

persons and places a recollect — Hugh McKenzie

SOURCES:

Bynum, Victoria E. The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War. The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill. 2001. 32, 76, 41, 64, 128.

Covington County Tax Rolls, 1818-1902, MDAH, accessed June 20, 2017, http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/tax rolls/

Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Letter from R.C. Duckworth to his nephew Sam Duckworth of Bastrop, TX. 24 May 1868. Duckworth-Smith-McPherson Family Papers, 1838-1885, 1940, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Letters from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 29 January 1833, 7 November 1838, 9 December 1842, 6 June 1843, 28 December 1845, . Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Letters from Duncan McKenzie to Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 25 February 1867, 4 April 1867. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letters from Hugh McKenzie to Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 4 May 1853, 16 June 1853, 24 July 1855, 17 April 1856, 11 September 1859, 13 December 1859, 2 September 1863. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letters from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin in Richmond County, North Carolina. 19 April 1855, 15 September 1857. Boxes 1,2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

National Park Service. U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, U, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2007. Original data: National Park Service, Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, online <>, acquired 2007.

“Oil Jackets and Pants.” Vicksburg Daily Whig. 4 January 1860. 4. Accessed 24 December 2018. newspapers.com.

U.S. Federal Census 1850; Covington, Mississippi; M432_371; 309B; 207. Family Search (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M4LC-38N:accessed 16 September 2015.. citing family 305, NARA microfilm publication M432(Washington, D.C.:National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

US Federal Census 1860; Smith County, Mississippi; Roll: M653_591; Page: 243; Family History Library Film: 803591.

US Federal Census 1870. Jasper County, MS. South West Beat. Roll: M593_732; Page: 626B; Family History Library Film: 552231.

Land of His Infancy — Kenneth McKenzie b. 1820

KMcKReceiptforInheritance1863
Barbara McKenzie’s favorite sister, Effy McLaurin, died in 1861. She remembered Barbara’s children and grandchildren in her will. Kenneth was likely the only one of Barbara’s sons to actually receive this small inheritance. The date on the receipt, 14 August 1863, may mark as near as we can tell the actual arrival of Kenneth in North Carolina.

Kenneth McKenzie in 1880, working at his carpenter’s bench in Stewartsville, NC, would have been sixty years old. Estranged from his Mississippi family and having outlived his parents and all of his brothers save one, he may have had little inclination to return to Mississippi. Kenneth left that state for North Carolina in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. Born in North Carolina in 1820, Kenneth revealed in the Duncan McLaurin correspondence an inclination to consider the land of his infancy his real home. On the other hand there must have been warmer if not joyful Mississippi memories: hunting in the pinewoods; political barbecues and counting votes at elections; the warmth and security provided by his hardworking parents, attentive caregivers during his chronic bouts of rheumatic illness; the family at a fireside reading from the long-awaited correspondence of their Uncle Duncan at Laurel Hill.

He may have felt himself entitled to former McLaurin property, since by 1873 he was involved in a failed property lawsuit against his beloved and aging teacher, his Uncle Duncan. The evidence of this is found in the probate hearing for his cousin Owen McLaurin. Over a decade later in 1885, one Kenneth McKenzie purchases land very near the property once owned by his Uncle Duncan in Richmond County, NC near Laurel Hill. Only a very single-minded person would have been motivated in his sixties to recover what he may have thought to be a rightful inheritance.

On the other hand, it is possible that Kenneth may have married and raised a family. His brother, Dunk, writes in 1867, “…he is young with a young wife,” having learned this information from his brother, Allen to whom Kenneth has written a letter. No evidence of his having a wife or children exists. It is strange that Duncan would speak of Kenneth as “young.” In 1867 he would have been forty-seven.

Kenneth working as a carpenter and purchasing land near his mother’s ancestral home in North Carolina is speculation based on evidence that cannot at this time be proved as our Kenneth’s. However, references to Kenneth in the Duncan McLaurin Papers leads one to believe the last decades of his life may have passed as a solitary man. His testimony at the will probate hearing of his cousin Owen McLaurin is revealing. He may have harbored a determination to connect with a tangible manifestation of what he considered his rightful inheritance and home or perhaps a sense of faded youth and family connections.

Civil War Years

KMcKConfArmyDisharge1862

Probate records following the death of his cousin Owen McLaurin place Kenneth in Richmond County, NC in the early 1870s. Evidence from correspondence and Civil War military records show that he left Smith County, MS in 1863 after mustering out of the Confederate Army. Probate testimony reveals that he joined a North Carolina regiment late in the war.

In October of 1861, Kenneth writes to his Uncle from Enterprise, MS on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, where the Smith County soldiers have deployed, “having embarked on the 30th day of July last as a private in a Company called True Confederates.” Kenneth says he is in Company D. His younger brother Allen is a Lieutenant in Company A, “Yankee Terrors,” of the same regiment, also at Enterprise. An outbreak of measles rapidly depletes the regiment. Having suffered measles in their youth and childhoods, the two McKenzie brothers are safe: “The measles have scourged the citizen soldiery heavily but all are now on the recovery, tho some linger yet, Allen and myself are well … both of us having had measles years ago.” For once Kenneth has managed to remain healthy without a recurrence of his chronic rheumatic condition. After expressing condolences on the death of his mother’s favorite sister, Effy, who has remembered the brothers in her will, Kenneth describes military life at Enterprise:

The roll of the drum the glittering bayonet the Keen

crack of the Mississippi rifle the multiplicity

of Buoie Knives and Colts Repeating pistols Show

that the boys are in for Strife or right we have

received a portion of our pay Each private

at eleven Dollars per month have received

ten Dollars in State or Confederate bonds

What will be the results of our efforts is all unknown

to us at this time tho I will Keep you informed as

much as possible at intervals without any

attention to receipts from you, as the guide to

my correspondence. — Kenneth McKenzie

It is possible Kenneth is waxing poetic regarding the rifles and Colts, since the Confederate Army in 1861 was desperately in need of weapons. So great was the need for weapons, that their brother Dunk had made a number of Bowie knives with leather scabbards and sent them to Enterprise. The “multiplicity of Buoie Knives” is probably accurate since they were easier to come by locally. Following this description, Kenneth adds that he would like to visit North Carolina again, “Should I live to be released from my present responsibilities I shall return to the land of my nativity and mingle with the friends of my childhood.”

Kenneth’s brother John writes from his deployment at Vicksburg in July of 1862 that all were at home except for Kenneth, who was deployed in Alabama near Pollard, on the border of Alabama and Florida. Kenneth is well and perhaps learning, through force, that he can survive traveling long distances under difficult conditions. Heretofore, he has set out on multiple journeys only to return home with either illness or lack of funds as an excuse. By 1862 Kenneth is over forty years old. In an undated letter Kenneth writes that he has been appointed an assistant surgeon to the company, where he will, “use my endeavors to maintain myself or act as not to be censured deservedly.” Evidently, this military life has become a trial for him. Within the Smith County regiment, he transfers from Company D to Company A and then to Company C. In 1863 Dunk writes that Kenneth has, “joined a company of Cavalry for the defense of the state.” Apparently, Kenneth never joined or found a way out of this service, for in 1863 John McKenzie, having survived the siege of Vicksburg, addresses a letter to Kenneth at Uncle Duncan’s in NC.

Brotherly Estrangement and Politics

It appears that in the face of war, Kenneth has begun to mend some of the recent fractures between himself and his brothers. The familial rift appears to have begun with negative reaction to some of Kenneth’s financial endeavors. Kenneth has evidently not always carried his weight on the farm due to chronic illness, but his livelihood appears to have come from the shared family interests in the farm. He also owned his own tract of land in Covington County. By 1860 Kenneth writes that he is living with a friend, James McGill and family.  He describes this situation to his uncle:

I am now living

with James McGill I appreciate the

respect with which I am treated by

himself and family, my health has

been good since the coming in of Septr

last, previously I had a severe attact

of fever from which I have not regained

my standard weight … as

for my self my future is hidden in oblive

iousness and will continue mystified

through life I fear oblivious curtain hides

the future. — Kenneth McKenzie

Earlier in November of 1857, Kenneth sums up some of his financial activities. He has been interested in the railroads that are being built in the state. In August he made a trip to New Orleans and marvels at the speed of the train, “the distance being made in seven hours including the time that was taken in taking the mail at each station, there being 13, if the country was filled up with railroads there would be little use for carriages or any such vihicles … and the travel would be cheaper as the speed is so much greater.” His Uncle Duncan had been involved in bringing the railroad through Richmond County in North Carolina. For these reasons Kenneth expresses an interest in supporting a proposed Brandon and Ship Island railroad. He claims, “If justice is done by the surveying engineer under the present charter the road will come directly through this county.” He follows this speculation with news that he has, “subscribed,” one thousand dollars if it (the railroad), “runs in a certain limit.” This rail line is never built.

Kenneth probably obtained the thousand dollar railroad investment from selling land, buying Spanish horses, and reselling them. Evidently Kenneth was drawn into the horse trading deal by others in Covington County.

I have bot and sold some Spanish horses

they are noted for durability I have made

some money by it, I have it in mind to

take a trip to Western Texas and procure

Spanish mares and mules two of my

neighbors boys both Brothers named Lott

have made the first trip ever made to this

country from Goliad on the San antone River

with a … of 36 Horses part of which

I bought and sold all but two which I

have yet on hand they are severe in their

disposition until tamed and conquered a

man alone cannot make more than a lively hood

by labour  — Kenneth McKenzie

This last line regarding “Labour” is revealing and likely what worries Kenneth’s brothers. Kenneth says he has sold land to enable himself, “to have a surplus to catch tricks with tho not enough to catch many if I go to mexico I shall carry perhaps a thousand dollars which according to the statement of Morgan and Jesse Lott will buy from sixty to 75 Horses or perhaps 100 head.” For all of their adult lives until they marry, the McKenzie brothers have shared the financial vicissitudes of farming. Apparently in the late 1850s Kenneth breaks with this tradition.

It seems that Kenneth’s taking financial risks is not sanctioned by his brothers, although he appears not to have made the trip to Mexico or even Texas. Another brother writes that Kenneth has been spreading rumors about the family. These family conflicts come to a head in November of 1857 when Allen, who Kenneth has described as “the biggest and strongest,” seeks Kenneth out and accosts him.

this morning I was at the lot

gate looking at some sows and pigs all in

peace and harmony when Allen came there

and said that I had to gather up my ponies

and leave a damned loafer I made him

some evasive and perhaps insulting answer

when he caught me by the hair and struck me

several blows before I could extricate myself

from him I have given him no reason for this abuse to me

I shall have him arrested I will not be treated in any such

manner by him or any one else — Kenneth McKenzie

By March of 1858 Kenneth’s brother, Duncan, writes to his uncle that Kenneth is in the carpentering business, but he does not know how long he will continue at that. That carpentering experience could have served Kenneth well in the end, for he may have spent some time working with Hugh McCall’s carpentering business in Laurel Hill, North Carolina.

This rift between brothers was not a sudden thing. It had likely been brewing for many years, even as children. Their father, Duncan McKenzie, remarks that more work is done in the fields when they feel that they have an opportunity to best another. Kenneth himself brags about the times he has outdone his brother Duncan. In 1847 he writes, “tell Uncle John that I shot Daniels Spaniard gun and Duncans shot beat Buchannan I beat him I believe I am the best shot.” Kenneth’s brother Hugh writes that this competitiveness with his brothers reaches into his political opinions as well, “Kenneth has turned Locofoco with all his might and main down on the true American platform and particularly so on his best friends and the McLaurins …”  Kenneth is a Democrat because Daniel and Duncan are Whigs he does a great injury to the intelligent part of this county.” In addition, Kenneth appears to have given his brother Daniel some conflict as Daniel tried to settle up his father’s estate so that they could sell the property. Duncan writes, “you have heard about the trouble he (Kenneth) gave to Daniel in setting up the estate which is now wound up or nearly so.” No more detailed explanation of this “trouble” exists in the correspondence.

Competitiveness  does not quite explain Kenneth’s attitude fully. Possibly some jealousy enters into the equation. In a moment of deep bitterness during Barbara’s excruciating battle with the oral cancer, Kenneth writes resentfully and without mercy of his more successful McLaurin relatives:

Neighbors are generally kind in visiting tho some being close

born are not neighbors for instance the agust McLaurins

who compose the aristocracy of this county and are

amenable to the presbyterian order but they dwell more

on money finances than the immortality of the Soul

… the world they are aiming

to arrive at is flowing with gold and negroes and fine cotton

and comely pairs of fine animals with gaudy decorations …

uncle they do not come to see mother since she has

been afflicted Before then when she was able to trudge

round and prepare fine dinners they were con

stantly on a visiting expedition … — Kenneth McKenzie

Unsuccessful in relationships with family, he also felt thwarted in romantic relationships. Several times Kenneth refers to his attempts to engage in a courtship, but he seems to always come up short. In 1858 his brother Duncan writes that Kenneth has been too indecisive in engaging a Miss Malloy and has lost her to Alexander Magee. Duncan writes, “In regard to Miss MaLoys K says to tell you he is like Jethrew Robins was, Robins was sitting on the fence at the time of the marriage shedding tears on being asked what was the mater he replied Oh she’s gone and I wanted her …” It may have been that later in life Kenneth did marry, though he would have been closer to fifty years old.

During the 1850s Kenneth’s political attitudes are developing but cannot be explained altogether as sibling rivalry. He also readily takes note of the local fear of slave insurrection. If he were becoming Democratic, he probably supported the idea of slavery as a positive good. His brothers were Whigs, who generally justified slavery as a necessary evil. He is quick to report to his uncle the fearful incidents about which he reads or hears rumored. In 1851 he tells the story of a Mrs. Dixon, an acquaintance, and her child of Jasper County, MS who were, “murdered by a Negro man she fell victim to insult from the bestial being, and died defending her virtues and the life of her child.” In a racially charged incident such as this, no innocent-until-proven-guilty or justice-under-the-law existed for enslaved people. Kenneth goes on to report that, “The negro was burned by the citizens on the spot which the crime was perpetrated.” He continues to relate Negro crimes: one attempt to cut the throat of a white man, two negroes engage in murderous conflict. He follows this with the opinion that the “North has become conscience stricken at the servitude of the Ethiopian,” but that has little influence in the South except perhaps to incite slave insurrection. He writes that abolitionism has “implanted in the bosom of Southern people a feeling of contempt and disgust which if not eradicated by generous sentiment and feeling, will terminate in strife and bloodshed.” It would be a decade of this attitude that would culminate in war. In fact, Kenneth returns to this topic in an 1860 letter when he announces that the Governor of Mississippi has requisitioned all organized militia to come to rendezvous at the Capitol because he fears a copy cat John Brown type insurrection. Kenneth contends this:

It would be madness in the extreme

in any Patriotic heart to wish to blast

the foundation of a government

like this, but the intriguing demagogues

and fanatics leaders now in power

as has been the case for years past have

been by degrees undermining the prin

ciples of power which they cannot

reestablish — Kenneth McKenzie

Loss of Barbara McKenzie

In 1855, Kenneth had taken up the task of writing that his mother, Barbara, is ill and near death from what was probably oral cancer. He wrote touchingly of his youngest brother, John, keeping vigil at his mother’s deathbed. It may be that she had been troubled with this cancer for some years as a result of tobacco use. About four years earlier Kenneth wrote that he had tried to quit using tobacco. He had chewed for thirteen years, beginning about a year after the family moved to Mississippi. Ultimately, he failed in his attempt during 1849 but may have been forced to quit during the time of his war service. He describes his early attempt to quit:

I threw the chew I had in my mouth

out taking in no other for over 2 months,

inflammation seized my stomach and lungs

I used every precaution to shun …

and I am now nearly well in the time my

mind became touched or rather lit up quicker

and more sensitive than usual or at

least I imagined this to be the case, my Eyes

have been very sore for several weeks, in fact

some of the time I could scarcely see, they

are better now I hope on the mend — Kenneth McKenzie

After this description and the hopeful news that he is feeling better, he writes in the left margin before mailing the letter, “I have commenced using tobacco which perhaps I shall continue I fear to undertake to quit.” It is possible that service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War may have cured him of this habit, since I imagine chewing tobacco was scarce.

During the near decade since the death of their father in 1847, the McKenzie brothers had remained together supporting their mother on the farm. With Barbara’s loss, the brothers began slowly to follow their own paths. Kenneth seems to have been the brother for whom Barbara’s loss was probably most acute. Anchor-less, without the subtle direction in the presence of a parent, Kenneth’s inability to focus on his future likely intensified up until the outbreak of war, which temporarily settled his future.

Young Adult Years

In May of 1849 at nearly age thirty, Kenneth reveals his lack of focus particularly his indecisiveness about employment. He mentions that Daniel is busy teaching school, Duncan and Allen are strong and able farm workers, Hugh enjoys his wagoning and John is also working in the crop. As for himself he says, “I am at nothing much yet what perhaps I am best fit for.” He follows this with a decision not to join the rush for gold in California because he is looking for something less “laborious” and “arduous.” His Uncle Duncan has suggested  a mercantile business. Kenneth’s excuse is a lack of capital and that he does not wish to work for another. Kenneth grew up on a distaste for what his father disparagingly called “wage working.” Kenneth concludes that, “I am necessarily bound to kick along the best I can,” as if his own actions and decisions had little to do with the matter.

In spite of competition from migrants from the northeastern states anxious to engage in the occupation of teaching in the South, in 1845 Daniel proposed to Kenneth that he try teaching school. Kenneth does but soon quits. Their father assesses the difference between his third son Daniel and Kenneth, the oldest. Daniel, he says, has some experience dealing with people out in the world, but Kenneth reveals himself as, “downright candid plain and honest in sentiment and but little acquainted with the wiley ways of the world but he must learn.” By April of the same year Duncan McKenzie writes, “Kenneth has abandoned his profession of school teaching having served three months, he alleged that it did not agree with him and has come on home to follow the plow.”

When Kenneth turned twenty-one and his younger brother, Hugh, turned nineteen, their father saw fit to give them title to some of his property, anticipating that the young men might prove themselves worthy of making the land prosperous. Duncan McKenzie writes in June of 1841, “Kenneth and Hugh are to have the title of the lower place on condition of their good performance.” It is possible that they did well enough, for land near Duncan’s is in Kenneth McKenzie’s name in 1841. Another parcel of land in Covington County is owned by a Kenneth McKenzie in 1859.

Kenneth was about thirteen when the family moved to Mississippi from North Carolina. Much of his youth then was spent working hard on the farm in between bouts of what his father called Kenneth’s, “rheumatic affection.” From time to time this would keep him out of the fields, though he managed likely to pull his weight and enjoy the pleasures of hunting on the farm. It is Kenneth in June of 1843 who flushes the “tiger” out of the woods that Duncan shoots. Duncan encounters the animal, likely a panther, after he, “heard Kenneth encouraging the dogs smartly.” Kenneth, as mentioned before, took pride in his ability to shoot.

If Kenneth’s life in Mississippi seemed unhappy to him, it was likely due to his own attitude and lack of direction. The war years do not appear to have given him greater direction in his life but perhaps the experience mellowed his outlook.

Kenneth’s Revelatory Testimony at Owen McLaurin’s Will Probate

Among Kenneth’s many first cousins in Richmond County, NC, both McKenzie and McLaurin, his interactions with his cousin Owen McLaurin offer the most revealing factual evidence that exists of Kenneth’s life there. By 1873 at fifty-three years old, he had been in the state for ten years. He had been helping his Uncle Duncan McLaurin with some of his business, living on his Uncle John McLaurin’s farm, where he helped out as well. His Uncle John unexpectedly died in 1864. John’s death was followed by the deaths of all of his children, two daughters in 1867 and his son Owen in 1869. 

On February 14, 1873 Kenneth receives a subpoena signed by Daniel Stewart, Clerk of the Superior Court (CSC). Kenneth is called to appear before the CSC in Rockingham, NC in the lawsuit brought by Duncan McLaurin before his death against John Stalker and his sister Effie Stalker McLaurin, executor and executrix for the will of Owen McLaurin, Effie and Johns’ son. Kenneth’s presence on the farm and the knowledge he might have had about the financial status of the farm at Owen’s death is the reason he was deposed.

Kenneth was not the only person on the written subpoena. It is also addressed to a Lydia Gibson, known in the testimony as Lydia Leak. Evidently, she had been a slave on the McLaurin farm for all or most of her life. She claimed in the testimony to have been “raised” by John McLaurin.

We have access to Duncan McLaurin’s reason for contesting the Stalkers’ execution of Owen’s will. An account written by Duncan McLaurin exists in the Duncan McLaurin Papers. He titles this account, “A true statement of the feigned friendship of John Stalker the Brother in law of my Brother John McLaurin so far as regards his pretended assiduity to my Interest is concerned.” In this document Duncan McLaurin accuses John Stalker and his sister of taking possession of John McLaurin’s property after his death and denying that John had ever made a will. He also accuses the same of usurping property Owen had purchased after he returned home.

In addition, it was generally believed and written in Owen’s will that Owen sold his father’s land to keep it from being confiscated by U.S. federal authorities. When the war ended shortly after the death of his father, Owen did not come directly home. He had been in the service of the Confederate military and feared confiscation of his deceased father’s property, so he elected to live for a time with his McEachin cousin in Canada. Duncan McLaurin’s account confirms that Owen had sold property for three thousand dollars to his cousin Duncan McEachin, who lived in Ontario, Canada.

Owen returned from Canada some time around 1865 and began overseeing his family property. In addition to farming the property, he was involved in the business of hauling cross-ties for the railroad, purchasing wagon gear, two mules, and a horse for this purpose. Some of this property, Duncan claims, has also been assumed by John Stalker. Owen owed Duncan McLaurin one hundred dollars but was only reimbursed half of that supposedly because Owen did not leave enough property to fully cover his debts. Owen also leaves his personal effects to his mother to do with what she will with a stipulation to send the value of some of his personal property to the woman he intended to marry in Ontario, Canada, Jennie McKay. Duncan accuses the Stalkers of using the small value of Owen’s personal effects as the greater evidence of the value of the property. Also the Stalkers apparently  attempt to use Sherman’s raid through the area to make it appear that the property was worth less than it was. By March of 1865 Union General William T. Sherman had captured Savannah, Georgia and had begun burning his way to Fayetteville, NC on his way to capture Richmond, VA. The area of Laurel Hill near Gum Swamp, NC did not escape Sherman’s path. Much property was burned including large amounts of cotton. However, some was saved, this included six bales on the Owen McLaurin’s family farm.

In his will Owen specifically requests that his Uncle Duncan leave any property intended for him to his cousin Hugh McCall, for he is most deserving of it. The story behind this request is that Owen wished, along with his uncle, for the McLaurin family farm known as Ballachulish to stay out of the hands of certain relatives. Some of Owen’s cousin’s had been openly ungrateful for the sacrifices their Uncle Duncan had made for them. This might have included Kenneth but more likely included Isabella Patterson’s sons, who had been openly ungrateful for their Uncle’s sacrifices. It is likely that Owen knew the history of this conflict.

Kenneth’s testimony in the Owen McLaurin probate hearing in the Superior Court of NC begins on October 21, 1872 after “being duly sworn.”

The first question asked of Kenneth is what property remained on the John McLaurin farm after Sherman’s raid swept through. He is also asked how he came to know this information.  Kenneth responds that, “It was mostly my home up to September 1864.” September 1864 is evidently when Kenneth joins the Confederate military again but in North Carolina. After April of 1865, Kenneth had returned from his short time in the military. April would have been the month after the raid, so he was able to describe what was lost. Kenneth continues to list in some detail the property still on the farm including livestock, farm equipment, household items, and corn and cotton that could still be sold.

Question three asks Kenneth to explain how he was so closely acquainted with John McLaurin’s property before and after the raid. Kenneth answers:

I come on a visit to the country. My

Uncles John & Duncan McLaurin wished

me to stay here in this country. John Mc-

Laurin offered to board me while I would

stay and superintend Duncan McLaurins

business. I took up their offer. This is

the reason I was so intimately acquainted

with the property after I quit living at Johns I frequently went there

and staid as long as I pleased and attended

to the stock and made myself as useful as I

could there were nobody but women there when

Owen was gone. — Kenneth McKenzie

John McLaurin and Effie Stalker McLaurin had three living children in 1863 when Kenneth arrived in North Carolina. It is interesting to note here that Duncan McLaurin, during the late 1850s, had been writing to his relatives in Mississippi requesting that someone, perhaps one of his unmarried nephews, might be available to come to NC to help him manage his affairs in his old age. Kenneth’s Aunt Effy McLaurin, unmarried and living with her brother, had died in 1861 and remembered Barbara’s progeny in her will. A receipt found among the Duncan McLaurin Papers is evidence that in 1863, Kenneth received his portion.

In answer to what he knew about Owen deeding his land to his cousin Duncan McEachin in Canada, Kenneth replies that Owen’s purpose in conveying the land to his cousin was to avoid confiscation. Kenneth continues to reveal that Owen had made an offer to Kenneth. His impression was that he would “hold” the land until the danger of confiscation was over. Owen, according to Kenneth, must have been under the impression that Kenneth was an “ante-war man.” That, of course was not the case. The land in Kenneth’s hands would have been just as much in danger of confiscation.

Other information we learn about Kenneth in his testimony is that he went into the Confederate Army from NC, “about the first of September 1864. He also reveals that when he realized baled cotton remained on the farm, he made an offer to Owen to buy the cotton at fifteen cents a pound. Evidently, Kenneth was receiving income from some endeavor. However, Owen sold the cotton to someone else. Kenneth appears to have been keeping up with the price of cotton because he is ready with an answer when asked. He admits seeing the evidence of the Yankee raid and the “heap of cotton” burned but was also cognizant that some property escaped burning. When asked how long he had stayed at the McLaurin farm, Kenneth replies, “I staid under this arrangement during his (John McLaurin’s) life time from Dec 1863 to Sept 1864. I was there a great deal after the raid up to Owen’s death.”

When asked if his Uncle Duncan had talked with him about the pending probate hearing of Owen’s will, Kenneth replied that he had. However, when asked if his Uncle Duncan had offered him anything if he was able to recover something from the estate, Kenneth readily stated, “He did not He didn’t fulfill the promises already made to me.” When asked about earlier promises Kenneth replied, “He promised to give me a tract of land that he didn’t give me.” This answer was followed by asking if Kenneth had sued his uncle in Superior Court for the property worth fifteen hundred dollars. He replied that he had, that he was the only witness on his own behalf, and that he had received nothing from the litigation.

Under cross examination Kenneth is asked again under what terms he was working for his uncle. Kenneth replies that he, “was to take charge, make a support for Uncle Duncan and Aunt Polly (Mary) and I was to have the balance that was made.” Kenneth adds that he never received the “balance,” and that was the subject of his lawsuit.

Evidently, Duncan McEachin visited the area and left in the fall of 1867. This was about the time Owen was talking to Kenneth about preventing confiscation of his land. It is important to note that Kenneth was honest about his inability to hold the land due to his own service in the Confederacy. To have family land in his possession would have meant a great deal to Kenneth.

Lydia Leak’s testimony at the litigation is very short and is not consistently recorded word for word. Others who testified as to Owen’s property were L. Ross Hardin, who sold Owen the wagon gear, mules, and horse for the cross-ties hauling, a business that Owen shared with Gilbert M. Morrison. Owen’s cousin Hugh McCall, who inherited Duncan McLaurin’s Ballachulish property, also testified at the hearing and stood in for his Uncle’s interest. McCall’s testimony provides the larger portion of the information. In the end it was found that John Stalker and his sister had inherited enough property to pay all of Owen’s debts, and John Stalker was required to do so.

JohnFairlyProbate1887
A lost deed calls into question the transfer of a tract of land from Duncan McLaurin. This has resulted in a dispute over ownership, which requires the possible heirs of Duncan McLaurin to be notified. Listed here are his nephews, nieces, and some of the children of those deceased by 1887. Kenneth is listed here, indicating that he may have been still living in 1887.

Though the testimony Kenneth gave at this hearing outlines Kenneth’s activities from the time he left Mississippi in 1863, it does little to reveal whether or not he is the carpenter living alone in the 1880 census or whether he finally did purchase land at Gum Swamp.

JFairlyProbate1887
Advertisement for the John Fairly property hearing in 1887, which lists Allen as the only living of Duncan McLaurin’s McKenzie nephews. Kenneth is not listed here, though his name appears in the actual report of the litigation.

The last information I have found regarding Kenneth is his being listed in a probate hearing of the estate of John Fairly, to whom Duncan McLaurin had sold some property. Evidently, a lost deed had caused some contention over who actually owned this tract of land. The estate record in North Carolina Superior Court of September 1887 lists all of Duncan McLaurin’s heirs who might have an interest in the property. All of the living descendants of Duncan McLaurin’s married sisters are listed. The list includes Kenneth and his brother Allen, though the heirs of their deceased brothers were listed with “names and places of residence unknown.” Daniel had died in 1861, John in 1865, Hugh in 1866, and Duncan in 1878. However, the news clipping in the Fayetteville Observer announcing this same Superior Court hearing does not include Kenneth’s name. Unfortunately, we are left wondering if he was alive or deceased in 1887.

 

 

 

SOURCES

Barrett, John.”Sherman’s March.” NCpedia.2006. Accessed 11 December 2018. https://www.ncpedia.org/shermans-march.

Bridges, Myrtle N. Estate Records 1772-1933 Richmond County North Carolina Hardy – Meekins Book II. Brandon, MS Genealogy Room. “Duncan McLaurin – 1872,” “Effy McLaurin -1861,” “John McLaurin – 1864.” Franklin, NC Genealogy Publishing Service: Angier, NC. 2001.

Bridges, Myrtle N. Estate Records 1772-1933 Richmond County, NC Adams – Harbert Book I. Tennessee State Archives. “John L. Fairley – 1862.” Franklin, NC Genealogy Publishing Service: Angier, NC. 2001. 412, 413.

Census Record Year: 1880; Census Place: Stewartsville, Richmond, North Carolina; Roll: 979; Family History Film: 1254979; Page: 406A; Enumeration District: 173; Image: 0295. Kenneth McKenzie.

“KMcKenzie.” Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Serve in Organizations from the State of Mississippi. Fold3. https://www.fold3.com/image/72254105. Accessed online 23 May 2016. Original Source: National Archives.

Letters from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 29 April 1847, May 1847, 17 September 1847, 16 December 1847, 14 October 1848, 11 December 1848, 1 May 1849, 29 July 1849, 14 September 1849, 13 April 1851, 19 April 1855, 29 December 1856, 15 September 1857, 1 November 1857, 1 January 1860, 11 July 1860, 23 October 1861, Undated Letter probably 1861 or after. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letters from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. April 1837, June 1839, March 1842, December 1842, June 1843, February 1844, March 1845,  April 1845, November 1845, January 1846, February 1846.  Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan Mclaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letters from Hugh L. McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 5 April 1853, July 1855, September 1859, December 1859, September 1863. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letters from Duncan McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. November 1855, March 1858, October 1858, September 1861, February 1862, January 1863, May 1863, June 1864, February 1867, April 1867. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. July 1862. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John McKenzie to his brother Kenneth McKenzie in care of his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. September 1863. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

North Carolina Superior Court Richmond County. Spirit of the South. Rockingham, NC. 17 December 1887. Saturday. 2. Accessed from newspapers.com 7 March 2017.

Wills, 1663-1978; Estate Papers, 1772-1933 (Richmond County); Author: North Carolina. Division of Archives and History; Probate Place: Richmond, North Carolina. Accessed 4 December 2018. Ancestry.com.

Mississippi Politics of the 1840s: Two Whigs

SouthernReformer
Newspapers were the “arm of democracy,” highly partisan, and intended to spread political messages throughout the United States. Until the 1845 Postal Act the Postal Service considered the spread of democratic ideas and politics their mission. This 1845 Southern Reformer from Hinds County, MS clearly promotes its Democratic party logo at the top of the page in its 1845 publication.

Canal and railroad building, turnpikes and road improvement, steamboats plying waterways, manufacturing growth — all a backdrop to U.S. national politics during the 1840s. Political issues of this decade distracted from and would, late in the decade, fuel what would eventually become the most divisive issue in the nation, the issue of slavery. The decade began with the nation struggling to recover from the Panic of 1837. Banking, tariffs, and territorial expansion dominated political rhetoric. The major political parties of the era were the Whigs and the Democrats. The Whig Party formed during the 1830s, organizing in opposition to Andrew Jackson’s closing of the National Bank. Still, Whig “culture” involved much more than economic ideology. Whigs sought to make society function in an orderly and progressive fashion by promoting commercial enterprises, improved infrastructure, public education, temperance, and an instructive national literature. In general the party supporters were of British heritage and Protestant. Though the abolitionist movement became associated with Whig culture, it would not prevent some southern slaveholders from promoting Whig ideals. Two correspondents in the Duncan McLaurin Papers are Mississippi pro-slavery southerners who call themselves Whigs: John P. Stewart of Franklin County and Duncan McKenzie of Covington, County.  

Resolved
The Tippecanoe Club was a local Whig gathering in Franklin County, MS. Whigs had also taken up the Harrison/Tyler campaign slogan, “Old Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” William Henry Harrison was a hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe, a battle between the U.S. government and Native Americans in the Indiana Territory. Image from newspapers.com.

   

The Whig “Log Cabin” candidate, William Henry Harrison, was nominated for the office of the Presidency of the United States in the summer of 1840. His opponents had dubbed him so in order to convey the image of a man who would rather sit in his log cabin and drink hard cider than work to meet the needs of the people of the U.S. Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler usurped this negative image created by the opposition and made it work for them. In fact, in July of 1840 a Mississippian born in North Carolina, John P. Stewart, writes to his former school teacher and friend, Duncan McLaurin, describing the election fervor in Mississippi. He describes a “Log Cabin Raising” in the Western counties near Natchez. Stewart writes that folks are predicting a close race between the Whig Harrison and his opponent, the incumbent President Martin Van Buren, upon whom the Whigs placed blame for the Panic of 1837. The ensuing depression in Mississippi brought down the price of cotton and had a detrimental effect on property sales. It also spurred migration from that state by those who could not pay their debts when loans were called by the state banks. Though the Whigs have been called the party of the wealthier property owners in the South, Stewart and Duncan McKenzie would not have been classified as such. Their early 1840s letters indicate a decidedly Whig political inclination. John P. Stewart describes the summer of the election of 1840 in Mississippi:

The presidential Election is the all absorbing topic

of conversation and discussion amongst us — Log Cabin Raising

is the order of the day in the Western counties — there is to be

a raising today within 7 miles of Natchez at which there

will be a considerable turn out and display — a cabin is

to be erected on the bluff at Natchez on the 15th proximo

Both parties are organizing in the State for the contest in

November next the battle will be a close one both parties claim

the ascendancy Our Whig Brethren appear to be confident of

carrying the State — But I am of opinion that it will be

doubtful — You know a great many persons can see but one

Side of the question — We have unquestionably gained several

Several hundred to our Ranks but we may also have lost some – John P. Stewart

Duncan McKenzie offers his opinion on the prospects of Whig candidate William Henry Harrison in a July 1840 letter. He says, “I hope Mi — will build her log cabin ere long — There are many old hard headed demos bending under the roof of the hard cider & log cabin candidate.” Evidently, the banking issue and economy in Mississippi is changing perspectives. Mississippi had heretofore predominately voted Democrats into office. 

Coon1840
According to this post, a live raccoon was an attraction at the Nashville Convention. The opinion in The Weekly Mississippian at Jackson in October of 1840 heralds the drowning of Tip the raccoon after the convention. Whether or not the poor raccoon experienced a metaphorical or physical death is unclear.

Apparently, when the Whigs embraced the negative use of the log cabin image, they also usurped the western image of the coonskin cap by making the raccoon a symbol of Whiggery. However, as early as 1834 the word coon was being used to refer to blacks. The source supposedly came from the word barracoon, the name of the holding pens for slaves. The term “coon” would maintain an increasingly racial connotation even after the Whig party, inclusive of abolitionism, disappeared. On the other hand the rooster as the Democratic party symbol has generally been replaced by the donkey or “Jackass.” In the same way, the Democrats of the 1840s usurped the negative Whig description of one of its speakers “crowing” by using the rooster symbol. 

RoosterCoon
On the left the raccoon in the moonlight is clearly touting a positive message for Henry Clay. On the left the raccoon appears to be frustrated that the Democrat Rooster will not crow. John P. Stewart references a political rally during which the Whigs, “threw down the gauntlet,” but the Democrats, “refused to take it up.” from Google Images.

 

Stewart and McKenzie offer some evidence of the growth of political party structure in Mississippi that was rather loose during the early years of statehood. The Whig party, which began around 1834 in opposition to the Jacksonian Democrats closing the Second Bank of the United States, had philosophically shunned party structure, though it was inevitably evolving.

Whigs nationwide had been coalescing in support of a national bank that could regulate currency and tariffs that would raise prices on imported foreign manufactured goods. The idea was to have credit available to start businesses through the banks issuing paper money. This included buying land for commercial farms. In addition, farmers needed credit to put in crops that would not come to fruition for many months. Whigs believed that manufacturers in the North and commercial farmers in the South would benefit from a national bank to encourage banking regulation. Whigs also supported foreign tariffs that would allow domestic manufacturers to compete for the sale of their products. Tariffs would also be a source of revenue to support government infrastructure such as transportation and programs like public schools. In contrast, Southern Democrats were decidedly against tariffs that raised the price on imported manufactured goods. Imports tended to be cheaper without a tariff and sold to a ready market in the rural, less industrial South. Other Whig supported issues did find a following in the south. Among them were temperance, availability of mental health institutions, public education, and transportation improvements. The abolition of slavery, supported by the national Whig party, would not significantly divide southern from northern Whigs for another decade or more.

Democrats also were generally inclined nationwide to follow Andrew Jackson’s negative attitude toward a national bank. Democratic President Andrew Jackson issued his Specie Circular executive order in 1836 to combat inflation caused by land speculation and easy credit in purchasing land in the new western states, including Mississippi. According to Christopher Olsen, “President Jackson’s Specie Circular and the Deposit Act leveled the state’s (Mississippi’s) financial house of paper.” The Specie Circular required metallic currency in payment for federal land, and the Deposit Act distributed money made from federal land purchases to the states. However, the amount Mississippi received of this federal money was insufficient to cover the amount the banks had loaned. As a result the state banks were forced to call in loans. Panic followed when state banks began demanding that loan payments be made in metallic currency. Upon issuance of the circular, people also began hoarding metallic currency, eventually making it scarce. In addition, with scarce sources of metallic wealth, the amount of actual gold and silver on hand in the United States would have difficulty covering the demand nationwide. When people could not pay back their loans, banks failed. Depression followed.

Until the early 1830s, about the time Duncan McKenzie migrated from North Carolina to Mississippi, the state had one bank. The number had grown to around fourteen by the Panic of 1837, according to Clifford Thies author of “Repudiation in Antebellum Mississippi.” In 1837 the Brandon Bank and in 1838 the Mississippi Union Bank were created to stabilize Mississippi’s economy. The Union bank had been authorized by the Democrat Governor A. G. McNutt, who gave the bank authority to issue five million dollars in bonds. When the price of cotton did not rise as expected, the state tried to render the bonds worthless and stopped interest payments. McNutt preferred repudiation of the state bonds, but others in the state fought to make payment. The issue of whether or not the state would “repudiate” its debt at first enjoyed some party fluidity with elements of bond-payers and anti-bonders in both parties. In their correspondence Mississippians Duncan McKenzie and John P. Stewart appear to have supported bond payment as a moral matter that placed the state’s reputation on the line.

WhyRepudiate
The Natchez Weekly Courier in 1843 published this decidedly Whig opinion of why many favored repudiation of the Union Bank’s debt. Notice that Hanson Alsbury is “now a citizen of Texas.”

This was the issue that enthralled Mississippians in the first half of the 1840s. It was argued on one side that repudiation of the debt was the only answer since the people of Mississippi would never support the taxation needed to pay off the bonds. In contrast, others argued that repudiation was morally inept and would ruin the economic reputation of the state if their creditors, both domestic and foreign, went unpaid. The repudiation argument crossed party lines and did not cause any significant partisan divide between Whigs and Democrats. By the mid-1840s the question of Mexico would, for a time, unite the people of the state against a common enemy. However, the term Locofoco begins to appear in the Stewart and McKenzie correspondence during the early 1840s. The moniker referred first to a Democratic party faction in New York City that was anti-Tammany Hall. In Mississippi the term seems to be used more loosely in the correspondence as a more derogatory term for Democrats in general.

John P. Stewart in July of 1840 describes the effects of the banking and Specie Circular difficulties in Mississippi. He says the people of Mississippi in general do not wish to have an exclusive metallic currency. He explains, “if the Bank paper was driven entirely from circulation I do not believe (whether) one half of its Citizens could pay its debts.” Stewart deems it reasonable and justified by his own experience, “That the same policy that would suit a poor man would suit nineteen twentieths of the people of all classes.” He goes on to explain that “an exclusive Metallic Currency would suit only rich men that are out of debt, an animal in this State properly classed as rare aira (rare air).” The Democrats, or what he calls, “the illegitimate offspring of democracy called Locofocoism,” in his view simply do not understand the economic problems.

In September of 1840 Duncan McKenzie mentions an upcoming “Whig barbecue on the 9th of next month at which there will be some speech making &c.” Evidently the Whigs are getting much more support in the state. In December, after the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison defeated Martin Van Buren in the presidential election, McKenzie says, “There appears to be a stimulant in all kind of business and trade, whether attributable to the overthrow of Vanburenism, we suppose it is.” He disparages that his home state of North Carolina has been, “led by the childish whims of John C. Calhoun who has veered to every point in the compass save that which was right.” McKenzie appears to relish Democratic disappointment: “the locofocos here (in MS) hang their lips and look as if all was not well with them.”

However, Whig glory of prevailing in the presidential election was short-lived, for Harrison died of pneumonia about a month after his inauguration. His successor was Vice-President John Tyler, setting the precedent of vice-presidential succession. Tyler found favor with neither Whig nor Democrat. The president at first appeared to support Whig interests except for Henry Clay’s national banking act. Clay, known politically as “Harry of the West,” was a centrist. Duncan McKenzie takes a shot at Tyler in June of 1841 when he writes, “I hear an ill omen, it is this that President Tyler has placed his veto (of) the Bank which if true has blasted the hopes of the American people.” It had been the hope of the Whigs that Harrison’s administration would be able to create a new national bank. McKenzie goes on to predict that Tyler will betray southern Whigs by allying himself with the abolitionist faction of the party. In October of 1841 McKenzie writes, “The present President has done more to break down the Whig cause in Miss — than all the Presidents that preceded him, query is he a knave or a fool or is he tinctured with both.”

In December of 1841 John P. Stewart writes that the anti-bond party (Democrats – the party of A. G. McNutt) won the election with a large majority, giving them a majority in both branches of the Mississippi legislature. Whigs, however, were able to elect a Secretary of State. Stewart also accuses and disparages some Democrats of changing their positions from bond-payers to repudiators when they felt the political wind blowing against them. In contrast, Stewart praises the Democratic nominee for governor, who favored payment of the bonds. His party’s lack of support did not inspire this particular nominee to change his politics. Instead he declined to run if his party would not support him. As a result of his political honesty and authenticity, this candidate had been voted into the legislature as a bond payer.

Stewart continues to explain which socioeconomic groups were bond-payers or were repudiators, “It is a singular fact that all the large taxpayers were almost universally in favor of the payment.” On the other hand, he continues, the people who were not taxpayers were, “almost unanimously opposed to it.” At this point Stewart is hopeful that the bonds will be paid despite the anti-bond majority in the legislature. According to Stewart, the Mississippi legislature led by the Democrats passed, “a string of Resolutions denouncing the Bankrupt Bill the Distribution bill the loan bill and approved the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.” He explains that the Whigs wanted a separate vote on each bill and walked out when this did not happen. The legislature did not put the Union Bank into liquidation.

Economic conditions in Mississippi declined after the banks in New Orleans failed. John P. Stewart writes, “We have arrived at an exclusive Specie currency in this state since the fall of the New Orleans Banks.” Some he says that were opposed to banks issuing paper currency now believe that paper is better than no currency at all. Specie was rare in the state, and Stewart quips that folks are saying, “By Jones … Specie is good but Divil a bit of it can we get & it is better to have even Brandon money than no money at all.” The Brandon Bank, the Mississippi & Alabama RR and Banking Company at Brandon, MS, was supposed to improve transportation infrastructure by building a railroad from Jackson east to Alabama. In the end the bank became too overwhelmed with loans to planters when the price of cotton failed to recover. The Bank’s cashier had “Gone to Texas.”

RogueBentonsMintDrops
“Rogue Benton’s Mint Drops”

Mississippians during these years resorted to bartering goods rather than using currency since any type was very scarce. Duncan McKenzie writes in July of 1842 that, “all the Banks of Miss are dead long since … and specie is not sufficient in circulation to pay postage and a fair specimen of Rogue Bentons Mint drops.” “Rogue Bentons mint drops” likely refers to Missouri U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton’s proposal of the use of metallic currency instead of paper money. Common metal tokens were unofficially circulated in mockery of the use of specie. John P. Stewart says of specie that it, “has mostly fallen into old Stockings and Misers chests and will there remain without doing any service to the owners or any person else.” Stewart continues to describe the prices of property and hiring:

We have no fixed value for property amongst us — property

generally has fallen fifty per cent in price within the last year

the prices of Negroes is nominal they will not even sell on a

credit to punctual men — I am apprehensive that the worst times

have not yet come — White laborers can now be hired at about six dollars

per month only half of the wages they could get at the hardest

times for getting money before this season. – John P. Stewart

Perhaps due to prevalent hard times caused by Democratic administrations both local and national, the Whig party maintained a Mississippi contingent. Since the Whig party supported the interests of business, it received strong support in the Natchez District, the home of a number of plantation owners. These wealthy men not only had an interest in the business of growing and exporting cotton, but often had other northern business interests as well such as manufacturing or shipping. Thus, John P. Stewart mentions a Whig publication in Natchez, The Natchez Courier. The opposing Democrat leaning paper in the area was The Mississippi Free Trader. By July of 1840 and likely due to the depressed economy, the newspaper that supported the Democratic cause was out of business in Natchez. The Whig Natchez Courier just barely hung on, though it managed to survive:

The Natchez Courier a Whig paper published in the hot bed

of Aristocratic Whiggery had a hard struggle for its life at the

time of death of its opponent they were so hard run for printers

that the Editor although not a practical printer had to put his own

Shoulder to the wheel. – John P. Stewart

Duncan McKenzie, in 1840, also mentions a small newspaper called The Snag Boat that was printed in the office of The Raymond Times. Evidently Duncan reads the Times as he describes its editors as, “the best Whig writers of the county.” A. K. McClung is singled out of this group by McKenzie.

Repudiation of the state debts was front and center in the 1843 Mississippi governor’s election. Stewart indicates that three candidates for governor were an anti-bond Democrat, a bond paying democrat and a Whig. The anti-bond candidate and the Whig were campaigning together. Stewart claims the Democratic party was divided into three factions: one that seeks to repudiate all state bonds, a second in favor of repudiating the Union Bank and the Planters Bank bonds, and the third is in favor of paying both. McKenzie, in a letter of the same year, agrees with Stewart’s assessment. Stewart accuses the repudiating candidates of ignoring the state bond question and campaigning on national issues, though the bond payers apparently will not leave the issue alone. He reports that a Democratic repudiating editor was killed by one of his own party. Apparently, Stewart is referring to Dr. James Hagan, editor of The Vicksburg Sentinal, who supported Governor McNutt and the Democrats. The young man who shot Hagan was tried and acquitted on a claim of self-defense. Stewart also writes that a, “repudiating State Treasurer ran off last spring with some $54,000 of the dear peoples money.” He probably refers here to Mississippi Treasurer Richard S. Graves, who was impeached and arrested for accepting federal funds in his own name that were meant for the state. He was jailed for this but escaped disguised as his visiting wife. His wife later joined him in Canada but returned to deliver treasury warrants, treasury notes, and gold to Governor Tucker. The amount Stewart references here is likely the part Graves did not return. Years later R. S. Graves and his wife were denied a forgiveness request to return to Mississippi.

During 1843, Duncan McKenzie’s letters continually bash the “Locofocos” and praise the Whigs as the morally superior party. In a much more dramatic rhetoric than Stewart, McKenzie writes the following:

you congratulate me on the prospect of our states throwing

off the shackles of dishonesty which she fastened on to …

by her repudiation. query will an acknowledgement at

this late hour wipe off the infamy from the vile party whoes

measure it was, in fact it is only a drop from the buckit

when compared with the mass of corruption nursed and

Cherished by the same foul sordid Locofoco party, …

it is true there are many a sordid wretch in the whig ranks and

occasionally we promote a treacherous one but I am proud

to say that as a party their measures are honest and will

bear the test of experience … god save the state and curse the demagogues.

-Duncan McKenzie

Regarding Mississippi politics, in 1844 Duncan McKenzie offers another reason that the Whig party continued to receive support in the South. Temperance is one of the Whig cultural values that apparently survived the party into the twentieth century. McKenzie also references the perceived moral superiority of his political inclinations when he says in partisan rhetoric, “you also know that the Locos are fond of liquor … you know they (Locos) call the Whigs the decency party and of course they claim the opposite to which they are welcome and I verily think entitled.” As for Mississippi’s temperance politics, he also mentions that Locofoco H. S. Foote is going to make a political speech nearby. Foote is the former author of the Gallon Law, a law restricting alcohol consumption. McKenzie points out that Foote was a Whig when the law passed but is now a Loco, supporting its repeal. During the summer of 1845 McKenzie says, “Temperance meetings and speeches even barbecue are frequent and many are signing the pledges, in fact dram drinking is becoming quite unpopular throughout this region of country.” This did not, however, indicate that the Whig political party was prevailing in the state. According to Daniel Walker Howe, author of The Political Culture of the American Whigs, “there is a striking contrast between the brief life of their party and the lasting influence of their culture.” It was a culture that promoted an educated, moral, and religious populace capable of promoting business, economic stability, and justice in the nation.

In national politics of 1843 the Whigs in Mississippi, “with very few exceptions are in favor of Harry of the West (Henry Clay),” writes John P. Stewart. However, he also indicates that opinions on particular issues sometimes cross party lines, “Some few of the Free Trade Whigs I believe would support Calhoun but there are more National Bank Democrats than Calhoun Whigs.” As regards the 1843 election of Judges of the Court of Appeals, Stewart laments that Mississippi in its Constitution of 1832 required the election of members of the judicial branch:

Many of those formerly in favor of elect(ing) the

Judges by the people have become convinced that the system will not answer

it will not do to have Judges dependant on the will of the people for their offices —

Many of them electioneer whilst on the bench I have seen them do it

– John P. Stewart

John P. Stewart was elected Circuit Clerk of Franklin County, MS for multiple terms of office and would likely have had the opportunity to observe judicial activity. Not only did the electioneering of judges distract from from deciding issues based on the law, but the banking situation in the state might have been more efficiently regulated and dealt with had public political pressure to support repudiation or not been taken out of the equation. Judges then would be free to focus on the letter of the law. Stewart’s inclination to distrust an elected judiciary is shared by writer Clifford Thies in “Repudiation in Antebellum Mississippi.” Thies also says that in the end Mississippi was the only state in the Union that repudiated its debts, though others may have had similar or worse debt resulting from the nationwide economic depression.

During the summer of 1845, John P. Stewart spent about a month in Tennessee and Kentucky and was present at the Whig convention in Nashville. He comments, “I could hear of nothing but politics and political meetings wherever I went.” He considered himself, “a pretty strong Whig,” but was glad to leave the excitement. He comments on the inability of the Whigs to get the “Locos” to engage in debate, “The gauntlet was thrown down constantly by the Whigs but never taken up.” In Mississippi and Louisiana the Whigs were charging the Democrats with illegal voting, “There were about 5 to 6000 votes more poled in this state in 1844 than 1843 when there was a larger vote poled than ever was before — the increase was greater than either the natural increase or the increase by immigration.”

President James K. Polk, Democrat, took office in March of 1845. John P. Stewart writes of Polk’s nomination, “Davy Crockett first gave him notoriety when chairman of the committee of the Ways and Means by comparing the committee to a gimlet handle big in the middle and little at both ends.” Stewart goes on to say that Polk’s nomination was probably the best of the Democratic candidates and expresses amazement that the North, even some abolitionists, supported the Texas platform. As the depression waned in Mississippi towards the latter part of the decade, the annexation of Texas as a United States territory was a political issue that would serve to awaken the controversy over slavery in the territories. Generally, Whigs were opposed to the annexation of Texas because of the slavery question, but southern Whigs may have opposed it for other reasons. Duncan McKenzie and his Louisiana cousin Duncan Calhoun expressed opposition because they feared that distant states would be difficult to govern, that federal authority would be stretched too far. Some of them likely followed Clay’s argument that Texas should be acquired without war. Nevertheless, after Polk was elected and war inevitable, Mississippians, Whig or Democrat, tended to support the war. The number of recruits willing to fight far exceeded the quota allowed Mississippi by the federal government. Known as “The Great Compromiser,” Henry Clay was opposed to the Mexican War from the beginning and suspicious of the grounds for it. His own son lost his life in the war.

McKenzie, in 1846, writes his opposition to the annexation of Texas: “… in the first place the annexation of Texas to this Union was positively inconsistent with the laws of honor, and secondly our claim on oregon to the 49th line of No Latitude is presumption unparalleled in the history of free government.” He continues to express the cowardly compromise with the British over the Oregon territory and the bullying war instigated with a weak country like Mexico:

The glorious compromise on the Oregon

dispute is in reality the cause of much thanksgiving … but

I ask in the name of common sense where is the cause of such puffing is it in our cringing

before British power … when we saw the old

lyon raise his mane we next expected to hear him roar which would paralyze our nerve

to avoid which we made the inglorious compromise …

Mexico is only responded to by the roar of our cannon, such is the glory of our age to bow to the strong and crush the weak – Duncan McKenzie

In 1848 John P. Stewart writes of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ending the Mexican War. He says it, “has been ratified by the Mexican Congress and that cotton has advanced a cent per pound in consequence thereof.”

War or no war, no matter what the political news of the first half of the nineteenth century, it traveled at much less than twenty-first century speeds. In 1845 Stewart had mentioned a change in the postal rates. Prior to 1845, letter rates had been high, but newspapers could be sent through the mail at little cost. Conceivably, if you could get away with sending your letter tucked in a periodical, the postage cost was very little. Evidently, by 1848 the mail service had not improved in Mississippi and the classification of postal rates for periodicals had not hastened their journey. Stewart writes in a conversation about receiving their copies of the Whig Washington D.C. based newspaper, The National Intelligencer:

You complain in your

last of the time you receive your National Intelligencer — Why my

dear Sir you have no right to complain — I have taken the Triweekly

Intelligencer for the last twelve years or more and I have not received

more than a dozen numbering all that time in a less time than

two weeks and very frequently three weeks or a month after they

are printed We have only weekly mail and it is frequently the case

that I do not receive an Intelligencer by a mail and again sometimes

a dozen – John P. Stewart

Increasingly, during the 1830s, provocative abolitionist literature mailed to southerners was being censored in states such as South Carolina, though the federal government outlawed censorship. The original purpose of the Post Office was to promote democracy through dissemination of political information in newspapers and periodicals. Thus, from the beginning, those items enjoyed lower rates. The higher rates for letters, averaging around twenty-five cents per letter, subsidized the postal service. This all changed with the passage of the Postal Act of 1845. Letter rates were lowered and periodicals were classified and rated accordingly. The purpose of the postal service was becoming oriented toward general correspondence.

Stewart continues to describe the new telegraph lines that he believes will be “very little advantage to us although there will be four stations in less than fifty miles from us — the nearest one will be twenty five miles.” He mentions that the newspapers are full of the controversies among rival telegraph companies: “The O’Reily lines and the Morse or Kendall & Smith line — both of which will pass through Jackson our Capital Natchez and Vicksburg … both parties claim to be the real Simon pure and to have the best batteries.” Such was the status of the arms of national political news near the end of the decade of the 1840s.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of the mail, by 1848 Mississippi Whigs are still organized, though John P. Stewart indicates even his own inclination to give some support to John C. Calhoun. Perhaps this change in the political winds is a result of the rising temperature of the debate over slavery, a national storm which would continue to escalate into the next decade. With Mississippi’s cotton economy beginning to make the recovery that would continue up until the Civil War, the state would lean more decidedly Democrat and pro-slavery. Nationally, Whigs supporters would generally support the Republican Party.

In 1848 John P. Stewart takes measure of his Mississippi Whig party, writing that, “The whigs of this state are at present divided in opinion although a majority are in favour of Gen Taylor … Old Harry of the West still has his friends but he has been beaten so often that a majority of the Whigs … are disposed to rub him off the track.” The next line Stewart writes may be indicative of the waning Whig party in the state, “So far as I am concerned I would be perfectly willing to run old Cal again did I believe there would be a prospect of his success.” It is Calhoun’s pro-slavery, state’s rights stance that was becoming increasingly a part of the antebellum Democratic party. In 1848 Stewart is of the opinion that “there are at least twenty Whigs in the United States,” who would be preferable to Mr. Henry Clay, perhaps indicating a move away from Clay’s centrist positions. Nationally, the Whig party would elect Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore to the presidency of the United States before it was done.

During 1848 John P. Stewart traveled to know the country and gauge politics. Anticipating the national election, Stewart made the trip to Ohio and Kentucky to partake in the political activities. He was in Louisville, KY at the time of the election of the Democrat Governor John J. Crittenden. According to Stewart, Crittenden favored the nomination of Zachary Taylor over Kentucky native Henry Clay on the Whig ticket. Nevertheless, Crittenden won the governorship as a Whig and would use his bully pulpit as governor and as a congressman to denounce talk of secession. Indicative of the political divide in Kentucky, one of his sons would eventually serve the Union and another the Confederacy during the Civil War.

On this same 1848 trip Stewart traveled to Ohio, there he apparently encountered an array of political forces including, “Taylor whigs, (Lewis) Cass Democrats, Van Buren free soil democrats. free soil whigs, Abolitionists National reformers or the doctrine of any man voting himself a farm &c.” The Free Soil party formed after the Mexican War and the failure of the Wilmot Proviso over the issue of slavery in the territories acquired in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Free Soilers supported what they saw as the more ethical and economically more feasible system of free rather than slave labor in the West. Evidently, Stewart listens to an “itinerant free soil lecturer.” According to Stewart, the speaker “abused” Zachary Taylor, the Whig nominee for President; Lewis Cass, a Democratic contender; and “John C. Calhoun came in for a large share of his abuse.” The speaker also disparaged “honest John Davis of Massachusetts,” accusing him of being pro-slavery and defeating the Wilmot Proviso. This speaker also accused northern Whigs of, “having formed a coalition with the Southern dealers in human flesh.” Perhaps this Free Soiler was emphasizing the shared economic interests of pro-slavery, cotton-producing southerners and manufacturers and shippers in the north. Stewart continues by describing this Free Soiler’s opinion of the balance of power in Congress:

He charged that a Southern Slave holder owning

five hundred Slaves exercised as much influence in the government

of National affairs as three hundred and one white men. – John P. Stewart

This may have been an exaggeration of numbers on the Free Soiler’s part, but his argument had some basis. Before the Civil War, the “three-fifths compromise” in the U. S. Constitution allowed slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person in figuring representation in the House of Representatives. This had for decades given the South an edge in Congressional power. Stewart continues by attempting an argument against this point. Stewart says that the Free Soiler forgot to mention that “free Negroes” in the Northern States are counted in figuring representation even though they have, “no more political rights in his own and all the Western free states than our slaves.” Perhaps John P. Stewart was unaware of the small number of free Blacks in the North compared to the overwhelming number of slaves in the South.

General Taylor, in spite of the Free Soilers and other factions, would probably receive Ohio’s vote, according to Stewart. The free states are, “almost unanimously opposed to the extension of slavery in the territories.” After Stewart’s return to Franklin County, Mississippi, he expected that General Zachary Taylor would in all likelihood get the Franklin County vote. Franklin County borders Adams County and would probably have had a Whig majority of voters, since it is in the Natchez area. Indeed, Whig Zachary Taylor was elected and took office on March 4, 1849. Whiggery would by the mid-1850s be absorbed into the Republican Party that elected former Whig Abraham Lincoln.

In the last surviving letter John P. Stewart writes to Duncan McLaurin in 1848, he reveals his own opinion on the slavery issue. His particular stance on slavery as a necessary evil allowed him to remain supportive of the Whigs. Unfortunately, Stewart died in May of 1858. Any correspondence he might have written to Duncan McLaurin after 1848 has not survived in this collection. It is likely that he would have been a Unionist as many more prominent Whigs were in 1860. His opinion, however, does not seem to stray far from what was probably the opinion of many southern Unionists, Republicans, and even many abolitionists in the United States in 1860.

In 1848, according to Stewart, political opinions in his state ran the gamut. Apparently attitudes did not seem as polarized as they would become a decade later. Stewart contends, “We have men here of almost of every class of politics — We have ultra pro slavery men Some few opposed entirely to slavery some acknowledging it an irremediable evil &c … Henry Clay was denounced as an abolitionist and so was every man that would acknowledge Slavery an evil.” He goes on to describe the opinions of one political speaker: “every man was an abolitionist that would not agree with him that Slavery was instituted by our Creator for the benefit of the African that by Slavery the African was civilized and Christianized That the African race is inferior to the white in intellect.” Stewart cannot fathom this position and continues to explain his own attitude towards slavery as an evil but a necessary one. He acknowledges that slave labor is not profitable in the newest states, but says this is a small portion of the nation. Stewart also believes that if a master takes his slave into free state, he must abide by the laws of that state that would consider him free. He says, “It is true the Constitution of the United States and the laws passed under it tolerate the institution (of slavery) but never have established it.” Stewart believes that the issue should be decided according to “local laws.” His opinion is further explained in the following excerpt from his 1848 correspondence:

For myself I consider slavery an evil but would consider it

a greater evil to free them and leave them amongst us — They would not then have

more political privileges than they now have as slaves and would have no protection

It is true some few would rise above this but such would be the case with the greater

portion of them — The races cannot exist together as equal one must be subservient

to the other and of course I am in favor of mine maintaining this ascendancy.

I have no conscientious scruples against  holding them in bondage and my only

reason of favoring the sending them out of the country would be the benefit of the

whites. – John P. Stewart

Two issues manifest themselves here: one is slavery and the other is racism. Stewart is arguing that slavery is evil but necessary. Though he may believe that the dark-skinned African people are capable human beings deserving of freedom, he does not believe in the amalgamation of the races. Apparently, he has bought into the 19th century common fear of “the other.” He sees the black man as a threat to white ascendancy, believing that one “must be subservient” to the other. The American Colonization Society was founded upon this fear of the amalgamation of the races. A large portion of the nation’s white people would continue a century and more beyond to “love people from a distance” as long as they were not a threat to racial purity or political power.

Evidence exists that other Whigs in Mississippi held similar views, though McKenzie and Stewart differed in socio-economic status from the stereotype of the “Wealthy Whig.” Stephen Duncan, a prominent Natchez Planter of the Whig Party was the founder of the Mississippi Colonization Society. Duncan became one of the wealthiest planters in the state after migrating from his birthplace of Pennsylvania to Mississippi in 1800. He eventually left his medical practice for the more lucrative prospects of cotton planter with interests in northeastern shipping and railroads. In addition, he was a president of the Bank of the State of Mississippi and founder of an Agricultural Bank. According to Martha Jane Brazy writing in The Mississippi Encyclopedia, “By the eve of the Civil War, Duncan enslaved more than twenty-two hundred men, women, and children on more than fifteen cotton and sugar plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana.” He supported the colonization of African-Americans in Liberia because he believed in gradual emancipation. This, he reasoned would allay the fear of many southern whites about the growing slave population and also limit crop overproduction. No documentation exists that he ever freed any of the enslaved people he owned. He was a Unionist against secession, blaming the South for starting the war. In 1863 he left Mississippi for New York and never returned. William K. Scarborough writes in The Mississippi Encyclopedia that Stephen Duncan billed the Confederate government for $185,000 dollars in losses.

From the correspondence of Duncan McKenzie and John P. Stewart, we recognize thoughtful and informed voters of the nineteenth century. Perhaps McKenzie’s words expressed a bit more passion in contrast to Stewart’s more reasoned tone. However, their words illustrate the conclusion of author Daniel Walker Howe: “What people felt is an important part of what happened to them, and unless we understand how they felt, we will not understand what happened.”

Sources

Brazy, Martha Jane. “Duncan, Stephen.” The Mississippi Encyclopedia. ed. Ownby, Ted and Charles Reagan Wilson. University Press of Mississippi: Jackson. 2017. 368-369.

“The Coon Are Dead.” The Weekly Mississippian. Jackson. 16 October 1840. 1. Accessed at newspapers.com. 1 November 2018.

“Democratic Motto.” Southern Reformer. Jackson, MS. 29 November 1845. 3. Accessed at newspapers.com. 1 November 2018.

“Franklin County Returns.” Natchez Daily Courier. 12 November 1853. 2. newspapers.com.

Henkin, David M. “An Excerpt from The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America.” University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 2006. 15-14. Accessed on 1 November 2018 at https://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/327205.html

Howe, Daniel Walker. The Political Culture of the American Whigs. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 1979. 3-5, 7, 10.

“John C. Calhoun 1843.” The Guard. Holly Springs, MS. 30 August 1843. 3. Accessed at newspapers.com. 1 November 2018.

Letters from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 4 July 1840, 24 September 1840, 15 June 1841, 8 September 1841, 26 October 1841, 24 July 1842, 29 August 1842, 6 August 1843, 23 September 1843, 10 February 1844, 20 August 1844, 5 July 1845, 16 June 1846, 24 August 1846. Boxes 1&2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letters from John P. Stewart to Duncan McLaurin. 30 July 1840, 22 July 1841, 10 December 1841, 24 March 1842, 31 August 1842, 9 August 1843, 11 July 1845, 8 June 1848, 14 September 1848, 30 November 1848. Boxes 1&2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Olsen, Christopher J. Political Culture and Secession in Mississippi: Masculinity, Honor, and the Antiparty Tradition, 1830-1860. Oxford University Press: Oxford. 2000. 34.

“Resolved.” The Natchez Daily Courier. 7 July 1840. 3. accessed 22 March 2017. newspapers.com.

Scarborough, William K. “Natchez Nabobs.” The Mississippi Encyclopedia. ed. Ownby, Ted and Charles Reagan Wilson. University Press of Mississippi: Jackson. 2017. 912-913.

“Senator Thomas Hart Benton.” Necessary Facts. https://necessaryfacts.blogspot.com/2018/03/senator-thomas-hart-benton.html. 11 March 2018. Accessed 3 November 2018.

Thies, Clifford. “Repudiation in Antebellum Mississippi.” The Independent Review, v. 19, n. 2, Fall 2014, ISSN 1086-1653. 2014. 191-208.

“Why They Repudiate.” The Natchez Weekly Courier. 23 August 1843. 4. accessed 24 June 2017. newspapers.com.

“Word Origin and History for Coon.” dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper. 2010. Accessed at https://www.dictionary.com/browse/coon. 3 November 2018.

The 1840s: Agriculture and Weather

cottonblossom
Cotton blossoms in Leflore County, MS in early August of 2018.

Today I listened to news of Carolina farmers rushing to gather and protect crops ahead of Hurricane Florence presently targeting their coastline. Early nineteenth century farmers would not have had this luxury. The tools for accurate weather forecasting simply did not exist in the 1840s. In order to track each year of the decade’s growing seasons, I have chosen to present the agricultural content of each letter by date. In some seasons a portion is missing, so each season is not necessarily presented in its entirety. It may be that letters were not written, were more likely lost in the mail or did not survive in the collection. Weather events were far more unpredictable one hundred and eighty years ago.

However, economic storms such as the Panic of 1837 resulting from over speculation in cotton and slaves and enhanced by President Jackson’s Specie Circular, may have had some positive effects on Mississippi agriculture. Before 1837 and the resulting depression that lasted nearly a decade, Mississippi farmers, both small and large, had little incentive to conserve their land, to diversify their crops, to innovate, or to farm self-sufficiently. When the price of cotton fell dramatically, many farmers, who survived with property in tact, began to rethink their reliance on the cash crop.

Producing Cotton in Mississippi

The McKenzies had grown a variety of crops on their farm since 1833, but their staples were corn and cotton. Generally, cotton demanded a grower’s attention from the time it was planted until harvest. Duncan probably planted his cotton with a one-horse plow that would open a furrow in previously broken ground. Someone with a bag of seeds over the shoulder would follow placing seeds in the furrow. Another with a hoe would commence covering the seeds with soil. Some farmers used a harrow or heavy block of wood pulled by a horse to cover the seeds. Duncan may have been able, with his work crew of possibly two or three of these three worker groups or “gangs,” to plant as much as five to ten acres a day, if every worker could have been spared to be in the cotton.

After the cotton plants sprouted and began growing through April and July, the labor was intense and unceasing. The plants had to be thinned about eighteen inches apart. To grow properly, the plants had to be free of weeds, which required people in the fields with a hoe or a plow to weed and keep the soil loose around the plants. By 1840 plows were evolving that would easily weed the cotton.

The Petit Gulf variety of cotton developed on the McNutt plantation in Rodney, MS that became widely productive in the state went on sale in 1833, the year the Duncan McKenzie family migrated to Mississippi. 

PetitGulfCottonAd
Petit Gulf Cotton advertised in The Mississippi Free Trader of Natchez on Thursday, 1 May 1840, page 1.

This variety was a hybrid of the Mexican variety that produced big bolls, easily detached during picking. The Petit Gulf hybrid solved the problem of the bolls detaching by themselves, before picking, which ruined the cotton.

Cotton gins were also improving at the beginning of the 1840s due to manufacturing of gin parts in the north. According to John Hebron Moore in his 1958 Agriculture in Ante-Bellum Mississippi, a complete gin in 1800 cost the farmer about “twelve hundred dollars in the old Natchez District.” However, by 1837 the price had been halved. Large planters might have a gin on their farms about, “forty by sixty feet.” Duncan describes the gin they built in 1844 as having “rafters 23 feet from heel to shoulder.” He marvels at its size. Small farmers and most farmers in general used horse driven gins and presses. Only the largest plantations could afford to experiment with steam driven gins. The cotton had to be ginned to remove the seeds, and often a cotton press was placed in the gin house to combine the work of the horses to drive both machines. The cotton was “pressed” into a cylindrical or rectangular form. Probably the McKenzies’ cotton by 1845 could be pressed with several workers managing the screws that forced a type of piston into a box of cotton lint, pressing it. The box was lined on the inside with cotton hemp that would then be tightened and secured over the cotton. When released from the box, the cotton expanded, securing the covering around the bale. The size of bales by the time McKenzie establishes his gin could reach 400 to 500 pounds. Baling the cotton was time consuming.

Getting the cotton to market, or to the place where it would be sold, was generally done by wagons hauling the bales over gradually improving primitive and rutted roads, so that it could be loaded onto boats or ships. Evidently, during the 1840s Hugh takes the McKenzie cotton and that of others to ports such as Mobile, AL; Covington, LA; and directly to New Orleans. New Orleans was by far the busiest and most used cotton exchange. Some cotton that was not sold, was kept in a dry place either in seed or ginned and baled to be sold later.

Corn, Other Crops, and Livestock

McKenzie’s second staple crop, corn, was the second most productive crop in Mississippi and provided food for people and livestock. Corn was grown often in two crops per season. The first crop was planted in March or April so that it was harvested while the cotton needed less attention. Much like cotton, corn was planted in raised rows and worked with the hoe afterward to reduce weeds. The late crop was usually planted in May and left standing in the fall. It was usually gathered during the winter months. The corn blades or leaves as well as ears were used as fodder for livestock. Cotton seed could be used as fertilizer for corn acreage and cowpeas planted in between the cotton rows grew on the corn stalks. After harvesting the corn and after the peas ripened, sometimes a farmer would allow livestock to forage in the field on the corn leaves and peavines. In addition the peavine shaded the soil protecting it from  the heat of the sun. It also helped prevent erosion.

MOcornfield
During the 1840s a Mississippi cornfield would not have been as closely planted as this 2015 Illinois field. However, this decade brought more thoughtful husbandry.

During the depression years that began in 1837, corn underwent little change. Some farmers, who could afford to do so experimented with planting corn closer together. The practice had been to plant and thin so that wide spaces were left between plants. Supposedly this practice conserved soil nutrients. However, in experiments on Mississippi farms, it was discovered that their yield was improved when planted closer together. Experimental breeds of corn did not catch on in the state during this period.

Generally, fruits and vegetables were grown for personal and local consumption, but were not commercial crops. Likely, the McKenzies grew sweet potatoes on their farm as did most farmers. During the depression years Mississippians were saving cash by producing their own food and clothing.

Their early pigs were similar to “Arkansas Razorbacks” and did not cost much at all to keep, since they foraged in field and forest. During the 1840s farmers in the state, who could risk it, experimented with raising different breeds. Duncan McKenzie begins during the decade of the 1840s to preserve his pork and sell it.

AgriculturalNP1840s
Regular newspapers were not the only source of agricultural news in Mississippi. Southwestern Farmer, published in Raymond, MS was one of the handful of Mississippi agricultural publications. This list appeared in the Vicksburg Tri-Weekly Sentinel on Friday, June 5, 1845, page 3.

The end of land speculation encouraged farmers to take better care of their land. Agricultural publications and local newspapers spread the news of innovative farm practices and advertised improved farm implements. For farmers who were solvent enough to weather the initial economic crisis, improved farming practices and implements would lead them to recovery by the end of the decade of the 1840s.

(Since the authors of these letters were not always consistent in the presentation of numbers and the use of decimals, one must make a reasonable estimate in quoted material.)

The 1840 Season

19 February 1840: Duncan McKenzie reports that his corn is “tolerably plentiful” in spite of the drought. They also “fatted and killd” more than “3:000 lbs pork,” though “there is not demand for the surplus of corn or pork.” On more than one occasion during the 1840s the family will rely on their corn and pork to sustain them during hard times or a bad cotton year. This 1839 cotton crop Duncan has sold, “as usual in seed at 2 3/4 ct per lb.” He goes on to say that the amount sold was, “unusually small” and “only 11:000.” He attributes the small quantity to the drought during the growing season. By way of comparison, John Hebron Moore writes that, “the price of New Orleans cotton began to climb rapidly in the fall of 1833, reaching sixteen cents a pound in 1834 and twenty cents in 1835-36,” quite a drop to less than three cents a pound, of course Duncan was referencing seed cotton. Ginned cotton in 1839 probably brought a higher price but not up to pre-depression levels.

However the weather in February of 1840, which may bode more favorably for planting, is wet and warm.

26 April 1840: By April most of the planting has been done, and the only thing on the farm that is not up are the potatoes, for which he may not be able to make a “stand.” By this time, “the wheat has shed the bloom,” and looks satisfactory. They are done planting and plowing all of the corn. The cotton has grown so that it is, “now fit for the plow and hoe,” and adds that there is, “as good a stand of both corn & cotton as I would wish. In other words the planting season is going well so far.

4 July 1840: By July Duncan McKenzie is complaining that the “rains with us have been verry light but beautifully calm, neither storms hails or heavy rains have been seen here this far this season.”

On the other hand, in the same letter he reports that the Natchez tornado, “was awfully destructive both to human life & property.” This storm did significant damage, likely to both crops and humans on specific farms, some of the most productive plantations in Mississippi. Little information is available to estimate human life that may have been lost on plantations. He continues by adding that there are at least 300 missing and 263 found dead by drowning or by the falling of houses and timber. He reports its direction was southwest to northeast, which would put the tornado passing well west of Covington County, not close enough to do any damage at all to the McKenzie farm.

The Natchez Tornado: May 7, 1840

Duncan McKenzie’s farm was about 116 miles east of this storm when it hit Natchez on May 7. Since Natchez remained the most economically and agriculturally productive area in the state of Mississippi during this decade, its fate was of interest to everyone. Natchez, a bustling river port, was known even then for its fine buildings and architecture.

On the eleventh of May, the Mississippi Free Trader published an article in an extra about the May seventh storm entitled, “Dreadful Visitation of Providence.” On this Thursday people were going about their business despite the “growling” thunder and lightning. Just before two o’clock, many were having lunch in their homes and the downtown hotels when a deep darkness descended upon them. Soon sheets of heavy rain, “in cataracts rather than in drops,” began to fall. Buildings began to shake. The air became filled with flying debris: “chimnies, huge timbers torn from distant ruins.” After three to five minutes of this “wrath” the sky began to lighten. Survivors witnessed horrific destruction through stormy weather that hovered over the city for about a half hour more. From the Mississippi Cotton Press in Natchez to the Vidalia ferry in Concordia Parish, Louisiana on the opposite shore from Natchez, the tornado had torn a swath over two miles wide. Its path was erratic from east to west, and in places chose to wield its destructive force at random, leaving “a mansion called the ‘Briers’ … but slightly injured” while another, “the ‘Bellevue’, and the ancient Louisiana forest in which it was embossed into a mass of ruins.” The path encompassed the bustling Mississippi River port known as the Landing, that saw major loss of life:

At the Natchez Landing on the river the

ruin of dwellings, stores, steamboats, flat boats

was almost entire from the Vidalia ferry to the

Mississippi Cotton Press. A few torn fragments

of dwellings still remain, but they can scarcely be

called shelters. — Mississippi Free Trader   

Natchez on the hill homes were significantly damaged – two churches lost their steeples, another the entire roof. The Vidalia Courthouse was destroyed, a Parish Judge at dinner in another’s home was killed instantly. In Natchez some people were dug out alive from the ruins of the Steam Boat Hotel, including the landlord, though eleven dead were removed as well. The newspaper office was in shambles but recovered soon to publish. Planter’s Hotel located on the bluff was, “blown down the precipice,” likely with many souls. The City Hotel opened its doors to the homeless and wounded. The Tremont house was opened as, “an additional hospital.” Slave gangs were volunteered by their owners, “to assist in clearing the streets and digging the dead from ruins.”

NatchezTornadoToll
An article similar to this one published in the 21 May 1840 edition of the Mississippi Free Trader in Natchez was likely the source of the tornado death totals reported by Duncan McKenzie.

The worst damage and loss of life took place at Natchez under the hill and the Landing, where an unusual number of flatboats were docked. The port of Vicksburg about seventy miles north of Natchez had very recently imposed a higher tax on docking flatboats, which had sent many of them further south. According to Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters published in 1858, of 120 flatboats 116 succumbed to the storm, which caused water to rise ten or fifteen feet. The steam ferry boat at Vidalia sank as well as the Mississippian, a wharf-boat which served as a hotel and grocery. Several steamboats were destroyed: the wreck of the Hinds supposedly washed ashore at Baton Rouge with fifty-one bodies still aboard – “48 males 3 females one 3 year old girl.” However, this total is questionable since the Hinds was not reported to be carrying nearly that number of people. The Prairie from St. Louis had its upper deck destroyed. The H. Lawrence and a sloop were damaged but not sunk. Evidently, they were docked on the edge of the storm’s path at the Landing.

Most of the dead reported were boatmen, many of whom were from distant locations, making identification difficult. Many were never recovered, so over the years the death toll has stood at from three hundred to four hundred, with less than one hundred of that total killed on land. The total damage at first tallied at a bit over a million dollars but soon rose to five million when the disruption of commerce and destruction of recently planted crops was considered. Crops could be replanted, but much labor had to be diverted to the cleanup. Indeed, the Natchez Landing lagoon was still not cleared by June 11. Evidently, rubbish and bodies of both beasts and humans, had gathered at this spot in the river port  and served to create, “a most unhealthy fluid.” The Mississippi Free Trader article ends with a call to clean up for, “the health of those who are obliged to transact business near such a Stygian pool.”

John Patrick Stewart of neighboring Franklin County, MS assures Duncan McLaurin in July of 1840 that his vicinity received no damage from the tornado. However, he had visited Natchez only days after the storm hit and wrote, “it was almost literally a heap of ruins.” He adds that it is usual to exaggerate such events, but he is not using hyperbole when he describes the site of the tornado:

Several of the largest buildings were swept almost

level with the earth the foundations literally torn up, on the

Louisiana side of the river was a forest of trees and so far as the

tornado extended west not a tree or even leaf was left — All that

remained standing was a few leafless stumps. — it is not yet known

how many lives were lost as they were mostly boatmen and

Strangers — John Patrick Stewart

As late as July 28 of 1840, dislocated people were still estranged from relatives. The article, “Lost Children” in the Natchez Daily Courier, makes a plea to the relatives of two injured boys who lost their father at the Landing. Apparently, good samaritan A. H. Parsons of Natchez took the young boys under his wing. Their father, Mr. John Brown, died at the Landing while waiting to board a steamer bound for St. Louis. The children’s names are John Riley Brown and George McDuffie Brown, their father a “stranger to Natchez.” Their grandfather, James Hicks, lives in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. Parsons is hoping that this article will be republished in the South Carolina and Georgia newspapers in hopes of contacting family.

Not long after the tornado, the Mississippi Free Trader in June describes a storm that panicked many, since it came up the Mississippi River. A tornado did not result due to the restoration of the “atmosphere to an equilibrium which prevented a repetition of the fatal effects of May 7th.”  Duncan mentions other storms that passed through near them, “one of those storms passd at some 12 or 15 miles distance I am credibly informd that some of the hail remains undissolved 20 days after it fell, it was in places drifted to the un exampled depth of 30 inches.” Perhaps he means three inches, to be more realistic. Still, the type of weather described suggests a threat to crops, even though the storms appear to have been localized in particular areas. Without the luxury of forecasting, the destructive tornado had made people anxious.

______________________

McKenzie’s crops during this growing season appear to be doing quite well despite the storms in surrounding areas. He describes the corn on his and surrounding farms as “quite low but the culls is good and it appears to be earring tolerable well.” He adds that if this continues, “there may be a plenty of corn made in this vicinity.” He also remarks on how well the cotton looks and that for the season it is, “heavy bowld I saw on the 4th June a parcel of blossoms that being 10 days earlier than usual for the bloom to make their appearance.” The corn appears to be thriving too, “there were some roasting ears found on the 11th June from the common corn.”

BadenCornAd1840
Baden corn was advertised in The Southern Sun at Jackson, MS on Tuesday, 25 February 1840 on page 3.

One only has to look at the ads in the newspapers of the day to realize the temptation to try some “new” sort of seed. Duncan, a rather cautious farmer, mentions a few. He says some of his neighbors have tried “the baden corn it does not as well as it was represented, we also have the Ocra or twin seed cotton, I think that is another humbug.” He hopes folks won’t mix it with the “genuine cotton seeds, that have been cultivated to such advantage and extent.” The “genuine” type of cotton to which Duncan refers here is probably the “Petit Gulf cotton” which was developed by Dr. Rush Nutt around 1820 on his Rodney, Mississippi plantation. By the 1840s it would have been in widespread use, known as the seed that grew the “white gold.” It is a short staple cotton.

OkraCottonSeedAd1840
The Okra cotton was advertised in the South-Western Farmer of Raymond on 11 February 1840 on page 4.

The American Farmer’s Encyclopedia of 1858 says the Petit Gulf variety, “is not only of finer quality but more productive and easily gathered.” About the Alabama “okra” cotton which Duncan McKenzie mentions, the Encyclopedia says, “It grows too tall, and is liable to fall down.” However, this can be remedied by cutting the tops to about four feet, which causes a greater density of bolls. Cotton is very labor intensive in the first place, and adding the labor of cutting the tops off of an entire field of cotton would make it less desirable. Its advantage is that it may open early, avoiding the danger of the bollworm. The Encyclopedia contends that it is, “in fact, an improved Petit-Gulf seed.” The okra cotton gets its name due to its stalk which looks like the okra plant of the hibiscus family.

Since horses were essential for transportation, the horse-drawn plow, and providing power to machinery such as the gin and press, horses were extremely valuable to people in the early 19th century. Duncan mentions a “cane horse which was drove from SC in 1819.” He had purchased this horse upon arrival in Covington County. He remarks upon her longevity, saying, “She is now fat and full fleshd.” He has now, “eight of her stock.” Ironically, little evidence exists that Mississippians experimented with the breeding of horses or mules during the 1840s, though experimentation with other breeds of livestock was prevalent. Though mules were commonly used on farms, they were generally purchased from Tennessee and Kentucky rather than produced in the state.

Duncan ends his July 4th letter by describing the weather the last few days as, “remarkably warm.”

26 September 1840: The bollworm or heliothis arminger makes its appearance in this letter at the end of the growing season. According to the 1904 U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation into the bollworm,  it caused great damage to Florida cotton in 1841, Alabama cotton in 1847, and Mississippi cotton in 1850. Evidently, McKenzie’s crop has escaped much damage in 1840 due to the weather. The most damaging part of the worm’s life cycle occurs usually in August, but cooler weather will slow the pest’s activity. He mentions that some of his neighbors have been left with significant damage. His only luck here was the timing of the worm’s arrival in his field. This type of worm is common in other plants such as corn and tomatoes, suggesting that crop rotation may not slow the worm’s presence. Duncan McKenzie’s major crops were corn and cotton. Few resources were likely available regarding the best ways to protect a crop from this worm and, indeed, many other pests of the day. Some rank this worm’s threat to cotton as second only to the boll weevil, which was not detected in the United States until 1892.

Corn crops are tolerable good cotton together

with being injured by the drought is in many

places eaten up by the worm or caterpillar,

the first I saw of them in ours was this week

consequently they will not injure it much, but in

many places they had eaten every leaf off 3 weeks Since

they commenced in Louisiana on the Miss River — Duncan McKenzie

24 December 1840: By the end of the year, the McKenzies are wrapping up their crop. Duncan explains that they have been hauling the cotton to the gin, a time consuming process. He says “four bales have been carried to the gin.” His son Hugh, who enjoys driving a wagon and sometimes hauls neighbor’s cotton too, has taken the ginned cotton to Mobile, where it sold for almost 9 cents per pound. Duncan claims to have sold the rest of the eight bales “in the seed” at 2 cents per pound.

The 1841 Season

22 March 1841: Duncan McKenzie begins this letter with a story about the threat of fire. About a week before writing this letter, he says, “when I was collecting my scribbling instruments there appeared a Smoke in an eastern direction.” The fire threat apparently seen by McKenzie was to his fences. They stood vigil, “the blowing (of the wind) firing and watching continued almost incessantly until yesterday.” It is possible the fire was intentionally set by a neighbor burning fields in preparation for a new crop. In fact, The American Farmer’s Encyclopedia of 1858 suggests that burning is the best way to rid a cotton field of the “rot.” The author of this particular article seemed to think that the rot was caused by something living on the plant and that plowing it under would only ensure its return. Indeed, years later the Bacillus Gossypium Stedman would be discovered as the source of the disease.

Duncan has already “listed” the acreage he will be planting in cotton during the 1841 growing season as, “between fifty and sixty.” He says they are farming at a new place that he has purchased. They are, as usual, also planting, “12 or 14 (acres) in corn and from 20 to 35 in oats,” on a 440 acre tract. He describes this land to his brother-in-law by comparing it to land they both know in North Carolina, saying it, “resembles in appearance the land lying on the road North West from L (Laurel) Hill … East of the head of Leeths Creek only more mixed with short straws pine oak & Hickory.” He continues to admit that though it is not the richest land around, it is preferred because it is perfectly level in about 80 acres.

He describes a choice piece of property on which there is already a dwelling and “barn, kitchen, smoke house and negro cabins.” It also has a gin house, but the cost he says is prohibitive for him at this time. It is owned by a widow who has moved away. Her lowest price is $600 dollars.

15 June 1841: At this point the agricultural season is in full swing. The McKenzies are “pushing along with our crop, we have commenced laying by the corn which looks pretty well tho rain would help.”  Both rain and hail can be very damaging to crops, particularly cotton, so it is not surprising that Duncan laments damage recently done to his corn and cotton. However, his neighbor, Duncan McLaurin, Jr. received “awful” damage to his crop from wind and hail. Later, he talks to this same neighbor who tells him that about thirty acres of his cotton is ruined, “the stalks that were from knee to half thigh high are thrashed down to stubble not a leaf or lim left.” His corn did not escape damage either, mostly from hail. McKenzie is optimistic about his own corn crop which he and son Daniel have been working. Also working in the fields are the younger children on the farm, “Allan & the two oldest of the black children are going a little after us, we leave it perfectly clean, and Johny,, is sowing pease a head of the plows.” Earlier Hugh, Kenneth, and Dunk were working with others in the cotton. Apparently, this is far enough away that they must stay overnight. Hugh comes home and reports, “it is full wet to work, the rain fell in torrents on Monday,” resulting in the field being covered with water. The corn that is planted in this place seems to be doing well, while the corn closer to home has been thirsty and looking wilted. McKenzie is also growing other grains such as wheat and oats. The wheat has escaped the “rust.” Oats were damaged first by lack of water and then by wind, rain, and hail making them difficult to cut. They saved some for seed and will, “turn in the horses & hogs on them.”

“Johny” may be sewing peas in the corn field. During the depression years of the 1840s it became the practice of farmers raising livestock to set aside some acreage for planting a row of cowpeas to every row of corn. The peas grow and wrap themselves around the cornstalks. After the corn is harvested, the animals are left to forage in the fields. Though Duncan may only have observed the practical positive results, the planting of legumes was adding much needed nitrogen to the soil.

8 September 1841: The corn at the McKenzie place is doing well compared to the neighbors, and their cotton looks well. However, they worry that the rain later in August will damage it: “Fields in which there was not a sprig of grass on the first of August are now covered … with the most luxuriant foliage.”

26 October 1841: They are gathering the crop in “verry fine” weather, though a killing frost on the 24th diminished the prospect of any vegetables. Most of the corn is gathered, though it is “short of the usual quantity.” They have gathered, “some 14 or 15,000 lb” of cotton, which, “appears to be tolerably good there is as much as can be gathered or more.”

Cotton picking generally began early in September. It was hand picked by workers who were given bags that hung over the neck and shoulders. As fast as the worker could pick the cotton, it was put in the bag. When the bags were full, the cotton was generally spread out on a sheet or placed in a basket for hauling to four foot wide scaffolds on which it was spread to dry. To thoroughly dry it, the cotton must be individually turned while on the drying scaffold. Afterwards, it is taken to the cotton house to protect it from rain until the time it is ginned, baled, and sold. Sometimes a farmer would leave some of the cotton as “seed cotton,” sold at a lower price.

The 1842 Season

20 June 1842: Duncan laments the dryness of this 1842 growing season, saying that the last rain fell on Friday four weeks ago, “so you may judge our crops are suffering immensely.” However, as he writes he says there is an “appearance of rain,” and later, “a beautiful rain is now falling.” The cotton does not need much rain in the early stages, but it has had much too little up to this point. The fifteen acres of new ground that he planted late and in corn still looks, “tolerably well.” Their earlier planted corn will likely make only half a crop if enough rain does fall during the rest of the growing season. He mentions the price of cotton in New Orleans is from 4 to 7 cents. It is priced according to quality, and the portion left unsold, “will only pass for a middle quality.”

Evidently, the McKenzie family purchased the land belonging to the widow of Wiley Johnson: “We are to pay her $400 in two equal annual installments … the tract containing 440 acres is to cost us $1055 and not a dollar yet paid but there are 17 bales cotton in the gin to be applyd to it as far as it will go but when bagging & rope freight &c are deducted the net proceeds will be small.” Duncan has also rented out part of his land to a tenant for $125 dollars. Unfortunately the tenant decided to leave unannounced once the planting season commenced. He says, “the alliance is resting and will rest forever ere another straggling scamp shall occupy it.” He has had his fill of tenants at least for the moment. It is evidently a good time for immigrants to that part of Mississippi since, “land with good improvement and undiluted titles can be had at $3 – per acre and in some instances cheaper.” He is ever encouraging friends and family to come to Mississippi just as he was probably encouraged a decade earlier.

24 July 1842: This growing season letter begins with the disappointment of Kenneth’s illness and his absence in the fields which, “opperated materially against the crop” along with the severe drought. At the same time he admits that, with the new land to cultivate, they may have overextended themselves in planting more than they can handle with their relatively small workforce. The drought has, “cut us short many bushels corn & pounds cotton, in fact we undertook too much for our force had it even been more numerous and strong.”

His cotton remains unsold, “except the 4 bales sent off which were sold at 6 1/4 cents per pound. The state of Mississippi’s economy worries Duncan because, “I look on the smallest debt as dangerous in as much as all the Banks of Miss are dead long since.” He admits that the McKenzie family debt is not nearly as great as many of their neighbors, who don’t seem worried about their debt. They, “seem in good spirits.”

29 August 1842: Cotton, peas, and potatoes have been helped by seasonal rain in the month of August, though the cotton and corn were damaged by the early drought. Statewide, however, “there are abundant crops of corn.” As a result, corn farmers all over the state of Mississippi are adamant that corn sell at 25 cents per Bushel, though there is no demand at that price. The market for the new crop of cotton has not opened and the scarcity of “specie” or metal currency will, in Duncan’s opinion, affect the price. They have begun picking their cotton, but the bolls are small making it difficult to gather — even the best gatherers in their field can pick no more than 100 pounds per day.

In addition, the horses on the McKenzie farm are ailing. They are, “dwindling  away with some kind of distemper they look bad and lean and appear as though they were wind broken.” He is afraid some will be lost. They seemed fine in the spring. Though they are eating well, they appear, “lean as pharos cattle and getting constantly worse.” They also have a slight runny nose, a dry cough, and shortness of breath. Usually with distempers, according to Duncan, “a swelling or breaking under the throat,” occurs, but this seems absent. 

Since land is measured differently in North Carolina — in “chains and rods” — Duncan goes to great lengths to describe the more simplified Northwest Ordinance type measurement of land used in the western states:

All the lands in this

state are so near as can be consistently done laid off in plats

of 640 acres, the country was first laid off north & south by

parallel lines 6 miles apart those are calld range lines & counting

East & west from some given point those Ranges are then laid off

by lines East & west 6 miles a part & counting from some

given point north.” — Duncan McKenzie

He continues by giving more specific measurements of his own land and even draws a map showing the location of his land in relationship to others. It is a township map marked off in sections. The 16th section is always reserved land for schools or educational use. Duncan McKenzie’s description follows:

“The number of this tract is the north half

of Section 18 the west half of So East quarter the So west 1/4 of So West 1/4

and the So East 1/4 of South W 1/4 of Section 18 of Township 8 of Range 18 west.

I will enclose the map of the Township with its number & c.”— Duncan McKenzie

Duncan sends the map with an explanation, which I have decided to include here in its entirety.

You will find our land markd DMK in Township 9 and sections

31 and 32 and in Township 8 and section 18 markd

Wiley Johnson in the plat of 320 acres and markd WJ in each of

the other plots of 80 & of 40 acres – This plot is drawn in the

night and I must confess that my Eyes are growing dim yet

not with Standing this plot is correct so far as it is markd

my pen is blunt and I cant See to mend it – DW McKenzie

To DMcLaurin

PS The lot of 40 acres markd KMcK is not granted by government

nor is the money paid for it tho Kenneth has laid pre emption on it

by enclosing and cultivating Some perhaps 20 or 25 acres of it

which under the present act of Congress will Save it for

two years when if there be no application made for it he

will renew his preemption & so on till an application be made

by an other then he has choise enter it or abandon it to the

purchase of the applicant – many persons here have per

Sued the above described plan and have never entered a foot

tho Settled here for many years — Duncan McKenzie

17 September 1842: Duncan reports the rain is so heavy that few are stirring from their homes. This heavy rain has made the cotton dirty despite careful picking. The price of cotton is expected to remain low. They have had a light gathering of corn, though it will be sufficient. On the other hand, the rain will help some of their vegetables, “pease and potatoes also turnips or other fall vegitables.”

9 December 1842: By December, the McKenzies have still not gathered all of their cotton and don’t expect to at this point. Duncan describes an unpicked field after wind and rain, “has beat a vast quantity of it out of the bowls till the field looks as white as tho a shower of snow had fallen.” Much of the cotton on neighboring farms is still in the fields. Generally, crops appear to be “abundant,” except in a few places. The past week’s price of corn is around 18 3/4 cents per Bushel. Good quality cotton, he says, is selling in New Orleans at 6 and 1/2 cents and “inferior” is selling at 3 1/2 to 4 cents.

The 1843 Season

6 June 1843: The “commission merchant” charged with selling Duncan McKenzie’s cotton in New Orleans apparently sold too soon according to McKenzie, “so soon as he was enabled to get 5 1/4 for it he let 21 bales, being all he had in his hands, drop.” However, he worries that the rest of it may not sell as well. This would be, obviously, not the crop he has in the fields this June of 1843.

A particularly harmful rainstorm on the 23rd of April 1843 threatened bottomland, “rolling and bottom lands suffered immensely, soils, crops, and fences in many places were swept,, of by the flood.” Most of McKenzie’s crop this season was planted on level upland, so they did not suffer as much damage. However, of the sixty acres of wheat they did plant in bottomland, they were able to cut some acres of it, around “16 bundles.” Where the water drained off right away the crop was saved. After the rain, the saturated ground “completely hardened.” They have been able to plow the corn a second time since the rain, and the cotton has been, “scraped, thind,, and plowd,,.” They are now in June wishing for rain.

The nearby mills in the area also suffered during the storm with some being completely washed away, leaving a dearth of grain in the area. Meal is “scarce tho corn is plenty.” The family has been enjoying their potatoes more since the shortage of grain.

He ends this letter hopeful that the indications of rain will end the dry streak. They have also decided that they would add “a thrasher to the gin which will probably go into operation this season.”

6 August 1843: After reporting illnesses and deaths of nearby friends and family, Duncan describes the crop as they approach the harvest: “we have at least an average cron crop the cotton is not to be boasted of it having been injured by over much rain.” In describing the cotton, he contends, “the weed is verry large and limbs long & far between joints in fact it is growing out of all reason the most of it being over head high.”

They have evidently rethought adding the “thrasher” to the current gin and have decided to construct a new gin nearer their fields. They are currently “engaged in getting boards to cover a gin house.” He describes the present gin as 34 feet wide by 50 in length. They hope to add ten feet to the length of it so that they can include the “thrasher.”

According to John Hebron Moore, the cost of a gin had dropped after 1837 — in the Natchez district by half, largely due to manufactured parts from the North. Farmers were recognizing the advantage of maintaining several machines under the gin house, decreasing the need for multiple teams of horses to power them. The McKenzie gin was much smaller than the “forty by sixty” foot gins found on large plantations, though he hopes to increase the length to sixty feet to include his “thrasher.” Clearly, Duncan McKenzie is aware of current agricultural improvements and is thoughtful about improving the productivity of his land. Most of his information probably came from reading general newspapers carrying agricultural news and borrowing the few costly agricultural periodicals that were being published in the state.

23 September 1843: By the end of September the weather has been dry enough that the cotton, “is opening fast,” but only a small portion has been gathered due to their effort to hew and haul timbers for the new gin. He laments the “trash” being the only ones available to work in gathering the cotton, and they must be “watched.” It is unclear to whom he is referring as “trash.” It may be that he has had to hire and pay workers to stand in for the slaves, who are helping with the gin timbers. Duncan has a particular disdain for “Hirelings.” However, when it comes time to “raise” the gin house, he has volunteers including “15 of our white & black neighbors.” Of course the black neighbors would be enslaved people of his neighbors (see “Penning His Stories” in this blog).

This letter ends with delineating prices: “Cotton the new crop is Selling from 7 to 9 cents. the old cotton is worth from 5 to 7 corn from 18 3/4 to 25 cents pork from 3 to 3 1/2 cents Beef from 2 to 2 1/2 cents &c.”

The 1844 Season

10 February 1844: This letter brings us to the harvest a year later. Evidently, letters describing the planting and growing seasons did not survive, though likely they were written. This harvest has been particularly good for the “20 acres” they grew of cotton. The 12 bales that were harvested were heavier than usual at around 500 pounds. Hugh, the family waggoner, has hauled cotton to market in Covington, Louisiana and was gone four weeks. Waggoning was a time consuming, difficult, and sometimes hazardous undertaking over primitive roads that could be rendered impassable with a single heavy rain. Since then he has taken two loads and started with the third. Six of the bales were sold in December at eight cents. Just as a matter of interest, in 1894 according to the monthly journal, The Southern Cultivator and Dixie Farmer, a farmer would have paid two cents per bale of cotton to haul it by wagon to the gin or to market.

In February Duncan reports that the weather had been dry and pleasantly cool, but for the last few days the north wind has been blowing making the mornings much colder. Duncan has been working on the new gin house that he touts as the largest on which he has ever worked. The rafters are 23 feet, “from heel to shoulder.” He brags that it is a “splendid thing” as good as any in the neighborhood.

While Kenneth and Dunk have been working with others at cleaning the ground for plowing, Barbara has been inspecting the pork they have hung. They killed thirty hogs ten at a time in three different killings, “Barbara says she thinks it is all safe.” The number of hogs killed will make up for their being smaller than usual. They sold some at 4 cents with the average weight at 150 pounds. He ends by quoting the latest New Orleans prices on the worth of their cotton. Eight to twelve cents per pound is the current rate, “but we never get the highest market for ours … our best is never more than 2nd quality it rates about 11 our 2nd 10 cents &c.”

5 May 1844: Once again the budworm has attacked the corn in the “low places.” In addition a period of drought, about six weeks, has prevented the cotton coming up. However, the corn, “looks tolerably well” in general. Rain or not, they will begin planting the cotton in a day or two.

20 August 1844: They have evidently had some scattered rain, for the crops at the “old place” have not been as affected by the drought as at the “new place.” He also mentions some neighbors’ crops being affected by too much rain. This season of cropping as he describes it has been a kind for which he has, “no recollection of so unfavorable season.” The newspapers, on the other hand, report that “all species of crops & vegitables were forward.” In the end he predicts there will be a “great falling off from the usual quantity on the average.”

The 1845 Season

3 March 1845: Disheartened by making so little off of last season’s hard work, Duncan considered selling his property. However, upon considering all of the hard work his sons had done since they were quite young, Duncan decided against selling. Before they begin the new planting, they must take care of the cotton they have probably held over from the previous season: “Hugh, Dunk, Allan and the rest of us were busily engaged in getting off and ginning the cotton.” This was all accomplished by the 8th February, when they began preparation for the new crop. This growing season they will not plant any cotton, but will rely on corn. The winter was warm and dry, though the spring rain has begun as expected. Farmers in the state generally had relied less upon their cotton crop after 1837 brought a significant drop in prices.

25 April 1845: The McKenzies are a little behind their neighbors in plowing over the corn, because corn will be their main crop this season. They will also grow “potatoes &c.” The absence of sons Kenneth and Dunk to help them prepare the fields has been a factor in deciding against cotton this season. They are still planting on the new place, though Duncan says he had intended to go back to the old place for this season. Evidently, he has decided to remain at the new place despite the fact that the old fields are, “going out of order every year that passes.” This season corn is in demand at 50 to 75 cents per bushel. In addition he says that Barbara, “has as much milk and butter as we can use tho there are only eleven sucklers and most of the calves young.” He ends his April letter in good spirits, “I never have seen the earth so beautifully clothed with grass so early in the season.” One of the moments that Duncan reveals an attachment to the land itself that earlier speculating farmers in the state before 1837 had apparently not felt. They were capable of clearing the land of its trees, depleting its nutrients, selling out, and leaving for another piece of property all in the interest of making money. Speculators could not make money as easily after President Jackson’s Specie Circular. On the upside, farmers were enabled to purchase land at lower prices from the government than they had enjoyed under speculation. Duncan was lucky in his caution not to have been deeply in debt for his property in 1837, as many who were could not pay off their debt with scarce specie. These lost their farms and many left for Texas fleeing their creditors.

5 July 1845: During this growing season Duncan welcomes the rain, which is good for the corn. If he were growing cotton, however, he might worry a little about so much rain this season, “our neighbors are complaining of the wet weather and grass in their cotton, but I like to see rain corn & potatoes will bear a good deal of it at this season of the year.

Duncan laments the waste of good manure. He marvels that they do not make more use of the the farm animal manure to fertilize their crops:  “there is a waste of land manure forage and in fact of almost every thing that you would call precious, I have thot frequently that if we would save our cow manure as careful as we could it would be a source of wealth but the reverse is the case.” Duncan was one of those farmers who read the agricultural news and became more thoughtful about the management of his resources. The Southwestern Farmer from Raymond, MS may have been one of the sources of agricultural news that Duncan came across.

2 November 1845: In the fall Duncan laments that the harvest has not been as fruitful as he had hoped. They have gathered “about 2,000 bushels of corn. Their set price is 62 1/2 cents per bushel, though they may not get more than 50 cents. They have not yet begun digging the potatoes but will begin the next day. The pea crop has mostly been helpful to the hogs.

The 1846 Season

January 1846: The winter of 1846 in Mississippi is colder than usual – “extreme cold … sleets rains and freezes have been constant the ice on standing water will bear a mans weight which is uncommon for this section.” After the short crop of 1845, Duncan worries that “both man and beast” will suffer,” if the unusual weather continues. His consolation is that the states of Tennessee, Kentucky Ohio, and Illinois appear to have produced a bumper crop of grain. Arkansas and Missouri crops have been average. Mississippi’s crop was, “something short in corn & far short in cotton.” Pork, on the other hand, is bringing high prices in what to Duncan is the “northwest,” meaning Cincinnati and Nashville, where he says Boston and New York agents are buying pork to supply the European market. This is further evidence that raising pork is more than a subsistence endeavor on his farm. Pork for Mississippians was almost free of production and labor costs. During the 1840s, a few farmers who specialized in livestock or were well off enough to take the risk, experimented with new breeds.

The McKenzies grew no cotton in 1845 and concentrated on their corn crop, which he describes with some disappointment. It seems he expected to sell his corn as usual for cash thinking those who grew mostly cotton would demand more corn. This appears to have been a miscalculation. He says “we will keep our corn else get money for it, we have sold some at 62 1/2 cents.” It appears that Duncan enjoys feeding his stock generously when he can: “you know some thing about my extravagant manner of feeding hogs especially when the means could be in my power, it was ever my pride to see all my stock fat.” His stock includes, “8 head of horses 10 head of work ones together with 24 head of fattening hogs,” and he adds they “go deep in corn especially when it is plenty.”

Duncan concludes his January letter with an account of their winter work: “some 10 acres of new ground are cut down brush piled & 10 acres more on the stocks.” They have also split and begun hauling fence rails.

16 June 1846: On a happy note the small grain crops in the neighborhood are doing well, though Duncan’s only small grain crop is oats. Wet weather has made the crops of corn and cotton look, “remarkably bad, being over run with grass.” Though the weather appears to be improving, he worries that a drought following the wet weather would be, “equally injurious.”

24 August 1846: The wet weather continues to plague the crops that seem not to have recovered, “Cotton weed is very large and sappy a bad omen for a good crop and with all the army worm has attacked many farms in the neighborhood.” One of those Covington county farms is that of Judge Daniel McLaurin. The worms were discovered, “last Tuesday … since which time they have spread themselves over many of the Dry Creek farms laying everything bear as they go.” On his own farm they appear to have lost their fodder and worry that the worm will attack the “newground fodder” not yet ripened, probable evidence that two crops of corn were planted on the McKenzie farm.

Duncan regrets losing one of his oxen, a “good old servant … one of the first yoke we broke in the country.” He was once offered 120 dollars for the yoke, but he couldn’t do without them, saying they were the best he had ever seen and would not have let them go even if he had been offered more: “the remaining one is moping about in search of his mate lowing about most pitifully.” These words reveal a man of some empathy.

In February of 1847 Duncan McKenzie’s life ended, having produced his last crop and having done all that he could in life.

The 1847 Season

29 April 1847: This letter is written by Kenneth McKenzie after the death of his father, Duncan McKenzie. Kenneth writes this passage about the crops not just because his Uncle Duncan McLaurin would be interested but also to reassure him that the family is carrying on with business in the face of loss. They have planted, “55 or 60 acres in corn, and 50 in cotton tho land is good … We have 30 acres in oats … 5 acres in wheat.” The season, however, has begun dry, so he mentions the need for rain, particularly in cotton and wheat. They are finished planting everything except peas. The cotton has been planted two weeks, but it awaits rain. They have finished ploughing corn the first time and have begun the second.

17 September 1847: The harvest has been generally productive, and Kenneth says, “we will make a fine pile of cash,” since cotton is selling at 15 cents in Jackson. However, he also mentions a “kind of insect resembling a flea,” which is boring holes in the young bolls of cotton. It is spoiling the “late cotton.” They have picked three “verry thick” bales already and estimate that one or two more will be gathered, though they will not likely get a full fifth.  Judge Daniel McLaurin told Kenneth that he would not make any more cotton this year than he made the year before. Kenneth reports that others are, “complaining of their cotton.” Kenneth describes the McKenzie crop of corn as, “good as I have ever seen anywhere.”

16 December 1847: Apparently the continuance of the Mexican War will keep the price of pork up: “If the mexican war lasts and we have luck we will have some of the needful for sale at a high price, otherwise we live luxuriously and give the overplus to those that will not make for themselves.” Kenneth reports that they have, “25 fattening hogs, about 50 pigs, about 30 year old shoats, and 7 old sows.” On the downside, they are in need of purchasing a horse or mule for their next crop, and the price of horses is very high.

14 October 1848: About a year later, the family is putting up 28 fattening hogs with one more, “to put up or kill in the woods.” They have about 15 bales of cotton and 30 acres of corn, about 500 bushels. Peas did not thrive on that particular piece of land, but they have forty acres more that are better. Five cents is offered for cotton in New Orleans.

The 1848 Season

11 December 1848: Once again Kenneth’s mind in December is on the hogs. They have “I think 20,000 pounds of pork this year … 13 hogs which will make near 3000 we have 16 or 17 of smaller size.” He adds that they are only getting 3 1/2 cents for their pork, and they still have corn to sell. Crops in general produced well in “all the variety of vegetation which was committed to the soil has grown and yielded in abundance.”

Kenneth also reports of the desire in the community to build a textile mill or “cotton factory” on Bouie Creek: “The conclusion is to run 1000 spindles 15 looms and employ 50 hands to build the establishment for which purpose a capital of $17,00 is now assigned.” Six thousand dollars has been offered by “a citizen of Jackson.” He says it will begin operations in the coming year or, “vanish as an idle dream.” It most dramatically proved to be an “idle dream.” In 1848 Choctaw County, MS was in the process of actually building a “cotton factory.” States such as Georgia were making a profit off of their manufacturing in states along the Mississippi River. This likely encouraged Mississippians to consider building. Bouie Creek, presumably, would have been a poor place to build. Today the creek does not flow swiftly enough for a 19th century factory’s needs, but perhaps it did then. Undoubtedly, it would have required the building of dams.

The 1849 Season

19 July 1849: This growing season has produced a promising corn crop and the cotton, according to Kenneth, “at a distance appears promising.” However, up close it does not appear to have many blooms. A late freeze in the spring ruined the wheat and other crops. The river bottom crops were an entire failure, “from inundation.” In New Orleans he says the water, “has stood to the depths of 9 feet.”

14 September 1849: The army worm and the boll worm, termed “the Van Buren bug” when it first made its appearance some years previous, have taken their toll on cotton this season. The boll worm Kenneth describes as a, “large green worm,” that has, “nearly taken the making cotton I have seen buried themselves in balls half open.” Despite the worm, he says, cotton is selling in Jackson at 15 cents. Nevertheless, their crop will fall short, “at least 2/3 or more.” He quips, “they (the cotton) will make plenty to eat whether they will make anything to wear.” At this point they have picked about a bale of cotton and one hundred bushels off of 30 acres of corn, which is a disappointing crop.

______________________________

The McKenzies would continue to farm their land in Covington county for the better part of the next decade. After Barbara’s death in 1855, her sons begin to marry and start their own families. Daniel marries Sarah Blackwell of Smith County and purchases his own property. He encourages his brothers to leave Covington county and begin farming in Smith county. They purchase property along the Leaf River. The brothers apparently continue to help one another, though Duncan appears to become the major farmer. His brothers maintain an active interest, but Allen practices the saddler business and Hugh becomes a merchant. Daniel is a practicing physician. By the end of the next decade Kenneth becomes somewhat estranged from his family. John, the youngest, marries Susan Duckworth, whose sisters Martha and Sarah will also marry McKenzies, Duncan and Hugh respectively.

Sources:

Duncan McKenzie’s map of property in Covington county, MS sent to Duncan McLaurin in Richmond County, NC about 1841. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

“Baden Corn For Sale.” The Southern Sun. Jackson, MS. 25 February 1840, Tuesday. 3. Accessed 06 September 2018. <newspapers.com>

“Dreadful Visitation of Providence.” Lexington Union. 23 May 1840, Saturday. 2. from the Natchez Free Trader. Accessed 11 September 2018. <newspapers.com>

Emerson, Gouverneur of Pennsylvania. American Farmer’s Encyclopedia: Being a Complete Guide For the Cultivation of Every Variety of Garden and Field Crops. “Gossypium.” A. O. Moore, Agricultural Book Publisher: New York. 1858. 545-563.

“Good Investment of Charity Funds.” Mississippi Free Trader. 11 June 1840, Thursday. 1. Accessed 02 September 2018. <newspapers.com

>

Land plat showing Hugh McLaurin Richmond county, NC property. 16 March 1814. Legal Papers. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 19 February 1840. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 26 April 1840. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 4 July 1840. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John Patrick Stewart to Duncan McLaurin. 30 July 1840. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 26 September 1840. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 24 December 1840. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 22 March 1841. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 15 June 1841. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 8 September 1841. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 26 October 1841. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 31 January 1842. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 20 June 1842. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 24 July 1842. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 29 August 1842. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 17 September 1842. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 9 December 1842. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 6 June 1843. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 6 August 1843. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 23 September 1843. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 10 February 1844. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 5 May 1844. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 20 August 1844. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 3 March 1845. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 25 April 1845. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 5 July 1845. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 2 November 1845. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. January 1846. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 16 June 1846. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 24 August 1846. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 29 April 1847. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Daniel McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. May 1847. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 17 September 1847. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 16 December 1847. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 14 October 1848. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 11 December 1848. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 29 July 1849. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 14 September 1849. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Lloyd, James. “Destructive and Fatal Tornado at Natchez.” Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory, and Disasters on the Western Waters. D. B. Cooke & Co: Chicago. 1856.140-142. Accessed at < https://archive.org/details/lloydssteamboatd00lloy&gt; 11 September 2017.

“Lost Children.” The Natchez Daily Courier. 28 July 1840, Tuesday. 3. Accessed 02 September 2018. <newspapers.com>

Moore, John Hebron. Agriculture in Ante-Bellum Mississippi. The University of South Carolina Press: Columbia. 1958. 30 – 34, 47-50, 63 -78, 91.

“The Number of Killed and Missing.” Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, MS. 21 May 1840, Thursday. 1. Accessed 02 September 2018. <newspapers.com>

“Petit Gulf Cotton Seed.” The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez. 01 July 1840, Wednesday. 4. Accessed 06 September 2018. <newspapers.com>

“The Steamer Hinds.” The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, MS. 23 May 1840, Saturday. 2. Accessed 02 September 2018. <newspapers.com.>

“Storm of Wind and Rain.” Mississippi Free Trader. 11 June 1840, Thursday. 1. Accessed 02 September 2018. <newspapers.com>

“Tornado Damage.” Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, MS. 14 May 1840, Thursday. 2. Accessed 02 September 2018. <newspapers.com>

“Twin or Okra Cotton Seed.” South-Western Farmer. Raymond, MS. 11 February 1840, Tuesday. 4. Accessed 06 September 2018. <newspapers.com>

Quaintance, A. L. The Cotton Bollworm: An Account of the Insect, With Results of Experiments in 1903. Government Printing Office: Washington. 1904. 191.

“Weather Table: The Natchez Tornado, 7th May, 1840.” The Natchez Daily Courier. Natchez, MS. 29 June 1840, Monday. 1. Accessed 02 September 2018. <newspapers.com>

The Decade of the 1840s: Slavery

Images of Slavery

SheriffsSale
In June of 1840 at the courthouse door in Natchez, MS; “Beckey, Israel, Mary, and two children, and Harriet” will have their lives uprooted, perhaps separated from lifelong friends and relatives.

Duncan McKenzie’s letters of the 1840s reveal information about the lives of slaves during that decade: Prices, the buying and selling of slaves; the unpredictability of an enslaved person’s life – lack of self-determination; and the extent of the enslaved person’s access to justice under the law. Contrary to facts in the McKenzie family correspondence, arguments on the part of some during the decades prior to the Civil War were increasingly promoting slavery as a positive good.

At the turn of the decade of the 1840s, Mississippians were still experiencing the economic hard times brought on by the failure of the economy that resulted from over speculation in land and slaves. In April of 1840 Duncan McKenzie reports that the price of slaves is significantly under par as is land. The juxtaposition of human chattel with other products of the flesh such as cattle and horses or even land is common in publications and letters of the time: He writes, “I have seen negros that cost upwards of $1500 sold for under $500 under the hammer, and land that was praised at $20 per acre by the Mi- Union Bank appraisers sold by the Sheriff as low as 20cts per acre and in many instances there are no bids at all.”

In a December 1840 letter he continues describing the economic climate in this vein by listing the price of “negro” men, women and children along with corn and land.

I was at a sale Monday & Tuesday

last where I saw negro men selling at from 6 to

$800 on a credit of Twelve months women sold at

5 to $600 — corn at 60cts per Bushel, the tract of

land of 400 acres at $15 per acre, on 1 & 2 years credit

making the round sum of $6,000 …

this same tract was sold five years ago

at $11,000 …

I saw a panel of negroes sold for cash under Execution

one man a carpenter was sold for $1,000 a woman

and child for $650 a boy 16 years old $560 a verry

likely girl at $500 small plow boys $350 &c — Duncan McKenzie

By March of 1841, a matter of months later McKenzie comments that “Negro property” has risen in price but not as high as the North Carolina prices. The land in Mississippi, however, is falling in price and, “millions of acres may be purchased from the speculating companys.” A little over a year later, June of 1842, he responds to McLaurin’s comment that the price of horses has fallen in NC then asks, “will you sell negros at the New Orleans prices (i.e.) from $300 to 350 for women & from 4 to 450 for men.” During the same spring of 1841 the free New York black man, Solomon Northup, found himself kidnapped and enslaved. He would write of his experience in Twelve Years a Slave. Such was the desire to profit off of the cotton-driven need for slave labor.

Certainly many of the individuals bought and sold at these sales were helpless when the economic climate forced owners to sell them off, breaking up families and destroying relationships as well as the routines of life they must have been hard put to establish under such circumstances. Still, in 1837 the politician John C. Calhoun was arguing against hearing petitions in Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. Calhoun in the following words supports an argument that slavery was not an evil but a positive good. The economic pressure to provide a labor source for the growth of cotton was increasing. Many people of the United States would come to share this view over the two decades before the Civil War:

Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. It (the black race) came among us in a low, degrade, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions, reviled as they have been, to its present comparatively civilized condition. — John C. Calhoun, U.S. Senate, February 6, 1837

The irony of Calhoun’s position is astounding to us in the 21st Century. The idea that selling human beings and separating families without their consent “under the fostering care of our institutions” would be considered more civilized and a greater good than a thriving family unit might have been in even a more technologically primitive society in Africa with its own mores and folkways is an example of the arrogance of Western colonialism. The disconnect in Calhoun’s argument is easy for us to see today in the face of scientific evidence, both physical and anthropological. 

In an 1842 letter, Duncan McKenzie reports with disdain that an acquaintance was, “committed to gaol for harboring a runaway negro.” Certainly, this enslaved person had made an individual choice to run as many did, but their chances of escaping to a life of freedom were limited. By the 1840s Fugitive Slave laws had reduced the possibility of a successful flight. It is not clear whether Duncan McKenzie’s acquaintance was harboring an escaped enslaved person for humanitarian reasons or because he simply wanted a cost-free slave. What matters is that escape was very difficult if a person did not have outside help.

By May of 1844, McKenzie writes the news that two other acquaintances, citizens of Smith County, MS,  were sentenced to a term of seven years for killing, “Kelly’s negro man Jack by whipping.” Apparently one of them was Kelly’s overseer. They are said to have “whipd the poor slave to death,” in a “spree.” When Duncan McKenzie mentions a “spree” he is usually referring to unbridled drunken behavior. May issues of The Mississippi Free Trader newspaper of Natchez, MS confirm Duncan’s story. The two plead “insanity, produced by intoxication,” but Judge Willis explained to the jury that “intoxication did not constitute legal insanity.” However, the story does not end there. According to the Vicksburg Whig newspaper of 3 June 1844, the two were “remanded back to jail, under a writ of error issued by Judge Sharkey.” Kelly’s overseer then, “made his escape.” After the overseer escapes, Kelly, the plantation owner, submits and receives certiorari awarded in December of 1844 to the Mississippi High Court of Appeals. This information appeared in the Southern Reformer of 13 December 1844. Later The Weekly Mississippian of December 18, 1844 in case Number 1344 explains the court has  “reversed judgement” on Kelly due to an error, which is likely the overseer’s escape. Several years later in 1846 Duncan McKenzie makes reference to Kelly again. We find that shortly after a trip to North Carolina, he and his family “left for beyond the Mississippi River.” Thus, the two appear to have gotten away with murder. None of the murder victim’s family or friends had any authority as enslaved people to challenge the system.

In both of the previously mentioned situations, the enslaved human beings were at the mercy of those in charge — color making them easily identifiable in the white world off of the plantation and always subject to the whims of white authority. In addition, the simple fact of aging might force drastic changes in lives. In 1845 a relative of McKenzie’s in Scott County, MS sold “carpenter Jack for $800  cash a good price for a negro of his age.” McKenzie adds that “he is a good and valuable servant and has now a good master.”

On the 24th of November 1845, a neighbor of the McKenzies had his life threatened by gunshot. According to Duncan McKenzie, two enslaved men belonging to the neighbor somehow “procured a large pistol which they loaded with … buck shot.” The neighbor and family were evidently outdoors in a visible place. One of the enslaved people, “rested the pistol by the corner of the Shed room fired directly at his masters head but without effect.” It seems evidence of the shot showed that it came very close to hitting its mark. The neighbor and a friend caught the two enslaved men and turned them over to the authorities – probably the sheriff. They were imprisoned awaiting trial. The two spent the winter in jail and under conditions that left them exposed enough to the weather that their legs were frostbitten. One man’s legs had to be amputated. This cruelty happened before they were convicted. In McKenzie’s opinion the neighbor was too honest in turning the slaves over to the authorities. He says they would have “sold well for at least $700 each the day they were lodged in jail.” The neighbor was due $375 each, half of their appraised value at conviction, but this would hardly cover the medical expenses, prison and trial fees. Nothing is said about whether or not they were able to argue for themselves or what difference it might have made. This punishment appears to far exceed the one hundred lashes due a slave found guilty of assault and battery of a white person. However, judges were free to decide the punishment of a  “negro or mullatto person” who abused a white person. A slave accused of a capital crime, which attempted murder likely was, had the right to legal counsel. Evidently, the right to counsel did not do these two fellows much good. Duncan laments the waste, but that is all.

Another neighbor during this same year, hired Duncan McKenzie’s son, Dunk, to act as overseer on his plantation for eight bales of cotton compensation. He worked on the plantation in this capacity for a matter of months before, “one of the negroes who became so devious,” was shot by the son of the plantation owner. The plantation owner looked upon the scene with “apparent indifference” only saying that he did not want anyone shot. The planter’s son, “shot the negro tho did not kill him but in all probability has rendered him useless,” by putting a “load of duck shot” in the slave’s thigh. Duncan goes on to tell that a second enslaved person “who took umbrage at the passing events,” extraordinarily escaped being shot by turning “some corner that saved him.” Another of the plantation owner’s family members advised Dunk to leave while he could because the compensation was not worth daily risking “his peace and safety.” The youthful Dunk, having worked all of his life on a small farm with fewer enslaved people, was probably ill-prepared for overseeing a large number of workers — in this case fifty or more. In the coming years the owner of this particular plantation would have further difficulty managing his slaves due to his increasing dementia.

Working in the fields of a small farm in antebellum Mississippi was likely the main focus of daily life for enslaved people and everyone else on the farm. Small farm owner’s slaves worked often side by side with members of the family. This was true on the McKenzie farm. In the following passage, Dunk, Kenneth, Hugh and the first Danl mentioned are Duncan McKenzie’s sons. Elly, Celia and the second Danl mentioned are enslaved people. Evidently, Elly stole some bacon and shared it, for which she received “leg bale.” (Among Duncan McKenzie’s enslaved people, two may have been named Ely or Elly, a man and a woman. Their names may have been pronounced differently – one beginning with a long e and ending with a long i sound – the other beginning with a short e and ending with a long e sound.)

We are trying to gather cotton and not with standing

Elly leaches absence we can gather a parcel per day

Dunk when in good humor can pick out 250 lbs per

day, Kenneth is next best, Hugh & Danl are not good

at it, Say 100 each, Celia is slow but won’t run,

Elly stole some bacon the other day, in consequence she

took leg bale. Celia says she gave it to McBrydes

Dorkas & to her sone Danl  — Duncan McKenzie

In the fourteen years that Duncan McKenzie lived to farm in Covington County, MS, he did not grow cotton every year. When times were hard it appears he fell back on profits from corn. His land was likely not able to sustain cotton growing, which depletes the soil rapidly. The family evidently practiced some crop rotation. Just how much cotton a day one worker could pick probably depended a great deal on the cotton too. High growing cotton was preferable in the days before the mechanical cotton picker. The expression to be in “High Cotton” means that one is experiencing good times. A worker would probably be able to gather more without bending so much. Today the mechanical picker works better with short cotton, and often chemicals are used on the cotton to make it grow shorter with more dense bolls. In another 1847 example of cotton picking, Kenneth McKenzie claims that “Miles the oldest of the black boys picked 56 lbs of cotton before dinner. He will pick 100 today.” Two hundred and fifty pounds a day is probably an average day’s work for a grown, young and healthy man. It is questionable whether Kenneth is praising Miles or disparaging him. Was “dinner” the noon meal or the evening meal? and would Miles have to pick the same amount of cotton between noon and quitting time or would he be driven to pick fifty bales in only a few hours of remaining daylight? Miles likely was born and grew up on the McKenzie farm. Though the use of the term “boy” could refer to a grown man, it might be that Miles is still a young person, perhaps a teen. Little context is given to answer these questions.

Race generally precluded whether or not you were a slave in 1840s society of the deep South. Fear of slave rebellion before emancipation prompted Mississippi to force free blacks to leave the state, though census records at the outbreak fo the Civil War reveal almost 800 free blacks living in MS.  Duncan mentions a Native American worker on his farm, though he does not make it clear whether this person was enslaved or a “hireling” as McKenzie would have referred to a wage worker. This person was not very helpful on the farm, and it is the only mention of him in the letters: “We have a curse of an Indian boy who we are trying to make work, but it is like the Devils Shearing the hog a great cry but little wool.”

In his 1840s publication of Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville writes of three American races: white, African American, and Native American (modern terminology). He makes the point that the remnants of the Native Americans have too much pride to assimilate themselves into white society and were doomed to watch the environment in which their culture thrived destroyed by the relentless white movement westward. Tocqueville  also contends that the African American enslaved person would never be allowed to assimilate into white society due to white race prejudice. The idea that segregation and separatism would dominate race relations in America for generations to come even after emancipation is present in Tocqueville’s thinking.

FredDouglassNarrative1846

Today, authors such as Gene Dattel, a native Mississippian who recently published Reckoning With Race, appear convinced that race relations will not improve without active assimilation socially and particularly economically. Dattel also contends that even though the anti-slavery movement disapproved of slavery, abolitionists did not always argue for or work to assure assimilation of races. In May of 1845, Frederick Douglass published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. His autobiographical account is an attempt to make his emancipation, assimilation, and amalgamation argument more credible through sharing his personal experience.

Pro-slavery Arguments of the 1840s

As the cotton industry grew internationally, the desire on the cotton farms in the American South for slave labor grew. As the abolitionist movement in the American North grew, pro-slavery defense arguments grew. Paternalism was the basis of the argument that slavery was a positive good. Among the strongest voices of the philosophical arguments for the continuation of slavery included the politician John C. Calhoun, who defended slavery as a state’s right and a positive good on the floor of Congress during the 1830s. Thomas R. Dew published a “Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 and 1832” in which he delineates the negative aspects of emancipation. The Virginia legislature was prompted to debate the issue after the Nat Turner rebellion. Years later the Virginia slaveholder George Fitzhugh published a pamphlet at the end of the 1840s decade called “Slavery Justified, by a Southerner.” These arguments supporting slavery as a positive good would increase in force during the decade of the 1850s in the face of westward expansion and efforts to slow the spread of slavery into the territories. Even though the Southerners in Congress were able to stop the 1846 Wilmot Proviso that would have banned slavery in the Mexican War territories gained by the U.S., the ideas in the Wilmot Proviso continued to threaten slaveholders’ political power.

reviewofdebateon00dewt_0005

Thomas Roderick Dew (1802-1846) argued that the colonization of American slaves to Liberia was impractical and would destroy Virginia financially. Since slaves were considered property, their masters would have to be reimbursed for their losses. In addition, the supports needed for colonizing would be a heavy monetary burden as well. He also promoted the racist attitude that free blacks in America had been a burden on society; thus, freed slaves would be also. He put it this way, “we cannot get rid of slavery without producing a greater injury to both the masters and slaves.” He did not believe that emancipated slaves would make very good workers. The argument that the “races” could not live together on an equal basis because they were so different appears to have been pervasive enough in the nation, both North and South, to prevent assimilation and promote separation of the races for many generations following emancipation.

George Fitzhugh (1806-1881) supported the notion that liberty was not necessarily a good thing. He believed that slavery in a socialistic vein was preferable to liberty and unbridled capitalism. Apparently he felt the slavery that existed in the South identified and met the interests of both strong and the weak (master and slave). In his pamphlet he stated that “Domestic slavery does this far better than any other institution.” He disparaged the free laborer and employer relationship saying that “Self-interest makes the employer and free laborer enemies.” Apparently, he was able to ignore the fact that sometimes master and slave became enemies – in either situation one would

SlaveryJustified

 be hard put to abolish human self-interest. In other words he continues, “A state of dependence is the only condition in which reciprocal affection can exist among human beings.” In this he was perhaps less racist because he believed that weak whites were better off in a condition of slavery too. In support of paternalism Fitzhugh argues, “We do not set children and women free because they are not capable of taking care of themselves, not equal to the constant struggle of society … society would quickly devour them.”

Both of these arguments are wrought upon the premise that the slaveholder will always be responsible to the needs of the slave and the slave eternally grateful for his or her condition, which was never the case when race prejudice was at the core of slavery. Evidence that every slaveowner did not practice paternalism is clear in the correspondence of Duncan McKenzie and family, nor is there much evidence that enslaved people were happy with their condition. 

Final Images from the 1840s

YoemanFarmerHomeMS19thCent copy
The McKenzies, in all likelihood, lived in a larger house than this. Duncan purchased previously owned property upon which buildings had been erected – they only needed improvement. The family, upon purchase of additional property, moved from one dwelling to another during their residence in Covington County, MS. Duncan allows that there are buildings on his purchased land, so his eight enslaved people in 1840 probably had their own quarters. (This photo was taken of an exhibit at Two Museums in Jackson, MS by Betty McKenzie Lane)

 

 

Barbara McKenzie, Duncan’s wife, is from time to time mentioned in the McKenzie correspondence, and in 1845 Duncan reveals her interest in one particular enslaved child on the farm. It is, of course, a little girl – Barbara, who had grown up with six surviving sisters, had lost both of her daughters and found herself completely ensconced in a family of seven males by 1845. Barbara was also the person who watched over all of the children too young to work on the farm. The little girl is Barbara’s constant companion and would sleep in the house if they would allow it. Many yeoman farmer families could not afford separate quarters for their slaves. Evidently, the McKenzies had separate quarters. Ostensibly, if they had the time and energy, enslaved persons could subsistence garden their own plots of ground in order to feed themselves. It is possible they were allowed to trap animals to help feed themselves as well. Perhaps slaves and master even hunted together in the surrounding areas. Generally, it is said that perhaps the smaller number of slaves on smaller farms led to closer relationships. They shared a great deal including hard times and disease. The fact no one could ignore is that the enslaved members of the enterprise were devoid of the ability to command their own destinies beyond decisions of life made under the auspices of slavery. This truth always must have been present in even the closest of relationships:

Barbara wishes to relate her misfortune which is that among her negro children

there is but one girl not yet three years old and she thinks more of her than

all the rest in fact the little one is her constant attendant by day and

would willingly be by night if suffered, — Duncan McKenzie

Other evidence of Barbara’s watching over very young enslaved children occurs in 1847 when one of her grown sons is writing a letter to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. It appears that one of the children has been curious about his writing and approaches him, wrinkling his paper. Perhaps he meant the following comment in jest or mild annoyance at multiple imperfections in his letter: “This ink is pale and a rascally nigger youngun rumpled the paper about the time I was finishing.” It is almost refreshing to imagine an action so childlike and normal and an adult reacting normally with mild irritation.

Evidently, one enslaved woman and possibly Ely (formerly Archibald Lytch) came with the family to Mississippi from North Carolina. The unnamed woman was purchased from a man named John Fairly. Duncan emphasizes what he perceives as her loyalty to Barbara:

you recollect the girl I bot

of John Fairly before we left, She had no child till of late She gave birth

to a likely boy of which Barbara is proud notwithstanding the sex but

had much rather it had been a girl, the mother tho not very brisk has ever

been devoted to her mistress … the family, you know there are some of

the black race whoes dispositions … though it be in a rough way, such is hers that

she never would suffer any other negro to speak ill of her mistress without resenting

it at once with a word and the blow soon followed, her strength is far over that

of any of her sex so far as my observation has extended — Duncan McKenzie

(Here the ellipses indicate damaged paper or illegible words in the original document.)

When Duncan McKenzie died in 1847, his son Kenneth writes that enslaved people on the farm, Ely Lytch and son Jonas, also died leaving the mother Hannah and younger children. They died of what was supposedly an epidemic of typhus pneumonia. According to some researchers, typhus was an uncommon illness in the American South. Illnesses were often labeled typhus that might have been other zoonotic illnesses or even typhoid fever.

When I imagine the problems and conflicts among small farmers and slaveowners multiplied on large plantations, the more difficult it seems to me that the paternalistic argument justifying slavery could find credence even among Southerners. Slavery in the American South grew from the economy of cotton that required great numbers of workers and stability of labor on increasingly larger farms that grew one commercial crop. Evidence on the ground of slaveholders in the McKenzie letters appears to refute the positive good argument, and evidence of race prejudice embedded in paternalism defies the romantic view of a slave population happy in their work and having all of their needs satisfied.

In 1848, a strong congressional voice for emancipation, U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts and former President of the U.S. John Quincy Adams, died at work. In 1849 Harriet Tubman escaped slavery to become a leader of the Underground Railroad.

Sources:

“Auction Sales.” The Natchez Weekly Courier, Natchez, MS. 08 July 1840, Wednesday. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 24 August 2018.

Dattel, Gene. Reckoning With Race: America’s Failure. Encounter Books: New York. 2017.

Google Images. reviewofdebateon00dewt_0005.jpg, FredDouglassNarrative1846.jpg, SlaveryJustified.jpg. Accessed 25 August 2018.

“History of Slavery in America.” Infoplease. https://www.infoplease.com/timelines/history-slavery-america. Accessed 13 August 2018.

“Kelly.” Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, MS. 01 May 1844, Wednesday. 2. 15 May 1844, Wednesday. 3.  newspapers.com. Accessed 24 August 2018.

“Kelly.” Southern Reformer. Jackson, MS. 13 December 1844, Friday. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 24 August 2018.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 26 April 1840. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 26 September 1840. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 24 December 1840. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 22 March 1841. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 20 June 1842. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 29 August 1842. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 5 May 1844. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 25 April 1845. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 16 December 1847. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 29 April 1847. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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