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 relied 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 both crop and human 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.

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. 22 February 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 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. 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.

Lyon, Carter Dalton. “Slave Codes.” Mississippi Encyclopedia. Mississippi Humanities Council: 2018. https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/slave-codes/ Accessed 14 August 2018.

McNamara, Robert. “Timeline from 1840 to 1850.” https://www.thoughtco.com/timeline-from-1840-to-1850-1774038? . Updated 1 May 2017. Accessed 18 August 2018.

McKitrick, Eric L. Slavery Defended: the views of The Old South. Prentice-Hall, Inc.: Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1963. 7-50. Calhoun, John C. “Disquisition on Government”; “Speech on the Reception of Abolition Petitions”; “Speech on the Importance of Domestic Slavery” and Dew, Thomas R. “Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature” and Fitzhugh, George. “Sociology for the South.”

“Proceedings.” The Weekly Mississippian, Jackson, MS. 18 December 1844, Wednesday. 3. newspapers.com. Accessed 24 August 2018.

“The Southern Reformer.” Vicksburg Whig, Vicksburg, MS. 3 June 1844, Monday. 1. newspapers.com. Accessed 24 August, 2018.

Two Museums. Jackson, MS. Photograph of Yoeman Farmer display. 08 August 2018. by Betty McKenzie Lane.

“Sheriff’s Sale.” The Natchez Weekly Courier, Natchez, MS. 03 June 1840, Wednesday. 4. newspapers.com. Accessed 24 August 2018.

Sundstrom, Ronald R. “Frederick Douglass’s Political Apostasy.” https://www.sunypress.edu/pdf/61689.pdf. 2008:11-35. pdf. Accessed 23 August 2018.

1840s: Health and Deaths

GateStewartsvilleCem
The gate at historic Stewartsville Cemetery, where Barbara McLaurin McKenzie’s parents and siblings are buried among other relatives, including her Aunt Mary McKenzie and Barbara’s firstborn daughter, Catharine McKenzie.

Mary Catharine McKenzie (1838-1839) F-beah

For the McKenzie family the last year of the 1830s brought the joy of Mary Catherine’s healthy birth. The birth was attended by only Duncan and the enslaved woman Elly, who likely was well versed in childbirth, possibly even qualified as a midwife. Duncan McKenzie also professed himself to be somewhat medically competent, as he often wrote medical advise to his brother-in-law. Mary Catherine and Barbara were likely in better hands than if a doctor had been called. Duncan describes the newborn: “We call the little girl Mary an Catharine she is well grown for her age and as well featured as any other of the children were at her age.” Barbara was probably about forty-three years old at the time. During the child’s one year of life, Barbara’s hope for female companionship in the household must have blossomed again only to wither with the sudden onset of disease that often prevailed in the 19th century American South. At nearly one year old, Mary Catharine had to be weaned very early due to Barbara’s contracting what Duncan calls the flu. Barbara was quite ill for a while but recovered within the month only to lose little Mary Catharine to a bout of diarrhea that attacked the family. In February Duncan recalls the date of his child’s death: “I know the date of the 23rd August was that on which our little daughter died and it was some three weeks or more before I wrote owing to the sickness that prevailed in the family.” The only evidence that little Mary Catherine lived long enough to touch the lives of her family is the miraculous survival of her father’s written words.

In the early months of the year 1840, Duncan expresses grief at the death of his friend Col. Wiley Johnson. During the same time he is thankful that his family has been recovering from their earlier illnesses but also expresses concern over Barbara’s health, “She complains of a degree of heat and pain extending down the hip and thigh and up to the shoulder She has complained of it at different times for the last four years and I am fearful it is a liver complaint or that it will terminate in such.” Barbara complained of hip pain in her 1817 letter to her sister Effy, so this is something that has bothered her for many years. Duncan’s description brings to my mind a kind of nerve pain that often involves a burning sensation. In September, however, he says she has recovered from an illness that has plagued the community and seems to be in better health than before. He lists those neighbors with whom his brother-in-law is acquainted who have died: “Jennet Flowers, Jane McLaurin, Duncans fourth wife (This is likely the McLaurin Society Quarterly’s designated family “B.” The Quarterly lists his fourth wife as Jane McCallum.), Catherine McLaurin, Lachlins daughter and Archd Wilkinson.” He continues to list those who have been ill but are recovering: Barbara Stewart; and more of the “B” family including  “Jon Dove, Cornelius and Duncan McLaurin, old Danls sone.”

Duncan McKenzie, and likely Duncan McLaurin in his return letters, appear to enjoy news of the health and welfare of family and acquaintances. Some of these were born in Scotland, settled in Richmond County, NC communities, and migrated west, if not together in individual families units that settled nearby. Daniel Walker Howe, in The Political Culture of the American Whigs, describes this southern culture as having “fierce in-group loyalties.” Likely, during these years and in this place, the drive to remain loyal to political favorites had its source in family loyalties. In spite of minor and major squabbles and points of view among these families, they seem to have cared deeply about the lives and fortunes of one another.

Catharine McLaurin of Glasgow (1754-1841) F-bd

In this same September l840 letter, Duncan mentions that Aunt Caty seems to be doing well. Aunt Caty is Catharine McLaurin of Glasgow, Barbara and Duncan’s aunt. She is the sister of Barbara’s father Hugh and Duncan’s mother Mary. She married into the “D” family according to the Clan McLaurin Society Quarterly. Shortly after she arrived in North Carolina from Scotland in 1790 at the age of around 36, she wed Duncan McLaurin about age 50, often known as Duncan McJohn, son of John of Culloden. They moved from Richmond County, NC to Conecuh County, AL in 1823, where Duncan died in 1833. After his death Aunt Caty moved to live with her oldest child Neill in Lauderdale County, MS.

Aunt Caty must have moved to Lauderdale County during the McKenzie family’s first year in Covington County, MS. The McKenzies appear worried about Aunt Caty in 1836 when her son Dr. Duncan  says to Barbara, “…don’t ask me any questions about Mother She is a torment to all about her.” This conversation increased their worry, but later they were comforted when one of Aunt Caty’s grandchildren, Little Duncan, and his wife explained the situation with Aunt:

She (Little Duncan’s wife) staid at Neils two weeks Aunts house being in the

yard, She could not conceive what cause of dissatisfaction aunt

could have — She stated that Neil was in her opinion a dutiful

sone and a verry agree able man, it is admitted by all who have

visited Neil that he is a good farmer steddy and punctual …

Tell your father to make himself easy about

aunt and recollect the tenor of her temper Say to him from

me that he may beleave the statement of Duncans wife —   Duncan McKenzie

A clue to Aunt Caty’s personality may be found in the phrase, “the tenor of her temper.” Duncan later writes the address to which letters may be directed to Aunt Caty. Interestingly, in 1840 Duncan McKenzie explains that Allan Stewart, aging himself, proposed marriage to the widowed Aunt Caty, in her eighties. She refused him, and he did not take it well. Sadly, in October of 1841 Duncan McKenzie writes that Aunt Catharine has died “on the 22nd September last of four days sickness of fever.” He continued to say Neil’s wife and daughter were sick at the same time. At the time this letter was written Dr. Duncan had not been informed of his mother’s death and her son Hugh and step daughter Catharine were visiting their sister in Louisiana. By January of 1842, McKenzie explains the particulars of Aunt Caty’s death:

Say to your father that the doct gave me verbatim all the partic

=ulars relative to Aunt Catherines death which were as follows, She became

somewhat drooping and silent some three or four weeks before any sym

=toms of disease was discovered the Doct,, says he discovered her decline and attended to

her and nursed her well, & I acknowledge his skill as such, but her glass was run 

— Duncan McKenzie

At the age of 87 in 1841, Catharine had lived a long and fulfilling life. She left the home of her birth in 1790 among sixteen Argyllshire families to build new families and a new life on the North American continent. The cemetery at Toomsuba, MS, Aunt Caty’s burial place, is shared by relatives and descendants.

Catharine Calhoun McLaurin (1762-1841)

CatharineCalhounMcLaurind1841at79

Catharine Calhoun was born in Appin, Argyllshire, Scotland to Duncan Calhoun and his wife in 1762. She and her husband Hugh McLaurin (of the McLaurin Society Quarterly “F” family) lived at Ballachulish, Argyll, Scotland, where Hugh likely worked at the Slate Quarry. When they came to America in 1790, they had three daughters (Mary age 8, Catharine age 7, and Jennet age 5) and two sons (Duncan age 4 and infant John). They came also with Hugh’s adult sisters Mary and Catharine of Glasgow, Nancy McLaurin Black and husband John, as well as Hugh’s mother Catharine Rankin McLaurin. Hugh’s sister Sarah’s daughter, Catharine McLean also came with her grandmother and uncle. After arriving at Wilmington, NC and traveling up the Cape Fear River, Hugh settled his family at Gum Swamp in Laurel Hill, NC. He called his home there Ballachulish. Their family grew over the years: Barbara (b. 1793/4), Sarah (b. 1794/5), Isabella (1794/5), and Effie (b. 1796/7).

In a July 1840 letter written by Duncan McKenzie, we hear of Catharine’s decline for the first time when McKenzie sends medical advice, which seems near quackery to us in the 21st century:

your mother should guard

against those febrile symptoms of which you

mentioned, by taking some cooling simple med

=icine such as Rhubarb & cream of tarter in

small quantities till it would excite a slight

operation on the bowels, keeping herself from

morning Dews & noon day Sun —  Duncan McKenzie

Catharine’s health does not improve between September and December of 1840, for Duncan is sorry to hear that she is becoming more ill. He laments that Catharine is suffering from an illness that seems to have affected his family before. I have no proof of this, but the text suggests that his mother, Mary, may have died of the same illness that Catharine is described as enduring. Duncan mentions a family propensity for this illness:

It is a source of the most sireous reflection

to us to hear that one after another of the family

are falling off from time to an untimely grave by the

same cause, to wit, that of ulcers which commenced

in my family, but death comes by the means appoin

=ted and why should we complain but say with

christian resignation the will of God be done

in your next you will please give us a minute

description of the case with your mother …

As we are anxious to hear the fate of your mother I hope

you will loose no time in writing on the receipt of this

— Duncan McKenzie

Unfortunately, between the time Duncan McLaurin writes next and the time Duncan McKenzie receives his letter in March, Catharine dies on 20 March 1841. Duncan McKenzie writes the following in his letter of 22 March 1841:

We are glad to hear that

your mother was living at the time of your writing and

that the sore had not made such a fatal progress as

we had anticipated, at the special request of Barbara

and my own approval I send you a direction … — Duncan McKenzie

The direction Duncan offers to get rid of warts is to use peach leaves that are green, bruise them, and apply over the sore or wart a few times. He seems to think it has had miraculous results. However, he adds a caveat to his advice, “If hers is an eating cancerous wart this remedy may fail for the reason that the roots may by this time have penetrated beyond the reach of medical application.” Evidently, by the time the family receives this letter, Catharine has died. It is interesting to note here that about fourteen years later, her daughter Barbara would die a ghastly death of the same ulcers that her son describes as mouth cancer. I do not know the cause of this cancer, but the occurrence of the ulcers in three female members of the family might suggest the use of some form of smokeless tobacco, likely snuff, which was popular among some rural populations in the American South during this time period. At Barbara’s death, her son Kenneth is compelled to describe his efforts to break his own addition to snuff. I have no way of knowing for sure if this was the cause of the ulcers, but circumstantial evidence exists. Though at one time tobacco was thought to have positive medicinal qualities, in 1604 King James I of England declared the harmful effects of tobacco use. Its harmful effects were not unknown to 19th century Americans, especially literate ones. While many ads for snuff appear in the newspapers, some articles in the same newspapers disparage its use. The article “Dipping” in The Natchez Weekly Courier of 4 October 1843 admonishes the ladies to, “Turn away in disgust from the nasty and most filthy practice.” The article goes on to describe the process of dipping with a stick that has been chewed on the end until it becomes brushlike. This tool is then used to dip into the snuff and mop the teeth and gums. The use of snuff or other other smokeless tobacco may have been a way to ease or simply distract from the chronic hip pain Barbara likely endured for most of her years. 

LibbysPillsAd
According to this advertisement appearing in The Mississippi Free Trader of 26 August 1843, some folks in the 19th century used snuff to ease chronic pain.

Catharine is buried with her immediate family members who finished their lives in North Carolina. Her tombstone reads: “In memory of / CATHARINE / wife of / Hugh McLaurin / and Daughter of Duncan / Calhoun of Appin / Argyle Shire Scotland / Died March 20th 1841 / in the 79th year of her age.”

Hugh McLaurin (1751-1846) F-ba

HughMcLaurinofBalacholishd1846at95

In 1976 the editor of the Clan McLauren Society Quarterly, USA, Banks McLaurin, revised and reprinted an outline of the “F” McLaurin family in light of new information researchers had found. The source of this new information derived from “… a letter O. J. MColl found in the records of D. D. McColl II who d. ca 1930.” Evidently, D. D. McColl wrote a letter to Hugh G. MacColl in Warrington, England in 1927 that contained this new information. Francis Bragg McCall, who inherited Hugh McLaurin’s home Ballachulish from his father, Hugh McCall, recalled this information from memory of  “two Bibles which came down in the family, and a book which had belonged to Hugh McLaurin.” Marguerite Whitfield in her Families of Ballachulish genealogy includes a similar reference to a family Bible. She seems not to have gleaned the same detail of information that the McLauren Quarterly researchers did. In June of 1842 Duncan McKenzie writes a thank you to Duncan McLaurin for writing anecdotes from his father, Hugh’s, diary. Duncan writes:

The diary of your father was read by all the family, as all can

read your letters, with more interest than anything else that you

could have found, and were you to enlarge on the subject or

at least devote an equal space in each letter written they

would be the more grattifying. — Duncan McKenzie

Perhaps the third book might have been Hugh’s diary. One would hope these three books or McLaurin’s letters to the family still exist somewhere, but the fact that the home they called Ballachulish underwent at least one fire makes the books’ existence unlikely. However, the letters did miraculously survive.

According to this new information that came to light in 1976, Laughlin McLaurin married Mary Cameron in Scotland. They had two sons, John and Duncan. John had five unnamed sons and one daughter, “who was deaf and dumb.” Laughlin and Marys’ second son, Duncan, married Catherine Rankin of Glencoe, Scotland. Her children, those of whom we are certain, were Hugh of Ballachulish, Sarah (McLean), Nancy (Black), Catherine of Glasgow (McLaurin), and Mary (McKenzie).

In 1790 Hugh left the slate quarry at Ballachulish and joined sixteen families leaving the Appin, Argyll, Scotland for Wilmington, NC. Hugh’s family included his wife, mother, three daughters, two sons, a niece, two unmarried sisters, and one married sister with husband. Hugh and family settled at Gum Swamp in Laurel Hill near Stewartsville, NC, choosing to live in the South where successful cotton farming entailed the use of slave labor.

Before the McKenzies know of the death of Barbara’s mother, Catharine Calhoun McLaurin, and ironically only days after her death, Duncan McKenzie writes concerning Hugh, “Cheer your father keep his spirits up he must by this time feel heavy by the decline of life let him not sink in melancholy gloom under the dispensations of providence let him thank for the past.” Months later Duncan McKenzie is happy to read that Hugh is in pretty good health and is occupied in activities that make interesting reading. Duncan continues to give advice about cleaning the ears to combat deafness. This ear cleaning would involve getting a syringe with a small pipe and small spout to squirt warm water gently into the ears every morning. He warns that the “ticklish sensation” should subside and reduce the deafness over time. The ears should be stopped with a “lock of wool” after the procedure if done in the winter time. In addition Duncan advises his brother-in-law to allow his father to do what work he can since this has been the source of his social activity for many years. He ends by saying, “I would advise you to suffer him to do anything in which he may take delight keeping always some careful person with him.”

Years later in May of 1844 Hugh becomes ill again. Though Duncan suggests, “the use of album to a pint of sweet milk taking two or three portions of the whey daly. he will be careful to avoid costiveness by using some mild cathartic.” After giving this advice he apologizes for the presumption of giving advice when the family lives in North Carolina, “the bosom of Medical Science.” Still, he wishes he could be there to help.

On the 12th of January, 1846, Hugh McLaurin died. The McKenzie family received the information in letters from NC dated the 19th and 24th of January. Duncan McKenzie writes his response in the name of himself and the family:

It (Hugh’s death) has broken the last cord which bound us to that

portion of the earth more than any; other, it is a source of the deepest reflection that

but little more than 13 short years has passd since our ear our eye was on the look out

and listening to hear and see something from those who so fondly dandled us on

the knee and presd us to the Bosom with the embraces of the tenderest affection

now all are gone consequently there is nothing more desirable or attracting in that

direction, those lively emotions excited when reading the remark of those we

loved are now forever extinguished those luminaries which adorned the land of our

nativity have finally disappeard one after another, when we rise and fall the East

rises to those we loved no more. — Duncan McKenzie

In another irony, Duncan McKenzie says he was visiting Cousin Neil McLaurin in Lauderdale County, MS on the day of Hugh’s death. Presumably, he was there to tell the family that Hugh was ill. Neil was evidently planning a trip to North Carolina to see his remaining family there, but Duncan said that Hugh likely would not live. This moved Neil to tears and McKenzie continues to tell of the encounter:

From an

inference from your last letter I thot his life was drawing to a close had

he been then present looking on his uncles lifeless corpse his tears, and sobs could

not have been augmented his wife and children joining him all being present

The described sene having passd I found him and family the most agreeable of relations

till I left them on Wednesday Hugh (brother of Neil) accompanying me some 8 or 10 miles.

— Duncan McKenzie

Apparently, the relationship between Duncan McLaurin in North Carolina and the Lauderdale relatives had not been very warm in recent years. It may have begun with the concern that Hugh McLaurin had about the welfare of his sister, Neil’s mother Aunt Caty. Probably Duncan McKenzie was trying to smooth relations in the face of Hugh’s death.

Hugh’s will written in December of 1834 leaves property to his wife and two sons. He also lists his three unmarried daughters — Catharine, Mary, and Effy — as beneficiaries and his married daughters Jennet McCall, Sarah Douglass, Barbara McKenzie and Isabella Paterson. He also adds, “And in case that either of them my two sons aforesaid may die without issue then & in that case the Survivor shall inherit the part of the other.” He makes his two sons, Duncan and John, his executors.

When Hugh died, the house went to Duncan, where he lived with his two remaining unmarried sisters and later Isabella Patterson and her three sons. As it happened, Duncan had no children at his death in 1872. When John died in 1864, he left his wife Effie Stalker McLaurin and three children Owen, Elizabeth, and Catharine. By 1869 all three children had died. Duncan left the remainder of his father’s property to his nephew Hugh McCall. With the death of Owen, in the “F” family the McLaurin surname was finished.

Hugh McLaurin and all of his immediate family who died in North Carolina are buried in Stewartsville Cemetery near Laurinburg, the town named after the school founded by his son Duncan. His tombstone and that of his wife’s, Catharine Calhoun, are remarkably preserved. Hugh’s tombstone reads: “In Memory of Hugh McLaurin of Ballacholish / native of Appin, Argyleshire, Scotland / Immigrated to North Carolina in 1790 / Died January 12 A. D. / 1846 / Aged 95 years. It is adorned at top with a willow and thistle.

Allan Stewart (b. ? d. 13 October 1845)

When Duncan McKenzie and family arrived in Covington County, MS in 1833, friend Allan Stewart welcomed them with a choice of land to rent and enough pork to tide them over until they could establish themselves. This was probably not uncommon in the county and surrounding area, for many of the folk settling there shared friends or relatives from the Carolinas or from Scotland or both.

With his first wife, Allan’s children were Catharine Stewart b. 9 June, 1802 d. 30 March 1806; John Patrick Stewart b. 22 May 1805 d. about 1866 in Franklin County, MS; Mary Stewart b. 4 December 1806 d. in Covington Co.; Hugh Carmichael Stewart b. 9 March 1810 d. 11 November 1847; Margaret Stewart b. 30 January 1812 d. 4 June 1820; James Fisher Ames Stewart b. 22 December 1813 d. 7 February 1825; Barbara Stewart b. 3 October 1815 d. ?; Nancy Stewart (Anderson) b. about 1815 d. ?.

According to the authors of Williamsburg, Mississippi: County Seat of Covington County 1829 – 1906, Allan Stewart became a citizen of the United States in 1813 in North Carolina. He was later one of the signers of the petition to create Jones County, MS. He and his family must have migrated to Covington County, MS in the years previous to Duncan McKenzie’s arrival in 1833. When McKenzie arrived Allan had established property and was farming. His adult sons John P. and Hugh C. were engaged in the occupations of writing and surveying, respectively. John P. Stewart would become a clerk in Franklin County, and his brother Hugh C. Stewart would farm, try his hand at merchandising, and become involved with politics.

Allan was a widower and apparently would like to have married again, though he did not marry again after 1833. Both John Patrick and Hugh C. would live as bachelors. His daughter Barbara would never marry but would render herself very useful to the Presbyterian Church and her community. She would sit at Barbara McKenzie’s deathbed for a time in 1855, and she managed the boarding house at the Zion Seminary School created by Reverend A. R. Graves in Covington County.

Allan Stewart and the McKenzie and McLaurin families had a relationship that likely began in Scotland and extended across the Atlantic. In spite of some clashes of personality and differences in outlook, Duncan McKenzie and Allan Stewart weathered their sometimes stormy relationship up to the very end. McKenzie was a temperance Whig, which meant he did not suffer the use of alcohol and favored legislation that would reduce its consumption in the community. According to McKenzie, Stewart liked to indulge in drink, though he probably made an effort to remain sober when he knew it would be offensive. Apparently, Allan Stewart was a guest in the McKenzie home many times, and they certainly owed Stewart for finding them a home and welcoming them to Mississippi. Duncan McLaurin inquires about the Stewart family from time to time. In July of 1845 Duncan McKenzie writes to Duncan McLaurin about Allen Stewart:

Our friend A. Stewart came early and

spent the day with us and of course, the sheet was laid by, I am some

what sorry to have it to say that A. does not look so well as usual he looks

quite lean and will if he continues reducing in flesh a twelve months

longer, be as lean and meager as fat Archd McNeill was in his leanest

days, he is troubled with a consuming complaint of the bowels which

if not speedily checkd will lay its victim beyond recovery but the old man

will not take the hint till it will be too late he will indulge in eating and

drinking gratifying his taste and habits no doubt at the expense of his life

  Duncan McKenzie

Sadly, in November of 1845 Duncan McKenzie writes of the death of Allan Stewart. He died on a Monday night at 9 o’clock on the 13th of October. On a Saturday visit to his ailing nephew John he stopped on his way home at Williamsburg and apparently had a few drinks. About a half mile from that place, he fell off of his horse. According to McKenzie, Stewart was not found until Sunday by “his negro man”:

He was breathing and continued to breathe till the time above

stated but never spoke nor showed any symptoms of consciousness

… being convenient I was … exam

ined him and saw no bruise or hurt on his person, his case was comming

near to a close consequently I did nothing for him except an attempt to

stimulate him by every means, which at first brought a ray of hope to our

minds which soon vanished and his case was over — Duncan McKenzie

Duncan McKenzie (1793 – 1847)

Duncan McKenzie was the son of Kenneth McKenzie and Mary McLaurin McKenzie. He was likely born in Richmond County, NC where his father owned property. We are indebted partially to his passion for letter writing that we have this insight into the lives of a community of people who migrated to settle in Mississippi. Although his braggadocio often prevails, and he is judgmental — sometimes belittling — in his attempts at humor, we must appreciate that his written words may provide the images we need of a time, place, and way of life that has been too often and too successfully romanticized. 

According to Kenneth McKenzie’s letter written to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin in April of 1847, Duncan McKenzie died on the last day of February at midnight, “after a long and protracted illness,” that may have lasted, “From the 20th February to the 1st March.” In a May letter to his uncle, Daniel McKenzie describes the illness as typhus pneumonia, “which passed through the state in some places more violent than in others.” European typhus from the bite of the louse carrying the infection is not common in North America according to Margaret Humphreys, author of “A Stranger to Our Camps: Typhus in American History.” A type of typhus associated with rats is more common, and the disease may be mistaken for the tic borne “Spotted Fever.” Humphreys also contends that many typhus outbreaks may well have been actually typhoid fever. Personally, I could believe some tic borne disease may have been the culprit. In my youth I can recall scraping hundreds of tiny tics from my legs after walking through fields of tall grass on my husband’s grandfather’s farm in Covington County, MS. During the illness Kenneth describes his father as mentally incapacitated or “non composmentas but the last two weeks he was proper and a judge of his condition.” Kenneth breaks the news to his uncle with these words: “that hand once so familiar to your glance / the stroke, now lies slumbering in death / cold beneath the ground, only to be lamented, / his parental personae has now become / a blank, and filled up only with sorrow / he changed Earth for Eternity on the night of / the last of February at 12-oclock” — Kenneth McKenzie, oldest son of Duncan and Barbara McKenzie.

No matter what the cause, the illness took a tragic toll on the family. Kenneth explains, “Jonas, the oldest of Hannahs children was lying dead in the house he died on the same night at 9 o’clock.” Jonas and his mother Hannah were enslaved people on the McKenzie farm. The month before, Ely Lytch had died. Ely is the enslaved person who was purchased from John C. McLaurin in North Carolina. Kenneth suggests that Duncan McLaurin probably knew this enslaved person Ely as Archibald Lytch. Ely had likely been with the family since they arrived in Mississippi if not soon after and had died of a “long and protracted illness protracted by the sudden changes of the most disagreeable winter I have ever witnessed.” Kenneth goes on to say that the entire family was very sick but survivors have now recovered. He also informs his uncle that the family’s anxiety is increased by Daniel’s presence at Vera Cruz in the Mexican War. (See also “Penning His Stories” post in May.)

Hugh Carmichael Stewart (1810 – 1847)

FatalAccidentHCStewart
The Weekly Mississippian of Jackson, Mississippi on Friday, November 1847 published this short but characterizing obituary for Hugh Carmichael Stewart soon after his accidental death.

Disease and old age was not the only cause of death prevailing in the 1840s South. Accidents were not uncommon. Hugh Carmichael Stewart, son of Allan and brother of John Patrick Stewart, succumbed to just such a mishap. According to a newspaper account and Kenneth McKenzie’s letter to his uncle, he fell from his gin house on a Saturday, November 11, 1847. Kenneth McKenzie’s account is detailed, his apparently having come upon the accident not long afterward.

Hugh Stewart’s life in Mississippi shows that he was involved in farming, politics, and merchandising. During 1836 Hugh says that since he came to Mississippi, he has  “experienced all the scenes of life possible to be found in Miss”:

– amongst those were some of my trips of surveying in the Miss Swamp when

I have spent five months at a time without seeing

a human being except my own company consisting of

5 or six men — This business I quit last spring — Hugh C. Stewart

Hugh also writes to Duncan McLaurin that he had “acted as Deputy Sheriff- in Hinds County this year the Sheriff was absent a large portion of the year and I also ran for Clerk of our County Court and had the pleasure of being defeated by 80 votes out of 1800.” He is living in Raymond, MS in 1835. In the same letter he mentions Hugh R. Trawick, Duncan McKenzie’s guide to MS. Trawick lives in Hinds County also and had recently married a teacher, Miss Whitford. Hugh also mentions his weight, “upwards of two hundred last year I weighted 225.” In 1844 Duncan McKenzie reports that Hugh is overseeing “with propriety” his father’s farm, which may be where the accident happened, and near the McKenzie place so that it is probable that Kenneth would come upon the accident. Kenneth writes of the accident that killed Hugh Carmichael Stewart:

On Saturday the 11th Ult Hugh C Stewart

was killed by a fall from his gin house. he was working

on the flat firm of his screw hewing some timbers

stepped over the piece of timber he was working on the

end of a plank which his weight bore down and

having no other purchase he fell through to the

ground. the plank followed end foremost striking

him on the forehead split out his brains. the fall

was 13 feet I saw him in a few minutes after — Kenneth McKenzie

The Weekly Mississippian of Jackson MS published a notice of Hugh’s death on 19 November 1847. In this notice he is describes as being, “highly esteemed for his generous qualities, and leaves numerous friends to lament his premature death.” What better tribute than to be described as “generous” and to leave “numerous friends.”

Health and Deaths of Friends and Acquaintance

Duncan McKenzie referred often to friends and acquaintance who had been ill or had passed away. He considered himself fairly knowledgeable about health issues, though he detested the thought of working as a “Hireling” to heal people. His son Daniel had a passion to become a doctor, but he had difficulty giving himself over to the profession due to his own fear of the responsibility of being charged with healing. In the end he did study with individuals and worked as a doctor in Smith County during the late 1850s, but he never pressured people to pay him. His physician’s duties brought him little monetary compensation. Mississippi during this time did not have in place a system of licensing and regulating practicing physicians. An earlier established board to license physicians was declared unconstitutional by the Mississippi State Supreme Court in 1836 after a Wilkinson County man won his appeal on his conviction of practicing without a license. The outcome of this appeal essentially made the state licensing process null and void. However, in 1844 the state legislature passed a state law that permitted Adams County to set up a licensing board for that county only.

Evidence from his letters reveals that Duncan McKenzie questioned the Thomsonian Method of healing that became very popular in the US during the first half of the 19th century. The underlying theory of most medical treatments during this time was the necessity of purging the system of whatever was causing the ailment. Because of this Samuel Thomson’s Thomsonian Method relied heavily on herbs, first and foremost Lobelia. Lobelia induces vomiting. Natural Lobelia as a purgative had fewer detrimental side effects than the Calomel most doctors were using. For this reason his herbal remedies became popular. In 1822 Thomson published a book of his herbal preparations, New Guide to Health; or Botanic Family Physician. One could purchase this book and Thomson’s herbal remedies from him. Others began making money off of his healing practices in spite of the fact that he was twice taken to court for malpractice in the deaths of patients. McKenzie questions the “steam” treatment in the Thomsonian regimen. After completing purgation with the use of herbs and herb compositions, the patient was wrapped in blankets. A container of water was placed at the patient’s feet into which a hot stone was dropped, creating  a type of sauna. After resting, the patient was given different herbs to effect digestion. Evidently some of McKenzie’s friends and acquaintance in Mississippi were using the Thomsonian Method. It was very popular in rural areas where licensed physicians were scarce. Likely, after purchasing the herbs and directions, the process could be carried out without a doctor’s supervision. It is after a reference of illness in July of 1845 to “Old Judge Duncan,” a neighbor and of the B family of McLaurins, and a North Carolina friend Isabel McPherson, she evidently having used the Thomsonian Method, that D. McKenzie mentions his distaste for the treatment:

Old Judge Duncan is getting frail in both mind and boddy his memory is

fast failing. Some three or four weeks back he mad a fast step by which he

spraind his ancle since which time he has not been able to be on foot, …

I am sorry to hear of the continued affliction of Isabel McPherson her case

is incurable tho she may be living and may live languishing through a long life

I think the much celebrated steam practice has been a curse to thousands in

this country and perhaps to Isabel, the fact is those chronic complaints are not

to be cured unless a new constitution can be given — Duncan McKenzie

Six months before his death, D. McKenzie mentions this medical treatment again, “Query are your people still in darkness & savage superstition The Thompsonians made a start here but lo the leaders are ending their career in the penitentiary.”

Thomsonianherbs
This advertisement appeared in the Natchez, MS newspaper on Tuesday, 6 October 1846. Listed are the Thomsonian herbal medicines available at the Cotton Square Drug Store.

Several years later in an 1847 letter written by Duncan McKenzie’s son Kenneth, he references the death of Dr. Duncan, who figured in many of Duncan McKenzie’s letters, and was likely from the D family of McLaurins, a close friend and probably a cousin to Duncan and Barbara. In the original text the reference is interrupted, but it is probable that Dr. Duncan encountered some sort of accident in Simpson County, MS. His drinking may have contributed to his demise: “on Wednesday night the 23rd ult (November) Our cousin Dr Duncan fell by a … at Westvill Simpson County.” Another McLaurin doctor is referenced in the letters more than once. This is Dr. Hugh McLaurin, who evidently actually received a formal medical education elsewhere and by September of 1840 was in Mississippi practicing. One of his first patients upon his return was his sister Mary who, unfortunately, died.

Eyesight problems also likely plagued many, but Duncan McKenzie’s had slowly degenerated from before the time he left NC. He “borrowed” Duncan McLaurin’s green spectacles and managed to bring them with him to Mississippi. In 1841 he references his eyesight, “I cannot take time by day light to write a letter and I cannot see so well by candle light as such I write this a page per day at noon while the horses are eating.” By December of 1842 McKenzie complains, “I must acknowledge that my eyesight is considerably deficient by candlelight its a late visitation.” This must have been disheartening to a man as compelled to write letters as D. McKenzie, and his brother-in-law must have been missing the green spectacles about that time himself. The green spectacles were inherited by Barbara. In July of 1849 Kenneth writes to his Uncle Duncan, “Mother is wearing the green spectacles you let father have the spring of 1830 if you recollect his eyes were nearly blind that spring.” This makes me wonder how he was able so easily to quickly aim and shoot that tiger (see “Penning His Stories”). Perhaps it helped that he was at close range.

The following are references in the letters to sickness and death during the 1840s, in Mississippi and North Carolina:

19 Feb 1840: “the life of one of my best friends is in great danger this friends name is Wiley Johnson, he is as yet living but in all appearance cannot recover Johnson is a native of Lumber District S. C. — and married to a cousin of Big Duncans sones wives, they are a fine family of women” — D McKenzie

24 Dec 1840: “I heard of the death of old Mrs Carmichael also that of Effy Calhoun” — D. McKenzie

8 September 1841: “there have been several cases of fever and some deaths. among the former are Mrs. Lauchlin McLaurin, Marks Creek, Angus McInnis and Archd Black … your much esteemd friend Norman Cameron his quiet spirit left its mortal tenement, at the house of Archd McCollum” — D. McKenzie (He earlier had praised Norman Cameron as a teacher in Covington County).

29 Aug 1842: “The family and neighbors are generally well, there are a few cases of sickness round also some deaths, Lachlan McLaurin from Marks creek has lost his daughter Flora She died on last friday week of fever, She was the fourth death in his family since he came to this state, Catharine McInnis, Hughs Sister, who married a Mr. Sutton is very sick of fever. I was constrained by her brother Angus to visit her on Saturday the distance being 20 miles I returned home last night leaving her verry weak this convalescent.”  D. McKenzie

17 Sep 1842: “In my last I mentioned something of the sickness of Mrs Sutton her case has been a protracted one from last account she is recovering, her Mother old Mrs, Hugh McInnis who has been laboring under a paralytic effection of the head and spine for many years passd was seised with a violent paroxysm on last thursday week since which time she has not moved hand or foot or any other member, her children and neighbors were watching when nature would cease its strife we have not heard from her since Wednesday” — D. McKenzie

9 Dec 1842: “there has been some sickness in the neighborhood and a few deaths Hiram Jones formerly of your county died of billious congestive fever (pancreatitis) on the 26th October three others unknown to you died about that time, Angus McInnis, his daughter Jane, John E. McNair and Rachel Ann step daughter of Little Duncan McLaurin were all verry sick, now better” — Duncan McKenzie

23 Sep 1843: D. McKenzie explains this flu-like illness that is spreading in the community. He says many are calling it the “Tyler Grip,” a political reference. “We have had some considerable of this Influenza in our family but none of us as yet have been dangerously sick, its first symptoms are as follows an incessant sneezing dull pain in the forehead some pain in the sockets of the eyes with some stiffness in the joints, as the disease advances the pain in the head and eyes increases also the aching in the bones becomes more distressing the sneezing now abates and a hoarseness with soreness and some swelling of the glands about the throat,, if there is any predisposition to any of the above fevers it now takes hold, if not an inflammatory one comes on — Barbara, Kenneth, Hugh, Danl and myself have had a light turn of this prevailing epidemic also one of the black wemen and one of the black children, all this far are doing verry well — D. McKenzie

Daniel came home on Friday night as usual this somewhat degected on account of having attended the burial of one of his scholars on Thursday, … Since the commencement of the present school two of his students have died a little boy & girl both of whom were to him very agreeable children. — D. McKenzie

10 Feb 1844: Smallpox is in the neighborhood, Mr. James Stubs, who lives where Mr. Archd Anderson moved from of late, went to Jackson and some time after was taken of a fever which was followed by a plentiful eruption which is said to be the pox, Miss Barbara Stewart is said to have a fever also one or two others who visited Stubs in the early stage of his complaint how this fearful contagion will wind up time will determin” — D. McKenzie

6 May 1844: You will say to your sister Jennet (McCall) that she would do well to apply Connels pain extracting slave to her cheek it is at least worth a trial as it is an external application She can apply it with perfect safety. I have ever been opposed to most of the puffd patient nostrums floating through the land but I am constrained to give some credit to Connels pain … which I presume may be found in Fayetteville, the genuine has the facsimiles of Comstock and Co No 21 Cortland Street New York. I have reason to believe with confidence that it will give her relief — D McKenzie

20 Aug 1844: We are sorry to hear that Jennet (possibly McKenzie) in all probability was drawing near the close of life … at this time a great deal of sickness in this region of country there have been a number of deaths in our hearing I will name those with whom you were acquainted, Archd McLeod commonly calld Baldy, Nancy Easterling, Duncan McLaurins daughter, and Flory Ann, Daughter of A Anderson there were three other deaths on last friday morning to wit, Mr Richard Polk Mrs Manerva Geere and a Negro woman of Mr Robt Magees all died of fever there are not physicians sufficient to attend to the suffering people I will not attempt to name or enumerate the cases of sickness suffice it to say that my family are all up at present tho Barbara is complaining — D McKenzie

3 March 1845: Our youngest sone John has been apparently the subject of disease for some time in fact his health has been quite delicate for two years he was sick last fall of fever after which he was taken with chills & fever which continued occasionally ever other day till of late in fact I am not sure that the cause is entirely removed as yet tho he looks tolerably well  — D. McKenzie (John McKenzie would later contract typhoid fever while deployed at Vicksburg during the siege with the Mississippi 46th Infantry. He would later die of illness at Camp Chase as a prisoner of war in Columbus, Ohio in January of 1865.)

17 September 1847: John has had an attack of Billious fever, tho he is now out of danger we called no Doctor, used the pill driver, Mrs. Allen Wilkinson died about two weeks ago, her disease was of a chronic kind, originating from a fever which confined her about one year ago from which she never regained health … We are very happy to learn that Aunt Isabelle is recovering, let the cause of her unhappy condition be what it may. Mother is well except one of her fingers which she is complaining of the fore finger on her right hand She is now eating dinner I have often heard her speak if you would come to see us. the meeting would be joyful. the parting the reverse. — K. McKenzie

14 October 1848: Mother is that same dried stick tho tough as Aunt Polly has the dare to be always doing and very often dissatisfied with herself for not being able to do enough, She is alone far from relatives except her own children, sometimes laments her desolate fate tho resigned to her lot. — K. McKenzie

Sources:

Betts, Vicki. “The ‘Social Dip’: Tobacco Use by Mid-19th Century Southern Women.” http://civilwarrx.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-social-dip-tobacco-use-by-mid-19th.html. Accessed 29 July 2018.

“Comstock & Tyler’s Patent Medicines.” The Mississippi Free Trader. 26 August 1843, Saturday, P4. Accessed 29 July 2018. newspapers.com.

“Dipping.” The Natchez Weekly Courier. 4 October 1843, Wednesday, P 1. Accessed 29 July 2018. newspapers.com.

Ellis, June E. and Janet E. Smith. Williamsburg, Mississippi County Seat of Covington County 1829-1906. Covington County Genealogical & Historical Society. 2012. p 20.

“Fatal Accident.” The Weekly Mississippian. Jackson, MS, 19 November 1847, Friday, P2. Accessed 26 July 2018. newspapers.com.

Hajdu, Steven I. and Vadmal, Manjunath S. “A Note from History: The Use of Tobacco.” 2010. www.annclinlabsci.org. Accessed 29 July 2018.

Horne, Steven. “A Short ‘Course’ in Thomsonian Medicine.” 2016. https://modernherbalmedicine.com/articles/a-short-course-in-thomsonian-medicine.html. Accessed 28 July 2018.

Howe, Daniel Walker. The Political Culture of the American Whigs. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 1979. p 239.

Lampton, Lucius M. “Medicine.” The Mississippi Encyclopedia. Ownby, Ted and Charles reagan Wilson, ed. University Press of Mississippi: Jackson. 2017. p 806, 807.

Letter from Hugh C. Stewart to Duncan McLaurin. 4 December 1835. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscripts Library. Duke University.

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 22 February 1846. Boxes 1 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

“Scotch Snuff Ad.” Vicksburg Daily Whig. 14 November 1843, Tuesday, P3. Accessed 29 July 2018. newspapers.com.

“Snuff & Tobacco.” Natchez Daily Courier. 30 May 1839, Thursday, P2. Accessed 29 July 2018. newspapers.com.

Thomson, Samuel. New Guide To Health; or, Botanic Family Physician. J. Howe, Printer: Boston. 1832. Google Books pdf ebook of Princeton University Library copy, 1969/1971.

“Thomsonian Medicines Advertisement.” Mississippi Free Trader and Natchez Gazette. 6 October 1846, Tuesday, P 4. Accessed 29 July 2018. newspapers.com.

The 1840s: Stepmother and Yellow Fever

ChurchStGraveYardGate
Gate to the Old Church Street Grave Yard created in 1819 in Mobile, Alabama for yellow fever victims. Photograph from http://wwwencyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1039.

On August 2, 1847, the first case of yellow fever in Mobile, Alabama was reported for that year. The disease, which did not originate in North America, was fairly common in United States port cities in the south during the 19th century. Outbreaks would usually begin in the summer and begin to decline after the first frost. Yellow fever’s early symptoms, similar to other fevers, made it difficult to diagnose. For this reason communities were slow to initiate warnings. Unaware of the true source of the disease, controversy ensued about whether sanitation or quarantine was the best response. The 1847 epidemic resulted in 78 deaths in the port city of Mobile, Alabama. It would be the turn of the 20th century in Cuba, where a U. S. Army Commission made the definitive discovery that the transmitter of yellow fever was the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Since the mosquito was the vector, quarantine would probably not have mattered much. Extra sanitation efforts might have made little difference in the spread of this disease except to ward off secondary infection. The mosquito vector breeds in fresh water. According to the author of “The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana,” epidemic yellow fever in the United States was essentially eliminated after 1905 thanks to medical science and public health practices. The following is a brief but revealing encounter with one of its victims.

We first learn of “Stepmother” McKenzie in 1833 when Kenneth McKenzie proudly introduces his new son, Kenneth Pridgen McKenzie. He is writing to his son John when he breaks the news from Brunswick County, NC:

John and Betsy you have a little Brother born on the

7th October named Kenneth P for Pridgen I am

in my 65 year his mother in her 48th He was fully

as large as your Mary when born

I will call her Stepmother since her first name is never revealed in any of the Duncan McLaurin Papers, and that is how the letters reference her. She is forty-eight when her last child is born. In February 1840 Duncan McKenzie writes, “I heard from Stepmother in Dec she expects to move to Mi in the spring.” Though I have never found evidence of Kenneth’s death, Stepmother is a widow in 1840, perhaps for the second time. Duncan appears to feel some concern about her wellbeing. Stepmother’s marriage to Kenneth McKenzie was not her first. Her first marriage produced at least four daughters that we know of. One of those daughters was widowed and also had a son.

Stepmother must have been desperate to find a sense of security by coming to Mississippi to be near Duncan and his family. Perhaps, as Duncan likely fears, Stepmother and her family will become dependent upon him. Still, he does not appear to discourage her from coming and probably feels some responsibility for the family. He expresses some concern for their welfare once he has confirmation that they are on their way. In April 1840 Duncan receives information that Stepmother was to leave Wilmington on March 4 by way of schooner or steamer to Charleston, SC. From there she would continue to Mobile, AL. He writes to Duncan McLaurin:

I have been looking for my

Step Mother from Wilmington, I received a letter

from her dated the 2nd of March Stating that she

was to leave there on the 4 of the same month in a

vessel bound for Charleston SC from which place

She would take passage to Mobile, Ala, She

had not reached the latter place on the 10th Inst

I am uneasy for her safety

Duncan could have rested more easily, as he would soon learn, for Stepmother was likely more adventurous and resourceful than he might have thought. In July of 1840, after the party of four had arrived in Covington County and were welcomed into Duncan and Barbara McKenzie’s home, we learn of her travels.

Stepmother initially set out from Wilmington on the fifth of March en route, via probably steamship or schooner, to Charleston, SC — a distance of around 159 nautical miles. At the beginning of her journey, she likely passed near her former home with Kenneth McKenzie at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Before passing what is today called Oak Island, she might have spied the lighthouse near her former home at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. She might have said a nostalgic good-bye to the birthplace of her young son. Or she may not have had time to direct young Kenneth’s attention to this landmark, for the seabirds following the vessel along the shoreline may have been too much of a distraction for two young boys. Stepmother also traveled with her four daughters and a widowed daughter’s young son — quite a number of people headed toward Covington County, MS and Duncan’s modest home.

However, the party was delayed two months after reaching Charleston, SC. Evidently, Stepmother’s funds were running out sooner than expected. In Charleston she made the decision to send one of her daughters back to a son-in-law in Wilmington and a second daughter stayed in Charleston. No evidence exists in the correspondence as to how this young woman was to fend for herself there. Perhaps they had family or friends in that place. Duncan does not explain further.

After a two month’s delay, Stepmother’s party of five boarded a schooner, captained by one James Nichols, en route to New Orleans, Louisiana. The schooner was nineteen days struggling against uncooperative winds in reaching port. During the nineteen day voyage traversing about 1,173 nautical miles, one daughter began a courtship with Captain Nichols, and in September of 1840 Duncan writes, “…their connubial knot was tied (on the 31st of May) in New Orleans, she thus took on her self the weals and woes of a sailors wife, her mother has not heard from her since.” Though Captain Nichols and the daughter headed for New York, they promised to return to Mississippi by way of Wilmington, where the Captain would give up command of the ship to the owners. By the end of 1840, Stepmother had received letters from her other two daughters left behind, with some assurance of their safety, but the fate of Captain Nichols and his wife is unknown.

Before leaving, Captain James Nichols placed Stepmother’s party of four (two widows and two sons) aboard a steamboat headed for Mobile, Alabama, where they arrived with seven dollars left. Duncan found land passage for them from Mobile to Covington County, MS through a friend, Peter McCallum. They stayed with Duncan and Barbara until they found a vacant house “in the neighborhood.” It appears that Duncan does not hear much from Stepmother while she lives amongst them. In one letter he describes them: “I think they are smart women,” and later says, “Stepmother and her daughter are verry industrious to make a living, they are not ashamed to ask for their wants and you know that is the first part of getting a thing.”

The following is Duncan’s account of Stepmother’s adventure:

you stated that Neil McLaurin of wilmington

had told you something about my Step Mothers leaving

that place in Febry or March, She left there on the 5th of March

and came as far as Charleston S C where She

was detained 2 months waiting a passage to Mobile

and for want of a sufficiency of funds she sent one

of her daughters back to Wilmington to a sone in laws

and left an other daughter in charles ton, She set

sail for New Orleans with her oldest daughter who

is a widdow & and an other daughter, her little sone, and her

widdowd daughters sone, five in number, owing

to contrary winds the Schooner was 19 days in making

the voyage during which time the captain was agree

=ably entertaind in courting the old ladys daughter

who he Married in New Orleans on the 31st May

leaving the two widdows to work through life

the best they could, James Nichols is the name

of the man, he parted with his mother in law

after seeing them on board a Steam boat bound

for Mobile with a promise of coming on

to her in Mi — After going a trip to New York

and returning to Wilmington where he would

surrender the schooner to the owners, and come

on with his wife, the two widdows arrived safe

in Mobile with 7$ left — P. McCallum to whom

I had previously written procured a passage for

them from thence to this place where they

arrived on last Saturday week, Still

in with us, but they are going to a vacant house

in the neighborhood, thus ends the narrative of the poor

widdows & their sones, If they are industrious they may

get along, I will try to see to this adopted little

brother he is a likely child —

MapUS1849
This map dated 1849 shows the name of Smithville, NC, now known as Southport. Stepmother’s route can be traced from Wilmington to Charleston. From Charleston, Capt. James Nichols navigated his schooner 19 days through the Gulf of Mexico to arrive at New Orleans in May of 1840.  To zoom into a version of this map visit this address: https://www.loc.gov/item/2007626897/

In fact, Duncan did not have to put himself out for the young half brother, for his half sister, named Mrs. Turner, soon married the Yankee schoolteacher that Duncan thought brought the younger students on so well in their schooling. Reese H. Jones was from Pennsylvania, perhaps Philadelphia, for he returns home around 1846 to recover from stubborn mouth sores. While Jones is in Philadelphia, Stepmother and her daughter, their two sons — probably young teens by 1846 —leave Covington County for Mobile, Alabama. Stepmother and her family had been in Mississippi about six years when Duncan writes in January 1846, “Stepmother & crew left this for Mobile some time in Nov last Kenneth and all & if it suits their convenience they may stay there, her sone in law Reese H Jones came to Williams Burgh the day after she crew & caravan passd on their way to Mobile he of course followed they reached their place of destination and I hope that is the last of them.”

The last line seems to me a bit foreboding because it actually was the last of Stepmother. About nine months after Duncan McKenzie died in 1847, his oldest son Kenneth writes to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin of Stepmother: “I have to write … of Mobile grand … is no more she died of the yellow fever in Septr last Kenneth is in Mobile if he was separate from his sister I would try to tighten his reigns and put him to work.”

One is left only to imagine Stepmother’s suffering from yellow fever. Likely they were in temporary quarters when the disease struck. At first she might have suspected the fever and chills not unlike those she may have had before. The first five days would have brought nausea, vomiting, constipation, headache, and muscle pain in the legs and back. The acute stage would follow with the yellowing of the skin through jaundice. Hemorrhaging from almost any part of the body is common. Black vomit can occur as a result of blood from stomach hemorrhages being acted upon by stomach acids. This would take the form of almost involuntary vomiting. Before death, convulsions or coma occurred. If one recovered, and some did, it would begin about two weeks from the onset of the illness.

The treatment Stepmother was likely to have endured included heavy doses of Calomel, a mercury-based compound that purged the system. Other purging methods would have included blood-letting. These purging treatments are said to have had some limited success in treating the illness.

There is some evidence that soldiers returning from the Mexican War via New Orleans and Mobile may have made the epidemics worse during 1847. Many, many soldiers died of yellow fever while in Mexico. The ships and steamboats bringing them back through these ports perhaps harbored the deadly mosquito.

ChurchStGraveyardMobileAL
This photograph shows graves at Old Church Street Cemetery in Mobile, AL – possibly Stepmother’s final resting place. photo from http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1039. 

It is possible that Stepmother lies buried in the Old Church Street Cemetery in Mobile. The cemetery was originally set aside for yellow fever victims in 1819. During the epidemic of 1820, 274 people died, so the cemetery was put to immediate use. The cemetery covers over four acres. Whether Reese H. Jones, his wife, and young Kenneth P. McKenzie survived the epidemic and perhaps made their home in Mobile is awaiting discovery.

Stepmother died in September of 1847. Ironically, in 1848 the American physician Joseph Clark Nott became one of the first to introduce the idea of the mosquito vector. It would take a second American war at the end of the 19th century in a tropical climate — Cuba during the Spanish-American War — to confirm the mosquito as the source of yellow fever.

SOURCES

Colton, G. Woolworth, J. H. Colton, John M. Atwood, and William S. Barnard. Map of the US of America, the British Provinces, Mexico, the West Indies and Central America, with part of New Granada and Venezuela. New York: J. H. Colton, 1849. map. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007626897/.

“Distances Between United States Ports.” U.S. Department of Commerce. Dr. Rebecca M. Blank. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D. National Ocean Service. David M. Kennedy. 2012. p 4. https://nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/publications/docs/distances.pdf

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to his son John McKenzie. 3 November 1833. Boxes 1 and 2. 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The 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 and 2. The Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

“The Saffron Scourge: a History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905.” Jo Ann Carrigan. 1961. LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 666. https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/gradschool_disstheses/666

“A Short History of Yellow Fever in the US.” Outbreak News Today. Accessed 24 June 2018. http://outbreaknewstoday.com/a-short-history-of-yellow-fever-in-the-us-89760/

Sledge, John S. “Church Street Graveyard.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. Accessed 28 June 2018. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1039.

Yellow Fever. History Timeline Transcript Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services. Accessed 25 July 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/travel-training/local/HistoryEpidemiologyandVaccination/HistoryTimelineTranscript.pdf

“Yellow Fever.” Alabama Epidemic History. Alabama Genealogy Trails. Accessed 23 June 2018. http://genealogytrails.com/ala/epidemics.html

Daniel C. McKenzie and the Mexican War

1840s: Daniel Calhoun McKenzie

Daniel C. McKenzie, son of Duncan and Barbara McLaurin McKenzie, would only live to be thirty-seven years old – dying of typhoid fever. At the time of his death he was living on property in Smith County, Mississippi and married to Sarah Blackwell. The couple were raising two small children, son John Duncan and newborn daughter Mollie Isabel (Woody). Daniel was farming and also serving as a local physician.

About seventeen years before his death, when Daniel is twenty in 1843, he writes a letter to his uncle/former teacher Duncan McLaurin. Although he writes at his uncle’s request, the news he is most eager to convey is his acquiring a position teaching. The literary allusions in the letter are evidence that he was also intending to impress his uncle. The same uncle is likely responsible for instilling in Daniel a thirst for knowledge, even as he was unable ever to afford a scholarly education at an institution.

Daniel is charged with teaching from twenty to twenty-five students of varying ages, probably in a one-room building. The parents of his students pay him “from a dollar and fifty cents per month.” However, students pay more to learn Latin – two dollars and fifty cents. Since the letter is directed from Mt. Carmel, we can imagine that his school is located near this place.

Teachers often boarded with members of the community in which they taught. In Daniel’s case he is boarding with a Revolutionary War veteran, “formerly of South Carolina.” His name is John Baskin whose family consists of an aging daughter and her orphaned grandson. Daniel describes the perfect situation for him:

his family is small & quiet he has a library

of Books well calculated to improve the intellect of

the young he is well informed and fond of reading

I occasionally read for him at night as he cannot read

by candlelight his eyes being dimed by a continually pass

ing stream of four score years and more the anecdotes

of this old gentleman are history to me they are interest

-ing and entertaining. — Daniel McKenzie

Perhaps it is Daniel’s exposure to this veteran of the Revolutionary War — “the anecdotes of this old gentleman are history to me” — that in 1846 inspires him to join a group of Covington County, MS young men, who volunteer to serve in the Mexican War.

Indeed, Daniel speaks of Baskin’s devotion to politics, describing his opinions as somewhere between John C. Calhoun and Thomas Jefferson – both proponents of states rights and territorial expansion. However, Jefferson’s vision of territorial expansion, opening the west for diversified and self-sufficient small farms, differed from the reality of the growing monoculture of cotton requiring slave labor, that Calhoun defended. States rights and territorial expansion of slavery are important issues during the decade of the 1840s. Daniel, however, couches the description with  literary allusions as follows:

he is cherished

in principle like Paul at the feet of Gamalial

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 McKenzie

Gamalial refers to a historic Jewish teacher who is also lauded as a Christian saint. Somehow Gamalial bridges the gap between those two faiths. As for the “old woman Otway,” Thomas Otway is a seventeenth century dramatist who believes the beautiful woman is a catalyst for war. Perhaps Baskin is looking into the future and speculating on the possibility of war over nullification and westward expansion. After all, Andrew Jackson knew in his heart that nullification would come up again, and the next time he was sure the issue would have at its center the controversy over slavery. This is a quotation from one of Otway’s works:

What mighty ills have not been done by woman!

Who was’t betray’d the Capitol? A woman;

Who lost Mark Antony the world? A woman;

Who was the cause of a long ten years’ war,

And laid at last old Troy is ashes? Woman;

Destructive, damnable, deceitful woman! — Thomas Otway

Daniel expresses his wish to continue his education, but he is also aware that he is older now and must be out in the world making his way. Family members in other letters describe Daniel as the smallest of the six McKenzie brothers, and all of them competed in the fields to see who could pick the most cotton. Though Daniel picks the least of all, he does waver between teaching, studying to be a physician, and farming during the years before he marries.

The Mexican War

While the 25th Congress of the United States (1837-1839) debated what to do with the growing number of petitions to end slavery in the District of Columbia, the question of annexing Texas was a related issue prompting 54 petitions. As a result, the annexation of the Republic of Texas early in 1845 at the beginning of President Polk’s administration would inevitably fan the hot coals of the issue of slavery. Any new territory added to the United States was fraught with the political implications of unbalancing the power held by the southern states as a result of the 3/5 rule. This rule allowed more rural states, populated with fewer white male voters, to count enslaved persons as 3/5 of a person when calculating representation in Congress. In the decades before the Civil War, though enslaved people were by the 3/5 rule represented in Congress, they were not even allowed the right, as women were, to petition Congress. By the 1830’s, with the influx of migrants and the rise in the slave population, the southern states had experienced a distinct advantage when the issue of slavery arose. This advantage was threatened by the growing population of immigrants to northern free states. It is important to note that many of the citizens of the Republic of Texas in 1845 were the same farmers who had migrated from the southern states, especially those from Mississippi who had fled with their slaves to Texas during economic hard times.

Neither Duncan McKenzie nor Duncan Calhoun (see “The Duncan Calhoun Story” in this blog) expressed certainty that the annexation, and certainly not a war with Mexico over the territory, was a wise idea. McKenzie’s concern is war. Calhoun’s concern, from his front row seat in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, is that the United States will not be able to “manage” and govern the acquisition of additional territory. Both stances were probably less common in Mississippi and Louisiana. The Democratic Party dominated in the South; McKenzie was a southern Whig. The Democratic party in Mississippi was overwhelmingly for territorial expansion, support of slavery, and war with Mexico. In contrast to the South, northern Whigs would have shunned the expansion of slavery that might increase slave state representation. In the end support for the Mexican War would come from mostly western states, both North and South — more fervently from the southern states.

Duncan McKenzie was alive when his son Daniel set off for the Mexican War. In fact he appears quite insulted that the “Covington County Boys,” first part of the volunteers known as the Fencibles, were told to go back home when they presented themselves for military service. In June of 1846 he writes to Duncan McLaurin regarding the Mexican War:

The Mexican difficulties are quite familiar to us here There are more volunteers

than are wanting, the other day a company called the State fencibles tenderd

themselves to the governor for a permit to go and join genl Taylor the govr

asked them if they could not find anything to do at home —

query was not the governs question mortifying to the sensibility of the patriotic

Fencibles, in fact Govr Brown

absolutely refused raising any troops except by the express command of The President — Duncan McKenzie

This Covington County group included Daniel McKenzie and perhaps Kenneth, though Daniel is the only one who eventually stays with the group long enough to serve. Friend Cornelius McLaurin is also among the group.

Later in the same 1846 letter, Duncan further clarifies his position in response to the prospect of President Polk avoiding war “on the Texas and Oregon questions.” Duncan responds by asking how any confidence can be placed in the “dmd clique, they profess one thing and do another.” Here Duncan comes out clearly against the annexation of Texas and the war that now looms:

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 a presump

-tion unparalleled in the history of free government — Duncan McKenzie

In another few lines Duncan alludes to the spilling of American blood for such territorial aspirations and the ability of populist candidates to lead otherwise rational-thinking people around by the nose:

and watch ye our repub

-lic cannot wash out the stain only by much blood and how can we

wash from our desecrated hands that blood of innocence, it may be argued

that such was the will of the majority no no the majority would do right if

left to their own sober reflections, but when inflamed by wicked aspirants

they may err, at this moment all our earthly interests are in jeopardy — Duncan McKenzie

After the Republic of Texas was annexed in 1845, Mexico responded by cutting off diplomatic relations with the United States. President Polk sent John Slidell from Louisiana to negotiate the contested border with the Mexicans; President Herrera of Mexico refused to see Slidell. At this point Polk sent US troops under Zachary Taylor. Manifest destiny being the philosophy of the powerful southern members of Congress, it approved Polk’s call for war after Taylor’s troops were attacked by Mexico.

The support in the United States for war was overwhelmingly from the southern states. Daniel McKenzie, among other Covington County young men, was not alone in Mississippi in his fervor to volunteer. President Polk designated which states would send militia troops and how many from each state. Mississippi was called to send only one regiment of 1000 volunteer militia. According to author Sam Olden in “Mississippi and the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-1848,” the response was so great in the state that “an estimated 17,000 boys were in Vicksburg wanting to enlist.” Many were sent home. The Fencibles began by gathering men for their company from Covington and surrounding counties – thirty from Copiah County, according to Kenneth McKenzie. Governor Brown ordered them to march to Jackson without an officer. In Jackson, MS the group elected Ben C. Buckly Captain. Evidently, an argument then arose as to First Lieutenant’s place, “but by fraud we were choised out, we revolted and broke the company.” Characteristically erring in judgement on the side of paranoia, Kenneth claims that Governor Brown was partial to the others when he sent the Covington boys home. Truth be told, they probably simply had too many volunteers. Kenneth goes on to say that the Covington boys raised several thousand dollars to pay their own expenses as volunteers.

Cornelius McLaurin’s Account

Another story complements most of Kenneth’s explanation. In 1860 General Cornelius McLaurin, who had been a member of the Covington County boys  and with the group in Mexico, writes a letter in reply to J.F.H. Claiborne. Though not an actual participant in the Battle of Vera Cruz, McLaurin’s story corroborates others. Claiborne was a Congressman from Mississippi in the 24th and 25th Congress, but was likely working as a journalist and historian by 1860. Evidently, Claiborne had found information about the Covington County volunteers among the papers of General Quitman, under whom the Covington group served, and solicits McLaurin’s explanation. Cornelius McLaurin writes that, after being rejected, the company of nine left in January of 1847 financing their own adventure. In New Orleans they outfitted themselves with privates uniforms and weapons, medicines and directions for use, and left by sea for Tampico. At Tampico they attached themselves to Company D of the Georgia regiment under Quitman’s command. On the 7th or 8th of March Quitman’s forces left for Vera Cruz and the castle San Juan D’Ulloa. Once on land they slept the first night with their arms and the second day began to move inland. When the regiment encountered fire from a large party of Mexicans, Cornelius McLaurin was in camp sick with a fever. Most of the soldiers who died in this war died of illness, especially among the volunteers.

TheRightSpirit1847
The above piece from the New Orleans Picayune appeared in The Mississippi Free Trader on page 2 in the Tuesday, 19 January 1847  issue. Titled “The Right Spirit,” it lauds the grit of the Covington County Boys in setting out on their own to serve in the Mexican War.

The “Covington County Boys” as they would come to be known, were part of a contingent that engaged with Mexican soldiers at Vera Cruz. The skirmish lasted about thirty minutes. Quitman’s soldiers were the victors, though the siege would continue for some days. Among the six or eight wounded was one Thomas J. Lott of Covington County, wounded in the thigh. According to Cornelius McLaurin’s account, the wound appeared to be stable and improving until the injured were required to be moved to another location. Lott’s wound became infected and he soon died. Cornelius McLaurin recovered but adds in his account that seventeen lives were lost at Vera Cruz through injury — hundreds from illness. He claims they were all ill even after returning home. The little company, having left in January, did soon return home as hostilities appeared to Quitman to be winding down. Quitman found them passage on the America for a nineteen day trip to New Orleans. McLaurin also praises one Captain Irwin. It appears “Mr. McKenzie” from the group was sent to the Quartermaster to obtain items needed for Cornelius McLaurin’s recovery. Evidently, the regular Army was reluctant to answer the persistent requests from a volunteer, so Captain Irwin stepped in and told McKenzie that their needs were to be met without hesitation. According to McLaurin the Covington County boys included: Daniel C. McKenzie, George W. Steele, Arthur Lott, Wm. Laird, Wm Blair Lord, Laurin Rankin Magee, Hugh A. McLeod, Thomas J Lott, and Cornelius McLaurin. 

Daniel C. McKenzie’s Account

AmateurSoldiers1847
“Amateur Soldiers” appeared in The Mississippi Free Trader of Natchez on Thursday, 18 March 1847. The names of the nine Covington County volunteers are confirmed.

In May of 1847 after he has had some time to absorb the death of his parent during his absence and recover from his experience in Mexico, Daniel writes to his uncle, Duncan McLaurin. In this letter he tells of receiving the news of his father’s death in a letter received a few days before the company started for home. He found his family recovering from what he calls, “the epidemic typhus pneumonia which passed through the state in some places more violent than in others.” The family was surprised to see him since they had heard the company was headed toward the Mexican interior toward Jalapa (Xalapa). He claims to have “taken up my medical books again,” perhaps partly inspired by the illness that claimed so many in Mexico and the death of his fellow adventurer, Thomas Lott. Evidently, Daniel wrote to his uncle from Tampico, but either the letter never reached North Carolina or it did not survive in this collection. To explain their position as volunteers, Daniel says they were allowed even more access to the Quartermaster’s department than even privates in the regular Army:

Gen. Scott arrived there (at Tampico) on apple

-cation to whom we we’re permitted to enter any portion

of the volunteer army as amateurs for any length of

time we chose with the chance of drawing rations as

others with all the privileges of non commissioned

officers i.e. we could buy any thing in the Quarter Masters

department in the way of food which is not allowed privates

We paid our transportation received no pay did

no soldiers duties except fight when we saw the enemy

In my letters home I gave them the particulars of

my trials & c …

I was in but one fight while I staid in Mexico that at Vera Cruz and that a

skirmish, tho a pretty hard business I would call it

16 Georgians and 7 of us contended against 2 Regmnts of

the tawny creatures commanded by Gen Morales,, 11 of our

little number we’re hit 6 badly wounded Lott was all that died of his wound — Daniel McKenzie

It would seem that Captain Irwin’s orders were followed by the Quartermaster, but we can speculate that there might have been some prejudice against the volunteers on the part of the regular army soldiers, especially if the volunteers were required to do no extra duty. For the Covington County boys it must have been like one of those adventurous reality vacations gone awry when illness overtook them and a friend was lost to injury.

The “tawny creatures” comment is instructive regarding the attitude of slave holders to foreign people of color, disparaged on site for preconceived notions of the inferiority of their cultures and “creatures” suggesting a lesser form of human being. In Daniel’s defense, though, any person that is shooting at you, and you are required to shoot back at them might more easily be construed as a little less human. This appears true in any war.

mexican-american-war-landing-everett
This image depicts the American forces landing at Vera Cruz March 9, 1847. The fortress Castle San Jaun d’Ulloa appears on the right side of the image. from Google images

Though he does not describe the town of Vera Cruz, Daniel attempts to describe the Castle San Juan d’Ulloa or as he spells it San Juan de Cellos. It is an impressive fortress that extends into the sea. He compares the coral light house in size to one he saw at La Balize, Louisiana on the Mississippi River:

Castle San Juan de Cellos …

is situated more than a half mile in the sea

from the nearest point of the beach where ships of the largest

size can come and anchor by the walls so near that

you may step from one to the other. 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 40 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  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 McKenzie

Daniel continues his account with information to which Cornelius McLaurin would know only from the accounts of others. He remarks on the illness, chronic dysentery, that plagued the little company of volunteers even after their return to Covington County. Admitting that his inclination was to return to the fray now that he was well, he would not put his mother through that anxiety so soon after losing his father:

We went on to Alvarado a town 54 miles from Vera Cruz

on the coast which surrendered on our rear approach …

Gen Quitman took possession demolished some of their

forts spiked their cannon left a small garrison as however

Com Perry left a few small gunboats as a garrison. Quitman

with his portion of the army returned to Vera Cruz all of us that went

took sick we were almost unable to follow the army farther We

are at home. I am well but 4 of the others are not and I doubt their being

so soon their disease Chronic Dysentery …

My inclination would

lead me back. But while Mother lives I will not distress her by a similar

attempt. All are well Mamma in as good spirits as I could expect. — Daniel McKenzie

Daniel laments never actually seeing Mexican General Santa Anna and mentions a General Twiggs when accounting for their return from Alvarado. Though General Twiggs would be quite old at the outbreak of the Civil War, he still served in the Confederate Army, but his reputation was somewhat disparaged after he lost control of Ship Island on the Mississippi Sound early in the war. :

On our return from Alvarado Gen Twiggs was sent on toward

Jalapa with the advance of the army Gens Worth Patterson Shields

followed a few days afterwards. They got out to the mountain pass

called Cerro Gordon where they were met by Santa Anna

with a powerful Mexican force Genl Scott came up and on

the 17th and 18th April they fought. The American loss though heavy was

small compared to that of his adversary. — Daniel McKenzie

General Twiggs was among many soldiers who would gain useful battlefield and leadership experience in this war to serve them in the next conflagration, the looming Civil War. In fact General U. S. Grant, a veteran of Chapultepec, describes the Mexican War as, “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

Andrew Jackson Trussell’s Account

At the University of Texas at Arlington Library in Arlington, Texas the Trussell Collection, box 1, folder 3, contains letters of a young Lauderdale County Mississippian who enthusiastically volunteered against odds to serve in the Mexican War.  Eight of Andrew Trussel’s letters are either partially or wholly transcribed and published by Douglas W. Richmond in a collection titled Essays on the Mexican War. The collection is edited by Richmond.

Upon reading Trussell’s correspondence from Buenavista, Mexico to his home in Mississippi, I was struck by two characteristics in his account that either corroborate an impression in Cornelius McLaurin’s letter or in Daniel McKenzie’s letter: prevalence of illness, especially among the volunteers; and apparent ill-will between the regular army and the volunteers.

In all three accounts illness is given as the major cause of death. Trussell writes in June of 1847 to his brother, “There are only 38 privates now in our company. When we left Vicksburg we numbered 90 men.” Earlier in the letter he writes, “We have, I believe, got clear of the desperate complaints of small pox. There were 22 of our company who had the small pox.” Later in a letter to a friend, he returns to the subject of illness, “We were first taken in New Orleans and while tossed to and fro on the mighty billows of the gulf for thirty-two days, many a brave and proud spirit found a watery grave.”

By October, though Trussell is still complaining to his brother about illness, he also mentions a conflict regarding a Lieutenant Amyx. It seems that some Mexicans killed two men during the night not far from their camp. This Lieutenant Amyx gathered ten or fifteen privates and, evidently without authorization, took off after them, traveling some eighteen miles away from the camp. Upon their return the next morning General Robert Wood had Amyx arrested. Apparently Trussell took issue with this arrest:

Wood had him arrested and the sentence of the court martial was read out on dress parade … he should be reduced from rank for three or four months and his pay stopped for the same time. Lieutenant Amyx is a good officer and a gentleman … He was tried by regular officers and they hate volunteers as they do the devil and there is no love lost, for the volunteers hate them. — Andrew Trussell

It is amazing to me that Trussell could not see how Amyx’s actions might be construed as gross insubordination. Was this a general problem with the volunteer soldiers? Perhaps, unused to military discipline, some misconstrued their mandate to engage the enemy when necessary. Contrary to Trussel’s anecdote, some reliable accounts describe the regular Army, undermanned at the time of war, as working well with the militia volunteers. The volunteers, it is said, were eager to follow the rules of the regular Army. In fact, Trussell himself requests that his brother try to get him an appointment to the regular Army.

Trussell spent his twelve months service in Mexico and returned safely home. Trussell writes specific descriptions that tell us a bit about life in the camps. He describes the food as mostly salt pork and beef, corn bread from the market and sometimes flour bread, milk and fresh pork. Pretty good eating for troops in a foreign land, I think. He says, “The only good thing we have here is the water. These are the best springs here that I have ever seen.” He also writes of the “fine churches in Saltillo.” Of the Mississippians he says, “But the Mississippians always wanted to fight when they are imposed on or mistreated.” He admits himself to stabbing a man in the shoulder, “but did not hurt him very bad. He is getting well and I was justifiable.” He also speaks of the “very lively and rich” Mexican girls and wonders if the girls back home will still look as pretty to him. In addition, he disparages the Mexicans in general and says they are not worthy of self-government, so he is against any attempt to make Mexico itself part of the United States.

Trussel is in Mexico for a year, the standard twelve month enlistment for a volunteer, though Daniel McKenzie and Cornelius McLaurin were barely there three months. It is interesting that in the year Trussell saw absolutely no enemy engagement, whereas the Covington County boys incurred injuries and one death from a skirmish.

_________________

The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, signed in Mexico City on February 2, 1848, settled the war between Mexico and the United States. It stipulated that the two countries would peacefully negotiate future conflicts. The United States paid Mexico fifteen million dollars. The US also took over the debts previous Mexican governments owed American citizens. Mexico gave up claim to what became California and parts of what became New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming.

According to Jim Zeender, Senior Registrar in the National Archives Exhibits Office, if you find yourself in Pueblo, Colorado, you might visit the “Borderlands of Southern Colorado” exhibition at the El Pueblo AcMuseum there. On display you would find, contained in light-filtering acrylic, three pages — an original copy of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. You would see the signatures in iron gall ink of “American diplomat Nicholas Trist and Luis G. Cuevas, Bernardo Couto, and Miguel Atristain as plenipotentiary representatives of Mexico.  

Daniel McKenzie did bring home one souvenir of his experience that was appreciated by all of his brothers. While in New Orleans, he purchased a new rifle, which Kenneth later refers to as Daniel’s “Spaniard gun.” Kenneth says that Allen killed “a fine buck” and “a few days ago he killed a turkey over 200 yards with the gun.” Daniel tells his Uncle Duncan to convey a message about the gun to his Uncle John McLaurin, “…tell Uncle John I bought a rifle in New Orleans and gave $45 dollars 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.”

Sources

“Amateur Soldiers.” The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, MS 18 March 1847. 2. newspapers.com Accessed 20 May 2018.

“Covington County Military Resources; Mexican American War 1846-1848.” U.S. GenWeb Project. “General McLaurin to J. F. H. Claiborne; Jackson, Mississippi, July 16th, 1860.” http://msgw.org/covington/mexico.htm Accessed May 2016.

“From Tampico and the Island of Lobos.” The Weekly Mississippian. Jackson, MS. 19 March 1847. 2. newspapers.com Accessed 27 May 2018.

“Gen. Jefferson Davis.” The Natchez Weekly Courier. Natchez, MS. 25 August 1847. 1. newspapers.com Accessed 23 May 2018.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. may 1847. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Daniel C. McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. may 1847. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

Magee, Rex B. “Covington Man Gave His for Mexico Years Ago.” Clarion Ledger. Jackson, MS. 20 March 1963. Published in Strickland, Jean and Patricia R. Edwards. Church Records of Covington County, MS: Presbyterian & Baptist. Moss Point, MS. 1988.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. The Oxford History of the United States. Volume VI. C. Vann Woodward, editor. Oxford University Press: New York. 1988. 4.

Miller, William Lee. Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress. Alfred A. Knopf: New York. 1996. 311.

Olden, Sam. “Mississippi and the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-1848.” Mississippi History Now: An online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society. http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/202/mississippi-and-the-us-mexican-war-1846-1848  Accessed 26 May 2018.

“Our exchanges in this state …” The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, MS. 6 June 1846. 2 newspapers.com. Accessed 23 May 2018.

Richmond, Douglas W. “Andrew Trussell in Mexico: A Soldier’s Wartime Impressions, 1847-1848.” Essays on the Mexican War edited by Douglas W. Richmond. Texas A & M University Press: College Station Arlington, TX. 1986. 86, 87, 88, 91, 93, 94.

“The Right Spirit.” The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, MS. 19 January 1847. 2. newspapers.com Accessed 27 May 2018.

Zeender, Jim. “Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo is on the ‘Border’.” Posted by jessiekratz. 18 May 2018.  https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2018/05/18/treaty-of-guadalupe-hidalgo-is-on-the-border/  Accessed 20 May 2018.

1840s: Penning His Stories

turkeys

From 1840 until 1847 Duncan McKenzie wrote twenty-nine surviving letters to his brother-in-law Duncan McLaurin. Within them he touched on the subjects of weather, crops, and politics  probably more consistently than any other. However, armed with a desire to entertain his audience and with some obvious individualistic and masculine braggadocio, he included stories and anecdotes that reveal his own character and that of the society in which he lived during the 19th century.

One need venture no further than Facebook memes for evidence that critters make entertaining subjects. Duncan McKenzie thought so too. In March of 1841 Duncan is describing land that he has recently purchased. He says the Covington County, MS property resembles North Carolina land near Laurel Hill, “East of the head of Leeths Creek only more mixed short strawd pine oak & Hickory.” He adds that it may not be the richest land in Covington County, but it is flat and one could, “see across on the ground in the remotest part of the field.” Covington County also has rolling hills and land that is good for livestock, but Duncan apparently wants land on which he can grow crops. He begins his “turkey story” by saying that while they were “sowing oats at the lower place, “a number of turkeys were visiting us daly, I turned to and built a pen and captured twelve of them.” He describes the turkey feasting as, “at first a delicious rarity but had turkey lasted much longer bacon would have been preferred.”

It is likely that some of the meat consumed by Duncan’s family and eight enslaved persons was wild. The McKenzie boys spent their leisure time in the nearby forests. They also raise hogs on their farm. Indeed, the freshness of their slaughtered and “put up” hog meat rested upon Barbara’s judgment. From descriptions of their “driving the hogs” from the forest, it is probable that they allowed their domesticated livestock to forage in the woods, though they may have also used their plentiful crops of corn to feed hogs. Fencing wooded areas of their land for the purpose of providing a habitat for their hogs would not have been unusual. Evidence in the letters suggests that they may have regularly hunted deer and likely enjoyed venison.

Even in more settled North Carolina in 1843 they must not have been above trying to “tame” deer. In response to his brother-in-law’s mention of a tame deer, Duncan McKenzie describes one they have on their own farm and how it gets on with a menagerie of critters:

you spoke of a tame deer query is he living yet, we have one

a year old and is thus far quite innocent and harmless but will

fight the dogs, yesterday two hounds attacked him he whipd,, both

and came off unscrachd,, his horns are large for a yearling, tho spiteful

to strange dogs ours and him lie down together, they will fight for him —

we have also a pet lamb much more mischievous than the deer

a mixed multitude dogs sheep & deer are common companions

in the yard — Duncan McKenzie

In an 1844 letter Duncan tells another deer story. The story involves a mutual friend, Duncan McBryde who was plowing with the McKenzies. They encounter a deer that has become trapped within the confines of the fence. McBryde suggests they catch the deer. Kenneth is dumbfounded at the thought, but Allan unhitches his mule and calls the dog, Amos. They are off on the chase. Sadly, the story lacks a resolution since the 174 year old paper upon which it is written is damaged:

I must here insert an anecdote on

Duncan McBryde who was at work with us last week, on

tuesday morning a deer was discovered running through

the field, … on reaching the fence he

made an effort to jump the fence but could not repeated

but failed, Duncan seeing this exclaimed to the rest come

boys lets catch him, what said Kenneth catch a wild deer in

an open field of 80 acres, yes said Duncan, god, yes, go go it said

Allan unhitching his mule and calling Amos a little cur … both …

went Duncan, Allan & Amos …

Duncan in a few… — Duncan McKenzie

The Mississippi forests of the 19th century were still habitats for larger, more dangerous animals such as bears and cougars, also known as panthers. Bobcats were and still are found in Mississippi, though they are quite shy.

The “Tiger Story” begins on a late spring Saturday in June. It is also muster day, which means that the free men of the community between the ages of 18 and 45 were called to meet at a prescribed location in their community to present themselves, along with their personal rifles and ammunition, for militia review. The Militia Acts of 1792 were designed to have a militia on call that the president would be authorized to call forth in times of necessity. Over the years this male ritual became somewhat festive, and was often the scene of political stump speeches.

Evidently this particular muster day a group of Covington County neighbors asked Duncan McKenzie to join them on the way to the muster ground. They had not gone far when they heard Kenneth, “encouraging the dogs smartly and with some degree of excitement.” According to Duncan this is what followed:

 … I took

a favorite stand near a point of the creek or river as we

often call Buoye and soon heard the leaping of something

which I took for a deer but on its imerging from the thick

which it did with a high leap I discovered it to be a

verry large tiger he stood for a moment in a broad opened

road gazing on me with fire eyes you may guess I lost no

time in letting him have the contents of my gun …

as two buck shot passed through the heart yet he with

an awful spring made his way directly for me but

ere he could reach me to take revenge he staggered off the way …  —Duncan McKenzie

Duncan goes on to say that this was the first animal of that species that had been killed there for some years. To add to the story he says there were possibly two since the dogs kept tracking. They took “the fierce looking beast,” to the muster ground nearby for public exhibition.

Evidently, Duncan McLaurin was not satisfied with the identification of the animal, for in August of that summer, McKenzie writes a description to him:

we did not measure either hight or length

but compared his hyhth to that of a young colt with a length

proportional to the highth as that of the house cat … the color

is a dark yellow and black spotted, the tail long and slim

with rings alternately black & yellow, the very end tipd with

bright yellow. this species of animals are the most daring

of all the wild beasts that infest our forests …  —Duncan McKenzie

This description is a bit contradictory, but the length of the tail would probably identify the “tiger” as a cougar, likely still roaming the Mississippi forests in the 1840s. However, Duncan says it had a white tip on the tail, but the tail is generally tipped black with a lighter underside.

The “Tiger Story” appears in Christopher Olsen’s book, Political Culture and Secession in Mississippi: Masculinity, Honor, and the Antiparty Tradition, 1830-1860. Olsen may have chosen this excerpt from the Duncan McLaurin Papers as evidence of the still-primitive nature of the state during the 1840s but also perhaps as evidence of the masculine culture that required bravery in the face of danger and the quick use of the weapon at hand.

Not all encounters involving weapons were between man and beast. Violence characterized human encounters as well. Many historians have confirmed the culture of violence that existed in the western territories and continued into statehood. Ample evidence exists.

StreetFightHCStewart1842
The Southern Argus of 4 January 1842 confirms Duncan McKenzie’s story of a street fight in Raymond, MS.

In 1842 Duncan McKenzie relates to his brother-in-law the tale of some trouble that Hugh Stewart, a mutual friend and migrant from NC, has encountered. Hugh has recently failed in his candidacy for auditor probably in Hinds County. Stewart had been defeated by the Locofoco candidate before the violence with a “Mr. Chilton of Raymond” ensued. Whether this is the source of the conflict, we will likely never know. The upshot is that the two men fired guns at one another rather than settling the argument with their fists, as Duncan laments. Now, he says, one of them will likely have to pay. Though even if Duncan thought it should, it is a bit of an exaggeration that their conflict would warrant being sent to the penitentiary:

both (Stewart and Chilton) being

towns men thot it more gentlemanly to burn a little powder at

each other than to try the more certain method of deciding their

quarrel by a fist and scull fight so they took two pops each

with double barreled shotguns by which no blood was brought but

court being then in the first week of its six week session the

grand jury took hold of their difference I have not as yet heard

the result of their trial but it is feared,, one or both of the boys is good

for the penitentiary which would be more humiliating to one

friend Hugh than a berth in the office of Auditor of Publick accounts

for which he was a candidate at the Novr,, Election but was unfor-

-tunately beaten by Saunders the Loco candidate for that office  — Duncan McKenzie

At least McKenzie believes someone should and probably would pay the piper, but an anecdote in an 1843 letter leads us to believe that the law was not always effective in dealing with violent encounters. Hearsay was not the only source of such stories. Newspapers of 19th century antebellum Mississippi are full of them. This violent incident involves “a couple of Yanke shoemakers in the vicinity last week being in a spray quarreld.” They evidently fought, which led to a shooting:

…the vanquishd feeling

himself aggrieved loaded his shot gun with at least 40 lead

-en balls which he deliberately discharged at his antagonist

strewing them or sowing them in him from his chin to his

navel this took place on Monday and on Friday this

same target was enabled to walk through the streets of

Mt Carmel and take his liquor as usual tho the marksman

has fled no doubt for Texas being the stronghold of evil doers  — Duncan McKenzie

In August of 1843 Duncan McKenzie tells the story of his encounter with two Floridians tracking a murder suspect. The two Florida pursuers were, “the brother & nephew of the Decd.” Evidently, the men had legal authority to find the murderer and were certain they would find him. Vigilante justice was likely commonplace, but a news item in The Vicksburg Whig newspaper notes that two murderers, William and David Burney, passed through the area ahead of their pursuers. That Duncan finds common acquaintance with the pursuers probably is the basis of his respect for them:

On Monday last I saw two men from Florida

in pursuit of a murderer whom they call Wm Burney who

killd Joseph Manning in cold blood Manning was the

Brother in law of Hector McMillan the brother of Lawyer

Alx formerly of Richmond …

Manning & George McMillan the brother & nephew of the Decd

were the pursuers, the murderer was 10 days in advance of them

they told me that they would certainly find him they were well

provided with arms and money for a long journey …

I traveled some

20 miles with them during which time they entertaind me

with the history of many of my old acquaintance, I think

them fine worthy intelligent men  — Duncan McKenzie

ManningMurderFlorida
The story Duncan McKenzie relates is, for the most part, confirmed by this notice appearing in The Vicksburg Daily Whig on 15 August 1843. However, Duncan does not mention the second murderer.

Another source of violence was the common highwayman or robber, who stalked those having come into large sums of money on the primitive roads of the antebellum south. This account was likely read in a newspaper. Duncan tells of the experience of one Reverend John G. Libby having sold two enslaved people and was returning home with quite a bit of money. Libby miraculously recovers from the attack on his life:

Hard To Kill the Rev John G Libby on his return home from selling two negro men for

which he got $1500 cash was shot,, buck shot entered between his hip and shoulder

blade he fell off his horse having a gun immediately rose attempting to shoot but could

not, his enemy who of course was a highwayman made off after which the parson led

his horse to a house nearest hand and strange to tell he has got well after coughing up

a shot from his lungs, the remaining are in his boddy, Parson Libby is also Dr of

phisic — Duncan McKenzie

Though Duncan does not reference dueling encounters of the 1840s, some historians and scholars believe the practice, formalized and common in the antebellum south, led to lawlessness. When the police and other state purveyors of the law can easily be superseded, law enforcement becomes less effective. However, according to the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, “‘Honorable’ fights were common, and on lower social levels street fights and ambushes were accepted forms of behavior.”

It is likely from political differences that some of the violent encounters of the day arose. During his years in Mississippi, Duncan was a Whig and professed little tolerance for other political stripes. The issue of the annexation of Texas was at the forefront of politics in April of 1845, when Duncan alludes to a story he saw in a newspaper, “… a little dirty Loco sheet.” They published an ethnically disparaging “Dutchman” story about the annexation. It was published, “…under the sign of the Eagle or rather the buzard,” according to Duncan:

Glorious news, great news, victory, victory, Texas anext,

a wag of a Dutchman passing by the office of the little

sheet was told of the great victory whereunto he coolly

replyd Wy meister ve all no tat Texas is next to

Lucyanne an I believe tat is ass near ass it will come tu

us in Some dime — was not the fellow in the straight fit  — Duncan McKenzie

In addition to political anecdotes, from time to time Duncan makes reference to family. In July of 1845, Duncan relates his potato story. He and Allan Stewart have spent the day together when they receive the news of the death of neighbor, long-time friend, and probably relative Daniel McLaurin. Thinking the funeral and burial was at Judge Duncan’s home, he and Allan Stewart soon went to that place. In spite of learning that Daniel would be buried on his own property, a meal ensued at Judge Duncan’s. When the judge began bragging and asked Stewart if he  had ever seen such large potatoes, Stewart responded by saying, “… that he had seen potatoes on our (McKenzie’s) table that day that one was as large as two of his.” Duncan tells this tale for the benefit of Hugh McLaurin, Barbara’s aging father, who was widely known for his excellent potato crops:

… say to your father that we have the largest potatoes … Mr. A. Stewart was here at dinner when we received notice of Daniel McLaurins death … and of his intended burial at Judge Duncans … to the point supper came on at Duncans where there were prepared some fine potatoes the Judge told us all to partake of the potatoes addressing Stewart particularly and telling him that those were the largest potatoes he, Stewart, had ever Seen a dispute ensued finally Stewart told the judge that he had seen potatoes on our table that day that one was as large as two of his. I thot it was fortunate that the judge was crippled or he and A. would fight, we were all amused and I particularly for it was flattering … to have my potatoes praised — Duncan McKenzie

Earlier in an 1842 letter, Duncan McKenzie sends a message to Hugh McLaurin regarding his growing potatoes, “you will say to your father that I cant find one of his age in my neighborhood who will contend with him in the culture of Irish potatoes, but if I find the man I will let him know.”

Gatherings were also held for weddings, and in December of 1842 Duncan reports on his attendance at the wedding of Mr. William Easterling, Jr. to a Miss Ann, who appears to have the same surname. She is from Simpson County, which borders Covington County. Duncan is impressed with the dancing done by the older Mississippian, Duncan McLaurin:

…among all the dark times we have had a gleam of sun

shine at a wedding Mr. William Easterling Jr to Miss Ann

Daughter of William B Easterling, Esqr, of Simpson County Mi —

the evening was wet and cold but the fare was good and mirth

rare as the dance was opened by the brides grandfather the Hon

Duncan McLaurin I never knew till then that Old Duncan was a

dancer. huzza for the Carolina Scotch, she being the first of his

grand children that have married promted the old man to dance  — Duncan McKenzie

On the subject of dancing, in 1846 McKenzie expresses his religious independence in a story about the young people in the neighborhood finding someone to teach them all to dance properly. Evidently, for some of the Presbyterians in the neighborhood, this form of entertainment did not sit very well:

the young folks of the neighborhood employed a dancing master to instruct in the Science, among others some of the sons & daughters of members of the presbyterian church were students and of course the parents were had up in session there was a rompus and there may be a split in the kirk, I did not go about their court, they have no control of me or my acts or I of theirs  — Duncan McKenzie

In October of 1843, they raise a structure for ginning cotton. Duncan notes that about fifteen neighbors worked under the warm, humid September sun known as “the dog days” in Mississippi. Evidently, they succeeded in getting the structure finished up to the rafters. Duncan finishes this story by listing the political officeholders in attendance. Though he describes the neighbors in attendance as “both black and white,” I am fairly certain that the blacks there were not there by choice:

We were with the assistance of 15 of

our white & black neighbors raising our gin house

yesterday, the day was verry warm for the 22nd  Septr and

our work was heavy and hot, our timbers being large

long unwieldy masses, yet we got up every particle

below the rafters, not with standing it was showery

in the evening,, in our company were our mutual

friend Archd Malloy & Deputy Postmaster,, a Post

master, one Justice of the peace, one Judge of probate

and a member of the board of County Police

consequently you would suppose that we had a

pretty decent raising especially when you would

add to our company a member of the late call

session of the legislature & a candidate for reelection,

which we had  — Duncan McKenzie

In a later letter Duncan would describe the gin as larger than any he has ever worked on before, “the rafters are 23 feet from heel to shoulder … it being now completely enclosed & c it is a splendid thing as much so as any horse gin in this neighborhood.”

Earlier he penned an anecdote about a pleasant Christmas Day doing something with friends that he enjoyed — deer driving. The McLaurins, including Cornelius, who would soon gain local fame in the Mexican War as one of the “Covington County Boys,” were on a deer drive with the McKenzies, Hugh McLeod, and Dr. Hugh McLaurin. McKenzie is able to relish the fact that no one was drinking alcohol, he being an avowed temperance man. During the 1840s Duncan makes reference to friends who have tried and either failed or succeeded in giving up alcohol. During this time a concerted effort across the country to reduce alcohol consumption enjoyed significant success. Historian James McPherson comments on the success of the temperance movement in a chapter of Battle Cry of Freedom, “The United States at mid-century.” He writes that Americans between the 1820s and the 1850s reduced alcohol consumption from “… the equivalent of seven gallons of 200-proof alcohol annually … to less than two gallons …” He adds that “During the same years the per capita consumption of coffee and tea doubled.” Here we have an example of that statistic:

… on that day Danl, Duncan, John,

Cornelius McLaurin, Hugh McLeod & your humble servant & boys

were Deer driving Oh yes Dr. Hugh was also in the drive

all being temperance or temperate men all appeared to enjoy

themselves by feasting on venson ham previously killed & dryd

and as a beverage to wash it down a cup of smoking coffee & c

This ban yan was prepared by Barbara by way of Banquet to

her friends who came to see Danl after his absence of some time  — Duncan McKenzie

In one of his last letters, for Duncan McKenzie would not live beyond February of 1847, he seems elated over the building of a school nearby. The Reverend A. R. Graves is praised for establishing, against all odds, a boarding school:

… did I ever tell you that the Rev A R Graves who is married to Jennet McNair Alx

daughter has set on foot a seminary of literary education in this county, Mr. Graves is

undoubtedly one of the most persevering men I ever got acquainted with, under every

impediment consequent on the scarcity of money he has progressed to maturity in

erecting

large & comfortable houses both for boarding lodging & c of 120 students also a large and well

constructed house for instruction, he has also funds collected sufficient to pay suitable

teachers in the minor branches of education say 60 students for one year if the parents

can board

them their tuition will be given them gratis the institution is in one of the healthiest

situations in the state, I hope he will prosper  — Duncan McKenzie

ZionSeminarySign copy
From  The Southern Reformer of Jackson, MS in 1846: “Mr. Simrall, from the committee on incorporations to whom was referred the bill to incorporate the president and trustees of Zion seminary, reported the bill back to the house without amendment. The bill was read a third time and passed.”

The town of Seminary in Covington County, MS received its name from the school established there. The institution is known as Zion Seminary and taught hundreds of students courses in medicine, law, and religion.  Sadly, it last burned in 1890, though a historical marker suggests that it burned during the Civil War. It may have received Civil War damage, but lived to see another day. Today Seminary Attendance Center exists on the old school site in the middle of town. I think it is fitting that near his death Duncan’s hope of being able to find quality education in his new Mississippi home was coming to fruition, though a little late for his own children.

According to Kenneth McKenzie’s letter written to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin in April of 1847, Duncan McKenzie died on the last day of February at midnight, “after a long and protracted illness,” that may have lasted, “From the 20th February to the 1st March.” In a May letter to his uncle, Daniel McKenzie describes the illness as typhus pneumonia, “which passed through the state in some places more violent than in others.” European typhus from the bite of the louse carrying the infection is not common in North America according to Margaret Humphreys, author of “A Stranger to Our Camps: Typhus in American History.” A type of typhus associated with rats is more common, and the disease may be mistaken for the tic borne “Spotted Fever.” Humphreys also contends that many typhus outbreaks may well have been actually typhoid fever. Personally, I could believe some tic borne disease may have been the culprit. In my youth I can recall scraping hundreds of tiny tics from my legs after walking through fields of tall grass on my husband’s grandfather’s farm in Covington County, MS. During the illness Kenneth describes his father as mentally incapacitated or “non composmentas but the last two weeks he was proper and a judge of his condition.” Kenneth breaks the news to his uncle with these words:

that hand once so familiar to your glance

the stroke, now lies slumbering in death

cold, beneath the ground, only to be lamented,

his parental personage has now become

a blank, and filled up only with sorrow

he changed Earth for Eternity on the night of

the last of February at 12-oclock  — Kenneth McKenzie

No matter what the cause, the illness took a tragic toll on the family. Kenneth explains, “Jonas, the oldest of Hannahs children was lying dead in the house he died on the same night at 9 o’clock.” Jonas and his mother Hannah were enslaved people on the McKenzie farm. The month before, Ely Lytch had died. Ely is the enslaved person who was purchased from John C. McLaurin in North Carolina. Kenneth suggests that Duncan McLaurin probably knew this enslaved person Ely as Archibald Lytch. Ely had likely been with the family since they arrived in Mississippi if not soon after and had died of a “long and protracted illness protracted by the sudden changes of the most disagreeable winter I have ever witnessed.” Kenneth goes on to say that the entire family was very sick but survivors have now recovered. He also informs his uncle that the family’s anxiety is increased by Daniel’s presence at Vera Cruz in the Mexican War.

Through the family’s grief, the grown sons continued corresponding intermittently with their uncle for years. Likely Barbara and her brother Duncan both encouraged this. Though the correspondence was not as regular nor the letters as long, it continued until after the Civil War. Their letters reveal very little about where Duncan McKenzie was buried or who might have preached his funeral, details the sons revealed in letters about the death of their mother years later.

Sources:

Humphreys, Margaret. “A Stranger to Our Camps: Typhus in American History.”

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/198540 Accessed 19 May 2018. 271-273.

“Incorporation of Zion Seminary.” The Southern Reformer. Jackson, MS. 9 February 1846. 1. newspapers.com Accessed 21 May 2018.

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 27 July 1842. Boxes 1 and 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 and 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 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscripts Library. Duke University.

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

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

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 28 December 1845. Boxes 1 and 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 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

“The Militia Act of 1792.” http://222.constitution.org/mil/mil_act_1792.htm. Accessed 19 May 2018.

“Street Fight.” Southern Argus. Columbus, MS. 4 Kamiaru 1942. 1. newspapers.com Accessed 17 May 2018.

“Violence, Crime, and Punishments.” Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill. 1989.1470.

“William and David Burney 1843.” The Vicksburg Daily Whig. Vicksburg, MS. 15 August 1843. 3. newspapers.com Accessed 21 May 2018.

1830s: Mississippi Politics and Banks

Who was John P. Stewart?

One of my first transcriptions of the Duncan McLaurin letters was dated 1831 and written by John P. Stewart from Covington County, Mississippi – probably from the home of his father, Allan Stewart, an immigrant from the Scottish Highlands via North Carolina. Though John Stewart says he is over twenty-nine years old and qualifies as a bachelor, he writes this letter from his father’s home while teaching nearby. The Stewart family had not been in Mississippi very long, perhaps since 1830, before John Stewart writes to Duncan his description of traveling in south Mississippi.

Stewart was not alone as a former student of McLaurin’s writing to their former teacher in Richmond County, NC from the new western states. John Stewart and Duncan McLaurin shared an interest — politics and the wider world. Born in November of 1805 in North Carolina, Stewart’s correspondence reveals his general curiosity in his new home and a strong interest in the political machinations of his time and place.

JPStewartFranklinCoHS
John P. Stewart is memorialized by his burial in the Franklin County, MS Courthouse Square Cemetery in Meadville.

Eventually, John P. Stewart would settle in Franklin County, Mississippi. Here he would serve as county clerk for many years, live out his life without ever marrying, and in old age could be found picking out hymns on his fiddle. No evidence exists that he sought political office beyond the clerkship. His service to the Meadville community and Franklin County, MS as county clerk is memorialized by his burial in the Court House Square and the monument bearing his date of death May 19, 1858 – never living to see the apocalyptic results of the politics (or failure of it) that he followed so fervently. Franklin County tax records from 1840 reveal that he owned about 320 acres of land situated on McGees Creek and paid taxes for owning one enslaved person. I have found no evidence that he was farming his land, though he may have been renting it out. Farming or not, John Stewart’s correspondence to Duncan McLaurin would continue at least from 1831-1848. He may have written more letters but none have survived. Certainly the 1850s, fraught with political controversies, would have provided plenty about which they could write. Stewart’s father Allan died in 1845 and his brother Hugh died in 1847. The loss of these two family members, who also had strong ties to Duncan McLaurin and North Carolina, may have resulted in diminished correspondence. After 1848 Duncan McLaurin became immersed in the care of his sister Isabel and her children, probably leaving him less time to correspond in nonessential matters.

Mississippi’s Economy and Politics in the 1830s

The John P. Stewart and Duncan McKenzie letters are referenced a number of times in Christopher Olsen’s Political Culture and Secession in Mississippi, published in 2000. Olsen contends that political affiliation in Mississippi generally was so personal before the Civil War that divisions along political party lines were not always very clear. However, in the 1830s major issues, the economy and banking, may have influenced the political parties to begin holding party conventions. The general farming population was quite rural and frontier condition roads made it difficult for even those most engaged in politics to attend conventions in distant locations. However, Mississippians such as John P. Stewart, not committed to farming, had the inclination and leisure to travel and follow politics, as he would in the 1840s.

At the time Duncan McKenzie and the Stewart family moved to Covington County, MS, Native American land began opening up to white settlement. The Federal Government sold this fertile land at low prices causing migrants to flock from the more settled western states to the newly formed deep southern states. In addition, cotton prices rose to unexpected highs, feeding the dreams of white migrants moving west, who often brought enslaved people with them.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries textile Mills were increasing in England as well as the northern United States. International demand for cotton drove farmers to purchase land and slaves to work the labor intensive crop. Speculation in both land and slaves abounded. Especially in the deep southern states, a speculator could purchase the newly opened federal land cheaply, improve it minimally if he had the mind to, and resell it for far more than he paid. Many sincere farmers engaged in this practice, leaving one improved farm to settle on more fertile land that he could now afford due to the money made off reselling. This type of speculation existed in the slave trade as well. Slave traders brought enslaved people from other parts of the country and resold them in states like Mississippi where the demand for labor was great. A slave trader’s source of obtaining human chattel was not always a monetary or legal transaction. According to Max Grivno in “Antebellum Mississippi” at Mississippi History Now published online by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, “…over 100,000 slaves were brought into the state by traders during the 1830s.”

As US President Andrew Jackson watched this speculation phenomenon, he worried about the solvency of banks. This caused him to issue his Specie Circular. The Circular required that public land had to be bought with gold or silver or money backed by such. Jackson’s move alone might have caused a problem.  However, the Mississippi crisis was enhanced because, in a frenzy of optimism, the unregulated Banks had filled their coffers and indiscriminately loaned most of that money to people for the purchase of land and slaves. The people taking advantage of these loans were not prepared to pay when the notes came due.

As a result of the uncertain atmosphere, the Bank of England raised its interest rates. Thus the cotton factors in New Orleans and Mobile, who gave credit to finance a crop, raised their lending rates. The result was the Panic of 1837. Mississippi’s banks had grown to about 13 with many branches by 1837. When the banks collapsed, the Mississippi legislature supported the creation of the Union Bank that would run on specie. The legislature also guaranteed the bank’s bonds. When this bank failed, the question arose whether or not to pay back the loans or repudiate them. This would be the larger issue that consumed the state in the early 1840s.

Adding to the uncertainty, growing cotton is somewhat risky in the best of circumstances. The weather and insects can quickly destroy a farmer unless strategically prepared. Farmers and lenders in the state during the outset of the 1830s were so overly optimistic about cotton that the unexpected drop in the price of cotton was quite a blow. To many in Mississippi during the early 1830s the demand for cotton made it as sound a currency as gold.

Mississippi’s Constitution of 1832

In 1832 Mississippi created a new “more democratic” Constitution, but it was restrictive by today’s standards.  For example, property ownership was no longer required to vote or hold office, though suffrage or office holding was not extended beyond free white men. Native American, Chickasaws or Choctaws, were allowed citizenship if they left the auspices of their tribal governments. This was a ploy to force them out of the state in order to be able to live under their tribal laws. Every office from military rank to judgeships was elective, and the setting of term limits made elections more frequent with incredibly long ballots to count. It was forbidden for the legislature to pass laws that would free slaves. Though slave owners could bring slaves into the state, slave traders were not allowed to carry on business in the state, likely a very difficult activity to regulate considering the demand for slave labor and the capacity for fraud. In 1837 Duncan McKenzie would lament the state’s inability to provide for a militia. He cites the state’s recent impotence in calling up any military help to fight the Indian wars in Alabama and Florida. The fact that dueling would no longer be legally allowed in Mississippi did not appear to diminish the prevalent violence or actual dueling. It was evidently an easy thing to set up a duel across state lines where it was legal. In 1840 former Governor Hiram G. Runnels, a bank president, and Volney E. Howard a Mississippian newspaper editor, dueled. Runnels injured Howard, who lived to disparage Runnels in the news. Dueling continued in a masculine culture often characterized by extreme individuality bordering on arrogance. Runnels maintained his political viability enough to be elected to the legislature the next year.

DuelRunnelsHoward1840
This brief account of the Runnels/Howard duel appeared in the Vicksburg Daily Whig on Saturday, 11 July 1840 on page 2. Dueling in Mississippi had been outlawed in the state since 1832.

Duncan McKenzie’s economic and political views – 1830s

Generally, Duncan McKenzie appears to be a more cautious individual, not as eager to place himself in debt. In an 1837 letter from Mississippi to Duncan McLaurin in North Carolina, he writes of three mutual acquaintances who have bought, “each of them a negro man for which they are to give $1,650 each.” McKenzie questions how long it will take for the friends to pay back their loans with the hiring out rate for “such boys” at $175. It was common practice to hire out labor that was not being utilized by the owner. Later he wonders, “What will become of Black Lachlin the carpenter who bot a negro man for which he promised $1,650 to be paid next January,” and adds, “Many others are similarly situated.” In contrast McKenzie is pleased with himself in not being, “bound for another in one cent.” He seems to believe that he might be hard pressed if he lost his cotton crop altogether, but he has managed to pay off some of his debt by selling corn and pork. Even a small farmer like Duncan might find himself beholden to the cotton factor who helped finance his crop or by going into debt to purchase slave labor.

BrandonBank1837
This piece appeared in The Natchez Daily Courier of Natchez, Mississippi on Thursday, 30 November 1837 on page 3. Perhaps Duncan McKenzie read this in the newspaper before penning his letter.

In 1838 Duncan writes, perhaps a bit sarcastically, to his brother-in-law regarding Mississippi’s banks:

it is reported abroad that our State is involved more

than her worth, but how can Such a report be

true when the world knows that our legislature

can charter a bank of $15,000,000 in less time than one

day, whose paper the moment when Struck will be

at par with gold or Silver in every part of our State

Except at the post and law offices — the Brandon

Bank this far has succeeded in buying cotton in

preference to letting the commition merchants of

New orleans shave us as usual, I know not how

that Bank will do in the future, but it has

Sustained it Self in credit this far —

the new charterd Bank calld the Union

bank of Mississippi will go in operation

in the course of the summer — is it not

surpassing singular that in every state of the

Union the legislative boddies find little or no diff

=culty in passing a charter for a bank it is only neces

=sary that it should be called bank and its charter

is passed and in the grand council of our nation

the greatest and the best smote to death the best

Institution ever known by the name of Bank —

query will we ever have such an other paper currency or

will a national Bank spring up in its stead

Clearly, he is expressing concern about the easy-come easy-go banking that has evolved in the state of Mississippi, and acknowledges his belief, or at least the bank’s assurance, that cotton is still as valuable as gold in the state. He also takes a shot at Andrew Jackson’s struggles with the Second Bank of the United States, where federal funds had once been deposited. Jackson, who saw the bank as too powerful and a potential political tool against himself, worked for years against bank president Nicholas Biddle to end its charter. Biddle continued to fight to keep the bank open and was not above bribery in the effort. Alas, in 1836 after Jackson moved federal money to specific state banks, the Bank of the United States closed after its charter was not renewed. Instead of a centrally managed bank, each state had its own banks, managing them in as unregulated a manner as it saw fit. Jackson countered with the Specie Circular, which required speculators in land to pay for it with gold and silver. The Panic of 1837 ensued.

In 1839 McKenzie writes, “I was wating the result of an impending stormy looking cloud which will eventually decide the fate of many in Mississippi, who the victims of the furious blast will be, whether the honest creditor the philanthropic security or the thot less debtor is a matter not yet decided.” McKenzie ends this letter by mentioning a friend whose land is being, “sold at value on the last of this month.” The friend is “going to Texas,” the choice of many Mississippians during the several decades before and after the Civil War.

Later in the same 1839 letter, Duncan disparages banks in general when he says, “The Union Bank of Mississippi is in full operation but your servant has backd out from being a stockholder this far I am lord of my own soil I do not like to give up the title (to a) speculating crew of Directors who would in all probability direct all of the increase into their own pockets.” This small farmer in Mississippi had decided that he did not care to be manipulated by the banks. He claims to be a Southern Whig, and Whigs generally had supported a national bank.  

John P. Stewart’s economic and political views – 1830s

“Raising cotton absorbs all their politics & meditations – The first salute to a neighbor is how does your cotton look…” John P. Stewart writes this line to Duncan McLaurin in 1831 when the flush times were causing a rash of extreme optimism among seasoned planters and Mississippians, many of whom were migrants from the worn out land of the eastern states. He also writes of the Choctaw removal and the preparations for a state Constitutional Convention – “The result has been 19 to 1 for a convention which must meet within 3 months from the first of August next.” He thinks the idea of electing the Judiciary will fail for fear of corruption — it did not fail.

By 1834 the bank issue and economic downturn has almost overwhelmed Mississippi’s obsession with cotton. According to Stewart, “The Bank has been the common Topic of Conversation in this state for the last eight months it has supplanted ‘General Cotton’ himself and that I tell you is hard to do.” He continues this topic by mentioning the “public functionaries in the Land Offices” and accusations of speculation “defrauding both the government and the bona fide settlers.” Following this train of thought, Stewart says, “The late Choctaw purchase I am told is settling very fast.”

In 1837 Stewart writes that although in the winter the price of cotton was still high, it was lower than other commodities on the market, and “Money was scarcer here .. than I ever saw it since I have been in the state.” He again references the wild land speculation that has contributed to the economic hard times but adds the purchase of slave labor as a contributing factor also:

Some few men in this State have made fortunes by purchasing

plantations and Negroes which engendered such a rage for

speculation that in the upper counties almost every man

that could get credit purchased a farm and a great many

of them at such extravagant prices that they could not

pay even the interest of their purchases without diminishing

the principal of their debts …

… where the Credit System is so extensive … the sudden depression

in the money market and the consequent fall in the price of cotton

there must necessarily be a great scarcity of money — But credit

often two three four five and six years has injured this state more …

Stewart continues in his 1837 letter to recount the banking crisis in the state:

The two principal Banks in Natchez have suspended specie payment and all the other Banks in this State have or will be obliged to follow suit We have in this State ten Banks that is Mother Banks exclusive of the various Branches with a net or purchase capital of about 25 millions authorized to issue Bills to three times that amount and the Legislature has lately chartered two Banks one the Mississippi Union Bank with a capital of fifteen Millions in said bank real estate is to be pledged and money only to be borrowed on real estate…the Mississippi bank is to be titled the Mississippi Railroad Bank.

In 1838 Stewart follows up on the bank issue by writing to Duncan McLaurin that the “stir at hand” is the banks. The four banks at Natchez have passed resolutions to pay specie beginning the first of January. Stewart says these banks have been following Nicholas Biddle’s earlier raises in the interest rates, which is how Biddle had responded to President Jackson taking federal funds from the Bank of the US and placing them in some state banks. In addition, the Mississippi legislature appointed three commissioners, all from the dominant Democratic Party, to oversee and examine the state banks. He says that one of them is an anti-bank newspaper editor and the other two were moderates. The newspaper editor was opposed to all banks, implying that there was not much favorable sentiment among the commissioners for banks in general. Many banks refused to be examined.

The state of the economy and the bank issue seems to have driven Mississippians to partisanship. Stewart writes in this 1838 letter, “Our State is about to become like New York a Democratic convention is to meet at Jackson on the 8th January to nominate candidates for the several state offices A Whig Convention is also to assemble at the same place on the fourth Monday in January for the same purpose.”

Stewart’s commentary on politics in 1838 involves the current Governor Alexander McNutt, a Democrat. It seems to have annoyed John Stewart when McNutt, “delivered himself of a violent Phillippic against both the Whigs and the Scotch.” McNutt evidently said or implied that the name Whig derived from the followers of the Pretender, “whose followers were the Scotch and Whiggin wherever they went.” One would think McNutt would have been more politically cautious than to offend the many Mississippians of not so distant Scottish ancestry, but he did. He followed this by saying, “Flora McDonald came to this country and was the leader of the Whigs in this country then called Tories.” Here McNutt tries to disparage the American Whig part by insinuating that it grew from people who were loyal to England during the American Revolution. Stewart ends by saying, “This speech lost his excellency (McNutt) thirty or forty votes among the Scotch democracy in Jefferson County … he ought to throw away the mac from his name.”

One last issue that would survive for the next two decades was addressed by Stewart in this 1838 letter – nullification: “The Democrats of this State have lately been billing and cooing the nullifiers attempting to form a junction with the party supposing they would follow Calhoun in all his charges — They do not succeed well in their undertaking.” The Calhoun reference is to John C. Calhoun, the politician who argued for nullification, the right of a state to disregard a federal law. Calhoun led South Carolina’s attempt to declare the tariff on imported manufactured goods null and void. This tariff generally hurt the southerners because it raised the price of manufactured goods that they purchased. South Carolina was emboldened after it successfully ignored a U. S. Supreme Court ruling declaring one of its state laws unconstitutional. The law in question was a state law incarcerating free black international sailors when in port to keep them from conspiring with Carolina slaves.  Calhoun was defeated in his argument largely due to Jackson’s political acumen and a lack of nullification support from Mississippi and other southern states. However, as President Jackson predicted, the next time nullification and secession arose it would be over the institution of slavery – even in the 1830s an issue roiling in Congress.

Sources

“Digital Archives: Tax Rolls (Mississippi), 1818-1902.” Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Franklin County. 1840.17. www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/taxrolls/Franklin/1840/Combined/17. Accessed 23 April 2018.

“A duel was fought.” Vicksburg Daily Whig. 11 July 1840. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 28June 2017.

Grivno, Max. “Antebellum Mississippi.” Mississippi History Now: An online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society. http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/395/antebellum-mississippi. Accessed 10 April 2018.

“John Patrick Stewart Monument Photo.” Photo by Mary Renna. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current. https://www.findagrave.com/mem… Accessed 24 April 2018.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to John McLaurin. 13 November 1836. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 14 April 1837. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 20 June 1837. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 25 February 1838. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M Rubenstein Rare Book and manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 16 June 1839. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 14 August 1839. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John P. Stewart to Duncan McLaurin. 30 June 1831. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John P. Stewart and Allan Stewart to Duncan McLaurin. 29 November 1831. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John P. Stewart to Duncan McLaurin. 6 August 1834. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John P. Stewart to Duncan McLaurin. 17 May 1837. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John P. Stewart to Duncan McLaurin. 25 December 1838. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

Meacham, Jon. Andrew Jackson: An American Populist. TIME special edition. Time Inc. Books: New York, NY. 2017. 46, 52.

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

“Resolved.” The Natchez Daily Courier. Natchez, Mississippi. 7 July 1840. 3. Accessed from newspapers.com. 22 March 2017.

Rothman, Joshua D. Flush Times & Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson. University of Georgia Press: Athens, Georgia. 2012. Kindle version. Location 90 and 124 of 7796.

Skates, John Ray. “The Mississippi Constitution of 1832.” Mississippi History Now: An online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society. http://mshistorynow.mcah.state.ms.us/articles/101/the-mississippi-constitution-of-1832. Accessed 23 April 2018.