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

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

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

I have heard by a courier

that the Yankees are advancing in large force on Jackson

how they will succeed a few days will determine probably

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

will decided the fate of Mississippi, Great God, uncle

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

live to witness Such Slaughter and Blood Shed,

the planters on the River are moving their negroes East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

he then addressd Dunk who askd him what he proposed giving

the judge told him he could not promise him money but

would give him eight Bales cotton on which they agreed

Dunk will no doubt have a hard task to keep between

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

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

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

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

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

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

we have ofered our

land for sale last winter at about

$4 per acre there is about 960 acres in all

but did not find any purchasers our land

here is good enough and enough of it for us

yet for some time but we canot divide

it agreeable if we can sell our land here

we can get new land at a reasonable price

in Smith County — Duncan C. McKenzie

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

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

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

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

I received the North Carolina Pres

-byterian which I find verry interesting

reading in those leters from Scotland

is first looked after, on the receipt of

the paper, I think it probable there will be

some new subscribers from this neighborhood — Duncan C. McKenzie

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

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

CattleDisease
Vicksburg Whig 15 September 1858

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

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

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

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

Directors are making

much noise about it (the railroad) Holding meetings and

Barbacues and Speakings, there is about 300,000

Dollars subscribed and as soon as they get

200,000 more the work will be commenced So they

Say, I have not much doubt but we will in

five years from this date Hear the iron Horse

neighing through these fine forests it will be

a great thing if it will civilize some of our

citizens — Duncan C. McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

he starves the people of Southern

States with his pretending Blockade and

Hordes of Hirelings, — Duncan C. McKenzie

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

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

Hugh is on his farm and has a tract of valuable

land which he came in possession of by marriage

John is on the farm which we bought when

we moved from Covington Co., it certainly is

worth as much as any land in this Section

of the country and Sales have been made and

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

myself has near 600 acres of that quality of

land and Hugh has four eights of about the

same quality besides we have 440 acres in Cov

Co yet which lies on the Survey of the Gulph and

Ship Island Railroad we have our hands

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

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

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

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

the war is progressing very well

for our Side or at least it apears so from rumor

and publications, we have another splendid victory

at leesburg stated confederate loss 300 federal

loss 300 killed and 300 drowned in crossing the potomac

according to Telegraphic statements, before this you

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

Squadron at the mouth of the Mississippi

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

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

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

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

you speak of negroes being hired or let for their

victuals and clothes I wish I could get some in

that way negroes is hiring here for from $75 to

$200 Dollars victualed clothed and tax and

Doctorbill paid thus a farmer canot make

the money by his or their labor to pay for

them making cotton and corn but not with stan-

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

will promise unreasonable amounts — Duncan C. McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this county is worth or at least selling for

25cts per lb molases at one dollar per

gal cotton cards at $30 per pr Woolen cloth

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

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

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

and the article of shoes and leather canot

be had scarcely at any price I was in time

for the later I bought 80 sides of unfinished

leather at $2.50 per side and then gave 80 cts

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

all but 20 sides getting the money back

which I paid and a nice proffit making

the amount which I kept clear for which

I can get $8 dollars per pr for comon shoes

Salt is selling at from 40 to 50 cents per lbs

and scarce at that I sent my wagon down

to the sea coast and procured 1,000 lbs which

cost me $25 I divided it out among the neigh

bors at about cost and freight — Duncan C. McKenzie

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

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

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

by the Board Police which is a great Trouble and not

much profit to me …

there is a good many in this county women and

children who are in a destitute condition as

to Eatables and they must be suplied with enough to

sustain life The Legislature has thought proper

to assess and colect 30 per cent on the state and

county Tax for the purpose of supporting the Destitute

women and children … — Duncan C. McKenzie

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

our cause is much injured

by dissatisfaction growing out of the exemption laws

where men were exempt by owning or controlling

twenty or more slaves which is the bone and

sinew of dissatisfaction among the soldiers

I hope it will be repealed and place all on an

equality for some to be exempt because they

are rich to stay at home and make more riches

it is not just I know men who are exempt

and are at home receiving the benefits of that

law who should be in the army, they are the

men who with a verry few exceptions have the

provision and a soldiers wife nor child cannot

get a bushel of corn or pound of meat for less

thru prices and then not without the cash

when at the same time they cannot bear the

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

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

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

There has a great many Deserted from

the army in the last two months the cavalry were sent

through the country picking up all who were absent

from their commands, they carried off a good many men

from this Section some are lying out in the Swamps

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

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

difiyance to the confederate authorities how they will

succeed I do not know, our cause is much injured

by dissatisfaction growing out of the exemption laws

the Senator from Miss Honl E. Barksdale petitioned

Congress to repeal that portion of the exemption Bill

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

equality — Duncan C. McKenzie

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

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

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

until a few weeks past Killing robing burning and every other

kind of malicious depredations were perpetrated on the citizens by

bands of deserters which would go prowling about at night

taking such things as they needed my house was visited by

the raid and they robed me of Sixteen pr cotton cards

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

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

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

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

condition of the country and two Regiments were sent in here

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

they hung nine and killed two by shooting and lost three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the condition of our country is almost awful to think

of the destitution, and dependence on what has been so

lately our avowed enemy for the Staff of life in the

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

measure from the northern States, and no money to Send

to buy it with the mass of the citizens overwhelmed

in debt with out credit without representation or

even civil law with Taxation insurmountable, with

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

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

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

the hirelings will I fear not be able

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

furnished everything necessary for making the crop and give

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

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

raining nearly all day. what of the cotton the drought

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

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

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

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

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

or instructing our representative to abolish or appeal the

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

expense … with out much good arising from

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

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

raised by Taxation, the people cannot support themselves and

pay such taxes — Duncan C. McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

RCMcKJPCandidate
Hattiesburg American 23 May 1947

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

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

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

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

A Note About Mississippi’s Governor Lowry and Justice

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

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

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

AssassinationLouisTanner
The Weekly Mississippi Pilot of Jackson, 24 April 1875

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foster, Kenneth. email information and photos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh McKenzie: Kind in His Family and to His Friends

Hugh L. McKenzie (1822-1866)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have bought the place Taylorville

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

which we gave $5.00.00 It contains 2 acres of land

a large and good store house grocery lot and

stables cribs we then invoyesed the goods at

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

selling goods we have bought in Mobile

$2000 00 worth more making in all over

$4000 worth of goods and I am selling over

$ 50 00 worth per day, how long it will

I know not if it does last and we can

collect we can make money … — Hugh McKenzie

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

Day after tomorrow John will

find his lost rib in the person of a

Miss Susan Duckworth and sister to Dunks

wife I think though she is poor, John

does very well, they Dunks wife and

Johns intended has done all they could

for Allen and myself, but it is no go

I cannot marry any woman that will marry

me because she can do no better

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

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

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

Sometimes I feel lonesome

by myself then crowds come in

and keep me all day from my dinner

and sometimes late in the night

We have some fighting a Mr.

Powers a member of the Presbyterian

Church loaded a pistol and said he

intended to kill a Mr. Little Powers

went to Little and told him if he would

come out of the house he would beat

him to death Little came out and

powers drew the pistol and shot at Little

but missed Little picked up a sick (stick)

and began beating Powers

and Powers running until L beat him

to the ground Powers is badly hurt

and Littles ear is powder burnt

some booth are respectable men — Hugh McKenizie

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh’s Letters to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin

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

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

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

himself hemmed rushed out at the door

and after he passed sufficient not

to endanger each other both fired on the

negro the negro was gone some days and

came in with three Buckshot in his back

one above his sholder blade and one each

side of his back bone between the

Sholder Blade he is geting well — Hugh McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have five hundred and fifty

acres beside 94 that Daniel owns

individually I will send you the plot

of it there is about 40 acres in the

hills the rest is all in Leaf River

Swamp and not five acres but

may be cultivated with very

little draining we have about

50 acres cut and piled since we

finished laying bye our crop

that with the 40 acres that we

cleared last spring is enough of

open land for Daniel and Dunk

the neighbors say they will never

give Allen John and myself

an equal interest with them in

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

the correctness of their Prophecy — Hugh McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Lincolns thieves have not molested us

but how soon they will I cant tell there is

nothing to hinder them as Johnsons army

is all gone from the state with the exception

of three cavalry Brigades and Lorings Division

of Infantry We have some state troops

just enough to be an expence to the state

and no proffit I  had a company of state

cavalry and was conscripted I then obtained an

order to rais a company to wait on the conscript

Branscough what next I know not but

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

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

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

All the consolation that I can have is

in Saying to the un cowed that I hope they

will get a full gorge of Secession and

that any sane man could see that the

democratic wagon was going down to the

abolitionists it has been the wrath of the

Democratic party to rule or ruin the fairest

Government that ever did exist but it is

now gone hopelessly gone and the

innocent has to suffer if we conquer

a peace on any terms we are ruined in

fact I see nothing but ruin let the

conflict end as it may — Hugh McKenzie

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

Ask Kenneth to write to me

I think he could if he would …

tell him to give me his

impressions from childhood about

persons and places a recollect — Hugh McKenzie

SOURCES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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