Owen McLaurin (1844-1869): A Life Defined by War

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Duncan McLaurin’s nephew Owen was probably the most like him in curiosity and in his enjoyment of books. The first of ten letters penned by Owen that survive in the Duncan McLaurin papers is enough evidence.

Imagine the seventeen-year-old Owen writing to his Uncle Duncan on 9 May 1860 from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania just as he is finishing a term of school. At age 17 he will earn his diploma by the 22nd of the month and wishes to confirm his travel arrangements home to Laurel Hill, NC. He will not return home via Charleston since his family wishes him to avoid that place. However, he will come home by way of Washington D.C. if the Japanese are there. The Bay Line Steamer would allow him a comfortable rest. The steamer will take him by Cheraw in Marlboro, SC from which he can walk home to Laurel Hill.

Owen’s interest in seeing the Japanese delegation, on a mission to ratify a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation, is reminiscent of his Uncle Duncan’s eagerness to witness the Burmese missionary preach in his own language at Fayetteville, NC in 1834. The sermon would be translated by the Reverend Jonathan Wade. The Baptist Rev. Wade and his wife Deborah Lapham were on furlough that year in America from their mission in Burma, teaching Burmese to new missionaries. Evidently, they had brought a Burmese Christian to America, where he could probably best learn English. Though Duncan could not attend, he made his brother John promise to see them and give him a detailed account. No evidence exists that Owen got his chance to see the Japanese in the nation’s capital, but the same intellectual curiosity appears to have resided in the characters of both uncle and nephew.

In addition, Owen has had the good luck to be in Philadelphia in early May of 1860 for what was probably a local election. In 1860 Mayor Alexander Henry of Philadelphia was a staunch Republican, who suppressed secessionist sympathies. Even local elections across the nation likely reflected national politics in which a sectional party, the Republican Party, would soon prevail. The election of Abraham Lincoln in November of 1860 would become a catalyst for the war that was about to change the course of Owen’s life:

Not much news of interest since the election

which passed of [off] very quietly in the day time

but night was made hideous by the howls

of the Politicians rejoicing in their election

and disappointed ones mourning over their unsuccess. — Owen McLaurin

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The Heenan and Sayers fight at Farnborough, Hampshire, England. Photo from The Guardian online.

Owen describes the “all-absorbing” topic in the city — the Heenan and Sayers fight. This boxing match evidently created the most excitement. Owen claims to have purchased a “bogus extra” newspaper for 5 cents, “containing full particulars of the fight before it came off.” The Heenan and Sayers fight was the first ever international boxing match and was held at Farnborough, Hampshire England on April 17, 1860. The contenders were the famous Tom Sayers of England and the much taller John Carmel Heenan from San Francisco. The illegal fight was broken up by police after about two hours and 27 minutes. Afterward, the two men shared winnings of 400 pounds.

Owen’s newsy letter includes also an account of a fire near his boarding house that “destroyed about $25,000 Dollars worth of property.” Just finishing his dinner, the ever-curious young man walked to the scene of the livery stable fire, “in which were 43 horses as the loft was filled with hay the fire spread with astonishing rapidity.” According to Owen, 15 of the horses were saved, but he is horrified at the sight of the burning stable containing, “28 of as fine horses as were in the city and no means to save them from the devouring element, it was truly an awful sight.” Though the wind blew, the surrounding houses were saved. Evidently, a dozen of the firemen got into a fight after the fire was out but were not arrested, being a “privileged class.” Benjamin Franklin had established the first “bucket brigade” in Philadelphia over a century before. The remainder of Owen’s letters in the Duncan McLaurin Papers, were written between 1861 and 1864 during his participation in the Civil War.

Owen’s Family

The voyage in 1790 that brought sixteen McLaurin related families from Argyll, Scotland to North Carolina included the Hugh and Catherine Calhoun McLaurin family. Among the voyagers in Hugh McLaurin’s family were four year old Duncan and his brother John, an infant. As his young family grew, Hugh would establish a successful farm at Laurel Hill, NC near Gum Swamp. He would use enslaved labor on his farm and school his sons in managing his property, which he would leave to them upon his death in 1846. Duncan and John probably shared management of the property until John married. While Duncan was also an educator, postmaster, legislator, and civic leader; John was the farmer. Duncan, who never married, provided a home in his father’s house for his unmarried sisters, Effy and Mary. In about 1847 he would become legal guardian of another sister, Isabella Patterson, and her three sons.

Owen McLaurin was born on November 30, 1844 in Richmond County, NC to John McLaurin and Effy Stalker. The couple had married March 28, 1842. Owen was born, probably following the loss of an infant child. The family would welcome siblings Elizabeth on May 31, 1846 and Catharine on April 27, 1848.

Two letters reference John and Effy’s marriage. On March 4, 1842 Christian Calhoun, having heard news of the wedding from Duncan, writes from Alabama her thanks that Duncan has written information from home, “particularly your brother John marrying in a good honest family.” In April of 1842 Duncan McKenzie writes from MS, “we saw in the Fayetteville Observer an notice of John’s marriage to Miss Effie Stalker.”

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“Also Infant Son of John & Effy McLaurin.” Headstone of Mary McLaurin and her unnamed nephew in Stewartsville Cemetery, Laurinburg, NC. Photo by B. Lane

In a letter dated February of 1844 Duncan Calhoun mentions the birth of John’s infant son who died. Later, in an 1845 letter, Duncan Calhoun references the birth of John’s son, “Owin.” Apparently, Effy’s second pregnancy followed soon after her newborn infant perished. Owen was born in November of 1844. To confirm there was likely a fourth sibling, the Stewartsville Cemetery headstone of Mary McLaurin, John and Duncan’s sister who died in 1868, also includes the “infant son of John and Effie McLaurin.” Since no name appears on the headstone, it is likely the child was stillborn or died very soon after his birth.

Duncan McLaurin lived very near his brother John’s family, his sister Jeannette McCall’s family, and from about 1847 was legal guardian of his sister Isabella Patterson and her three sons. His two other married sisters lived in South Carolina (Duncan and Sarah Douglas family) and Mississippi (Duncan and Barbara McKenzie family). Proximity was not the only reason Duncan may have, at first, planned making Owen part of his will. Owen would be the sole bearer of Hugh McLaurin’s surname. I am speculating that this was important to Duncan, in addition to the kindred spirit affinity between the two. As fate would have it, Duncan outlived Owen by about three years and in his own will, Owen directed his uncle to leave any property meant for him to Hugh McCall. With the death of Owen, the McLaurin surname “daughtered out” in Hugh’s family line. Hugh McLaurin’s family line is designated the “F” family in Banks McLaurin’s genealogy published in the Clan McLaren Society Quarterly.

“The Scotch Boys”: Owen’s 1861-1862 Civil War Letters

Owen could not have been home from his Philadelphia school very many months when South Carolina seceded from the Union on 20 December 1860. His native North Carolina was the last state to adopt articles of secession, 20 May 1861. Very little in this collection of letters reveals Owen’s political persuasion. Despite owning slaves, his Uncle Duncan was politically inclined to be Southern Whig during the 1840s. He, along with many, probably reluctantly supported secession. Few, no matter what their political stripes, entertained the vision of a war as lengthy and destructive as the American Civil War would be. This is apparent in the correspondence written by Owen McLaurin and his McKenzie cousins in Mississippi.

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A list of the soldiers in the same company with Owen McLaurin. Most of them were probably local people. Clipping from the Fayetteville Weekly Observer 24 June 1861.

Thus, Owen readily joined the Richmond County “Scotch Boys,” Company F of the 18th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. He was enrolled as Fourth Corporal on June 1, 1861 by Captain Charles Malloy and mustered into service on June 15, 1861 at Wilmington, NC for one year’s service. Owen was 18 years old, a farmer, and 5’9” tall, just a tad above the average height of a Confederate soldier and just within the average age range of 18-29.  Nearly a year later on June 16, 1862, he entered the hospital at Camp Winder, Virginia with diarrhea. He returned to duty June 19, 1862 and was discharged from duty on the same date, “for disability.”

During his first year of service, Owen wrote four letters that survive in the Duncan McLaurin Papers. Two letters are addressed from Camp Stevens in South Carolina and two are addressed from Hanover, VA and Richmond, VA. The first of these letters reveals very little anxiety about his life as a soldier. On December 15 of 1861, Owen wrote from Camp Stevens that he is doing well, though the death of comrade in arms Gib McKinnon has saddened the “Scotch Boys.” More than likely McKinnon died of an illness. Coming from very rural areas, many were exposed to a variety of diseases for the first time during the first year of war. Owen continues to lament that D. Stuart is ill, though he is expected to recover.

Owen continues in his usual newsy style to offer his opinion on the “great fire in Charleston.” He blames spies. He writes glowingly of their new general, a native of Pennsylvania and 1833 graduate of West Point, John C. Pemberton. Pemberton has them “digging trenches and throwing up embankments.” He says that since the Yankees took Beaufort they had only once tried any aggression. That action was under cover of their artillery when they burned a sentinel box and destroyed some rifle pits. In rather lighthearted fashion he tells of an encounter between SC pickets and a group of Yankees. Three shots each were fired before the South Carolinians fled, “faster than the Yankees did from Bull Run or Manassus.”As for an imminent fight, Owen says there is very little danger:

“as the Yankees

are afraid that their, ‘on to Charleston and

Savannah’ may turn out as their on to

Richmond did. I believe Sherman and Dupont

are not desirous of relinquishing the laurels they

won in the Port Royal affair which they will

without a doubt loose if they try a land route

to either place. — Owen McLaurin

The wife of one of the Captains stays in camp with them in her own tent. The noncommissioned officers are, “being instructed on the Zouave style of fencing with the Bayonet.” He says it is their most difficult drill yet and after an hour a day they are so tired they, “can hardly walk.” Though they are in the winter season, their weather has been pleasant enough to see a few mosquitoes.

His Uncle Duncan was well-acquainted with Owen’s company leader, Captain Charles Malloy. Owen says his Uncle can hear all the camp gossip directly from Malloy as he is going home for a visit the first of January. Owen reports Captain Malloy was blamed unjustly for the death of John F. Gilchrist. Others in the company have had some “false report” against them. Owen has been blamed for stealing sugar from officers when they were at Ft. Fisher in NC. He calls it a “base lie.” He ends his letter with love and the return address of “Co. F 18th Regt. N.C.V.; care H. P. Russell & Co.; Charleston, SoCa.”

Owen’s letter dated 5 March 1862 seems a bit more serious regarding the war but still hopeful. He says he will not reenlist after his first year is up. He begins by saying the health of the “Scotch Boys” is excellent, though they have been issued, “an extra supply of vinegar,” to combat sore tongue and mouth. A comrade, W. H. Gibson, is ill but not seriously.

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The tragic death of James S. Highsmith is reported in the Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer 13 March 1862.

On a starker note he tells the story of a young man from Company E, by the surname of Highsmith, who attempted suicide, “by cutting his throat.” While hospitalized he tried to remove the bandages and jump from a window but was prevented in time — all of this, “becuse his lady love gave him the mitten,” which may have contributed to the mental stress of this poor soldier. The Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer reports on 10 March 1862 the death at Camp Stephens, SC of, “James S. Highsmith of the New Hanover Moore’s Creek Rifles, Co. E, 18th Reg’t.”

Owen tells of a fight after Sunday services among some of the German company members. Here he probably refers to recent immigrants or persons of German descent. The arrival of the paymaster must have lifted their spirits and put an end to the conflict.

On the day Owen writes his March 5th letter, the regiment will assemble to discover who will reenlist. Owen says of himself, “I for one will not volunteer and should I be drafted before getting home they will hardly get me at all.” Apparently, the great rush to serve has been tempered by actual service. Owen implies that reenlistment would be more common if furloughs home had been more fairly issued, “few will go in until the go home.” However, the government having just received thousands of dollars worth of arms on a steamer and the purchase of “three first class war steamers,” has encouraged him. He feels the blockade will surely be broken and they would receive more “necessaries.” At the top of the list of necessaries is coffee, for which they have been using, “parched meal, sassafras &c as substitutes.” He ends with, “the Captain sends his respects to you,” and the same return address as his last letter in Charleston, SC.

On the 25th of May 1862, Owen writes that D. Blue and J. M. Fairly will leave for home. Owen says he was ill when the rest of his company, “took their tramp to Blue Ridge,” but he is well now. It rained uncomfortably their train trip from Gordonsville. At Gordonsville they learned the Yankees possessed the railroad between them and Richmond, leaving the Fredericksburg Road the only access. He is anticipating a fight for Richmond, though since their company is on the extreme left wing, they may not see the brunt of it. Yesterday some, “Yankee horsemen coming in about two miles on a stealing trip,” caused the guns to be loaded and, “the whole brigade under arms.” Owen has heard that the people of Richmond are not worried about the coming battle, for they are filled with confidence about the outcome.

The remainder of this missive explores the prospect of Owen finding an alternative to his military duty of the past year. The eager young man, who marched off to his adventure a year before, spends the rest of his service writing home desperate pleas for his family to help him find a way out of it. Apparently, he believes Neil Smith would leave home on Wednesday to take his place for a month. However, Owen says this is useless because he cannot get off, “for not period less than 12 months.” If Neil is well enough to take his place, then he is liable for the Conscription Act. Apparently, Neil has a medical discharge, and if an examination by surgeons finds him fit for duty, he loses his discharge.

The next option Owen mentions may involve a substitute:

Fathers present plan to get one under

18 is the best and if he does not succeed

in getting the one he now has his eye on

I have another plan in view not for getting

out of service but to get some government office

by being detached from the Regiment. — Owen McLaurin

Owen says he would need a recommendation from one of the older community leaders in his home county, men of influence, who could get it signed by his Captain and Colonel. Owen is aware that his father and uncle both have these connections. In a cryptic closing Owen hopes that his father will find a substitute, “as I have not been anxious to leave until now my reasons I will communicate at another time or perhaps not until I see you.” According to Fold 3 records, Owen is discharged for disability on June 19, 1862.

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Owen’s first year’s service is documented in this record from Fold 3 online.

In his last letter of 1862, written on scraps from old letters, Owen is still suggesting the government appointment as a last resort. His plea is more urgent because, “it is reported we leave this place this evening where to or how no one knows.” This letter is signed General Branch’s Brigade — Richmond, VA.

It is likely that Owen is referring to his company’s participation in the defense of Richmond, VA. In the late spring, about the time Owen pens this last 1862 letter, the Federal General McClellan brought his troops to the tip of the peninsula at the mouth of the James River in Virginia. McClellan worked his way up the peninsula from Ft. Monroe towards Richmond but was ultimately blocked at Drewry’s Bluff on May 15 and at the Battle of Seven Pines on May 31 and June 1. It is probable that Owen may have participated in these battles.

Confederate Conscription

In April of 1862 the Confederate lawmaking body passed the first conscription law in U.S. history. On September 27 it extended the age of service to age 45. By October 11 it had passed the controversial portion of the law that exempted from service the owners of twenty or more slaves. This supposedly because so many larger plantations were left without any white male person to run them.

Owen explains clearly in his correspondence how these laws affect him. In December of 1863 the chances of his escaping further service, as the war became more deadly, decreased when the practice of hiring substitutes officially ended. According to Owen’s letters, John McLaurin was considering hiring a substitute as Owen’s first year of service ended. By February of 1864 the draft age had been increased to ages 17-50. We must speculate the details of how Owen spent his time from June 1862 until he appears in the service records of the 20th Regiment, South Carolina Infantry as a private in the summer of 1863. Clearly, he was unable to escape service altogether. Apparently, Owen joined a company of the South Carolina 20th Infantry from nearby Marlboro County, where his Uncle Duncan and father had many, many connections with both friends and family.

“Palmetto Battery” January 1864 – December 1864: 20th South Carolina Infantry

and the CSS Fredericksburg

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Owen’s service in the 20th South Carolina Infantry is documented in this Fold 3 online reference.

On 26 January 1864, Owen writes a letter to his uncle with the greeting from the “Palmetto Battery.” Evidently, Owen did not return to his North Carolina regiment, but mustered into service of Company N South Carolina Infantry out of nearby Marlboro, NC. Owen’s Aunt Sarah and Uncle Duncan Douglas had lived in that county for many years. Their son John, several decades Owen’s senior, was in the cavalry of the 20th. Owen begins his letter by noting his own good health. He mentions that he has written to his sister that their cousin John Douglas would probably go home over the weekend. Douglas was being furloughed due to illness. Owen comments, “I doubt his final recovery although they may improve his health.” John Douglas would soon succumb to “consumption,” better known today as tuberculosis, on 6 March 1864. Sadly, his sister dies of the same illness on the 18th day of March 1864. Tuberculosis was rampant during the Civil War, especially among closely confined soldiers. These soldiers likely brought this contagious disease home with them on visits, unaware that they were spreading disease. The incubation period for tuberculosis can sometimes be lengthy, causing the disease to spread easily. 

The good news is that their rations have increased since, “some of the troops on Sullivan’s and also on James (River) mutinied for want of provision but it was a small affair. They are now enjoying the pleasures of close confinement.” Owen feels that he is unlikely to suffer much in his current environment but notes the discontent of many. Some of the troops, whose terms of service expired, refused to do their duty. Many were being placed under arrest. He relates a report from Fort Moultrie that Regulars attempted to, “spike the guns, and run up a white flag.” The plot was discovered in time to stop it. He expresses the feeling among many of the soldiers at this point in the war but adds that he is, “willing to serve,” and that now is the time to be steadfast and loyal. However, many believe the following:

the war was brought on by designing men

to gratify their ambition and they do not

seem willing to continue in the army &

fight, when the good of our country is not

the main object in view it appears

that the fires of Patriotism are burning low — Owen McLaurin

Owen begins and ends this letter by referring to his sister. He approves of her teaching at a school that has given her an offer. His sister had written that Owen’s father wanted to visit him, but Owen replies that his father would only be detained in Charleston. He is more specific about his location:

The Yanks are reported to be dredging the

channel at Drewry’s Bluff which is just

opposite to us at St. Helena at any rate

the authorities will have obstructions

placed there in a short time.

We are doing well on St. Helene now

as we have a stove and the weather

is pleasant. — Owen McLaurin

In closing this letter, Owen asks to be remembered to his friends, family, and to his cousin Kenneth McKenzie, who has been staying with Duncan. Kenneth had made his way from Mississippi after mustering out of the 8th MS Infantry. Kenneth’s objective was to answer his elderly Uncle Duncan’s request for assistance in his old age, but he also helped on John McLaurin’s farm.

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Obituaries for John McLaurin, John Douglas, and Catharine Douglas appeared in the Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer on 14 April 1864.

A few months later, 23 March 1864, Owen’s father, John, would be dead. The Fayetteville Observer would publish his obituary under “Died.” Duncan likely composed his brother’s obituary: “At his residence…on the 23rd of March 1864, after a short attack of pleurisy, Mr John McLaurin in his 74th year. in all his unobtrusive relations in life he was much esteemed…From his early boyhood up to his death he had an undoubting confidence in the Providence of God and was seldom or never disappointed.” Pleurisy is the 19th century term associated with pneumonia. The same obituary column lists John Douglas and his sister, both dead of consumption.

The death of John McLaurin, a tragedy for the family, presents difficulties since Effy and her daughters are now the managers of the farm. According to Duncan, Effy assumes ownership of the property as if she had inherited it. Duncan insists that John had a will, likely leaving the property to Owen, but it is never found. If Owen, however, is to inherit the property, the likelihood of his keeping it in the event of a Union victory is slim.

Less than a month after his father’s death, Owen writes on April 10, 1864 that his company, “along with 9 others,” will be disbanded. They are ordered to report to Columbia, SC. He says that General Beauregard is trying to have the order “countermanded” but will likely not succeed. According to Fold 3 records, J. A. Peterkin’s Company had been organized, “without proper authority.” At this point the men were ordered to “report to the Commandant of Conscripts at Columbia, South Carolina.” Owen was evidently in one of the ten companies of infantry that composed this regiment. Owen declares in his letter that he will not report to Columbia: “There is one thing certain, I am not going to Columbia.” Owen gives his uncle contact information for his superiors, General R. S. Ripley, whose address is Charleston. Meanwhile, Owen will talk to Colonel Keitt, who will assume command of Mt. Pleasant. Evidently, Col. Keitt organized the 20th SC Volunteer Regiment in 1862. He was later promoted to the rank of brigadier general and died after being wounded on June 4, 1864.

Aboard the ironclad C.S.S. Fredericksburg

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From the online Naval Encyclopedia online cited in Sources.

Owen may have spoken to Keitt, who likely told him that his chances of getting home at this point in the war were slim. Owen writes his next letter dated 22 November 1864 from aboard the C.S.S. Fredericksburg of the James River Squadron. The Fredericksburg was an ironclad steamer launched by the Confederate Navy yard at Rocketts on the James River, VA in June of 1863. However, it would be some time before it was fully functional due to a shortage of iron at the Tredegar ironworks. The Union blockade had been taking its toll. Also, flooding on the James River in the spring of 1864 delayed progress. In March of 1864 the steamer was still having trouble getting her guns, and by April 1864 the difficulty of manning the Fredericksburg caused the Confederate Navy to commandeer troops from the infantry to finish out the crew.

According to John M. Coski, author of Capital Navy: The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron, “Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, on March 22, 1864, sent instructions to nine Confederate generals throughout the Confederacy ordering the immediate transfer of a total of 1,200 men.” Some several hundred of those men were destined for the James River Squadron. Among those soldiers was Owen McLaurin. Captain John Kirkwood Mitchell assumed command of all the active James River naval vessels and Commander Thomas R. Rootes was given first command of the Fredericksburg. At this point in the war less attention was paid a conscript’s aptitude for naval service, and the number of transfers had increased. Indeed, imprisoned soldiers and civilians were given shortened sentences if they would transfer to the navy.

Though the food is better and more abundant in the navy, Owen says, “I am very much dissatisfied here & trust that you and Uncle John (Stalker) will use every endeavor to have me transferred to Wilmington.” Once again he names local people with connections who could write to Commander Rootes about a transfer. His language is quite desperate:

Dear Uncle I beg of you all to re-

member me in your prayers, where

one like myself is exposed to both

the missiles of the enemy & all kinds

of wickedness among those with whom

I am thrown — Owen McLaurin

Owen’s sentiments are supported by another infantryman turned sailor that is quoted by Coski. Oliver Hamilton, a transfer from the North Carolina 38th Infantry, wrote home to his father. This letter collection is held at the North Carolina State Archives. In one letter Hamilton describes the crew as, “very much mixed up — about half of us here just came from the army — and the others are all seamen some are English, some Irish some Dutch and I don’t know what all — Some are very wicked too.” To add to the diversity of the crew, enslaved servants of officers were allowed and enslaved labor was hired for menial tasks. Hamilton says the general consensus is that the infantry conscripts are not very good soldiers and are, “kicked around.” Evidently, a prejudice existed on the part of experienced seamen and the untrained conscripts.

Coski in Capital Navy supports with evidence the crowded conditions on the ironclads of the James River Squadron. The ironclads were notoriously uncomfortable, cold in winter and like ovens in the summer. Hamilton mentions to his father, “There are about 150 men in this steamer and we are very much crowded.” Close quarters made these vessels incubators for disease. Frequently in the summer, sleeping quarters might be found on barges with tarps for shelter or as young Hamilton mentions “a Scooner brought along side.” The boiler room brought warmth in the winter. However, sickness and desertion would become rampant in the James River Squadron during the last months of the war. In November of 1864, despite his desperation to be transferred, Owen says his health is good, though he has lost weight. Owen tries to convey the sentiments aboard the vessel regarding the war:

There appears to be

a strong peace feeling in Congress

& on board this ship There are

numbers of men who are for peace

on any terms, I am sorry to

write it but it is the truth — Owen McLaurin

At the end of November 1864, Owen writes another letter revealing that he is much better since having taken, “a few doses of quinine.” He says that shelling continues at Dutch Gap and he foresees an engagement if “the canal” is opened. Owen quotes the price of gold in Richmond as forty to forty-five dollars for one. He begins to share his ideas of what must become of the enslaved people on the farm. It is unclear whether Owen is referring to his Uncle’s property, his father’s property, or both. In any case, the goal is to make sure they lose as little of their investment in human chattel as possible. He says if he could go home on furlough he could suggest a plan. Since that won’t happen, he makes this suggestion:

hire out all those of the negroes even

those as small as Charles or Darling,

if you could get their victuals &

clothes for them, I would not sell one

except those for which you would

have to pay for the feeding of, and

those I sold I would not receive confed

erate Currency but notes with

the most approved security and at

long dates … with

the interest payable annually — Owen McLaurin

Apparently, Owen is suggesting that the enslaved people on the farm be hired out for the cost of their upkeep. If that cannot be managed, they should be sold without accepting Confederate currency. However, the not so distant future would settle things to an extent for Owen’s household. William T. Sherman and his troops would drive directly through Richmond County, destroying property as they went, while dispersing both animals and people. Owen’s household would be one of the lucky ones. They would even be spared a portion of their cotton on hand. Evidence exists in Owen’s probate hearing that at least one formerly enslaved person remained on the farm. Life as they had known it before would be virtually over.

The financial disaster that is about to befall them must have preyed upon Owen’s mind during a daily struggle to maintain his health and positive outlook. His anxiety is palpable, not only for his family’s situation but for his own. Owen wishes to hear from them often, “and do your best to get me away from here.” Again, his letter ends with a plea for prayers, “Dear Uncle I beg of you to pray for me.”

The James River Squadron

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The Battle of Trent’s Reach. From the Naval Encyclopedia: the first online warship museum, cited below in Sources.

After the first Union attempt to take Richmond in 1862 failed, the James River Squadron had seen little action, though the blockade running continued throughout the war. The navy yards along the James River were active in building and experimenting. The Confederates experimented with torpedoes, which were actually mines. They also would launch the first primitive submarine in the United States from this area. The James River in Virginia is particularly winding, so it was easy for the Navy to fall into a defensive position by obstructing Federal passage up the James to Richmond. By May of 1864, General Grant had begun his campaign to capture Richmond. At this point the Fredericksburg, was captained by Lt. Francis E. Shepperd. Grant, engaged in the Siege of Petersburg, placed his supply base at City Point on the James River.

That winter of 1865, the James River Squadron Commander, Captain John K. Mitchell, was ordered to engage the enemy. Mitchell felt it too risky. The best they could do was help the land batteries keep the Union forces from crossing the river behind Confederate lines. Most soldiers probably realized this situation could not last forever. As Owen expected, engagement came the night of January 23-24, 1865 in the Battle of Trent’s Reach.

On January 15, 1865 Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory had received a report that the obstructions in the James River at Trent’s Reach had partially washed away. With Grant’s supplies concentrated at City Point on the James, Mallory saw an opportunity to finally put the James River Squadron on the offensive. The goal was to send the squadron down river, passing the newly opened channel to attack City Point under cover of night.

Commander Mitchell, felt any engagement with the Federal Navy would probably be disastrous to the Confederacy. For this reason Mitchell procrastinated until  January 23 and 24, when high water and washed obstructions presented an undeniable opportunity of allowing the squadron to pass and attack City Point.

Wooden vessels were lashed to the ironclads. The Fredericksburg led the flotilla with the gunboat Hampton and torpedo boat Hornet lashed to it. The Confederate Navy had mined the river with torpedoes which could be identified by coded stakes. They traveled in complete darkness and silence under the Federal pickets, adding to the precariousness of the venture. Soon the Federals discovered and fired upon them. The Confederate land batteries retaliated. The flotilla was plagued with vessels becoming stuck and having to be rescued. At 1:30 am on January 24, the Fredericksburg passed the Federal obstructions, having endured fire from shore. However, Commander Sheppard had the ship pass through too hastily. Both of the lashed torpedo outriggers were torn away. In addition, the ship struck something below the waterline that caused a slow leak. The Fredericksburg anchored below Dutch Gap Canal and the Hampton followed. That is where they waited for the rest of the flotilla, but it never came. The flagship, Virginia II, had grounded. Time was consumed getting the Virginia II up and running again. The first attempt to attack City Point never happened; the Fredericksburg and Hampton were recalled.

As the sun rose, Federal gunners at Battery Parsons fired and destroyed the Drewry in dramatic fashion by a direct hit to its magazine. The Fredericksburg crew endured the explosion of the Drewry and constant shelling barrage before sheltering under cover of Battery Dantzler. General Grant saw an opportunity to destroy the Confederate Navy, but hesitation on the part of the Federal Navy that had been left to guard the James River lost the chance.

Meanwhile, the James River Squadron attempted the attack on City Point a second time. The Federals trained a Drummond light on the river, making sitting ducks of the squadron. Suffering even more damage, the flotilla returned to Chaffin’s bluff under fire. The opportunity to impede Grant’s attempt at taking Richmond was lost. The Fredericksburg had a hole in its port side and was leaking two to three inches per hour.

Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes replaced Mitchell as James River Squadron commander on February 18, 1865. According to Coski, in Semmes’s 1869 memoir he describes the state of the squadron personnel as mostly from the army and very demoralized. He said they lived in close, crowded conditions in uncomfortable quarters with little opportunity for exercise. They were, at this point, reduced to half rations and little change of clothing. They were begging him for leaves of absence due to destitute families. The end result of these conditions was rampant desertion. Thus, accurate Confederate information was passed to the Federals by deserters. Semmes said, “Sometimes an entire boat’s crew would run off.” Soldiers and sailors understood that the Confederacy was near collapse, and illness had decimated their numbers.

Owen’s last surviving letter to his uncle is dated December of 1864. Because he was a member of the Masonic Lochlomand Lodge No. 242, it is likely he was true to his word and remained, though reluctantly, a faithful soldier until the end of the war. Perhaps he surrendered with Admiral Semmes. Whether he returned directly home immediately after the war is questionable. Owen spent time after the war with his cousin Duncan McEachin in Canada.

While Owen was still attached to the Fredericksburg his home of Laurel Hill came under the assault of foragers among the troops of General William T. Sherman, who was leading the Federals from Georgia through the Carolinas on his way to meet General Grant at Richmond, Virginia. In the North Carolina Encyclopedia online (www.ncpedia.org), John G. Barrett writes, “By March 1865 Sherman’s entire army was on North Carolina soil in the vicinity of Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church.” Foragers looted and burned much of the property at Laurel Hill. Livestock was scattered and crops destroyed, though the Owen McLaurin family probably suffered less than others in what became known locally as, “the raid.” According to Owen’s probate record, Effy and her two daughters were lucky enough to have their house and furniture saved as well as six bales of cotton stored in the lumber shed. They would also recover some livestock.

On April 2 Semmes received news that General Lee had advised the government to leave Richmond. Semmes ordered the remaining ships of the squadron destroyed rather than have them fall into federal hands. When the order was given to abandon ship, men scurried to gather possessions and find something to carry them in. Remaining provisions were given out. They unlashed their hammocks and rolled blankets tightly. With water for travel, they met at the Danville Depot, but not before their final duty.

Instead of sinking the vessels where they were, Semmes moved them to the Drewry’s Bluff obstructions. After disembarking, crews set the ships ablaze.

Where was Owen at this historic moment? It is probable that he was one of the soldiers who gathered his possessions and met Semmes at the depot, boarded the train for Danville, and perhaps made it there. Every time the train stopped or slowed, soldiers whose families lived near enough, would jump off and head home. According to Coski, by the time Semmes reached Danville, his force of men totaled 250. General Joseph E. Johnston, with whom Semmes was supposed to meet, had already surrendered to General Sherman, and on May 1 Semmes did the same.

IMG_3780

Aftermath of the War

Whether or not Owen met Semmes at the Depot and returned home is unclear, for testimony at his probate hearing reveals he was in Canada visiting his cousin Duncan McEachin until late August or early September of 1865. Duncan McEachin was the son of Effy Stalker McLaurin’s sister — McEachin was Owen’s maternal first cousin. While in Ontario, Canada, Owen promised to marry Jennie McKay. Sadly, Owen would die of tuberculosis on November 28, 1869. His will would also direct his mother to leave, “all of her personal property, to my intended wife, Jennie McKay of Elgin County Ontario.” 

Apparently, Owen borrowed a substantial amount from his cousin Duncan McEachin, mostly for his return home to Laurel Hill, NC. In testimony at his probate hearing, we learn Owen’s probable reason for his extended Canadian visit. Owen feared confiscation of his recently deceased father’s land by the U.S. government. Kenneth McKenzie, Owen’s paternal first cousin, claims that at first Owen offered the land to him with the understanding that it would be returned when the Federals no longer occupied the state, and Owen could safely keep it again. Kenneth said that Owen was under the impression that he was an, “anti-war man,” when he made the offer. However, Kenneth had volunteered and served in the Confederate Army also and could not have held the land any better than Owen.

In his will, Owen officially leaves his property to his cousin Duncan McEachin. He stipulates that Duncan share the property with his McEachin siblings: Archibald, Catherine, and Ann. In addition, he tasks his cousin with placing tombstones on the graves of his father, sisters, and his own grave. His own gravestone should bear a Masonic emblem, “chosen by the Worshipful Master and Wardens of LochLomand Lodge, No. 242.” He also leaves one hundred dollars to this lodge.

Owen makes it clear in his will that none of his property, “shall ever come to any of my relations on my Fathers side.” He stipulates that any property his Uncle Duncan may have intended for him should go to his cousin Hugh McCall, “and his heirs, as he and children are worthy of his regard.” The McCall family would own and occupy the home of Duncan McLaurin for the next hundred years or more. It is made very clear, through the testimony of Daniel Middleton at John McLaurin’s probate hearing in October of 1872, that Owen and his Uncle Duncan McLaurin were on very good terms despite the language in Owen’s will. Middleton explains the family trouble between Duncan McLaurin and some of his nephews. Kenneth McKenzie and the three Patterson nephews had brought law suits against Duncan McLaurin regarding property claims. All of them had failed. Letters in the Duncan McLaurin Papers support that Isabella Patterson’s sons were quite resentful of their Uncle Duncan. According to Middleton the ill will remained so that Owen likely felt McLaurin property should not fall into their hands:

“In conversation with Owen I heard him say, speaking of some of his relatives on his father’s side, that they would not get any part of his property, or that he did not want them to have it. There was an ill feeling existing between some of the nephews of Duncan McLaurin …, and I think it was on this account that Owen McLaurin made use of such expressions, and not on account of any ill feeling Owen had towards his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. I think they were on the best terms.” — Daniel Middleton

The property that McEachin inherited was surveyed by him according to probate testimony. The deed included 950 acres in all. The property ran along the Stage Road and the railroad.

Apparently, Owen also engaged in a business upon returning to his home. He and friend Gilbert Morrison began hauling railroad ties. Testimony also shows that they may have made a small profit on this business until Owen could no longer work due to his illness — about the last fourteen months of his life. In probate hearing testimony, L. Ross Hardin claims to have sold to Owen in 1867 a pair of mules and a wagon, or rather the running gear of a wagon, in order to carry on this business. Owen paid with drafts on the railroad and on Mr. Moffitt, a businessman, of Wilmington.

Samuel Gibson added that Owen also purchased a horse for the farm with his mother’s money. Evidently, Owen was overseeing the farm for his mother and using hired labor after the war. In the words of close neighbor, Samuel Gibson, “They (Owen and his mother) were not very good farmers.” He claims that from 1865 to 1872 they had probably made “150-175 bushels of corn and four bags of cotton weighing 400 pounds.” Gibson suggests that all of the profits from the farm were needed for the family’s support. This support became increasingly dire as both of Owen’s sisters suffered from tuberculosis. Owen’s illness too was an expense to the family. Effy estimates that she spent over $800 dollars on his medical care alone.

Included in the property that McEachin inherited was the dower of Effy Stalker. In the 19th century a dower included real estate that had been officially set aside for a widow. Evidently, Effy was living on her dower after Owen died and after the estate passed to McEachin, who allowed his aunt to reside on the property. After losing all of her immediate family, Effy Stalker McLaurin, born in Argyll, Scotland would live until 1881.

It would be October 17, 1872 before Owen’s father’s estate was probated.The Richmond County civil government was in disarray due to the raid during Sherman’s march through North Carolina, not so long after John’s death in 1864. In 1867 military authority began in North Carolina, which lasted officially until 1877. However, the state had less of a military presence after 1868. On July 4, 1868, after ratifying the 14th Amendment, North Carolina was readmitted and became part of the United States again. This served to eventually bring some normalcy to state and local civil affairs.

That fall of 1872, as the weather cooled and the leaves began falling from the trees at Laurel Hill, Plaintiff Duncan McLaurin, along with other creditors, contested his brother’s estate in probate court. It would be Duncan’s last effort, for he would be dead from cancer by December. His contention was that neither John’s estate nor Owen’s estate had been handled properly. He was openly hostile in his writing towards his brother’s wife, Effy, and her brother John Stalker. He accused them of claiming less property than the estates were actually worth in order to filch creditors of the estate. How much Duncan’s illness exacerbated his bitterness is difficult to gauge.

Much of the testimony in the legal accounts of these two probate hearings involves who was actually in charge of the farm after John’s death. A great deal of testimony itemizes property on the farm before and after the “raid.” It rankled Duncan that Effy had simply taken unofficial charge of the property immediately in Owen’s absence. Duncan always claimed John left a will while Effy claimed none could be found. Duncan, owning more property than he or the McCalls were equipped to handle during the changing times, likely had no designs on the property himself. However, it was, in part, the land that his father Hugh had deeded to his son in John’s youth.

Effy Stalker McLaurin, Murdock Morrison, Samuel J. Gibson, Daniel Middleton, John McLean, and John Stalker gave testimony during this hearing. According to Effy’s testimony, she is residing on her dower in 1872 on one side of Gum Swamp, “and on both sides of the railroad.” Effy also admits that after the raid a Yankee officer gave her two mules and a mare. She itemizes property, other than land, owned by John McLaurin just before Sherman’s army raided the area:

“Two mules and a mare and colt. I suppose there were at least 12 head of cattle, four milk cows … about 20 head of sheep. There was enough corn to feed 3 horses and 17 to 20 persons in the family. (This must have included enslaved people.) There was enough fodder to feed all the horses and mules; enough bacon to last the family and no corn or bacon left over that year, about enough wheat for that year. There was an excellent four horse wagon, a cart and a one-horse Rockaway. There was a mill and fixtures on the farm and about enough farming implements to run a three-horse-farm.” — Effy Stalker McLaurin testimony

She also names her three now deceased children, adding that her husband left no will. Effy says that she, “overseed the farm, and applied the proceeds to the support of family.” They consumed everything they made, “I made two crops without Owen. Owen came home in the fall of 1865.” Effy claims to have supported Owen when he was in Canada. Ultimately, from 1865 until just before his death, Owen was in charge of the farm: “Owen conducted the farm as my overseer.” Effy claims that every cent she, “got hold of,” was paid Owen. She follows this claim with a brief characterization of her son, “Owen would have spent as much more in books and papers if he could have got it.” At this point books and papers must have seemed a bit superfluous to Effy, though they must have meant a great deal to Owen.

OwenMcLProbateHearingIdentification1873

 

During Owen’s probate hearing, which occurred after Duncan McLaurin died in December of 1872, Kenneth McKenzie gives testimony as to what remained on the farm after the Yankee raid. His reason for knowing about the farm was that, “it was mostly my home,” from 1863 when he came from Mississippi to North Carolina to help his aging uncle Duncan McLaurin conduct his affairs until he re-enlisted in the Confederate Army in September of 1864. He was also on John’s farm after April of 1865, though he was no longer employed by his Uncle Duncan: “I was there a great deal after the raid up to Owens death.” The following is Kenneth’s enumerated list:

 

 

“There was a lot of cattle of fifteen — or more.

there were four breeding sows, (and other hogs.) one was killed

in the latter end of 1865 or the beginning of 1866.

There were four feather beds including bedstead quilt counter pane, the beds and

furniture —I cant say how much — farming implements

plows, hoes &c I can’t say how much I suppose there were

a dozen chains. one wagon,

there was a safe, dining table four

small tables two common bedsteads. one grindstone

there was corn there cant say how much some fodder

Six Bales of cotton, 2 mattresses belonged on the

common bedsteads — some blankets in a box two were

shown me there seemed to be more. There were some kitchen furniture. these a large

pot, and a large boiler each of which would hold about 40

gallons. — Kenneth McKenzie

He also enumerates items left on the farm after Owen’s death:

“There were fifteen cattle at least there after the

death of Owen, part of them the cattle

enumerated as belonging to the Estate of John

McLaurin, the balance I supposed to be the increase,

I suppose there were 10 of the old cattle that

I knew as belonging to the estate of John McLaurin, worth about $20 a head the

others were worth I suppose, about $10 or $12

the Sows three of which were left were worth $*. I reckon a piece, the 12

chairs I suppose were worth 75 cents to $1.00 — the

safe I suppose was worth $10. The dining

table I suppose was worth $2, or $2.50

the small tables I reckon were worth $6 a piece

I would suppose the beds were worth $50

each with their furniture the common Bedsteads were worth $100

or $150 and the Mattress (2) were worth about

$4.00 each the Blankets were worth a

dollar a yd 10 or 12 yds in a Blanket

worth say $10 there were two — three I think

The grindstone was worth $3. The pots or pot

and boiler were there after Owens death

and worth (the lightest would weigh 75 lbs

and the heaviest 100 lbs) the pot was worth $5

and the Boiler $6. I know of some cotton

sold after the raid at 40 cents per lb — Kenneth McKenzie

Apparently, the six bales of cotton that survived burning in the raid were held in what Kenneth referenced as the “lumber house.” He noted the cotton because he made an offer to buy it from Owen at fifteen cents a pound but Owen sold to someone else, probably receiving a much better profit.

The marking of the cattle is an interesting point. During the testimony of several people we learn that people living where John McLaurin’s farm was located did not generally mark their stock. However, Kenneth said he was directed to mark the stock by John and Effy McLaurin. Kenneth says he remembers them better by their flesh marks than ear marks. This was important because during the raid much of the livestock property was wandering loosely and had to be retrieved. Having no marks as evidence of ownership, many people collected more than they had before, and some were unable to collect all that they had before.

Another interesting testimony in Owen’s probate hearing comes from a former slave, Lydia Leak, who may also be known as Lydia Gibson. Lydia, if not born on the farm, was “raised on the farm,” during John McLaurin’s lifetime and ownership. Evidently, she was still working on the farm after the war as a free laborer. In her short testimony, she claims to have driven home some of the McLaurin cows after the raid. She also says there was a little corn and meat on the farm, but she could not attest to how many farming implements were left or the amount of household and kitchen furniture left. Her testimony was very brief and was not cross-examined.

The probate suit against John Stalker by the creditors of Owen McLaurin concluded with an admonishment for Stalker to pay what was owed. Stalker’s refusal to pay the full amount to creditors and choosing to go into further debt in court costs won him disfavor in the court’s decision.

Owen’s sad story, the wasting of youthful promise in pursuit of war, is a timeless one and recounted in the letters home of many soldiers, both Federal and Confederate, during the Civil War. Owen and others like him have left us a cautionary tale.

Sources

Account written by Duncan McLaurin of Laurel Hill, Richmond County, NC regarding his relationship with John Stalker of Richmond County, NC, brother of Effie Stalker McLaurin and uncle of Owen McLaurin. Written some time after Owen’s death in November of 1869 and before Duncan’s death in December of 1872. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Barrett, John G. “Sherman’s March.” NCpedia. https://www.ncpedia.org/shermans-march. 2006. Accessed 8 March 2020.

Bridges, Myrtle N. Estate Records 1772-1933 Richmond County North Carolina Hardy-Meekins Book II. “John McLaurin – 1864.” Genealogy Publishing Service: Angier, NC. 2001. Brandon Genealogy Room copied by Harold Johnson. 

“Collection Overview.” Eli Spinks Hamilton Papers, 1861-1864, #3226, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Referenced in Coski.

“Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of North Carolina.” M270. NARA. 586957. Roll 0264. Eighteenth Infantry. Owen McLaurin. 1861-1862. https://www.fold3.com/images35901289, 35901301, 35901306,35901317,35901326, 35901329, 35901336, 35901340, 35901346. Accessed 29 Dec 2019.

“Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of South Carolina.” M267. NARA. 586957. Roll l0314. Twentieth Infantry. Owen McLaurin. 1863. https://www.fold3.com/images85977739, 85977742, 85977744, 85977745, 85977747. Accessed 2 February 2020.

Coski, John M. Capital Navy: The Men, Ships and Operations of the James River Squadron. Savas Beatie LLC: New York. 1996. 81, 85,153, 154, 156, 159, 167, 172, 175, 176, 177, 178, 179, 180, 181. Chapter 6 “No Advance, No Retreat: The Battle of Trent’s Reach & the Final Months of the James River Squadron.” 203, 210, 221, 222.

Coski, John M. “James River Squadron.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 4 Mar. 2011. Web. 29 Dec. 2019. First published: December 16, 2009. Last modified: March 4, 2011.

“Death of James S. Highsmith Co. E. 18th Regiment SC Vols from Camp Stephens S.C.” Wilmington Journal. Wilmington, NC. 13 Mar 1862, Thursday. 1. newspapers.com. Accessed 6 February 2020.

“Death of Soldiers March 1862.” Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer. Fayetteville, NC. 10 Mar 1862. Monday. 3. newspapers.com. Accessed 6 February 2020.

DreadnaughtZ666. Naval Encyclopedia : the first online warship museum.  19 June 2018. “Confederate Navy.” <https://www.naval-encyclopedia.com/secession-war/css-fredericksburg&gt; Accessed 29 December 2019.

Keating, Frank. “Heenan v Sayers: The fight that changed boxing forever.” The Guardian. 13 April 2020. Tuesday. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2010/apr/14/john-heenan-tom-sayers-boxing. Accessed 5 March 2020.

“Keitt, Laurence Massillon.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774-Present. https://bioguideretro.congress.gov/Home/MemberDetails?memIndex=K000054. Accessed 4 February 2020.

Letter from Christian Calhoun to Duncan McLaurin. 4 March 1842. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Letter from Duncan Calhoun to Duncan McLaurin. 15 February 1844 and 13 July 1845. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Letter from Kenneth McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. April 1843. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Letters from Owen McLaurin to Duncan McLaurin. 9 May 1860, 15 December 1861, 5 March 1862, 25 May 1862, about May or June 1862, 20 January 1864, 10 April 1864, 22 November 1864, 29 November 1864, 18 December 1864. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

“McLaurin, Douglas Deaths March 1864.” Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer. Fayetteville, NC. 14 Apr 1864, Thursday. 3. newspapers.com. Accessed 17 February 2020.

McPherson, James M. and Patricia R. Lamson of the Gettysburg: The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, U.S. Navy. Oxford University Press: New York. 1997. 159.

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, Washington, D.C.; Non-population Census Schedules for North Carolina, 1850-1880: Mortality and Manufacturing; Archive Collection: M1805; Archive Roll Number: 3; Census Year: 1869; Census Place: Luarel Hill, Richmond North Carolina; Page: 595. Accessed ancestry.com on 30 December 2019.

“Scottish Boys Nortons and Pates.” Fayetteville Weekly Observer. Fayetteville, NC. 24 June 1861. Monday. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed by tjthomps on 26 March 2015. Accessed 25 September 2019.

“Tribute of Respect for Wm. Snead and Gilbert M. McKinnon of “Scotch Boys.” Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer. Fayetteville, NC. 23 Dec 1861. Monday. 3. newspapers.com. Accessed 6 February 2020.

United States Federal Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Laurel Hill, Richmond, North Carolina; Roll: M432_642; Page: 2675; Image: 35. Accessed ancestry.com on 30 December 2019.

United States Federal Census. Year: 1860; Census Place; Williamson, Richmond, North Carolina; Roll; M653_911; Page:387; Family History Library Film: 803911. Accessed ancestry.com on 30 December 2019.

U. S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Original data: Records of the Internal Revenue Service. Record Group 58. The National Archives at Washington, DC. Accessed 30 December 2019.

Wills, 1663-1978; Estate Papers, 1772-1933 (Richmond County); Author: North Carolina. Division of Archives and History; Probate Place: Richmond, North Carolina. Accessed ancestry.com on 12 April 2018.

Land of His Infancy — Kenneth McKenzie b. 1820

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

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

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

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

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

Civil War Years

KMcKConfArmyDisharge1862

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

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

The roll of the drum the glittering bayonet the Keen

crack of the Mississippi rifle the multiplicity

of Buoie Knives and Colts Repeating pistols Show

that the boys are in for Strife or right we have

received a portion of our pay Each private

at eleven Dollars per month have received

ten Dollars in State or Confederate bonds

What will be the results of our efforts is all unknown

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

much as possible at intervals without any

attention to receipts from you, as the guide to

my correspondence. — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

Brotherly Estrangement and Politics

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

I am now living

with James McGill I appreciate the

respect with which I am treated by

himself and family, my health has

been good since the coming in of Septr

last, previously I had a severe attact

of fever from which I have not regained

my standard weight … as

for my self my future is hidden in oblive

iousness and will continue mystified

through life I fear oblivious curtain hides

the future. — Kenneth McKenzie

Earlier in November of 1857, Kenneth sums up some of his financial activities. He has been interested in the railroads that are being built in the state. In August he made a trip to New Orleans and marvels at the speed of the train, “the distance being made in seven hours including the time that was taken in taking the mail at each station, there being 13, if the country was filled up with railroads there would be little use for carriages or any such vihicles … and the travel would be cheaper as the speed is so much greater.” His Uncle Duncan had been involved in bringing the railroad through Richmond County in North Carolina. For these reasons Kenneth expresses an interest in supporting a proposed Brandon and Ship Island railroad. He claims, “If justice is done by the surveying engineer under the present charter the road will come directly through this county.” He follows this speculation with news that he has, “subscribed,” one thousand dollars if it (the railroad), “runs in a certain limit.” This rail line is not built until after the war and did not follow the exact route Kenneth had hoped.

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

I have bot and sold some Spanish horses

they are noted for durability I have made

some money by it, I have it in mind to

take a trip to Western Texas and procure

Spanish mares and mules two of my

neighbors boys both Brothers named Lott

have made the first trip ever made to this

country from Goliad on the San antone River

with a … of 36 Horses part of which

I bought and sold all but two which I

have yet on hand they are severe in their

disposition until tamed and conquered a

man alone cannot make more than a lively hood

by labour  — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

this morning I was at the lot

gate looking at some sows and pigs all in

peace and harmony when Allen came there

and said that I had to gather up my ponies

and leave a damned loafer I made him

some evasive and perhaps insulting answer

when he caught me by the hair and struck me

several blows before I could extricate myself

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

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

manner by him or any one else — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

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

Neighbors are generally kind in visiting tho some being close

born are not neighbors for instance the agust McLaurins

who compose the aristocracy of this county and are

amenable to the presbyterian order but they dwell more

on money finances than the immortality of the Soul

… the world they are aiming

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

and comely pairs of fine animals with gaudy decorations …

uncle they do not come to see mother since she has

been afflicted Before then when she was able to trudge

round and prepare fine dinners they were con

stantly on a visiting expedition … — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

It would be madness in the extreme

in any Patriotic heart to wish to blast

the foundation of a government

like this, but the intriguing demagogues

and fanatics leaders now in power

as has been the case for years past have

been by degrees undermining the prin

ciples of power which they cannot

reestablish — Kenneth McKenzie

Loss of Barbara McKenzie

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

I threw the chew I had in my mouth

out taking in no other for over 2 months,

inflammation seized my stomach and lungs

I used every precaution to shun …

and I am now nearly well in the time my

mind became touched or rather lit up quicker

and more sensitive than usual or at

least I imagined this to be the case, my Eyes

have been very sore for several weeks, in fact

some of the time I could scarcely see, they

are better now I hope on the mend — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

Young Adult Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I come on a visit to the country. My

Uncles John & Duncan McLaurin wished

me to stay here in this country. John Mc-

Laurin offered to board me while I would

stay and superintend Duncan McLaurins

business. I took up their offer. This is

the reason I was so intimately acquainted

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

and staid as long as I pleased and attended

to the stock and made myself as useful as I

could there were nobody but women there when

Owen was gone. — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1840s: Health and Deaths

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

Mary Catharine McKenzie (1838-1839) F-beah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yard, She could not conceive what cause of dissatisfaction aunt

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

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

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

Tell your father to make himself easy about

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

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

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

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

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

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

=toms of disease was discovered the Doct,, says he discovered her decline and attended to her and nursed her well, & I acknowledge his skill as such, but her glass was run 

— Duncan McKenzie

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

Catharine Calhoun McLaurin (1762-1841)

CatharineCalhounMcLaurind1841at79

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

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

your mother should guard

against those febrile symptoms of which you

mentioned, by taking some cooling simple med

=icine such as Rhubarb & cream of tarter in

small quantities till it would excite a slight

operation on the bowels, keeping herself from

morning Dews & noon day Sun —  Duncan McKenzie

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

It is a source of the most sireous reflection

to us to hear that one after another of the family

are falling off from time to an untimely grave by the

same cause, to wit, that of ulcers which commenced

in my family, but death comes by the means appoin

=ted and why should we complain but say with

christian resignation the will of God be done

in your next you will please give us a minute

description of the case with your mother …

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

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

— Duncan McKenzie

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

We are glad to hear that

your mother was living at the time of your writing and

that the sore had not made such a fatal progress as

we had anticipated, at the special request of Barbara

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

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

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

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

Hugh McLaurin (1751-1846) F-ba

HughMcLaurinofBalacholishd1846at95

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

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

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

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

at least devote an equal space in each letter written they

would be the more grattifying. — Duncan McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rises to those we loved no more. — Duncan McKenzie

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

From an

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

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

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

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

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

— Duncan McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

With his first wife, Allan’s children were Catharine Stewart b. 9 June, 1802 d. 30 March 1806; John Patrick Stewart b. Nov. 1805 d. 19 May 1858 in Franklin County, MS; Mary Stewart b. 4 December 1806 d. in Covington Co.; Hugh Carmichael Stewart b. 9 March 1810 d. 11 November 1847; Margaret Stewart b. 30 January 1812 d. 4 June 1820; James Fisher Ames Stewart b. 22 December 1813 d. 7 February 1825; Barbara Stewart b. 3 October 1815 d. ?; Nancy Stewart (Anderson) b. about 1815 d. ?.

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

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

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

Our friend A. Stewart came early and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Duncan McKenzie

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

He was breathing and continued to breathe till the time above

stated but never spoke nor showed any symptoms of consciousness

… being convenient I was … exam

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

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

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

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

Duncan McKenzie (1793 – 1847)

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

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

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

Hugh Carmichael Stewart (1810 – 1847)

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

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

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

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

I have spent five months at a time without seeing

a human being except my own company consisting of

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

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

On Saturday the 11th Ult Hugh C Stewart

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

on the flat firm of his screw hewing some timbers

stepped over the piece of timber he was working on the

end of a plank which his weight bore down and

having no other purchase he fell through to the

ground. the plank followed end foremost striking

him on the forehead split out his brains. the fall

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

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

Health and Deaths of Friends and Acquaintance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1830s: Health Challenges

NewDispesatoryFBeauumontNatchezWklyCourier1833
An advertisement for a new physician’s reference appeared in The Natchez Weekly Courier published in Natchez, Mississippi in November of 1833 during the first year of the Duncan McKenzie family’s residence in the state.

A Case of Parasitic Worms

Parasitic worms have always loomed in my imagination as a horror, though the threat of contracting them seems to have diminished with time, knowledge, and advanced hygienic practices. This could be said of many 19th century deadly ailments. Early nineteenth century medical science is characterized by an ignorance of the nature and characteristics of diseases as well as the ways they were transmitted. Often people were unaware of the role simple hygiene could play in limiting disease.

Duncan McLaurin, during his tenure in the 1830s as an academy teacher at Bennettsville, SC, gives us a glimpse of the dreadful experience of parents watching a child die of worms. In May of 1837 McLaurin writes to his brother expressing hope of sending John a copy of the National Intelligencer by way of an acquaintance traveling from Bennettsville to Laurel Hill on the Stage Road, but three people he hoped would convey the paper did not make the expected trip including “McE,” who I believe to be McEachen. McE remained in Bennettsville because a child in the family was desperately ill:

McE staid in consequence of the

sickness of the oldest child by Julian. She the child

died this morning before day — Vast quantities of

worms had passed through her — Her mother

told me that they were passing from her I

believe, in both extremities without the least effort

on the part of the child She was three or four

years of age very intelligent and interesting

her mother when I first got there this morning

was truly distressed — word by a special messenger

was sent to her father and what pleased me well

She is resolved to bury the child at Stewartsville. — Duncan McLaurin

Possible culprits for the child’s illness are the common parasitic roundworm, hookworm, or the Guinea worm. Contracting worms also is said to have been harder on people with immune system deficiencies, which might have been the case with a younger child. The Guinea worm emigrated from Africa along with the human cargo brought on slave ships. According to Peter McCandless, the author of Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Low Country, parasitic worms were common in waterfront areas in the United States, especially in the slaveholding South. The town of Bennettsville grew on the banks of a lake fed by a local river, upon which much business activity took place. Warm Southern American ports were also harbors of yellow fever and dengue carried by mosquitoes.

Early Mississippi Health Regulations and Medical Licensing Laws

This example of parasitic worms as a health hazard comes from Bennettsville, SC, but Mississippi, still somewhat of a frontier in the early 1830s, was dealing with its own health problems. In 1798 about the time the Mississippi Territory began experiencing an influx of settlers of European ancestry, Native Americans groups were characterized and praised as healers. However, they were all at the mercy of European diseases brought into the area and had little in the way of defense. Probably many of the native plant and herbal curatives used by European frontier settlers were learned from Native American botanical lore. Eventually, most southern slaveholding states would require slaveowners to provide health care for their human chattel – practices varied from household to household. The year 1798 also began American political control of a significant portion of the area which ensured the use of English and American medical and health practices.

On March 18, 1799 Mississippi Territorial Governor Winthrop Sargent and others signed legislation “Concerning Aliens and Contagious Diseases.” According to Felix J. Underwood, the author of the text Public Health and Medical Licensure in the State of Mississippi 1798-1937, the purpose of this law was “to prevent the admission within the Territory of foreigners of infamous character.. and to provide as far as possible against the fatal calamities of contagious diseases …” In 1816 a statute was added requiring a $2000 dollar fine and twelve years in prison for bringing smallpox into the state even if it was by inoculation. If you contracted smallpox and appeared in public without a paper from a doctor certifying your freedom from the disease, you were fined one hundred dollars. If one desired smallpox inoculation, petitioning the governor was required.

MSFreeTraderNatchez1820DrDunnAd
Ad appearing in The Mississippi Free Trader at Natchez on 25 April 1820.

Also Underwood contends that in the year of statehood, 1817, Natchez was the most significant “city of consequence.” Mississippi’s first Board of Health was established there with penalties for failing to abide by the health laws. The Board of Health included five health commissioners and the police. Their duties included the following as well as enforcement:

 

 

  • putting in place sewers, drains, and vaults and keeping them clean
  • assessing the cost of these for taxation purposes
  • removing “damaged or tainted” material, requiring a fine of ten dollars
  • “order and regulate” the burying ground
  • a certificate required for burying the dead
  • a health officer stationed at Bacon’s Landing would announce the arrival of a ship suspected of carrying a communicable disease
  • a fine placed upon suspected ship – five dollars for the commissioners visit and one dollar for each passenger
  • establish a temporary hospital at Bacon’s Landing to harbor and care for those suspected of contagious disease.

By 1819 the governor was given the authority and responsibility to make sure preventative steps were taken statewide to promote health as well as providing care. In 1822 legislation passed requiring a fine for selling unwholesome food. On the second offense, the culprit could be pilloried for one hour a day for three days in addition to the fine. In the Code of 1823, the justices of the county court would be required to ensure “sufficient conditions in prisons to prevent escape, sickness, infection” and to “keep jails clean.” Hutchinson’s Code of 1848 would create the Vaccine Depot at Jackson.

NatchezWklyCourier1831WestDistCensors
The Western District Board of Medical Censors licensed six doctors in December of 1831 according to The Natchez Weekly Courier.

With a government health mandate in mind, on February 12, 1819 the Mississippi legislature passed a law requiring medical licenses. It created a Board of Medical Censors, seven members appointed by the governor, who would approve licenses to those applying. At their first meeting they set up “rules and regulations, methods of ascertaining qualifications and granting license.” They were also authorized to grant temporary licenses. The governor appointed censors “of established skill and reputation in the medical profession,” who would meet twice a year. A license would cost ten dollars, and a list of license holders would be published in the newspaper. The Mississippi Free Trader, published in Natchez on 18 May 1819, delineates the authority of the Board of Medical Censors in the article titled, “Proceedings of the Board of Medical Censors.” By1820 the fine for practicing without a license was set at five hundred dollars.

WklyMississippian1834LicensedDrs
A list of doctors licensed by the Eastern Board of Censors appeared in The Weekly Mississippian of Jackson in May of 1834.

Eventually, three medical districts would be formed, each with its own board. By 1827 a physician, within six months, was required to record a license with the county clerk of the county in which practicing, though the licenses were good for the entire state. The circuit clerk of each county kept a list of licensed physicians.

Apparently, Mississippi was progressing in the area of medical licensure until 1836 when the medical censor laws were declared unconstitutional by the state supreme court. An unlicensed person practicing medicine had appealed his case and won. His victory in court invalidated the state’s licensing process. It would be forty-six years before medical licensing regulations would again be required.

The method and level of education available to prospective physicians in Mississippi varied widely during the early nineteenth century. Physicians often studied under other physicians if they were not trained in out-of-state schools in places like New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Augusta, or Louisville and Lexington. It would be 1882 before Mississippi had its own medical school. In fact, during the 1840s Duncan McKenzie’s son Daniel would study medicine under several tutors with well-equipped libraries, who had practiced the trade. He would teach school to support himself while boarding with his tutors.

A Doctor, Cures, and Self-dosage

Up until the Civil War, the most common curatives included bloodletting, purgatives, mercury, digitalis, and opiates. Probably most families self-diagnosed and kept common remedies nearby, especially in the most rural areas of Mississippi during the 1830s. Duncan McKenzie had an acquaintance to whom he refers in his letters as Dr. Duncan. It is likely that Dr. Duncan McLaurin is Duncan McKenzie’s fist cousin, son of Aunt Caty McLaurin of Lauderdale County, MS.  It has been a challenge to find a record from the early part of the decade that shows he was licensed. In a May 1834 letter to his brother-in-law John McLaurin, Duncan McKenzie first mentions him, “Doctor Duncan passed along last march. he .. promised to write to me but I do not much expect he will.” Later in the same letter he speaks again of the doctor:

I must correct a mistaken Idea in

regard to Dr. Duncan as I have Just Received a very full

and Satisfactory letter from him Dated Rodney May the 1st

Rodney a village on the Mississippi above natchez He called on

Capt Hugh Peter Fairley the Camerons &c all were well

except Daniel McLaurins family who were Sick of the Scarlet

fever Alexander a Sone of Danl,, Died of it a few days before

his arival there. The Doctor had not engaged in any business

at that time but had strong encouragement to take up

the practice of medicine in Franklin County… — Duncan McKenzie

A couple of years later, Dr. Duncan expresses some concern about Duncan McKenzie’s wife Barbara McLaurin. He does not express his worries to McKenzie but writes to Duncan McLaurin. The concern may have involved Barbara’s health since Duncan McKenzie admits in a later letter that Barbara has had quite a bit of responsibility in caring for both her own young children and the black children living on their Covington County farm. Her work load even without young children was never going to be light. McKenzie adds that his young sons were growing fast. Allen and an older black child were able to help look after their younger siblings. However, illness was ever present.

In 1836 McKenzie admits that though Dr. Duncan has annoyed him with his comments about Barbara, he remains friendly with the doctor. He writes to John in 1836, “I must feel more or less attached to the poor fellow not only for his attention to me while Sick but for other ties I cannot discard him tho I often tell him of his folly.”

By 1838, a year or so after the Mississippi Board of Medical Censors and their licensing was declared unconstitutional by the state courts, Duncan McKenzie writes to his brother-in-law about the doctor:

Dr Duncan is as usual driving form Shop to Shop, has a change of

meals but no change of clothes, his poor old horse Stands to the rack

but one thing in favor of the Dr he is above law, the law of this

State provides or allows a man of his profession a horse appraised to

$100 sadle and bags & the Dr has Just that much property

and no more, he only gets credit in Some places whenever he

wants a garment he goes off to Some place where he is not known

and his appearance will command credit at least for a coat

and perhaps for a whole Suit… — Duncan McKenzie

Evidently, by 1838 Dr. Duncan has become quite the alcoholic, according to teetotaler Duncan McKenzie. In his letters Duncan McKenzie has a great propensity for declaring people alcoholics and blaming their shortcomings on “Ruddy Bacchus!” Therefore, it is difficult to judge just how frequently certain people were actually alcoholics. In any case, there is evidence that Americans generally indulged often in homemade alcoholic beverages. Duncan McKenzie writes the following about Dr. Duncan:

I forgot the Doctor, but

to say the least of him is the best, in fact I do not

know where he is at present, and can only guess what

doing, Suppose drinking toddy, for some time after he came

to this neighbor hood he would keep himself Sober

especially when in my company, but of late the bate

allures him, I am resolved that no drunkard Shall

lodge with me long at one time … — Duncan McKenzie

A year later the doctor is visiting a sick child. Duncan McKenzie reports that, “…if providence sees fit the child may live, as no one doubts Dr D — Skill when Sober.” McKenzie goes on to explain that the Mississippi legislature has passed legislation, soon to be known as the “Gallon Law,” (an anti-tippling law) which limits the sale of spirits. McKenzie explains that this law “… has been of immense Service to the Dr and many others, the same act forbids innkeepers giving Selling or Suffering liquors to be drank in their houses on penalty of $500 & 6 mons. imprisonment.”

In May of 1834 the McKenzie family came down with measles – at least the children – some weeks after a visit from Dr. Duncan in March, “…all the children & our man Colison had the measles which threw us back in planting…” In the 1830s the measles could be deadly but apparently was not as common among the rural population as it was in the towns. In any case the McKenzie children would benefit from their immunity to the disease as it was rampant among the Smith County Confederate soldiers stationed at Enterprise, MS in the early days of the Civil War. Two of Duncan McKenzie’s sons, Kenneth and Allen, were deployed there and watched a significant number of their companions perish from the disease.

MedicinesNatchezWklyCourier1831
On 5 February 1831 The Natchez Weekly Courier ran this advertisement for medicines.

In November of 1836 Duncan McKenzie writes to his brother-in-law John that he is recovering from an illness, which he does not detail in this letter. He directs John to reference letters that he has written to others in the Richmond County community for specifics. He explains that he took the purgative, Calomel. Defined as a mercury compound that causes salivation, ulceration of the mouth, and loss of teeth, this purgative was used as a curative for many ailments. Duncan describes the side effects:

…it is a fact that there was 600 grain of Callomel

in my body at one time, and no less true that from that or Some

other un known cause my jaw bones burst I thot for some time

that the fractures were confined to the lower jaw but the reverse

is the fact, as not more than two weeks since while minding of

a gap on the field from whence they were hauling corn, it being

immediately after dinner, I was picking my teeth when to my

astonishment I picked out a fracture of bone from the right extremity

of the upper jaw. this piece of bone is 1.2 inch long by 1/8th in

diameter being the largest except two others which came from

both extremities of the lower jaw. numerous small particles

have come out both above and below. you may judge that

I have partially lost the power of mastication — Duncan McKenzie

It is unknown whether a doctor prescribed this dosage or whether it was self-dosage. According to James Harvey Young in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, self-dosage was the “first line” of prevention and cure in the antebellum South. Many literate and more well-off homes may have used popular books such as J. C. Gunn’s Domestic Medicine or Poor Man’s Friends published in Knoxville, TN in 1830 as a guide to self-dosage.

The Six hundred grains of calomel would be equal to about thirty-eight grams or one and a third ounces, likely in powder form. According to the author of Victorian Pharmacy, loss of teeth was a frequent side effect of calomel use. Louisa Mae Alcott, the 19th century author of Little Women, was treated for typhoid fever with calomel in 1863 and “never recovered from her ‘cure.’” Calomel for many years was the standard long term treatment for syphilis. Calomel and laudanum, the tincture of opium, were the most frequently prescribed drugs before and probably during the Civil War. However, the most useful treatment during this period was likely quinine.

Calomel use is further maligned in an opinion article by Pat Leonard, “William Hammond and the End of the Medical Middle Ages,” U. S. Surgeon General William Hammond was an innovator in medical and health efficiency. During his tenure, the early years of the Civil War, he made controversial changes in military hygiene practices, increased field access to pharmaceuticals, and spent quite a bit of money. One of his controversial decisions was the removal of the popular drug calomel, for he believed its side-effects outweighed its usefulness on the battlefield. In 1863 Hammond was removed from his position for a variety of reasons, though today his innovations are thought to have saved many lives.

General Health of Family, Friends, and Acquaintance

Nineteenth century letter etiquette in the United States of the 1830s required the writer to inquire after the health of family, friends, and acquaintance while remembering to send news of one’s own general health and that of others. Duncan McKenzie never failed to do this in his correspondence. In March of 1837 he writes to his brother-in-law Duncan:

the family are in good health at present —

you charged me to be particular in describing my own health

it is equally as good as I would have any reason to expect

I am able to work some tho as yet I do not feel able

to perform any hard labor, last friday I took Hugh

with me after dinner to Split some rails about

300 being wanted we Split about 100 that evening

next morning Mr. Gilcrist asked me if I was going

to finish my rails that day, I told him not, I felt

worsted from the evenings work, I have not finished

them yet tho I am knocking along at something else — Duncan McKenzie

Illness was very common and took its toll on farms when contagious ailments could stop work altogether. Likely, many died from exposing themselves to the elements too soon. In June of 1837 Duncan describes an illness worsened by inadvertent exposure to a rainstorm. When he became ill, he tried first calomel, next rhubarb and barks, and finally nothing. The problem disappeared on its own. During the early nineteenth century many people looked to purgatives to rid the body of infection. Rhubarb in powdered form taken as a medicine seems to have a laxative effect. Duncan begins by explaining that they had all had a slight attack of sickness in the Spring. He references his son Kenneth often since evidently Kenneth has been, since early childhood, living with what Duncan calls a “rheumatic condition.” This kept Kenneth from the fields and put an extra burden on those who were able to work. :

…April, in consequence of

his (Kenneth’s) inability to work, I had to undergo more of

it than my Strength was well able to bear the

weather at that time being wet and cold and

particularly on the 12th of April on which day I went

to an election and on my way home got very wet, the

friday following I was taken with a chill which was

followed by a severe fever, the chills & fevers continued

for Several paroxysms and every attack getting worse

I took Several doses of calomel until which time as a

Salivation was affected, the chills gave way but

Scarcely had my mouth got well. When the chills

returned which again was broke by the use of Rhubarb

and barks, I experienced an other attack Since which

Subsided without the use of any kind of medicine. — Duncan McKenzie

In circumstances such as Duncan experienced here, people must have questioned the value of medications for every problem. Hence, a large number of folks likely were inclined to try to cure themselves first and call a doctor later. Today many of us have the same inclination. Later, in the same letter, Duncan says that Captain Hugh Piper’s son died of billious colic. He probably means biliary colic, which is gallstones that easily may have become pancreatitis. Today we might have outpatient surgery to have the entire gall bladder removed. However, it was not until the late nineteenth century that medical science provided certainty that one could survive without the gall bladder. Until then the best treatment was to clean out the gall stones and drain the duct. This could temporarily improve the way one felt, but it did not solve the gall stones problem.

Duncan writes in October of 1837 that he is pleased to hear of the “general welfare” of family and friends at Laurel Hill and returns the favor by saying the family in Covington has been enjoying “tollerable good health at present.” Barbara, Kenneth, and Hugh had endured mild illness. Kenneth’s was a bout with his chronic rheumatic condition from which he had recovered. Several cases of fever “in the neighborhood” resulted in the death of, “two of the most amiable young men that any country could boast D Wilkinson and A McInnis.” In March of 1838 a sickness of Barbara’s left her very weak but she was recovering well according to Duncan’s letter.

On a brighter note by November of 1838, Duncan is reporting on the birth of his daughter Mary Catherine. True to Scottish tradition, they named her after their mothers. Duncan and Barbara had lost a twelve-year-old daughter shortly before they left for Mississippi. Her name was Catherine, named after Barbara’s mother – fitting that this female child was named after Duncan’s mother as well. The birth seems to have come more suddenly than expected, for they did not have time to reach help other than persons on the farm:

She fancied a pregnancy from

the 16th September, and on the 16th Jany quickend, very

perceptibly, after which time the tedious months rolled on till the morning of the 9th Augt

at one a clock she was

delivered of a daughter no one being in attendance but my

Self and negro woman Elly, yet all was well and I dressed the

little Stranger before anyone had time to come to our assistance. — Duncan McKenzie

 

Later in the letter Duncan describes Mary Catherine as, “well grown for her age and as well featured as any other of the children were at her age.” Barbara is eating dinner at the table with the family shortly after her delivery. Duncan remarks that she recuperated more quickly than after any of other ten pregnancies and deliveries. If the number of pregnancies is ten or eleven, we only know of eight live births. Barbara may have miscarried at least twice. Elly was likely well-versed in childbirth, as perhaps many births taking place in slave quarters were attended by knowledgeable enslaved women rather than physicians. However, this all depended upon the motivations of an owner and the degree to which they had confidence in the abilities of their enslaved persons.

During August a year later Barbara becomes very ill with a flu-like illness, but Duncan says she is so much better that she will be up and about shortly. He also mentions that Mary Catherine was still nursing at the time of Barbara’s illness. Probably because she feared transmitting her own illness to the child, she took her off the breast:

… So soon

as she was taken Sick she took the breast from the child

tho lacking a few days of 12 months old, no other of the

family have any Symptom of it as yet — Duncan McKenzie

Later in the letter he mentions that Barbara is “gradually gaining strength” when two other cases of diarrhea appeared in the family, “John and negro child Elly’s youngest.” They appear to have been recuperating. However, we learn in a later letter that Mary Catherine did succumb to illness, “ … the date of the 23rd August was that on which our little daughter Died and it was some three weeks or more before I wrote owing to the Sickness that prevaild in the family.” Many, many children afflicted with diarrhea died of simple dehydration even into the twentieth century because doctors and caregivers feared hydrating might interfere with the diarrhea’s natural purging of the system. Mary Catherine’s death must have been a crushing blow for Barbara since the birth of a female child was likely the reason for her rapid recovery. Having grown up within a household of sisters, Barbara may have craved female companionship in the home. In fact, some years later Barbara becomes quite attached to the female child of one of the enslaved people on the farm.

Deaths1833MSFreeTrader
On the Tenth of May 1833, The Mississippi Free Trader at Natchez published a column of deaths and causes of deaths during the past year. This is a portion of the column which included enslaved and free population, though not bothered to name some of the people.

Health Care for Enslaved Population

I have mentioned before that the health care of the enslaved people was entirely in the hands of the owner. The owner decided when to call in licensed or professional help and often diagnosed and dosaged a medical problem. The variety of care experienced by the enslaved population probably ran the gamut. The motive of owners to provide these services likely grew from financial interest in property to genuine human decency or from simple self-preservation. To the extent that enslaved people could manage it, traditional remedies handed down through generations of descendants from Africa and colonial America were likely used with or without permission or owner’s awareness. On the other hand, prominent antebellum physicians such as Samuel Cartwright in Mississippi promoted perceived differences in black and white physiology to support medicine in the South as a unique challenge. Cartwright’s views were steeped in nineteenth century ignorance and racism, easily used in argument to support the continuation of slavery. His postulation that blacks were a race of childlike people may have encouraged many slaveowners to belittle complaints and self-diagnosis on the part of their property.

Kelly Brignac in “Exploring Race and Medicine through Diaries: White Perspective on Slave Medical Care in Antebellum Mississippi” studied the journal of Dr. Walter Ross Wade and the diary of Eliza Magruder. Dr. Wade seems to have been in total charge of the health and medical needs of the people on his plantation. His workers were expected to seek out medical help. It seems to have caused both anger and fear in Wade when contagious illnesses swept through the plantation and brought work to a standstill. In contrast, Eliza Magruder, a resident on her uncle’s plantation, performed her tasks with little involvement in the work of the plantation. She willingly undertook to seek out illness and poor health among the plantation workers by frequently visiting their living quarters. She seems to have spent time inoculating people against contagious disease. Her uncle appears to have supplied the pharmaceuticals and other medical resources for plantation use. In addition, her diary supports her emotional involvement with her task. This is in contrast with Wade’s rather distant health and medical maintenance.

Duncan McKenzie, unlike Eliza Magruder and Dr. Wade, did not have a large number of enslaved people working on his farm. Since they worked side by side every day and Barbara had charge of the young children, their health destinies were closely intertwined. A contagious illness swept through both black and white on the small farm with equal threat. When one person, black or white, was incapacitated the burden on others increased. Duncan McKenzie appears in his letters to consider himself fairly knowledgeable about medicines. He seems to have paid particular attention to curatives advertised in the newspapers as well. We can speculate that Duncan probably assumed the authority to provide at least minimal medical care for the people on his farm. Clearly the white family on the small farm could not as easily distance themselves from the enslaved people working on the farm. When typhus spreads through the neighborhood in 1847, the outbreak is not only among the enslaved on the farm but Duncan himself contracts the illness. Evidence exists that Duncan was under the care of a physician, but we have no evidence that the enslaved victims of the disease got the same care, though it is possible they did. The disease eventually killed two on the farm, one black, one white.

Accidents and Alcohol

Illness was not the only health threat of the 19th century. Accidents happened every day, despite the fact that people were not knowledgeable of how to protect themselves from unseen infection. They did not have recourse to antibiotics or vaccines. Cleanliness was their best bet in overcoming an infected wound, but knowledge of bacteria invisible to the eye was limited.

In June of 1839 Daniel stepped on a nail, “which came nearly through between his toes an inch up in his foot — there is not fever or inflammation in it yet.” Perhaps there was not going to be, and perhaps they instinctively kept it clean, for Daniel lived to adulthood with all appendages in tact.

Another accident did result in death in 1839. Duncan describes two men and a “lad” digging a thirty foot well when the walls fell in and buried the youngster. It took more than twenty-four hours to recover his body since the cave in was so large.

Two social elements increased the possibility of accidental and premeditated death in deep South culture of the 19th century. These were alcohol use and a culture of masculinity and violence. In a June 1839 letter Duncan writes of a murder in the neighborhood:

… one man was stabbed by another

and died instantly L McRae the murderer made his escape. It is a

case of late occurrence taking place on the 30th May ult

The murdered was a Saml Wilson a native of the state of

Illinois McRae is a son of Abe McRae and nephew to Morino

John of that name once of Marlboro District South Carolina — Duncan McKenzie

Without reference to records of this event, records that probably don’t exist anymore, we cannot know the kind of conflict that may have instigated this murder, but a pattern of violence becomes clearer as letters from Mississippi to Duncan McLaurin during the 1840s reveal. The sources of these conflicts range from rebellious slaves to political conflict.

RepealGalLaw1840MSFreeTrader
Evidently the opinion of opponents of the Gallon Law eventually prevailed.

Likewise, we can surmise that indiscriminate use of alcohol fed into the masculinity culture in dangerous ways. It is perhaps a credit to Mississippi legislators in 1839 that some recognized the problem and attempted to solve it by passing the Gallon Law and attempting to curb the practice of dueling.

The Gallon Law, in Duncan McKenzie’s opinion, was beneficial to individuals with drinking problems like Dr. Duncan. McKenzie also claims that the frequency of taverns on the way home from selling crops is the reason many of his neighbors cannot get ahead financially. These were common arguments used by temperance groups across the nation. Evidently, among the general population, the Mississippi Gallon Law was quite unpopular.

SupportGalLaw1839VburgWhig
This Vicksburg Whig opinion in favor of the Gallon Law appeared in The Natchez Daily Courier on 22 February 1839.

This law, interestingly enough, was modeled on the Fifteen Gallon Law formerly passed in Massachusetts. Perhaps similar laws, meant to curb tippling, were an effort to control alcohol distribution without total prohibition. A summary of the Gallon Law and accompanying opinion appears in The Mississippi Free Trader of Thursday, 14 February 1839. Under the Mississippi law, Inns and taverns could not sell drinks nor offer them for free in quantities less than one gallon. Candidates for public office could not offer drinks to voters during elections. Violating the law carried a penalty of fine and imprisonment. The sale of any amount of spiritous liquors was forbidden to “Indians and Negroes.” Anyone receiving a liquor license would have to take an oath against selling on their property of any quantity under a gallon. The Gallon Law was seen by many as a violation of civil rights and likely to be abused by those who could afford bribes, leaving the less financially successful to suffer the burden. In addition, temperance efforts in the antebellum South became tainted by the movement’s association nationally with the abolitionist movement. By 1842 the right to grant and hold a liquor license without the gallon restriction was restored. It is interesting to note here that over a century later it would be 1969 before the 1919 Prohibition Law was repealed in Mississippi, the last state in the union to do so.

Sources:

Brignac, Kelly. “Exploring Race and Medicine through Diaries: White Perspective on Slave Medical Care in Antebellum Mississippi.” 2012. www.indiana.edu/~psource/PDF/Archive%20Articles/Fall2011/1%20-%20Brignac,%20Kelly.pdf. Accessed 1 April 2018.

Carrigan, Jo Ann. “Health, Public.” The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill. 1352.

“Deaths.” The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, MS. 10 May 1833. Friday. 3. newspapers.com. Accessed 6 April 2018.

Eastoe, Jane. Victorian Pharmacy: Rediscovering Forgotten Remedies and Recipes. Pavilion: United Kingdom. 2010. 52, 53, 112.

“The Gallon Law.” The Natchez Daily Courier. Natchez, MS. 22 February 1839. Friday. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 5 April 2018.

“The Gallon Law.” The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, MS. Thursday 14 February1839. 2. https://www.newspapers.com.

“History of Medicine: The Galling Gallbladder.” Columbia University Medical Center, Department of Surgery: New York, NY: 2017. columbiasurgery.org/news/2015/06/11/history-medicine-galling-gallbladder. Accessed 3 April 2018.

Lampton, Lucius M. “Medicine.” The Mississippi Encyclopedia. Edited by Tod Ownby and Charles Reagan Wilson. University Press of Mississippi: Jackson. 2017. 806-808

Leonard, Pat. “William Hammond and the End of the Medical Middle Ages.” The New York Times. 27 April 2012. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/27/william-hammond-and-the-end-of-the-medical-middle-ages/. Accessed 24 March 2018.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to John McLaurin. 11 May 1834. Boxes 1 and 2 Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 21 March 1837. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 31 October 1837. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to John McLaurin. 28 March 1838. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 7 November 1838. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 19 February 1849. Boxes 1 and 2. The Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

McCandless Peter. Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Low Country. Cambridge University Press: New York. 2011. 8.

“The Mississippi Gallon Law.” The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez, Mississippi. 29 February 1840. Saturday. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 5 April 2018.

“New Dispensatory.” The Natchez Weekly Courier. Natchez, MS. 08 November 1833. Friday. newspapers.com. Accessed 6 April 2018.

“Proceedings of the Board of Medical Censors. Mississippi Free Trader. 18 May 1819. newspapers. com. Accessed 2 April 2018.

Savitt, Todd L. “Health, Black.” The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill. 164,165.

Underwood, Felix J., M. D. and R. N. Whitfield, M. D. Public Health and Medical Licensure in the State of Mississippi 1798-1937. The Tucker Printing House: Jackson. 1938. 14-21. 136-138.

Young, James Harvey. “Self-dosage.” The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill. 1361.

The 1830s: Education

According to Aubrey K. Lucas in his essay “Education in MS from Statehood to the Civil War,” one of the “rare commodities” in Mississippi in 1817 was education, though the first state constitution included this remark: “Schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged in this state.” The Natchez area was the wealthiest region in the state in the early decades of statehood and could afford academies, private tutors, and schools out of state for one segment of the population, the prominent and affluent. Jefferson College was established in the Natchez area and functioning in 1811, before Mississippi became a state. In contrast, Franklin Academy was established in 1821 in Northeast, Mississippi, a less affluent cotton growing area of the state, and functioned as a public school. Generally, under the cotton economy the wealthy landowners controlled state funding. Taxing to support statewide public education could not be fathomed under the realities of sparse settlement and indifference among those who could afford schooling as well as indifference of those who were working, often on a survival level under frontier conditions, to build farms.

Likely the preoccupation with a rapidly growing cotton economy played a part in neglecting educational opportunities in the state. Despite this, Lucas tells us that during the economic growth of the early 1830s there were sixty-one incorporated secondary schools in the state, largely locally funded tuition schools. Mississippi’s depressed economy towards the end of the 1830s did not hurt the growth of academies in the state since the state legislature in 1839 allowed for financial assistance “from fines, forfeitures, escheats and similar sources” to be set aside for education. Though the leasing of 16th section lands had been allowed earlier, this brought little revenue since it was not effectively carried out. As for slaves, free blacks and mulattoes, state law did not allow them to meet publicly or at a school to learn reading and writing. However, this did not preclude a master from teaching his property to read and write. The Nat Turner rebellion frightened slaveowners and increased opposition to the education of these groups of people. Some native Americans in Mississippi generally benefitted from education by religious missionaries, some of whom by the 1830s had learned the Choctaw language and were able to teach English.

DMcLtuitionDMcK
Tuition accounts kept by Duncan McLaurin during the year 1831-1832. Duncan McKenzie has paid tuition for his older sons Kenneth, Hugh, and Daniel (Donald). Also listed as having paid tuition is McKenzie’s guide to Mississippi and later teacher, Hugh R. Traywick.

When Duncan McKenzie claimed in October of 1837 that in Mississippi he was satisfied except that he could not educate his children, he was probably comparing the educational opportunities in Covington County, Mississippi to those he and his older children had experienced in Richmond County, North Carolina. Duncan himself was quite literate and all of his children would grow to be so by the standards of their day. In addition, the older three sons had enjoyed the tutelage of their Uncle Duncan McLaurin as evidenced by McLaurin’s tuition log dated 1831-1832. By 1833 Kenneth, about12; Hugh, about 10; and Daniel, about 7 would have been well on their way toward literacy the year before they left for Mississippi. Duncan McLaurin’s accounts for 1831-1832 indicate that close to twenty or more families were paying him tuition of around twenty dollars a year per student.These were probably middle or upper class students living in a long settled village. If parents were literate and had the motivation and opportunity to do so, early education could be accomplished in the home. Still, little had been done in the South by 1830 to promote public education. The concept of public education within the rural South as a whole did not begin to take hold until after the Civil War, especially in the Southern states further west. Many of the more financially successful hired private tutors and later sent their students to universities in the North for higher education. In the rural South there was little shared need that would motivate the populace as a whole to want to pay taxes for public education.

DMcLtuitionJMcK
School accounts of Duncan McLaurin kept from 1831-1832. Duncan McKenzie’s brother John paid tuition for his children Jennet and Sandy (Alexander).

Newspapers in Mississippi during the decade of the 1830s published ads for in- and out-of-state academies. For example, in the April 30, 1831 issue of The Natchez Weekly Courier appears an ad for a “Boarding and Day School at the Gothic Mansion, Chesnut, above 12th Street” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The ad continues to say that one could apply at F. Beaumont & Co. Natchez. This ad appeared in Philadelphia, PA newspapers as well this same year. Meanwhile, in the small farming counties east of Natchez, the motivated locals who could afford it set up tuition schools.

Though generally Mississippi’s illiteracy rate during the 1830s was probably high and the state had no paper production facilities, the public supported quite a number of newspapers. According to an article in The Mississippi Encyclopedia, an accurate number of the state’s antebellum newspapers is difficult to establish, but one researcher using census records places the number at about seventy-three. Within these newspapers can be found, not only political news and ads for schools, but ads for booksellers, most of which are located in Mississippi towns such as Vicksburg, Jackson, Natchez, and Columbus. If one had business at any of these towns, a bookstore was available for the purchase of writing paper as well as books. The Vicksburg Whig in October of 1834 advertised Miles C. Folkes Bookseller & Stationer on Main Street. A Natchez bookseller, W. H. Pearce & Co., was located on Main and Commerce in that city, according to The Mississippi Free Trader of September 1838. Among this bookseller’s listed titles are Language of Flowers with 6 plates, Memoirs of Walter Scott, the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist, and Etiquette for Ladies. Since postage rates for printed media were much, much lower than rates for letters, print media flowed freely through the mail across the country. It is evident from reading the correspondence in the Duncan McLaurin Papers that friends and relatives were eager to share agricultural, religious, and political news by sending publications often through the mail. News of marriages, deaths and general local and personal interest were shared in this manner as well. For example, Hugh C. Stewart mails, along with a letter to Duncan McLaurin, a copy of the Raymond Times to report the death of a cousin’s wife in Hinds County, Mississippi: “I got a letter from Hugh C Stewart John P. Stewarts wife is dead — and the Raymond Times is sent here.” One might conclude that migration west would encourage literacy in order to communicate with distant relations.

In 1833 Duncan McKenzie writes to his brother-in-law from Mississippi that he has chosen land to rent because it is near a schoolhouse already standing. Most of these structures were rather plain and barely functional with probably one room, but it is admirable that a community on the frontier would have reached the point of providing one. Many circumstances of living delayed the establishment of schools in Mississippi: population was scattered over many miles. Distance often prevented access to a centrally located school. Children were often needed to work on farms. However, if a group of families in a community felt the need for a school, they built it and searched for a teacher. Even after Mississippi became a state in 1817, there were no legal teacher qualification expectations beyond those of the community group that built the school and hired the teacher. Evidence exists that teachers migrating from the northeast were desirable to place in a local school, since it was probably well-known that northeastern schools were more organized, successful, and products of this system well-educated.

Duncan McKenzie states that on the Saturday after they arrived in Covington County, Mississippi in January of 1833, they chose their rental land, “convenient to a School house, a School was made up and Hugh R. Trawick the teacher at the rate of 18 dollars a year for the first grade 24 for 2nd grade.” One Hugh R. Trawick is listed as having paid tuition to Duncan McLaurin in North Carolina; he is also the guide that led the McKenzie family on their journey from North Carolina to Mississippi. Over time, Duncan McKenzie mentions a few other of their connections from North Carolina who are teachers in the local area tuition schools. For whatever reason they do not appear to have remained in their positions for very long.

Of the McKenzie sons, it appears that Daniel was the most interested in receiving an education. Perhaps he was less inclined to work in the fields than his brothers. In March of 1837 Duncan McKenzie writes to Duncan McLaurin:

I am almost tempted to send Danl with

Gilchrist to your school, his youth will for the present

Save him the ride, Should you continue teaching for any

length of time equal to that which would be necessary

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

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

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

an easy matter to educate them here, and with all

So immoral is the State of society particularly among

Students — Duncan McKenzie

 

Gilchrist is an acquaintance who would have been traveling to the Carolinas at the time. Often messages, note payments, and women and children visiting relatives accompanied a trusted friend on his travels. Again three months later McKenzie writes:

whenever you think that there

is a chance for the boys Danl and Dunk to be educated

at say $140 or 150 each per annum in Some peaceable Settlement

or village, the former I would prefer, as Village morrals

are really the best — I will try to send them — Duncan McKenzie

The cost and perils of sending a child a distance on uncertain roads must have been daunting to a yeoman farmer family. But what is probably more important is that few small farmers, especially those trying to grow labor intensive crops, could afford to lose the help on the farm. Daniel alone, not to mention Daniel and his brother Dunk, would have been sorely missed on the farm. In the end, by March of 1838, Daniel is once more studying Latin and along with a friend near his age, Lachlan McLaurin. Duncan reports to his brother-in-law that the neighborhood, admirably, has persuaded a Mr. Strong, who teaches at Clinton Academy in Hinds County, to instruct students in a building only about four miles from the McKenzie home, “the neighborhood succeeded in getting a school for Strong in 4 miles of me I procurd a pony for Danl to ride” and though Daniel is “three years from that studdy (Latin) appears to have retained it tolerable well.” While Daniel is in Latin school, his younger brothers are attending another school taught by an acquaintance, Malcolm Carmichael.

Malcolm Carmichael, Squire

Johns sone has a small School near my house Dunk

Allan and Johny are going to him, he Malcolm came

here early in January and took a small school worth

Say $20 per month — Duncan McKenzie

It is possible that the parents of those students in Covington County under the tutelage of Mr. Strong paid a bit more dearly for the Latin instruction, especially if Mr. Strong had to come the distance from Hinds County to perform his duties. Teachers seem to have come and gone with regularity, and schooling was never the certain opportunity to which we are accustomed today. Duncan McKenzie does not, however, give up on the idea of getting his brother-in-law to teach his boys. By November of 1838, Duncan is expressing his longing again in a letter to North Carolina.

Danl is still going to school how he learns I am not able

to say he is still reading lattin and studdying arithmetic

whether he will make a Schollar I know not I wish he was

with you on the Juniper for a Spell. — Duncan McKenzie

In June of 1839 Duncan is once more lamenting his inability to send Daniel to North Carolina for schooling. His excuses include the “desire in parents to be in hearing in fact in sight of their offspring.” This is understandable but could likely have been overcome. The next excuse appears rather weak, “the heat of the weather.” The third excuse gets to the gist of the matter, “the third is the difficulty of procuring a sufficiency of sound currency … on the whole I presume he will not go this year.” Later, in the same letter, Duncan McKenzie tries again to persuade Duncan McLaurin to come to Mississippi or send a knowledgeable teacher:

If you could send us a young man who is a good linguist

and mathematicians we would give him 750 or $800 and if you

could come yourself we would give you $1:000 a year

in money, gold, Silver, or copper, or its equivalent —

We have built a comfortable school house in a central

Spot and have sunk a good well, Roderick McNair is teaching

for us we give him $500 & the increase of the school It will

be worth $600 to him this year there are a number of boys in

the neighborhood who are ready to commence the Latin if there

was a teacher in whom the people could confide … — Duncan McKenzie

Having confidence in the teacher was probably another drawback to locally run schools. One was never certain of the education and talents of those hired, and it took adults off of the farms in order to drop in for evaluations at the schools. Duncan McKenzie brags a bit on Daniel when he visits the school to judge how the students are coming along:

Danl and one James Shannon were the best class. It is a pitty but the

Scotch & Irish boys had fair play, if you had them 12 mo

I think you would not be ashamed of them — Duncan McKenzie

McKenzie ends this letter once again begging his brother-in-law to visit, to stay with them a few weeks or months, and when Duncan McLaurin returned to North Carolina he would, “Send Danl on with you to remain in Carolina till he would be a Scholar.” In the end it is up to Daniel to fend for his own education in Mississippi where he is.

Duncan McLaurin, a Carolinas Educator

In 1857 a future governor of the state of North Carolina, William Woods Holden, delivered an address before the State Educational Association of North Carolina at Warrenton. In this lengthy speech, Holden mentions that in 1838 a bill was approved in the state legislature to create school districts throughout the state. The districting was approved and in place by 1841. He names those on the legislative committee responsible for this progressive act, and on the list you will find one Duncan McLaurin of Richmond County, NC. It appears that education was particularly valued by North Carolinians including Duncan McKenzie’s brother-in-law.

Although he is listed as being a member of the state legislature, possibly serving the remainder of another’s term, during 1831-1832, McLaurin was also teaching locally in Richmond County, NC. His tuition account book found in the Duncan McLaurin Papers is evidence. During this year Duncan McKenzie and his brother John McKenzie paid tuition for their oldest children: Duncan for Kenneth, Hugh, and Daniel and John for Jennet and Alexander (Sandy). By the next year Duncan McKenzie had left with his family for Mississippi, though Duncan McLaurin likely continued to teach, but at an academy in nearby Bennettsville, South Carolina.

In 1833 John McQueen of Bennettsville, South Carolina, in Marlboro County not far from Laurel Hill, writes on the 10th of November to Duncan McLaurin requesting that he consider teaching at their newly formed academy:

We last week had an election

of trustees of our academy for the ensuing

year when I was chosen as one of the number

and I have, ever since the erection of our academy

here, wished to see you in it … We have not

as yet been able to get a teacher here calculated

to give that tone to the academy that we would

wish & we would be extremely glad to obtain

your services for a year. — John McQueen

Evidently, McLaurin accepted the offer, for in this collection his first letter home from Bennettsville is dated February 5, 1834. He generally writes to his brother John regarding notes to be paid and matters of the farm. He also is able to carefully watch and report on the business going on at the busy Bennettsville market and nearby Cheraw. At one point his father, Hugh, requests a country hat purchased from there, but none worth having are to be found. Duncan suggests they order a sturdier northern made one from Fayetteville. John is also interested in a fishing trip to the area.

During the first years of teaching there George, probably an enslaved person, drives him to Bennettsville and back to Laurel Hill perhaps at no shorter intervals than a week or two. McLaurin also used the stage from time to time to travel, but this was not a preference. The Stage Road from New Orleans to New York City passed through Marlboro County. According to A History of Marlboro County, part of this road passed from nearby Cheraw, SC to Laurel Hill, NC,” McLaurin’s home.

BooksRecd1839DMcL
Duncan McLaurin received this list of books in September of 1839 for his academy teaching at Bennettsville, SC. Among them is a music text, Missouri Harmony first published in 1820, instructive in shape note music.

In July of 1834 Duncan requests that John send some of his books that he has left at home, Bonnycastle’s Introduction to Algebra and sets his sister Effy upon the task of locating this text. In addition, he wants John to ask Charles Malloy if he knows anything about another book, Graeca Majora. The collection also contains one letter from E. J. Hale, editor and publisher of the Fayetteville Observer newspaper and a bookseller as well. Duncan orders textbooks for a school, presumably for use at Bennettsville or possibly he was setting up a school himself near Laurel Hill. This letter contains an interesting insight into the types of textbooks popular among teachers at least by the end of the 1830s. During the 1830s and for most of the antebellum 19th century, particularly in the rural southern states, education tended to have religious overtones as well as contain a heavy dose of classical subjects. Latin and Greek were commonly taught as was reading the classics of those languages and cultures. English literacy and mathematics were essential subjects. The arts were not neglected as Duncan also includes a music instruction manual, The Missouri Harmony or a Choice Collection of Psalm Tunes, Hymns, and Anthems, Selected from the Most Eminent Authors, and Well Adapted to All Christian Churches, Singing School, and Private Societies. This text is one of the earliest in shape-note music and theory. It appears to be more instructional than some of the later nineteenth century religious collections of hymns such as The Southern Harmony and The Sacred Harp. Some of these texts are still published and used at community shape-note singing events such as the one held annually at Benton, Kentucky using The Southern Harmony text.

BooksonOrder1839DMcL
Duncan McLaurin ordered books for his academy teaching in 1839 from E. J. Hale. The list includes books received that reveal the prevalence of classical studies at southern academies.

In addition to literacy in reading, writing, mathematics, social sciences, literature and the arts; one of the qualities of an effective teacher is an inquiring mind. One example of Duncan McLaurin’s curiosity occurs during May of his first year teaching at Bennettsville. Evidently, Duncan has read that Rev. Jonathan Wade, a Baptist missionary to Burma, today known as Myanmar, is to stop at Cheraw and Fayetteville, where a Burmese religious man will speak and Wade will act as interpreter. Duncan’s longing to be there is palpable as he asks his brother John to be at a point on the road nearby and to report a description. But first, he wishes John to read up on the place and people in a book in his library called, The Wonders of the World by James G. Percival, in which on page 81 appears a section titled “Gungo Tree at the Source of the Jumna.”

… they are to preach at Cheraw

& on Friday in Fayetteville — Mr Wade & his wife

can speak the Birman Language — The Birmese

can speak english but imperfectly, but one of

them preaches in his native language which Mr Wade

interprets to the congregation — I want to see them

very much — … for fear I cant

make it convenient to go to see them in either place

if you will attend at the Stables on thursday morning

you will see them as they pass along in the Stage — You

will take a good look at them & if possible get them to

come out of the Stage & Stand so as to see them erect

I expect their object in traveling thro the country is

to get money from such as please to give them some

you will therefore prepare to give them something …

The Asiatics along with him (Wade) are said to be learned

men in their own country being priests of the

Grand Lama the almost universal deity of southern Asia. — Duncan McLaurin

Whether either were able to attend remains unknown, but Duncan’s disappointment would have been heavy if they were missed by both.

In 1897 Reverend John Alexander William Thomas wrote A History of Marlboro County. He titles Chapter 36 “Educational Matters” in which he lauds the early attention to education in the county. According to this text an Academical Society came to fruition in 1830. John McQueen is listed as one of the signers of this society’s constitution and one of the first elected Board of Trustee members. It isn’t until 1833 that McQueen writes his request to Duncan McLaurin, who Rev. Thomas’s history notes is one of the teachers at the male academy. At the same time a female academy is also served entirely by female teachers. A present day historical marker in Bennettsville claims that the female academy opened in 1833. 

Duncan mentions boarding in several different homes during his tenure in Bennettsville. The first week he stayed with Peter McCallum (McCollum). He boards for the first year or so with Reverend Cameron Stubbs, also on the school’s board of directors. At one point Duncan is unhappy with what he is being charged by Rev. Stubbs for boarding and remarks, “I scarcely know what to do to the avaricious parson. I like the house &c very well but the prince is unreasonable.” He thinks Mrs. Stubbs is making the house progressively more comfortable when making available butter and milk with meals. The next year Duncan is complaining again about the lack of butter at the table but also says he occupies a large room with a comfortable fireplace. By 1837 the number of pupils at school is growing slowly: “There are now 29 Scholars making 80 between both establishments,” probably between the male and female academies. He has also made other living arrangements since he gives directions to George of the location, “It is the white house with Dormant windows precisely opposite Mr. Stubbs where I used to be — Capt. David has a stable and the horse can be placed there.” (Dormant is the early 19th century spelling for dormer.) John McCallum (McCollum), another board member owns a store in Bennettsville on the west side of the public square. Duncan visits the store in March of 1837, reporting prices to John. At this time he settles on bringing his father’s cheese himself rather than sending it. Since the day he visits the store is Martin Van Buren’s inauguration day, Duncan remarks on the cold and gloomy weather, which he hopes is sunnier at Washington. In April Duncan once again references the increasing enrollment of the school and remarks, “I shall should the number increase much have to get an assistant but it is time enough to think of these things when there is a necessity of acting.” Probably he never needs the assistant, for he returns to serve in the state legislature in Raleigh during 1838. By 1840, this legislative career was cut short by his need to return home to farming and caring for his aging father. Although he would continue to be active in civic affairs such as establishing the Laurinburg School in 1853 and working to bring the railroad to Richmond County, his life would be tied to the farm called Ballachulish and caring for family members.

In December of 1838, while Duncan McLaurin was serving in the state legislature at Raleigh, he received an honor from the young Wake Forest Institute. In a letter signed by a committee of three (William Jones, John C. Rogers, and David Hamell), he is invited to enroll his name among the Honorary members of their newly formed Philomathesian Society. On December 3, 1838 he accepts their invitation:

A great portion of my life has been devoted

to the instruction of youth and in the promotion of

intellectual knowledge; and I certainly should act contra-

ry to my inclination and former course of life were I

to refuse to lend my name towards the promotion of the

intellectual improvement of man kind. I therefore not

only permit but request & authorize you to enroll my

name as member of your society, and the fervent wishes

of my heart, are with you in the encouragement of the

intellectual & moral improvement of the human mind

in the pursuit & acquisition of all useful knowledge and may

that power in whose hands are the destinies of Empires, States, Societies

and individuals direct protect sustain and cause to prosper your

laudable undertaking — Duncan McLaurin

Despite the lack of public education in the South of the 1830s, it appears generally that middle and upper class people desired an education for their own children even if they did not exhibit much egalitarian virtue for the idea of educating everyone as a right endowed by the creator. The less well-off probably would have desired the same had they been given more hope for the possibility of it.

Sources

Carden, Allen D. The Missouri Harmony, or a Choice Collection of Psalm Tunes, Hymns, and Anthems, Selected From the Most Eminent Authors and Well Adapted to All Christian Churches, Singing Schools, and Private  Societies. Morgan and Sanxay. Cincinnati. 1834. Found in a search on Google Books.

Dupont, Nancy McKenzie. “Newspapers in the Civil War.” The Mississippi Encyclopedia edited by Ted Ownby and Charles Reagan Wilson. University Press, Jackson. 2017. 933.

Dyer, Thomas G. “Education.” Encyclopedia of Southern Culture edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris. University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill & London. 237.

“Education — Gothic Mansion.” The Natchez Weekly Courier. 30 April 1831. 7. newspapers.com. 3 March 2018.

School Accounts of Duncan McLaurin. 1831-1832. Legal Papers. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 29 January 1833. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John McQueen to Duncan McLaurin. 10 November 1833. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McLaurin to John McLaurin. 5 February 1834. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McLaurin to John McLaurin. 3 May 1834. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McLaurin to John McLaurin. 20 July 1834. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McLaurin to John McLaurin. 4 March 1837. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin . 21 March 1837. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McLaurin to John McLaurin. 8 April 1837. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan Mclaurin. 25 February 1838. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 7 November 1838. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from the Philomathesian Society at Wake Forest Institute to Duncan McLaurin. 1 December 1838. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Copy of a letter from Duncan McLaurin to the Philomathesian Society at Wake Forest Institute. 3 December 1838. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

Accounting of book purchases of Duncan McLaurin from E. J. Hale in letter from E. J. Hale to Duncan McLaurin. 17 September 1839. Box 1. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Lucas, Aubrey Keith. “Education in MS from Statehood to the Civil War.” A History of Mississippi, Vol I. Edited by Richard Aubrey McLemore. University & College Press of Mississippi. Hattiesburg. 1973. 352 – 356, 373, 375.

Mayes, Edward LLD. History of Education in Mississippi. Government Printing Office. Washington. 1899. 18, 20, 28.

“Miles C. Folkes Bookseller & Stationer.” Vicksburg Whig. 9 October 1834. 4. newpapers.com. 3 March 2018.

“New Books.” The Mississippi Free Trader. Natchez. 12 September 1838. 3. newspapers.com. 3 March 2018.

Thomas, John Alexander William. A History of Marlboro County With Traditions and Sketches of Numerous Families. The Foote and Davies Company, Printers and Binders. Atlanta, Georgia. 1897. 173, 274, 275.

Letters from Duncan McKenzie to his Brother-in-law John McLaurin in Richmond County, NC

JohnMcLaurin1789-1864Hugh&amp;Cath copy
John McLaurin’s tombstone in Stewartsville Cemetery, Laurinburg, NC. In Memory of John Son of Hugh & Catharine McLaurin Born Sept. 1789. Died March. 22. 1864. (The name S. Buie appears at the bottom and may refer to the monument maker.)

Duncan McKenzie’s Letter to John McLaurin, 11 May 1834

This letter to Duncan’s brother-in-law, John McLaurin, begins with an acknowledgement of the time that has lapsed since they last corresponded and one of many allusions to the irregularity of the mail. He begins, “After an absence of near 18 months Since I heard directly from you I take my pen to open correspondence with you.”

Health of Family and Friends

Almost every letter includes information about the health of the family and an inquiry regarding the other’s health and that of all acquaintances. More are coming from North Carolina to Covington County as Duncan mentions, “…your late neighbors the McGils arived in this Settlement about 3 weeks Since & Rented a place of Wm Easterling.” Information regarding the health of the family appears often in the letters since illnesses that we might consider minor in the 21st century were taken very seriously in the 19th century. Duncan says that he wrote to Duncan McLaurin that, “all the children & our man Colison had the measles which threw us back in planting but not withstanding we got our Seed in the ground in good time.” (The reference to “our man Colison” might have been to an enslaved person.) This outbreak of the measles was to prove fortuitous during the Civil War when Duncan’s sons Kenneth, Allan, and John were exposed again and watched a large number of their comrades become ill and die of measles, illness being the greatest killer during the Civil War. According to historian James M. McPherson, “Two soldiers died of disease for every one killed in battle.” He also adds that rural soldiers were more likely to die of the first wave of childhood illnesses that struck both armies at the war’s outset. People from more populated areas had often been more exposed to diseases. This makes the immunity of the McKenzie brothers seem even more fortuitous.

Another reference to an outbreak of scarlet fever occurs in this letter to John McLaurin. The local doctor who travels among some of the nearby counties visiting family and acquaintances from North Carolina is known as Dr. Duncan. This particular doctor appears in a number of letters. In this case D. McKenzie has recently heard from him,

“…in regard to Dr. Duncan as I have Just Received a very full

and Satisfactory letter from him Dated Rodney May the 1st

Rodney a village on the Mississippi above natchez he called on

Capt Hugh Peter Fairley the Camerons & c all were well

except Daniel McLaurins family who were Sick of the Scarlet

fever Alexander a Sone of Danl,, Died of it a few days before

his arival there.”

A Possible Visit to NC

If Duncan McKenzie ever returned to North Carolina to visit, it is not revealed in any of the surviving letters. The notion that they would make return visits seems to have been viable when they first arrived in Mississippi, but the work of the farm and life in general seems to have precluded any of them returning. The only family member known to have returned is the oldest McKenzie son, Kenneth, who leaves Mississippi during the Civil War to live with his aging uncle. He apparently enlists in the military again in North Carolina and serves until the end of the war. Still, in this 1834 letter Duncan McKenzie says he would likely not visit this particular winter unless his widowed sister-in-law Betsy McKenzie needs help disposing of her property to move west. She doesn’t.

“Duncan is full of the Idea that I will Visit No Ca next winter

I was more desirous last fall on account of my not being enga-

-ged only in the crop all my inter valls were to me lost time as I

could not be at any thing to enhance the value of my own

place then not known, tho it may not be impossible for me

to See no – ca next winter If Betsy can effect a Sale of her

place and wish to move here I will try to go of course but you

known every one that has a place can find something to do

on it — it would be highly gratifying to me to see you all

but my little matters call my attention here…”

The Land

In almost every early letter he writes, Duncan McKenzie makes reference to the variety of land he encounters in this part of south and south-central Mississippi. He expresses the same opinion on the land’s unique variety in each, “I have traveled in my oppinion not less than 2.000 miles in this State & have seen all quallities of land from the poorest to that which will produce 3.000 lb cotton per acre & 60 Bushels corn”

Cousin Duncan Calhoun

This particular letter to John is much more spirited than the letter to Charles indicating a comfortable relationship between the two. In this letter Duncan McKenzie introduces one of the more interesting characters in the Duncan McLaurin Papers – Duncan Calhoun – a first cousin of Barbara, John, and Duncan McLaurin through their mother’s side of the family, Catharine Calhoun McLaurin. Evidently, Duncan Calhoun was living and working as a tailor probably in Covington County. One day a man, for whom he had done some work, came into the shop to settle accounts. Duncan Calhoun would not give the customer his pants until he was paid. This is what ensued:

“our Taylor

Duncan Calhoun late of Ft Claborn on refusing

to give a dandy a pair of pantaloons which he had made for him

Taylor wanted his pay before he would let the work go —

The dandy nettled with Such measures walked out of the

Shop round to a window took out a pistol and cut loos at

the large head of the taylor but lucky for the latter

the dandy was not a Sure mark but unlike a man

our hero taylor instead of the offender ran away

to mobile So report Says…”

Indeed Duncan Calhoun soon writes from Mobile, Alabama to his cousin Duncan McLaurin!

Duncan McKenzie concludes this letter to his brother-in-law by sending respects from “Barbra and the children” and especially to Barbara’s “Father Mother and all the family and connection.” At this point he mentions that he has not heard from his own father, Kenneth McKenzie, since last October, when he was last known to be in Wilmington, NC.

Duncan McKenzie’s Letter to John McLaurin, 13 November 1836

Health of Correspondents

McKenzie begins this letter anxious that his letters have been lost along the way, a common hazard of the 19th century postal service – steadily improving but in the decade of the 1830s still carried by riders, stage, and packet boats rather than by rail. He has seen a letter from Duncan McLaurin to Allan Stewart, which renewed his worry that his recent letters had been lost. He had also written to brother-in-law John McCall and his son Hugh McCall as well as his sister-in-law Betsy McKenzie.

The lost letters concern him especially because he has recently recovered from an illness from which he thought he might not recover. He mentions that his letters to Archibald McPherson and Betsy McKenzie described his illness in detail. While assuring John that the rest of the family has been well, he also describes how the illness has resulted in dental problems. It is my opinion that what he may have thought was bone might have been actually been teeth, perhaps wisdom teeth. This was a man who considered himself somewhat knowledgeable of current medical practices, giving us a hint at what must have been the state of the medical profession in the recently settled west. His graphic description follows:

“… (in letters to Betsy and A. McPherson) you will have a

description of the violence of the case from which I so unexpectedly

So far recovered, it is a fact that there was 600 grain of Callomel

in my body at one time, and no less true that from that or Some

other un known cause my jaw bones burst I thot for some time

that the fractures were confined to the lower jaw but the reverse

is the fact, as not more than two weeks since while minding of

a gap on the field from whence they were hawking corn, it being

immediately after dinner, I was picking my teeth when to my

astonishment I picked out a fracture of bone from the right extremity

of the upper jaw. this piece of bone is 1/2 inch long by 1/8th in

diameter being the largest except two others which came from

both extremities of the lower jaw. numerous small particles

have come out both above and below you may judge that I have partially lost the power of mastication”

Enslaved Persons

Following this description he mentions the family’s sorrow at hearing that “Effy was unwell also some of the blacks but as they were on the mend when he wrote it is to be hoped that they all recovered.” The Effy to whom he makes reference here is probably not John’s wife, for they were not married at this time. The letter likely refers to Barbara’s favorite sister Effy. The reference to “blacks” is likely to enslaved persons. Quite often in the letters the welfare of enslaved persons seems to be on a seeming equality with the welfare of the white owners, raising the suspicion that these particular white slaveowners at least may have thought of their property as human beings. Clearly, these owners held the “white man’s burden” philosophy, that they were doing something a bit more humane by offering work and protection to people they considered incapable of managing their own freedom. On the other hand, enslaved people are listed along with other beastly property when discussion in the letters is about market prices. It is difficult for our twenty-first century sensibilities, and in the face of proven scientific information, to imagine this point of view. This culture of race was a philosophy supported only by unproven conclusions drawn from observation and supported in their communities by the textile economy based on slave labor and the interpretations of Biblical references.

Though the slave trade to the United States was illegal after 1807, the internal slave trade remained a lively business from around 1820 until the Civil War. Mississippi’s constitution of 1832 had attempted to diminish the interstate slave trade, but to no avail as cotton farming, a major cash crop, gained ground. As the demand for slave labor decreased in states like North Carolina and Virginia, the demand in cotton-growing states to the south and west increased. Some evidence exists in the Duncan McLaurin Papers that the McLaurins may have had an interest in this interregional slave trade or “the Second Middle Passage.” In this letter another reference to slavery, written in a marginal notation, reveals the challenges of keeping in bondage human beings with minds of their own. It is possible that particular enslaved people were sent from the Carolinas to families and friends purchasing them in Mississippi. For a small farmer, an enslaved person’s background would be beneficial knowledge. Duncan McKenzie mentions a specific enslaved woman in this letter. His cruel description perhaps hints at a certain machismo that may have become part of a slaveholders character no matter his philosophy or the number of enslaved persons one owned. McKenzie writes to John McLaurin to report on this slave woman about whom they both had knowledge:

“If the last … negro woman is ill or high minded she has kept it to herself thus far, and I would / advise her to do so for fear of a worse change. thus far she conducts well peaceable and industrious”

Crops in 1836

Duncan McKenzie reports on his crops in almost every letter in this collection that he writes back to North Carolina. In 1836 it seems the corn and peas (field peas) have done very well, though the cotton has not been as good as in the past few years. He explains how the reduction in the price of cotton affects the horse flesh market. From this information one can surmise the influence of the cotton prices on other markets. He also mentions a rise in the price of land:

“we are nearly done housing corn I think there is one and about

1:000 bushels, we gathered a fine parcel of peas as the cotton

is Such as did not keep them in employ it did not open as forward

as usual and in fact we did not plant the usual quantity

under it this year, say 14 acres … corn in this neighborhood is worth

from 75 cents to $1 oats from 50 to 75 cents, pease from 1:25 to 1:50 cents

wheat none, potatoes Sweat from 40 59 50 cents, bacon from

15-18 3/4 cents, pork from 7 to 8 cents beef from 4 to 5 cents —

Such is the prices in this neighborhood the cotton excepted, in fact

scarcely an article that the farmer will raise but will Sell

at moderate good price at this time tho we have no principal

market nearer than 90 miles … owing to the price of cotton

horse flesh bears a good price, I was offerd $150 for the blind

mares colt this fall but as he is a gentle and good horse I

refused it … is there not a vast difference in the times now

and when I came here, a piece of land that was offered to me the

Spring I came, at $800 was sold lately for $6000 dollars one half cash in hand”

“King alcahall” and Politics

As I have mentioned before, Duncan McKenzie was fervently against the use of alcohol and generally disparaged his neighbors for it. The local Covington County churches  felt similarly. If one joined the church, one implicitly agreed to remain sober. The use of tobacco was many times frowned upon as well, though no evidence exists in this collection that this particular community, many former Carolinians, were prejudiced against tobacco use. In a later letter Duncan’s son, Kenneth, describes his failed attempt to quit chewing tobacco around the time his mother is dying of mouth cancer. Duncan mentions a neighbor, a heavy drinker, who has joined the church and has foresworn alcohol use.

Politics is not as prevalent in this letter to John as it is in McKenzie’s letters to Duncan McLaurin. However, he mentions evidence in his community of a diminished loyalty to Jacksonianism. Duncan McKenzie is an avowed Whig and notices when the Democrats are not as loyal as they once were:

“…last monday was our Election of

deligates also for a member to fill the vacancy in Congress

occasioned by the death of Genl. Dickson at the precinque

that I attended the Van party were ahead as two to one

a less difference than I looked for at that place as I knew the

most of them to be led by Jackson nomination and

caucus dictation. however even in that the times

are changing for when I first came here it was

unsafe for one to call the name of Jackson in vain

much more abuse him or his measures in fact if he was

not a Jacksonian he was called a Damd nullifier or some

-thing worse if they could have Sense to give it a name”

Family Matters

In this particular letter to John, Duncan McKenzie feels it necessary to defend the circumstances of Barbara, his wife. It seems that Dr. Duncan, the local physician, has written to Barbara’s family some information that concerns them about Barbara’s condition. Duncan defends her condition in this letter and admits that her life is hard, especially with the young children that surround them. He explains that the children on the farm who are old enough are able to help her since they are not yet working in the fields. This includes both white and black children, who he names as if John is familiar with them all. Duncan’s son John is about three and Allen six, so we can surmise the ages of the black children Jones, Niles, and Jbae. Elly is an adult enslaved person mentioned repeatedly in this collection and may have been with the family for some time:

“It is true Barbra has a considerable charge on account of the children but Allan being the oldest / takes considerable pains in conducting his little brother John and Jones and Niles all are very attentive / to Jbae (ie) Elly sones name he is as handsome a black child as I ever saw”

Another personal note in this letter is Duncan’s request that John find a gun for his boys. Duncan’s older boys, the oldest is by now about sixteen or seventeen, are fond of hunting in the woods, still somewhat populated with rabbits, racoons, deer, wild hogs, panthers, and bears in spite of the rapid destruction of their habitats by farming and timbering pursuits. After offering the family’s respects to grandparents Hugh and Catherine McLaurin and to their Uncle Duncan and Aunts Effy and Mary still at home, he requests that John find a gun and send it out by some trustworthy person coming to Mississippi:

“they (Duncan’s sons) request you to procure from John Buchanan or Some other

good gun smith a rifle gun of tolerable size and send it out

by the first opportunity, should you do so I would forward

payment to you for the same, if John C will be coming

this winter he will probably bring the article”

Duncan McKenzie’s Letter to John McLaurin, 29 March 1838

Barbara’s Health and Family News

After an apology of sorts for not writing, Duncan McKenzie expresses regret that Duncan Douglass, the husband of Barbara’s sister Sarah McLaurin has not kept up correspondence. Duncan and Sarah both died in Marlboro County, NC, Duncan in 1864 and Sarah in 1862. McKenzie also mentions the health of his family and that Barbara has been ill.

“My family Since

my last, has been in tolerable health with the exception

of some attacks of cold which in some inStances has been

quite Severe especially on Barbara, She was for two or three

days verry Sick and being in rather delicate health for Some time

passed, She became verry weak, She is now recruiting

tolerably fast — all our neighbors are well So far as I know

at present”

Another acquaintance named Allan Wilkerson, a cousin of Charles Patterson, has migrated to Covington County, Mississippi and is renting a place called “the Carolinean trap.” This same place has been rented and abandoned by other acquaintances: Lachlin McLaurin of Marks Creek and his brother Hugh.

The persons Duncan mentions as having given up alcohol to join the Presbyterian Church have by now been excommunicated. This excommunication is not only recorded in this letter but also from another primary source, the actual church records. The Hopewell Presbyterian Church records of 22 January 1838 call on the two members to be, “…hereby suspended from the communion of the Church until they give satisfactory evidence of repentance and reformation.” As Duncan puts it, “… but alas rudy bacchus held out promises that they could not See in church or Church Discipline consequently both were excommunicated.” It is interesting to note here the difference in social attitudes toward alcoholism in 1838 and the way society looks upon the problem today. Duncan also disparages the drinking done by Dr. Duncan. He seems to appreciate the doctor but does not respect him enough to avoid gossiping about his drinking. Alcoholism in 1838 was clearly seen as a moral failure on the part of individuals and those people were not to be suffered in the houses of worship. Today churches and religious organizations play a significant role in welcoming and helping individuals overcome their addictions. Thankfully, society has learned a great deal in nearly two hundred years about the science of addiction and how to combat it. In the same way, we have learned the 19th century social division of people by race is completely at odds with science.

Crops and Economy

McKenzie laments that wet weather will likely lead to a late planting season this spring. At the writing of this letter he has only planted half of his corn, though some people are done. He suggests perhaps they risked damaging their crop by planting early this season. The outlook appears good in 1838 for the cotton crop:

“…we have planted

Say half our corn, Some people are done planting corn and

should the weather continue cool and now dry after the wet

weather, I fear it will be but a bad chance for the corn to

come up — people are preparing for large crops of cotton this

Season, we will plant the Same land under it this year that

we had last, also the same under corn, the wheat looks tolle

-rably well tho rather thin the frosts killed Some of it, and

all the fall sowing of oats none of them escaped”

Towards the end of his letter, Duncan McKenzie tries to explain the dilemma of using state money rather than federal money. When business is done out of state at places like New Orleans, Louisiana or Mobile, Alabama, the rates of exchange devalue their state money, “a currency that met local demand but lacked credibility outside the immediate community” according to the Mississippi Encyclopedia. Merchants doing business in those places actually lose money. Such was the overconfidence in cotton production that the Mississippi economy by 1837 suffered from over speculation in land and money. The number of banks lending money in Mississippi had grown by 1837 to twenty-seven at the time Duncan writes this letter. It did not matter if a landowner was probably overextending himself, loans were available to anyone who owned a bit of land. In 1836 when President Andrew Jackson issued his Specie Circular, many Mississippians could not pay for their land in specie because they only had unbacked paper money. As banks issued foreclosures on property, those who had overextended themselves fled across the Mississippi River to Louisiana and Texas often in secrecy and the dead of night, along with their enslaved people who trotted alongside wagons that held women and children. Often a facade of property, such as a horse and carriage, was left behind to delay suspicion of their flight. When the banks could not collect their money, they failed. In 1837 the Union Bank was chartered in hopes of correcting the problem. It is to Duncan McKenzie’s credit and caution that he had not been among those who indulged in purchasing that for which he could not pay. The Union Bank issued bonds that the state legislature guaranteed. When the Union Bank failed, Governor McNutt suggested the state refuse to pay them, known as “repudiation.”

“The merchants of this state are unhealthy the most of them are

forced to quit business as they dare not go to New Orleans with

=out money our State money is from 15-30 percent under par with

the New Orleans Merchants consequently our merchants can

=not stand the drag, this loss in the end falls on the consumers

of the merchandise tho it first comes out of the merchants —

the only way for us farmers now is to go to market with

our cotton or send and agent who will purchase our

necessary, cotton is at par with gold or anything else

So when we sell our crops we receive the real grit or

our own State money at the above discount …”

In the Duncan McLaurin Papers, correspondence between Duncan McLaurin and John Patrick Stewart, clerk of Franklin County, MS, explores in detail the lively politics of this period.

In concluding, Duncan McKenzie makes a reference to his son Daniel, who is impatiently waiting for him to finish the letter. Daniel is tasked with carrying this letter to the post office when he goes to school. Of all the McKenzie sons, Daniel is the one who enjoys school and will appreciate an education, though he never quite receives the one of his dreams.

John McLaurin (1789-1864) is the brother of Barbara McKenzie. John was an infant when his parents, Hugh and Catharine, left Argyll, Scotland for America. John spent his adult life farming, and was deeded 500 acres of land by his father. He and his brother Duncan together managed the farm and Ballachulish after Hugh became too old to manage it. John oversaw the farm while Duncan spent time teaching away from home at Bennettsville, SC and during Duncan’s short term in the North Carolina state legislature.

effiestalkermclaurind1881-copy.jpeg
Effie Stalker’s tombstone in Stewartsville Cemetery, Laurinburg, NC. In Memory of Effie Stalker wife of John McLaurin A native of Argyleshire Scotland Died Sept. 20. 1881 Aged (probably 77 or 78)

Duncan was living at Ballachulish and caring for his dependent family members by the time John married Effie Stalker. They set up housekeeping at John’s farm and had four children. Their first child, John Cain was born and died in 1840. They were blessed with another boy, Owen, who lived into adulthood, served in the Confederate army and navy, spent a short time in Canada after the war ended, and died in North Carolina on his family’s farm in 1869, ending the possibility of carrying on the McLaurin name in Hugh’s branch of the family. John and Effie also had two daughters who both died in 1867. Owen, Elizabeth, and Catharine McLaurin all died as young adults. However, they all outlived their father, who died in 1864. Effie Stalker, from the time her husband died, ran the farm herself and apparently, according to Owen’s probate hearing, felt that Owen could not be a very good farmer since he spent so much time with books. Duncan evidently took issue with the attitude Effie held toward the worth of her son. Among the Duncan McLaurin Papers is an 1872 letter to Effie probably written during the lengthy probate hearing that year regarding the property of John McLaurin. Duncan bitterly expresses his view of Effie’s comments regarding her own son at this hearing.

“You cannot

traduce the character of Owen for he was among the most respectful & esteemed

young men of the neighborhood and had he lived would have filled honorably offices

of profit & trust in his native land … Now that he is

gone he is represented as a perfect spendthrift.”

Duncan had his favorites and they included Owen, who at the least appreciated what his Uncle could do for him. Owen’s correspondence with his Uncle Duncan in this collection begins during his school days away from home, continues during the Civil War, and ends with the war. Duncan also writes a touching poem in honor of Catharine. Duncan signs his lovely poem penned in her honor with these words: “A tribute by her uncle whose love was reciprocal.”

John is one of the people with whom Duncan McKenzie is most anxious to correspond, though it seems that John did not spend much time corresponding, especially after he married. Having read some of John’s correspondence with his brother, I can safely say that he did not take the same care with his writing as did Duncan McKenzie nor especially his own brother. He does not seem to have enjoyed corresponding in the same way Duncan McKenzie and Duncan McLaurin appeared to relish it.

Sources:

Bond, Bradley T. “Panic of 1837.” Ownby, Tedd and Wilson, Charles Reagan. Mississippi Encyclopedia. University Press of Mississippi: Jackson. 2017. 968.

Bridges, Myrtle N. Estate Records 1772-1933 Richmond County North Carolina: Hardy – Meekins Book II. photocopy from the Brandon, MS Genealogy Room. “John McLaurin – 1864,” “Effy McLaurin – 1861,” and “Duncan McLaurin – 1872.”

Gonzales, John Edmond. “Flush Times, Depression, War, and Compromise.” A History of Mississippi Volume I. Edited by McLemore, Richard Aubrey. University & College Press of Mississippi: Hattiesburg. 1973. 292-294.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Effy Stalker. 4 October 1872. Box 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to John McLaurin. 11 May 1834. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to John McLaurin. 28 March 1838. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

McPherson, James M. Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. Alfred A. Knopf: New York. 1982. 383.

Minutes of Session. Hopewell Presbyterian Church 1837 – 1883. Covington County, MS. Provided by Harold Johnson.