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.