Land of His Infancy — Kenneth McKenzie b. 1820

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

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

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

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

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

Civil War Years

KMcKConfArmyDisharge1862

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

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

The roll of the drum the glittering bayonet the Keen

crack of the Mississippi rifle the multiplicity

of Buoie Knives and Colts Repeating pistols Show

that the boys are in for Strife or right we have

received a portion of our pay Each private

at eleven Dollars per month have received

ten Dollars in State or Confederate bonds

What will be the results of our efforts is all unknown

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

much as possible at intervals without any

attention to receipts from you, as the guide to

my correspondence. — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

Brotherly Estrangement and Politics

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

I am now living

with James McGill I appreciate the

respect with which I am treated by

himself and family, my health has

been good since the coming in of Septr

last, previously I had a severe attact

of fever from which I have not regained

my standard weight … as

for my self my future is hidden in oblive

iousness and will continue mystified

through life I fear oblivious curtain hides

the future. — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

I have bot and sold some Spanish horses

they are noted for durability I have made

some money by it, I have it in mind to

take a trip to Western Texas and procure

Spanish mares and mules two of my

neighbors boys both Brothers named Lott

have made the first trip ever made to this

country from Goliad on the San antone River

with a … of 36 Horses part of which

I bought and sold all but two which I

have yet on hand they are severe in their

disposition until tamed and conquered a

man alone cannot make more than a lively hood

by labour  — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

this morning I was at the lot

gate looking at some sows and pigs all in

peace and harmony when Allen came there

and said that I had to gather up my ponies

and leave a damned loafer I made him

some evasive and perhaps insulting answer

when he caught me by the hair and struck me

several blows before I could extricate myself

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

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

manner by him or any one else — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

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

Neighbors are generally kind in visiting tho some being close

born are not neighbors for instance the agust McLaurins

who compose the aristocracy of this county and are

amenable to the presbyterian order but they dwell more

on money finances than the immortality of the Soul

… the world they are aiming

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

and comely pairs of fine animals with gaudy decorations …

uncle they do not come to see mother since she has

been afflicted Before then when she was able to trudge

round and prepare fine dinners they were con

stantly on a visiting expedition … — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

It would be madness in the extreme

in any Patriotic heart to wish to blast

the foundation of a government

like this, but the intriguing demagogues

and fanatics leaders now in power

as has been the case for years past have

been by degrees undermining the prin

ciples of power which they cannot

reestablish — Kenneth McKenzie

Loss of Barbara McKenzie

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

I threw the chew I had in my mouth

out taking in no other for over 2 months,

inflammation seized my stomach and lungs

I used every precaution to shun …

and I am now nearly well in the time my

mind became touched or rather lit up quicker

and more sensitive than usual or at

least I imagined this to be the case, my Eyes

have been very sore for several weeks, in fact

some of the time I could scarcely see, they

are better now I hope on the mend — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

Young Adult Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I come on a visit to the country. My

Uncles John & Duncan McLaurin wished

me to stay here in this country. John Mc-

Laurin offered to board me while I would

stay and superintend Duncan McLaurins

business. I took up their offer. This is

the reason I was so intimately acquainted

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

and staid as long as I pleased and attended

to the stock and made myself as useful as I

could there were nobody but women there when

Owen was gone. — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1840s: Agriculture and Weather

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

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

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

Producing Cotton in Mississippi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corn, Other Crops, and Livestock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1840 Season

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

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

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

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

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

The Natchez Tornado: May 7, 1840

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

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

At the Natchez Landing on the river the

ruin of dwellings, stores, steamboats, flat boats

was almost entire from the Vidalia ferry to the

Mississippi Cotton Press. A few torn fragments

of dwellings still remain, but they can scarcely be

called shelters. — Mississippi Free Trader   

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

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

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

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

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

Several of the largest buildings were swept almost

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

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

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

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

how many lives were lost as they were mostly boatmen and

Strangers — John Patrick Stewart

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

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

______________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corn crops are tolerable good cotton together

with being injured by the drought is in many

places eaten up by the worm or caterpillar,

the first I saw of them in ours was this week

consequently they will not injure it much, but in

many places they had eaten every leaf off 3 weeks Since

they commenced in Louisiana on the Miss River — Duncan McKenzie

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

The 1841 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1842 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the lands in this

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

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

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

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

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

given point north.” — Duncan McKenzie

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

“The number of this tract is the north half

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

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

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

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

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

31 and 32 and in Township 8 and section 18 markd

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

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

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

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

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

To DMcLaurin

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

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

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

which under the present act of Congress will Save it for

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

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

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

purchase of the applicant – many persons here have per

Sued the above described plan and have never entered a foot

tho Settled here for many years — Duncan McKenzie

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

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

The 1843 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1844 Season

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

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

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

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

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

The 1845 Season

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

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

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

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

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

The 1846 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1847 Season

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

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

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

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

The 1848 Season

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

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

The 1849 Season

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

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

______________________________

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Decade of the 1840s: Slavery

Images of Slavery

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

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

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

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

I was at a sale Monday & Tuesday

last where I saw negro men selling at from 6 to

$800 on a credit of Twelve months women sold at

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

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

making the round sum of $6,000 …

this same tract was sold five years ago

at $11,000 …

I saw a panel of negroes sold for cash under Execution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are trying to gather cotton and not with standing

Elly leaches absence we can gather a parcel per day

Dunk when in good humor can pick out 250 lbs per

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

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

Elly stole some bacon the other day, in consequence she

took leg bale. Celia says she gave it to McBrydes

Dorkas & to her sone Danl  — Duncan McKenzie

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

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

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

FredDouglassNarrative1846

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

Pro-slavery Arguments of the 1840s

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

reviewofdebateon00dewt_0005

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

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

SlaveryJustified

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

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

Final Images from the 1840s

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

would willingly be by night if suffered, — Duncan McKenzie

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

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

you recollect the girl I bot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1840s: Health and Deaths

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

Mary Catharine McKenzie (1838-1839) F-beah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yard, She could not conceive what cause of dissatisfaction aunt

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

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

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

Tell your father to make himself easy about

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Duncan McKenzie

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

Catharine Calhoun McLaurin (1762-1841)

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

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

your mother should guard

against those febrile symptoms of which you

mentioned, by taking some cooling simple med

=icine such as Rhubarb & cream of tarter in

small quantities till it would excite a slight

operation on the bowels, keeping herself from

morning Dews & noon day Sun —  Duncan McKenzie

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

It is a source of the most sireous reflection

to us to hear that one after another of the family

are falling off from time to an untimely grave by the

same cause, to wit, that of ulcers which commenced

in my family, but death comes by the means appoin

=ted and why should we complain but say with

christian resignation the will of God be done

in your next you will please give us a minute

description of the case with your mother …

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

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

— Duncan McKenzie

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

We are glad to hear that

your mother was living at the time of your writing and

that the sore had not made such a fatal progress as

we had anticipated, at the special request of Barbara

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

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

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

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

Hugh McLaurin (1751-1846) F-ba

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

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

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

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

at least devote an equal space in each letter written they

would be the more grattifying. — Duncan McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rises to those we loved no more. — Duncan McKenzie

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

From an

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

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

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

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

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

— Duncan McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our friend A. Stewart came early and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Duncan McKenzie

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

He was breathing and continued to breathe till the time above

stated but never spoke nor showed any symptoms of consciousness

… being convenient I was … exam

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

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

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

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

Duncan McKenzie (1793 – 1847)

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

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

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

Hugh Carmichael Stewart (1810 – 1847)

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

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

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

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

I have spent five months at a time without seeing

a human being except my own company consisting of

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

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

On Saturday the 11th Ult Hugh C Stewart

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

on the flat firm of his screw hewing some timbers

stepped over the piece of timber he was working on the

end of a plank which his weight bore down and

having no other purchase he fell through to the

ground. the plank followed end foremost striking

him on the forehead split out his brains. the fall

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

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

Health and Deaths of Friends and Acquaintance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1830s: Mississippi Politics and Banks

Who was John P. Stewart?

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

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

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

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

Mississippi’s Economy and Politics in the 1830s

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mississippi’s Constitution of 1832

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

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

Duncan McKenzie’s economic and political views – 1830s

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

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

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

it is reported abroad that our State is involved more

than her worth, but how can Such a report be

true when the world knows that our legislature

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

day, whose paper the moment when Struck will be

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

Except at the post and law offices — the Brandon

Bank this far has succeeded in buying cotton in

preference to letting the commition merchants of

New orleans shave us as usual, I know not how

that Bank will do in the future, but it has

Sustained it Self in credit this far —

the new charterd Bank calld the Union

bank of Mississippi will go in operation

in the course of the summer — is it not

surpassing singular that in every state of the

Union the legislative boddies find little or no diff

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

=sary that it should be called bank and its charter

is passed and in the grand council of our nation

the greatest and the best smote to death the best

Institution ever known by the name of Bank —

query will we ever have such an other paper currency or

will a national Bank spring up in its stead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some few men in this State have made fortunes by purchasing

plantations and Negroes which engendered such a rage for

speculation that in the upper counties almost every man

that could get credit purchased a farm and a great many

of them at such extravagant prices that they could not

pay even the interest of their purchases without diminishing

the principal of their debts …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1830s: Health Challenges

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

A Case of Parasitic Worms

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

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

“McE staid in consequence of the

sickness of the oldest child by Julian. She the child

died this morning before day — Vast quantities of

worms had passed through her — Her mother

told me that they were passing from her I

believe, in both extremities without the least effort

on the part of the child She was three or four

years of age very intelligent and interesting

her mother when I first got there this morning

was truly distressed — word by a special messenger

was sent to her father and what pleased me well

She is resolved to bury the child at Stewartsville.”

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

Early Mississippi Health Regulations and Medical Licensing Laws

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Doctor, Cures, and Self-dosage

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

“I must correct a mistaken Idea in

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

and Satisfactory letter from him Dated Rodney May the 1st

Rodney a village on the Mississippi above natchez He called on

Capt Hugh Peter Fairley the Camerons &c all were well

except Daniel McLaurins family who were Sick of the Scarlet

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

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

at that time but had strong encouragement to take up

the practice of medicine in Franklin County…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and his appearance will command credit at least for a coat

and perhaps for a whole Suit…”

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

“I forgot the Doctor, but

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

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

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

to this neighbor hood he would keep himself Sober

especially when in my company, but of late the bate

allures him, I am resolved that no drunkard Shall

lodge with me long at one time …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

diameter being the largest except two others which came from

both extremities of the lower jaw. numerous small particles

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

I have partially lost the power of mastication”

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

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

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

General Health of Family, Friends, and Acquaintance

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

“the family are in good health at present —

you charged me to be particular in describing my own health

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

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

to perform any hard labor, last friday I took Hugh

with me after dinner to Split some rails about

300 being wanted we Split about 100 that evening

next morning Mr. Gilcrist asked me if I was going

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

worsted from the evenings work, I have not finished

them yet tho I am knocking along at something else”

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

“…April, in consequence of

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

it than my Strength was well able to bear the

weather at that time being wet and cold and

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

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

friday following I was taken with a chill which was

followed by a severe fever, the chills & fevers continued

for Several paroxysms and every attack getting worse

I took Several doses of calomel until which time as a

Salivation was affected, the chills gave way but

Scarcely had my mouth got well. When the chills

returned which again was broke by the use of Rhubarb

and barks, I experienced an other attack Since which

Subsided without the use of any kind of medicine.”

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

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

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

“She fancied a pregnancy from

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

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

at one a clock she was

delivered of a daughter no one being in attendance but my

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

little Stranger before anyone had time to come to our assistance.”

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

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

“… So soon

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

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

family have any Symptom of it as yet”

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

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

Health Care for Enslaved Population

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

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

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

Accidents and Alcohol

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

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

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

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

“… one man was stabbed by another

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

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

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

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

John of that name once of Marlboro District South Carolina”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decade of the 1830s: Agriculture in Mississippi

Cotton
Cotton ripened in the fields near Sikeston, Missouri.

Since my retirement my husband and I have indulged in bicycling. Because we are older, we are mindful of the terrain, and the flat Mississippi Delta suits us, especially when riding our tandem. For the past four summers the Bikes, Blues and Bayous organized ride in Greenwood, Mississippi allows us to enjoy a ride highlighted with music, watermelon, chicken salad and pimento cheese sandwiches, and a few historic sites. One of our rest stops on the ride is the old rural store, where a historic marker stands noting the site of young Emmett Till’s “Crime” in 1955 that led to his horrific, senseless, and tragic death.  Another feature of riding through these Delta fields in late July or early August is that the cotton is often in its flowering stages. One day most of the plants will bear creamy white flowers, the next day the fields will turn a beautiful pink, and the third day the flowers will have mostly turned red. The next day the colorful show is over as the flowers fall leaving a green boll. By October these bolls will have turned brown displaying soft fluffy cotton fiber. The fields appear as if a blanket of snow has fallen during the still-warm Mississippi days. In the flat farmlands near Sikeston, Missouri during the Cotton Ramble, another organized ride usually held in October, we have bicycled through huge stretches of white cotton fields, the fluffy bolls of fiber waiting to be machine picked. Riders often stop to take selfies in the fields or pose with their bicycles against pastel wrapped monstrous “bales” of cotton. A bale of cotton as a measurement is about 500 pounds, though these modern “bales” are clearly much, much heavier. 

BryantsGrocerySign
A stop on the Bikes, Blues, and Bayous organized ride in Leflore County, Mississippi features this historic marker.

What often occupies my mind during hours of riding through these fields and listening to the varied songs of the red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, and mockingbirds are questions and among them are these: If my great, great grandfather planted fifteen acres in cotton during the 1830s in south Mississippi, what would that acreage have looked like in comparison with this large acreage of totally mechanized, fertilized and irrigated crop? What drove my great, great grandfather, Duncan McKenzie, to attempt coaxing out of the soil a labor-intensive cotton crop using coerced human beings with little stake in their work beyond mere survival? Why did he not consider his much more consistently successful acreage in corn enough to provide his modest living? What was it about this system of producing cotton that made him feel it would work for him?  Moreover, how did a human desire for the benign products of one plant come to drive the greed and moral choices of human beings in an economic system that existed by oppressing those at the essential base of that industry? At the same time, the growth and production of this plant would drive the economy of the United States to become the strongest and most powerful on the face of the earth.

By January 1833 when Duncan McKenzie arrived with his family in Covington County, MS, the state was already consumed with growing cotton using an enslaved labor force. In 1800 no cotton was grown in Mississippi, but according to author Eugene R. Dattel, by 1833 it produced seventy million pounds! Whites that had come to the state numbered 70,443 along with 65,659 enslaved people. In June of 1831, John Patrick Stewart writes to Duncan McLaurin about the people living in his new Mississippi home, “Raising cotton absorbs all their politics & meditations – The first salute to a neighbor is how does your cotton look.” Advances in the technology of spinning and the addition of steam power during the latter 18th century had led to the growth of the Lancashire, England textile mills in Manchester and Liverpool. In addition, the widespread use of the cotton gin in the US South had tremendously increased the production of cotton making it easier to separate seeds from the fiber and allowing farmers to grow a superior type of cotton. By 1790, when Hugh McLaurin brought his family from Argyll, Scotland to North Carolina, England’s textile mills were producing cotton manufactured items faster than their supply of cotton could keep up. Eventually, most of their cotton would come from the American South. By 1790 the first cotton textile mill was operating in the United States. Roads were improving and transportation technology had vastly grown with the development of the steam engine, which aided the movement of cotton from field to mill. In fact, Sven Beckert in Empire of Cotton says that “…by 1830 fully 1 million people (or one in 13 Americans) grew cotton in the U.S. – most of them slaves.”

In 1803 the United States had acquired the Mississippi Territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase, and by 1817 Mississippi had been awarded its statehood. Though the territory had been at first sparsely settled, it was the opening of native American lands that drew migrants from the east and north. The Treaty of Doak’s Stand ceded the Choctaw land in 1820 and in 1830 the Choctaw removal was begun by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The Treaty of Pontotoc in 1832 ceded Chickasaw land. With these the rush for Mississippi land was in full swing. Speculators in the form of land companies began purchasing this land to make money off of selling it. Individual farmers often speculated in land too by clearing it and adding a house and buildings then selling out at a higher price. According to Dattel, “From 1833 to 1836, total federal land sales in Mississippi amounted to 8,331,581 acres.” The impetus for coming to Mississippi and other states in the cotton belt was that the climate and soil was particularly suitable for growing cotton — a labor intensive crop best suited in the 19th century for gang labor — and in great demand.

John Patrick Stewart, a friend of Duncan McLaurin’s and former resident of Richmond County, writes from Covington County, MS in November of 1831 about the Choctaw removal from the state.

“The Choctaw Indians are at this removing to the territory that was

ceded to them West of the Mississippi River — one third are already

gone and those remaining in two succeeding years — It is said

more than 500 have refused to go they can remain provided they

subject themselves to the laws of the state — The laws will be

rigidly enforced against them whether they are willing or not

Each head of a family remaining will have a reserve of a half

section of land as long as he chooses to remain but cannot

dispose of it if he would be willing to leave — could they do this

a major part of them would remain merely to acquire this land

and sell it in a short time and afford a fruitful source of

litigation”

So as native Americans were forced marched from their ancestral homes, African Americans were force marched from the old South to the southern cotton belt. Although Duncan McKenzie’s Covington County land he rented in 1833 was suitable for growing some cotton, his crop was more diversified than on larger farms, where more acreage was available for growing cotton. Still, because of the demand and rising prices, a modest crop of cotton likely was his money-maker. By 1840 the rented property is listed in his name and he paid taxes on it. In the spring, March or April, came planting time. Duncan describes the 1837 planting season in a March letter to his brother-in-law. His description is evidence of the farmer’s dependence on the whims of mother nature.

“we have planted a little corn, but from

much rain we are likely to be late with the main

part of our crop, as we are not done cleaning up our fields

yet, we are plowing the cotton land. Should the weather

permit we will plant a good parcel of corn next week”

Farmers, who owned their own land had to finance a crop with the expectation that the weather would cooperate and the crop would be successful, so a crop was begun on credit using the land and slaves as collateral. Though Duncan would have been considered a small farmer, who owned about eight enslaved people by 1840, the same credit principle applied. In this same March 1837 letter Duncan makes reference to his last crop of cotton, “my cotton is not Sold as yet at least I have not recd the returns, the price varys from 14-17 cts — corn is worth $1:50 cts per Bush peas $2-3 for Seed, oats sold for 1$ – per Bushel &c.” According to R. Douglas Hurt in American Agriculture: A Brief History, in 1800 one could sell cotton at about twelve cents a pound, though in the following decades the price would fluctuate as high as forty cents a pound. Prices generally rose and fell along with the vicissitudes of an international market. Duncan McKenzie confirms this in his letters. An average crop would be about two to three hundred pounds per acre, so a farmer could stand to make a modest profit even if an acreage as small as fifteen or thirty was under cotton. Of course, the farmer’s profits were never guaranteed since the uncertain weather and changes in the international markets had to be considered.

In addition, as Hurt contends, the labor of enslaved people on a small farm was costlier to the farmer than on a large plantation, but if a farmer grew cotton, he was dependent upon having the necessary manpower to clean and plow the fields, plant the crop, chop the weeds, and gather the cotton. Since cotton bolls did not ripen all at once, hands would pick a field three or four times a harvest. Even though innovations were constantly improving farm tools, southern farm workers generally used a wooden shovel plow, a hoe and a dibble stick. After the cotton was harvested, access to a gin was essential. Farmers who could afford to do so built their own gins. A small farmer such as Duncan McKenzie with a small number of enslaved laborers had to put himself and his sons into the fields working along side his laborers. Eventually, they would build their own gin, but having one nearby was crucial.

cottonbalesbike
Mechanically gathered and baled cotton in Sikeston, Missouri awaits its transport.

Generally, a farmer would sell his cotton crop to a factor or commission merchant. The factor would then sell the crop to the textile mill through a broker from the mill. This often entailed waiting and hoping for the best return on the crop. The farmer’s profit was, for the most part, in someone else’s hands, and he rarely saw cash right away. In an April 1837 letter Duncan McKenzie explains how his crop has been sold:

“the price of cotton is down again I heard that my cotton

was Sold but not in time it brought $13.50 cts deduct

$2 from that for freight insurance Storage and Commi

=tion for Selling, and you will find it to yield to me

$11:50 its a pitiful reward for So much hard labor

but that suit is the best of any unless it cost too

much — I could have disposed of my crop at home

as usual, but thinking that there was Something

to be made by trying the head of the market

refused $14 at home, I would have taken 4 cts in the

Seed at the cotton house, that has been my plan of

Selling ever since I came to the country, the first

and Second crops we made were Sold at 3 cts the 3rd crop

at 4 cts the purchasers hawling the cotton from the

place to the gins or paying me for the Same —

you see from the above that I have missed the figure

this time”

In a June letter of the same year, Duncan McKenzie mentions the name of his factor in New Orleans, Lambeth and Thompson. According to Saul Friedman in Jews and the American Slave Trade, this was one of the factorage merchants that, “underwrote the slave markets on Chartres St. and who truly dominated the sugar, rice and cotton trades in the 19th century.” Though Friedman concedes the Jewish factorage merchant, his book refutes the claim that Jews “dominated” the slave trade. Duncan further explains his dealings with this commission merchant:

“I for the first time sent my crop of cotton, Say 3,000 lb, to New

Orleans, it was Shipd in Dec and consigned to Messrs Lambeth

& Thompson, Merchants at that time in very good Standing

the article was worth from 16 to 17 cts at the time it arivd there

it remained unsold till the 22nd of March when it was Sold

at $13=75 cts but the misfortune is my commission Merchants

have failed consequently this far I have recd nothing but the

promise of men who are insolvent, but so fair is their Stand

-ing that I feel encoreged that at some future time they will

be able to make full returns and if not I must do as many

others who are Similarly placed”

Still, since Duncan is a cautious man about his debts, he will not necessarily suffer much. Due to diversification, he is able to pay off his debts even if his cotton does not result in the expected returns, “your Most obdt is not bound for another in one cent tho the refusal has often caused some growling … was I not fortunate to be able to pay $350 of my debts by corn & pork”.

Duncan continues to explain the difficulties of this season’s planting, which include his own and his oldest son’s absence from the fields:

“Owing to Kenneth bad health and my

own inability to perform hard labor, we are late

with our work, the cold wet and backwardness

of the Spring would not justify forward plan

-ting, the first piece of corn we planted is so much

missing that I expect to put the plow in it in a day

or two — there was very Severe frosts on the 7th & 8th

instant”

In June of 1837 he writes of more frost and a worsening drought:

“Frost in May, on the mornings of the 15th, 16th and 17th …

I did not see the frost but Saw the

effects of it on potato leaves & persimmon bushes, in

Some places it is Said the cotton was killed also wheat …

I have not seen the earth so perfectly dry in many years

water courses failing, a constant fountain near

the fence is visited by numerous herds of cattle Suffi

-cient to manure an acre per week if pens were made …

Monday evening the 19th the weather is still

clear and hot and no appearance of rain this is the

67th day since we have had any rain to wet the

earth to the roots of the corn”

In October of 1837, Duncan describes the harvest, which had turned off much better than the vicissitudes of the weather could have foretold:

“we have gathered all our corn it being in the cribs and think it is 250

or 300 Bushels short of the quantity gathered last year, All be it

perhaps it will do but as there is not pease potatoes or mast to Start

hogs it may be Scarce corn does not gather as well as it lookd

yet there will be a plenty made as a great quantity more than

usual was planted, we have not gathered much cotton as yet Say

about 8.000 lb we have a good parcel of it to pick out as there is

the rise of 30 acres under it … we begin to think now there will be as much as we can gather”

Another season began in the spring of 1838 amidst Mississippi’s financial difficulties with the banks – credit was everything in a farming culture, and Mississippi along with the nation was reeling from the Panic of 1837. In February of 1838 Duncan writes, “the price of cotton keeps down, it is from $9= to 12 in New Orleans. All other articles as with you are verry Dear…” In March he continues describing his crops and the weather:

“we have just finishd

Sowing oats, we have not plowd any for corn or cotton

as yet but expect to commence so soon as the Season

will permit — Since the 15th of Janry the weather

has been unusually cold till about the  middle of last

week, Since it has Been quite pleasant till today —

cattle & hogs are leaner now than I have Seen them …

we Sowed a little wheat

and some oats in the fall. I believe the oats are all done

and the wheat looks verry yellow”

In November of 1838 after the harvest Duncan  explains that their corn crop was somewhat better than last year’s, but their peas and potatoes did not fair very well due to the dryness of the season. He also predicts that cotton in general will be “short of the usual quantity for number of acres under it. We have rather more under it this year than we had last and I know there will be Several thousands lacking of the quantity made last year.” Duncan’s son Hugh is trying his hand at “waggoning” for others – hauling cotton to market by wagon. On this trip Duncan claims that the farmers whose cotton Hugh hauled, “Sold at 13 cts they gave $2 per sack for salt 11 1/2 cts for sugar, 15 cts for Coffee.” Most manufactured merchandise that met the needs of farmer families in Mississippi was shipped from factories in the North or other parts of the world since Mississippi produced little to no manufactured goods even up until the Civil War. In this same 1838 letter, Duncan says the following:

He prefers, “selling

in the seed & taking freight of a load to go down

and get our supplies of groceries and all heavy articles in

fact if Hugh does not find this trip too fatigueing I will

let him go once a year at least and lay in most or all our

necessarys,”

During the growing season of 1839, Duncan describes the season as “verry dry” and notes the suffering crops with a caveat regarding cotton, “the cotton appears to Stand it amazingly blooms are frequent but the corn is falling the forwarder to find it is trying to shoot and tausle.” By August, however, they are able to be “hard at saving fodder, until this week the weather has been too wet.” He also remarks that corn has produced, “much lighter by far this year than usual and the late rains have injured cotton, a poor prospect Say you for a country overwhelmed in debt.” In the same letter he adds, “Cotton has taken a considerable fall in New Orleans Say from 17 to 12 cents and I fear the new crop will settle down to 7 or 8 if so farewell to some of the cotton planters They must run to Texas.” As a result of the financial crisis, many planters had over-extended themselves in land and slaves. According to John Edmond Gonzolas in “Flush Times, Depression, War, and Compromise,” included in A History of Mississippi Volume 1, many gave up their farms rather than face paying their debts and removed their families west to Texas, with the male slaves trotting along behind wagons that carried the women and children enslaved people. Some planters actually left during the dead of night, camouflaging their flight, in hopes of escaping creditors.

In an 1837 letter Duncan McKenzie sums up his own satisfaction with his move to Mississippi and the life he has committed his family to living there.

“where a man is Satisfied

that is the place for him, there are as many dissatisfied men

here as there are there or in any other country tho they can make

with industry more than they can gather, Say you what more

could a man wish (ans) more than he can Spend —

I can make produce, and have made money here, but my expense

would frighten a pine woodser of Richd County, but this is not

what dissattisfies me but that I cant — educate my children”

SOURCES

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. Alfred A. Knopf: New York. 2015. 109, 115, 114, 117.

Dattel, Gene. Cotton and Race in The Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power. Ivan R. Dee: Chicago. 2009. 15, 31, 45.

Dattel, Gene. “Cotton in a Global Economy: Mississippi (1800-1860).” Mississippi History Now and online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society. http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/161/cotton-in-a-global-economy-mississippi-1800-1860. Accessed 19 January 2018.

Friedman, Saul. Jews and the American Slave Trade. Taylor and Francis: London. 2017.

Hurt, R. Douglas. American Agriculture: A Brief History. Iowa State University Press: Ames. 1994. 90, 120, 124, 139.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 14 August 1839. Boxes 7 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

McLemore, Richard Aubrey, editor. A History of Mississippi, Vol. 1. Gonzolas, John Edmond. “Flush Times, Depression, War, and Compromise.” University & College Press of Mississippi. 1973. 293.