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 Tailor Duncan Calhoun’s Story

Col.StantonPassengerlistApril
A passenger list for the steamship Col. Stanton in The Daily Delta of New Orleans 4 April 1849 shows the name Duncan Calhoun.

On a winter evening in 1833, probably having just taken orders for a pair of woolen pants from a successful planter, the tailor in the small rural Alabama town turned to attend a customer. It was late in the day and the tailor was preparing to close shop when the customer, a “dandy,” demanded his pants. The bill at the ready, the tailor waited for payment before producing the pants. No payment forthcoming, the tailor continued to wait. The customer demanded the pants in exchange for a promissory note in payment. The stubborn tailor refused the note and refused to give up the pants. The dandy, likely having spent all of his cash at the local tavern and irritated with the tailor’s obstinance as well as his annoyingly large head, lurched out of the tailor’s shop and found a side window. As the customer angrily watched the tailor through the window, his irritation grew. In his inebriated state, the dandy slowly attempted to draw a bead on the tailor’s big head with his single shot flintlock pistol. He fired, missed, reloaded, and fired again giving the tailor time to run for it. Escaping his store of the last decade or so, the tailor did not stop until he had reached Mobile, at least a hundred miles away.

This is the first encounter with the character of tailor Duncan Calhoun in the Duncan McLaurin Papers. Duncan Calhoun probably apprenticed to a tailor in or near Richmond County, North Carolina – likely he was born there between 1795 and 1800 to Charles Calhoun and his wife Christian Carmichael both having arrived probably in the 1780s from Argyll, Scotland via Wilmington and the Cape Fear River. Duncan Calhoun’s father and Duncan McLaurin’s mother, Catharine Calhoun McLaurin, were siblings. Though not particularly articulate, Duncan Calhoun’s letters contain a passion for life lived with a positive outlook and at times a sense of humor in the face of disappointment.

Duncan claims to have spent about a decade working as a tailor and it seems that he had a shop in or near Sparta, probably in Alabama (Old Sparta Road runs northeast of Mobile). A year after fleeing his shop, D. Calhoun writes his cousin Duncan McLaurin in response to McLaurin’s letter regarding his father’s illness. His father Charles Calhoun dies in 1835 the same year Duncan writes to his cousin describing life in Mobile. He has been there for eighteen months, tailoring, and is fascinated by the place – interested in its rapid growth.

“I am doing well in it not a making a fortune but
enjoying life good societies good regulations in the town
it is rapidly improving it contains a nice business import
& export to the larger shipping 20 miles below Mobile
ceder point is a rail road to be errected will add
or injure Mobile if there be a town there in time all
the business will be there There is where Mobile ought to be
James Smith has been here with us at Shepherds and Fisks
… you may rest assured that my eyes is open for something
I know not what pleasure if I continue the tailoring
I wish I could connect with some good body into some
speculating business …” — Duncan Calhoun

An example of Duncan Calhoun’s capacity to make his way through life on the sunny side is suggested in a story he delivers to his cousin Duncan McLaurin. In 1844 Duncan Calhoun writes introspectively from Louisiana owning responsibility for his not being able to hold on to wealth. A con-man has tricked him into giving up a fine horse. He adds a description and a name in case Duncan spots the trickster and horse wandering through the Carolinas:

“I will never
have wealth for it appears I have no business with it there
are some person always by fair or foul means to get it
away from me this fall a very fine sale horse I had a
scoundrel tricked me out of him gone to texis I expect
or to Tennessee & Kentucky Daniel Turpin is his name
a large grey horse if he should wander there the
Carolinas to your knowledge write me he said he
had a legacy of 800 dollars coming to him if he went
there if he had any part of honesty about him. he
in returning would pay me for the use of and return
him to me he got him to go and see his wife he never
went there at all.” — Duncan Calhoun

Within the six letters that Duncan Calhoun authors in this collection, he never really commits wholeheartedly to tailoring. It is the job that generally appears to provide him with income, and it seems to be in demand. Still, he dreams of settling down to marry, though he will not engage in farming full time unless he does have a wife and family.

Evidently, Mobile could not hold Calhoun, for in February of 1840, Duncan McKenzie writes from Covington County, MS that Daniel Carmichael and Duncan Calhoun passed through on route to Texas, though they did not stop: “Daniel Carmmichael governor D-Sone of Ala, and Duncan Calhoun, Taylor, pasd the road within 5 or 6 miles of us they were on the rout for Texas.”

However, they did not get as far as Texas but settled in Sabine Parish, Louisiana. Duncan Calhoun’s next surviving letter to his cousin is in 1844 from Sabine Parish. He is tending a little store and doing a bit of tailoring while living near Daniel Carmichael, Daniel’s family of daughters. and one son. By 1845 Duncan lives with a man named John H. Jenkins, who has a “fine family” and evidently a cattle farm. In May of 1847, Duncan accompanies him on a cattle drive to Texas, where Jenkins hopes one day to migrate. Duncan appears to have been quite taken with one of Jenkins’s daughters named Susan. Duncan has also been trying his hand at farming, “Cousin I worked at the tailoring all through alabama 20 years since I came to Louisiana I have been a working in the ground.” Evidently farming, perhaps in co-partnership, with his friend John Jenkins, Calhoun later admits to filling in his income with some tailoring.

Description Sabine Parish, Louisiana

Other examples of Duncan Calhoun’s positive outlook can be found in the descriptions of the variety of places he inhabits and his clear preference for the bustling ports and the potential of waterways. After his description of Mobile in 1835, he writes in 1844 of the part of Louisiana “between the two rivers” in which he has been living:

“… short leaf pine and abundantce
of oaks heavy timbered makes it good for mast the
cane is braking fast tho,, the French & Spaniard
hand fine stocks of cattle yet they are in settlements the
old states people are moving in rapidly making fine
large plantations our navigation was far tho,, this time
a boat was persuaded to come up byo pear river it
is fifty miles in lengt comes out of red river below shriev
port empties in at Natchitoches it running next to us
made it far to market this landing place is about 10
miles from 5 or 10 gins and a thick neighborhood and
one at the landing new Belgium Duncan I do assure you
it is a nice place for a town a parcel of Duck occupys
the place at present owns it also if there were a liberal
harted persons there to encourage the improvement of
it the largest boat that runs red river has been up to
to it to Shreavs port it eats of a 150 miles round
red river tho,, all them elbows are convenient to
its sections of country also this cut off will be
convenient to this section of country & part of Texis also.” — Duncan Calhoun

In later letters, Duncan Calhoun alludes to the immigrant populations coming into this part of Louisiana mostly looking to grow cotton and own slaves. On the other hand, he points out that in pursuit of cotton many miss opportunities to grow other valuable crops such as fruits, particularly peaches. Although peaches are widely grown in Louisiana today, crops such as sugar cane and cotton that were labor intensive in the early 19th century remain dominant.

In 1845 Duncan Calhoun directs his cousin to write to nearby Natchitosis as they do not have a post office yet. They are hoping for a town to grow there “in 10 miles of red river and Byow pear river.” He says the rivers are being cleared of snags for steamboat traffic that will make merchandising more convenient. Their proximity to New Orleans is a plus as well. He opines that it is good land for hogs and cattle –  true today.

By 1846 he is able to describe the people and religion in the area in more detail. With the influx of migrants from the older states to Louisiana bringing families, the morality is improving. In his early letter to Duncan, he mentions the French and Spanish settlements that are quite old and the predominance of Catholicism. As more migrants arrive they bring religious diversity. A “heap of good preaching” may be found by the Methodists and Baptists. Though Duncan often professes his faith in a God that carries him forward, he never speaks of committing to a particular denomination.

The organizing and building of schools has grown with many children to attend them. Comparing his own Carolina education via Duncan McLaurin, Calhoun concludes that the schools are inefficient. In a letter about a year later, he compliments his cousin Duncan McLaurin when he claims that Louisiana needs a teacher like him, for they have trouble keeping them:

“we in this neigh
-borhood have a plenty of children for good schools but the people are hard to
please it is hard to teach here they will subscribed and never send them The law
to get your pay has to be resorted to with objections to teachers criticized on
to all intense and purpose I wish you were here a while to teach them to show what
good teaching was many old men and good teachers has been here but despera
-tion or something would render them unhappy so they would quit and leave
before it was finished many young men the same way git tired and quit so they
dont have schools so regular…” — Duncan Calhoun

The last direction sent to Duncan McLaurin from his cousin Duncan Calhoun is to send letters to Pleasant Hill post office in Desoto Parrish, two or three miles from them.

Marriage or Wanderlust

Marriage is a topic that Duncan Calhoun brings up in all of his surviving letters. In 1835 he comments to his bachelor cousin Duncan McLaurin about finding a wife, “…the young ladies of Mobile are not numerous like Carolina Cousin I think you could suit yourself amongst them I should think that a lady of virtue & value would be happy in your protection and direction which would be an ornament more precious than rubies in your arms.” Years later, when he is considering a relationship with Susan Jenkins, he approaches the subject of marriage again in a letter to his cousin:

“Duncan tell me your ideas on marrieing as I never learnt that
you married I would like to hear you were a man grown when
I was a boy my fortune runs long I am old and never suited with
a bosom friend yet never can git married among all the Daughters
that I consults on the connection in life a wife Cousin I will
give you my ideas own my knowledge of a bosom friend as
it is so tedious for me to accomplish the love I have for
women are beyond knowledge I love one at the present she is
an excellent woman young and tender I hope I will succeed
in matrimony with her I do love her as hard as to be connected
in paradise as well as this earth this is what I been endeavor
ing to confirm in our happinys …” — Duncan Calhoun

In 1846 the question of a wife is important enough to him that he says, “If I dont twine I will wander further.” He follows this statement with an allusion to his Uncle John who Duncan McLaurin has predicted would likely die in “origan california or some of the pacific islands.” About ending up in one of these far away places, he adds a caveat about trying to hide but being unable, for “all things are open to the eyes of the lord the peaceful mind is a home to the weary soul.” Apparently, he is aware of the sentiment of our modern day adage, “whereever you go, there you are.” For nearly a decade Duncan Calhoun must have held out hope for a more permanent relationship with Susan Jenkins. In 1847 he seems to have decided to stay in Louisiana:

“I am single I will tailor and live the best I can if a wife I will
make me a home and stay their while life lasts is the best way this way of moving moving
is hard to live for ever a fixing a new place then fixt go and live it fix another I will
stay here … I find a plenty of work to clothe me and pocket money
is all I want in this life if ever a family I will try and make provision for them …
my own life I know its fate is to deal justly love mercy and walk humbly
with my God if I can find a wife will do the same with me I will embrace her.”  — Duncan Calhoun

By 1849 we learn the unhappy news that Susan Jenkins may have married someone else. Indeed, as Duncan Calhoun writes to his cousin from the Isthmus of Panama on his journey to the California gold fields, he sites the end of his relationship with Su: “I bought me a pretty little place Nacatosh (Natchitoches) parrish near point republic 4 miles from Byow pear (Bayou Pierre) river where steamboats comes to hoping I would get my sweet Su that I wrote you about and she got married and my love was lost I knew not what to do …” Evidently, this is one of the events that sets him wandering again.

The Mexican War and Politics

During the time Duncan Calhoun spent in Louisiana, he was in a position to witness migrations from the eastern United States, the repercussions of the Panic of 1837, the annexation of Texas in 1845, and the resulting Mexican War. Though he resisted becoming involved in the political fray, he lived as we all do with its outcomes – in this case the “Manifest Destiny” policy of the United States. Duncan Calhoun was probably a peaceable person who shunned a contentious environment, which even today is likely one of the reasons some people are averse to taking part in the political arguments which so influence our lives.

The annexation of Texas and the Mexican War are allusions found in his letters. He says in 1846, “our garrison soldiers is left us and gone to Corpischrista on the ryo grand river makes us feel in the heart of the country now no frontier here.” Duncan Calhoun does not often wax political in his letters, but in 1847 he says that perhaps the United States has been too hasty in annexing territory because now it will have to be regulated. In these words he does not appear to have much love for the details or the contentiousness of politics:

“…you might say that we were greedy in grasping territory
there will be territory enough attached to us now to regulate with our Whigary and
Democracy always a contention upon nothing our government is Republikanism
to elect the most capibable person whither demicrats or Whig then our land
would be in peace to what it is so full of argument without cause will make
us an unhappy nation while time lasts general Scoot (General Winfield Scott)
is silent we hear nothing
from him at the present whether a making peace or a going to war more they have
got into the heart of Mexico with their armies the day will be decided on now.” — Duncan Calhoun

The arguments may have been “without cause” to Duncan, but the outcomes meant a great deal to some people, particularly those enduring slavery. And, of course, the newly acquired territories did take quite a bit of regulation and caused quite a bit of contention over slavery that would continue for decades. The war resulted in the Mexican Cession giving the United States what became the states of California, Nevada, and Utah as well as parts of today’s Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.

In July of 1847, Duncan Calhoun writes again about politics. he explains that he has little to do with the “Electionearing” going on in his area of Louisiana. Evidently, it does not seem to matter what the candidate stands for so much as Duncan’s own interpretation of the candidate’s character that makes him decide his vote.

“I vote for the most filling man as I think I care
not what his politicks are so he is a natural appearing smart man that
will do for the benefit of the people and country” — Duncan Calhoun

California Bound

Duncan would have to choose among three major routes to California. The overland route would involve the Oregon or Sante Fe trails; the longest water route went around the treacherous Cape Horn and up the coast of California; and the third route was by steamship to Chagres, up the river in a thatch covered boat or canoe, and overland to the coast of Panama, where another steamer would provide passage up the coast of California. Duncan chose the Chagres route, hoping to arrive at Sacramento probably by way of San Francisco. All three major routes were expensive, but the combined water and overland route was also the shortest. Each route involved dangers, even the short one could be quite rigorous. On the short route, the goal was to get the journey accomplished before one had time to succumb to insect borne illnesses such as malaria and yellow fever. Other illnesses such as heat stroke, cholera, and typhoid fever were common. Adding to these difficulties was the sheer number of human beings following these routes. Stories such as the one Duncan Calhoun alludes to in his letter from Panama probably kept these gold-seekers invested in their journeys despite the dangers, “one man 5 months agoe went threw this place scarcely able to pay his passage returned back to the states with eighty thousand dollars.” In the years following the first mad rush for gold, the Isthmus of Panama route became the most popular, especially with the quickly improving system of roads.

People, hearing rumors of the discovery of California gold, had begun making the journey to California from nearby foreign nations earlier than the quintessential American “forty-niners.” Most Americans did not hear of the discovery of vast amounts of gold at the site of a sawmill being built at Coloma on the American River until the news along with a tin of gold was conveyed to President Polk. William Tecumseh Sherman, stationed in California, penned the letter sent by Governor Mason along with the tin of gold. Lucian Loesser was charged with the delivery. It was the better part of a year on its way before the proof reached President Polk, and the discovery was announced widely in newspapers. The news appeared in New Orleans newspapers The Time-Picayune issue of 14 December 1848 and The New Orleans Crescent on January 31, 1849. Duncan Calhoun at home on his property in Natchitoches, probably read about the discovery in one of these newspapers. In March of 1849, ads began appearing in The New Orleans Crescent and other newspapers for steamships bound for California. One such ad appeared in the Crescent on March 15, 1849 on page 3. The steamship Col. Stanton was only 19 months old at the time, “sound, staunch and well-built.” Passengers would be able to carry 300 lbs. of baggage. Of course, all of this came at a cost that would have to be paid to secure a berth. Duncan says he left home on March 25 and traveled to New Orleans. There he likely walked to Jno. Goodin’s office at 31 Camp Street and climbed the stairs to book his passage.

ColStantonThanks
Duncan’s name appears on the May 21, 1849 “Thank you” from the surviving Col. Stanton passengers – published in The New Orleans Crescent 21 May 1849.

The name Duncan Calhoun appears on the passenger list for the Col. Stanton in the 4 April 1849 issue of The Daily Delta, another New Orleans newspaper. After leaving port on the 18th of April, the voyage has its difficulties as cholera breaks out onboard sickening and killing some passengers. The usual seasickness does not seem to bother Duncan much until, toward the end of their journey to Chagres, they encounter a storm. In the 21 May 1849 issue of The New Orleans Crescent, Duncan Calhoun’s name appears on a list of passengers sending a message to Captain J. J. Wright of the steamer Col. Stanton offering, “sincere and heartfelt thanks to you for the skill evinced by you in navigation, and your gentlemanly conduct towards us during the passage.” However, Duncan appears not to have had such a cheerful view of the voyage itself, though he must have been quite thankful to have survived it:

“we were not fortunate in shipping the Col Stanton got the colera
and died a good many of us the gentleman I was with died and left his widow and
children to mourn him ten or twelve died out of 80 or 100 was board the old
gentleman was
afflicted with the rheumatics pains before but the colera ended him some of her
children
were not well yet from the sea sickness Cousin I was blessed beyond knowledge I
was not stured
but twice the first night and last in heavy seas made the bile pore for a moment out” — Duncan Calhoun

It is of interest to note that the Col. Stanton sank in January of the next year according to The New Orleans Crescent of 24 January 1850. After continuing her runs between New Orleans and Chagres, she had evidently been damaged and was being towed downriver by the steam towboat Diana. Inexplicably, the Diana tried to cross in front of the steamship Ohio coming upriver. The Diana and Col. Stanton sank but the Ohio was undamaged. No lives were lost, nor was any of the Col. Stanton’s cargo. However, the court case found its way into the dockets of the U.S. Supreme Court decided upon 7 January 1867, which upheld the Circuit Court’s decision to reject depositions for lack of witnesses. In practice the down bound Diana had the right of way. She evidently had already begun backing with her tow before the Ohio struck her.

After surviving his steamship voyage to Chagres, the voyage up the river in a small boat or canoe, and a trek overland, Duncan Calhoun is writing his letter from Panama dated 12 May 1849. He has survived to this point. He describes the coastal towns of Chagres on the eastern side of the Isthmus and Panama on the western side, saying that they are both right on the ocean. He comments on the absence of insects, “no musketeers I do not see flies sucking the stock to death as few ticks.” Though his description is not very detailed and the condition of the letter leaves much unreadable, he sums up his journey thus far:

“Dear Cousine as I am at leasure I will give you the news of the time
with me curiosity has led me to go to California to dig gold as it is in abundance there
we
left Sabine parrish the 25 of march to New Orleans thence on ship to Chagres up the
river
to Gorgona then across to panama 24 miles by land threw the mountains and hills
which was a tedious
road to travel to panama on the pacific ocean passage is very high to Francisco 150 at
the
Present rates are falling 100 with some of them …” — Duncan Calhoun

Later in the letter Duncan says he will send a return address to Duncan McLaurin and other family members when he gets to San Francisco or to Sacramento. He mentions the length of his journey that seems short in comparison to the overland route but says he would prefer it if he ever returns to Louisiana. He is also aware at this point that he does not know exactly what he is getting into. He is not sure about how one goes about getting the gold or whether and how it must be exchanged to be useful tender:

“I hope that I can tell you where to write to me Francisco …
or up on the Sacromento river is where I am aiming for the …
I am told is the richest and plentiful lest place is found yet …
if I travel to Louisannia any more I will come across to …
down the river I think now is the best way …
we had a tolerable spedy time to panama 7 from home her to our jorney
will be from 11 or 12 weeks a long time I have not a word to recommend
now for I have not seen the breath of the matter yet …” — Duncan Calhoun

It is unknown whether Duncan saw the breadth of the matter or not. No letter survives in this collection to tell of his possible success, and my attempt to locate records of him in California has been unsuccessful. In 1849 California was a dangerous place due to the prevalence of vigilante justice and rampant illness, especially cholera. The cholera was exacerbated by hastily built living quarters along rivers. So eager were many of the early prospectors to find gold that time was not taken to build latrines. If I had to speculate on a likely death for Duncan, it would probably be cholera.

Duncan Calhoun’s Family

IMG_6539
This tombstone was placed in 1979 by Herbert Nall Carmichael and John Leslie Carmichael. Permission to place it was granted by the Kimberly Clark Corporation, evidently owners of the land at that time.

Charles Calhoun, Duncan’s father, died in 1835 leaving his wife Christian Carmichael Calhoun with her grown daughters and son John Calhoun. Daughters Barbara, Christian, and Isabel are with her in Alabama. According to Christian C. Calhoun’s will, she has other daughters Sarah Carmichael and Effy Calhoun not mentioned in the Alabama letters as well as a daughter named Mary, the the wife of Daniel McCormick, who lives a distance from them in Alabama. Her son Duncan had most likely been out of the household and on his own, though not in a position to care for his mother and sisters. Duncan is not mentioned in his mother’s will. In fact, Duncan specifically remarks in a letter that he did not want to be home with his mother and sisters.  In Alabama Christian and duaghters lived for a while with Christian’s brother John Carmichael in Tallapoosa County.

Christian, daughters, and probably son John, led by a man called Pledger along with a number of enslaved people, arrive at John Carmichael’s in Tallapoosa County, Alabama around May of 1841. Eventually, they find land near her brother and Daniel McCormick’s family. Soon daughters Barbara and Christian marry two rather untrustworthy brothers David W. and William D. Paul, respectively. Duncan’s mother writes eleven surviving letters from Tallapoosa County, Alabama to her nephew Duncan McLaurin in North Carolina dating from 1841 to 1843. Christian Calhoun left her power of attorney with her nephew. Christian’s will also lists a number of enslaved people: Nancy and her two sons Carlisle and Hiram.

IMG_6544
The original tombstone of Christian Calhoun Paul born 28 June 1816 – died 25 March 1844

In September of 1845 John Calhoun, Christian’s son and Duncan’s brother, writes to Duncan McLaurin a letter with tragic contents. In May of 1844 Christian Carmichael Calhoun succumbed to “a bad cough and spitting up.” In July the measles struck taking Christian Calhoun Paul, her newborn daughter, and sister Isabel. John also itemizes the disposition of enslaved people: Nancy, Carlisle, Hiram, Jane, and Miles. Before Christian died in 1844, Nancy’s child, Sarah, had died of an illness that the doctor did not understand.

“I & barbara nancy & Carlisle is all that is in family
it was at may court I wound up mothers estate I took
Carlile Barbara took nancy Christian took hiram Sally took Jane & Miles the place has to be sold to pay debts …”  — John Calhoun, son of Christian Calhoun and brother to Duncan

I walked under a wintry mix of weather about three miles in soupy red clay searching for the Carmichael Cemetery in Tallapoosa County either on or very near the property once owned by John Carmichael. Three of the original tombstones of these family members are in a somewhat overgrown stand of tall pines about thirty feet off a packed red clay road: Mary McEachen Carmichael died in 1836, Christian Calhoun Paul in 1844, and one indecipherable tombstone that is possibly Isabel’s. In 1979 several direct descendants of Mary McEachen Carmichael erected a large tombstone that inscribes the vital information of both Mary McEachen and Christian Carmichael Calhoun. It is very likely that enslaved people living with this family are buried here too, at least Nancy’s daughter, Sarah.

It took many months for information to reach Duncan Calhoun about the devastation in his family. Still, he kept up with the surviving members. Unfortunately, the letter trail mapping Duncan Calhoun’s life ends with his 1849 letter from the Isthmus of Panama. By 19th century mortality standards, as he well knew, Duncan was not a young man, but still was among those intrepid gold seekers, some losing their lives on the journey. Optimistically, Duncan made it to the gold fields, but the end of letters to his cousin suggests a tragic ending.

Relationship with Duncan McLaurin

It is interesting that Duncan Calhoun seems to consider the best places near waterways, where the hustle and bustle of the world can be witnessed. Cousin Duncan McLaurin writes favorable descriptions as well of these places of export and import such as Cheraw and Bennettsville, SC. With all of Duncan McLaurin’s civic commitment to his community and to caring for his family, evidence in the letters implies a deep intellectual interest in the wide world. Interestingly, he may have passed this same passion on to his cousin Duncan Calhoun, for Duncan Calhoun reveres his cousin’s philosophy and opinion, begging for words of wisdom in each of his letters:

May 1835 from Mobile, AL- “I recollect a letter you wrote me which was a
famous one sit down when you get this and write
me one to suit your mind as it will be a balm to my
soul …”

February 1844 from Natchitoches, LA –
“Direct your letter to Natchitoches one of your letter rests
in my bosom yet its deep sentiments I will conclude with
sending my love to all my Cousins and Uncle Hugh with
all enquiring friends tell me about Uncle Archibald
Calhoun family my love to you and John until death.”

July 1845 from Natchitoches, LA –
“… a letter from you but one when I lived at sparta which
I purused it diligently a many a time Duncan I would be glad to received
one from you at this period of our lives for our instructions you give me
deep sentiments on life existence which I have been traversing tediously since
in the deep search.”

March 1846 from Natchitoches, LA –
“Duncan write me about all my cousins as far as you know
I delight in hearing about them as long as I live and lets me and
you as long as we live write to one another where ever we be your
letters will be the balm of gilead to me for deep is its sentiments.”

July 1847 from Natchitoches, LA –
“Duncan it is no harm for us to feel one another sentiments on futurist as we are a hasting
ing to its … Your communicating your deepest ideas on our creator will well be
a great joy to me with instruction.”

May 1849 from the Isthmus of Panama –
“you are a faithful informer to me of many excellent points in life from my infancy
till this day I contemplate on your letters and see wisdoms form and study in them. I
always give you my sentiments and knowledge evan into eternity rest …”

Duncan McLaurin likely read his cousin’s letter from the Isthmus of Panama many times. In fact, of all the letters in the collection, it has just barely survived. The text is incomplete from the many holes around the creases and the flaking of the paper. The paper appears water damaged as well, containing blurred script and washed out pen strokes. I am thankful that someone went to great pains to repair and salvage it.

Sources

Alabama County Marriages, 1805-1967 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2016. Original data: Marriage Records. Alabama Marriages: Tallapoosa County. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City. UT.

Brands, H. W. The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream. Anchor Publishing: 2003.

Carmichael Family Cemetery. Tallapoosa County, AL. Submitted by Barbara Taylor. Accessed 05 December 2017. http://files.usgwarchives.net/al/tallapoosa/cemeteries/carmichael.txt

“Collision between the Ohio and Diana.” The New Orleans Crescent. New Orleans, LA. 24 January 1850. 2. newspapers.com. 30 November 2017.

“Col. Stanton Ad.” The New Orleans Crescent. New Orleans, LA. 15 March 1849.3. newspapers.com. 30 November 2017.

The New Orleans Crescent. New Orleans, LA. 15 March 1849. 3. newspapers.com. 30 November 2017.

Letters and legal documents are listed chronologically

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 C. Calhoun to Duncan McLaurin. 15 May 1835. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Copy of will of Christian Carmichael Calhoun. 13 November 1835. 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 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Copy of Christian Carmichael Calhoun and her son John’s Power of Attorney to Duncan McLaurin. 11 March 1841. Legal Papers. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan Calhoun to Duncan McLaurin. 15 February 1844. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan Calhoun to Duncan McLaurin. 13 July 1845. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John Calhoun to Duncan McLaurin. 15 September 1845. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscripts Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan C. calhoun to Duncan McLaurin. 28 March 1846. Box 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan Calhoun to Duncan McLaurin. 11 July 1847. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan Calhoun to Duncan McLaurin. 12 May 1849. Box 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

“Passenger List.” The Daily Delta. New Orleans, LA. 4 April 1849. 2. newspapers.com. 30 November 2017.

Ruiz, Bruce C. “The Isthmian Crossing: The Argonauts.” 14 August 2002. accessed 18 November 2017. http://www.bruceruiz.net/PanamaHistory/isthmus_crossing.htm

Tallapoosa County, AL Cemeteries. Carmichael Family Cemetery. USGW Archives. 25 November 2017. http://files.usgwarchives,net/al/tallapoosa/cemeteries/carmichael.txt

“Thanks to Capt. J. J. Wright.” The New Orleans Crescent. New Orleans, LA. 21 May 1849. 2. newspapers.com. 18 November 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duncan McKenzie’s Letter from Mississippi to his Brother-in-law Charles Patterson in Richmond County, North Carolina

Duncan McKenzie’s Letter to Charles Patterson

7 April 1833

Duncan begins this letter to his brother-in-law, Charles Patterson (married to Barbara’s sister Isabella), by referencing those to whom he has written earlier upon his arrival in Mississippi. He suggests Charles look to a sharing of those letters to discover details of his trip, since he will not be repeating his description in this letter. Among those Duncan McKenzie says he has written in Richmond County are Duncan McLaurin, Dr. Malloy, and Archibald McPherson. Duncan appears to be opening correspondence with as many family and friends as he can. The act of writing was as important to Duncan McKenzie as keeping in touch with family and friends. During the next decade when his eyesight begins to fail, he develops the habit of writing his letters during the afternoons so that the light will be more advantageous. Finding time to write was probably a challenge for the small farmer – every healthy adult on the place being essential to crop production.

This first spring in Covington County, Mississippi has been notable for flooding, and Duncan seems to buoy his own spirit by recounting the land’s reputation for producing corn and cotton. His description, if one reads between the lines, may reveal that the flooding has planted a seed of doubt in his mind about the productiveness of his land. He also alludes, as others have, to the great variety of land in this part of Mississippi.

“… a delluge of watter flowing down

these valleys which I anticipated would be the case in

very rainy Seasons I saw watter from two to three

feet deep flowing over the field and the third day after

the plow going in the Sauce ground Such is the

Situation of the country and the rain falls in torrents

yet it is said the land will produce corn from 20 to 50

Bushels per the acre and cotton from 700 to 1500 lb per acre

I have traveled in several directions tho not far in any there

is a great variety of Soil in this part of the world

Some as poor as  you ever saw & some as rich and probly

the richest you have Seen the rich land is in Small

Boddys consequently a poor man may have a good bit…”

These same “freshets” as they are called also slowed the mail. Though the return address on this letter is Taylorsville in bordering Smith County, MS, McKenzie admonishes Charles to write him via Mt. Carmel in Covington County.

Duncan McKenzie continues his theme of crops and land production throughout his correspondence to North Carolina. Also, on more than one occasion, he discusses his satisfaction with the land. Neighbors he notes who have done very well in this area of Mississippi include Allan Stewart and Alexander McNair. Evidently, Charles Patterson’s brother Alexander is farming in Mississippi and would do well if it weren’t for the availability of drink. McKenzie attributes the alcohol problem among farmers to the, “distance to market and Store and bar keepers take advantage.” He remarks that it is much easier to make money in Mississippi than North Carolina, but it is much easier to spend it in Mississippi. However, if a person is dissatisfied where he is, migrating to Mississippi might be the answer, but if one is doing well where he is, he would not encourage them to come.

“…as in all Rich land countries so thick Settled with wealthy ones

that a poor man could have but a bad chance

I will not advise anyone that considers himself

well Settled there to move to this or any other place

that I have Seen but if a man is dissatisfied let him

come on if he conducts well he will do.”

The markets for crops that Duncan mentions are Natchez (120 miles), Mobile (140 miles), and Covington on Lake Pontchartrain at about 100 miles. Taking crops to market via the Pearl River, especially during the freshets, can be dangerous. He concludes that he has not completely made up his mind on settling permanently:

“…the naviga

-tion of Pearl River is dangerous and uncertain

a boat laden with cotton was lost on that River

a week or two back owing to the fresh the hands

saved themselves  — If I am spared in the course

of the fall I will try to go up on the head

waters of the Bigbee River and Big Black River

Hugh C Stewart wishes his father (Allan Stewart) Archibald

Anderson and mySelf to go at least to See

that part of the country before we settle per-

minantly…”

The Pearl River by 1830 had been regularly cleared for navigation from Columbia, MS to the mouth. Before steamboats began to ply the rivers, the main modes of navigation were canoes, rafts, barges, keelboats, and flatboats. Rafts frequently were carrying timber by 1815. Soon, with the influx of migrants in search of fertile land, flatboats on the Pearl River would carry cotton to be ginned and marketed. The rush for land between 1830 and 1837 increased commerce in the river. This continued after the Panic of 1837 until the Civil War. Of course, unusual flooding would increase the danger on the river, but for commerce as far north as Jackson this river was usually navigable all year.

Duncan’s concern about the freshets indicates a bit of caution in his personality that is expressed repeatedly in subsequent letters. He references the need for very expensive labor but in the end decides to cut back on the crops. About the crops he has planted he says, “I have planted 36 acres under corn we have 12 for cotton I wrote to Duncan that I would plant 20 acres under cotton but on Reflection I thot less would do for if we even could work it we could not gather it…”

The last item of interest in the letter is mention of family matters. He predicts the pending birth of his youngest son John, “I expect in my next to inform you of an increase in our family if favors,, by an omnipotent hand the time is approaching…” Duncan’s letters are often full of newsy gossip about family and friends, though his major themes include crops and land, prices and economy, politics, temperance, flavored with a bit of religious philosophy.

Charles Patterson (1792-1848)

IsabellaMcLaurinHdstn
Isabella McLaurin Patterson’s tombstone

 

The person to whom Duncan McKenzie wrote this letter, married Isabella McLaurin, Barbara McKenzie’s sister. Isabella was Patterson’s second wife. His first marriage produced two children, Gilbert and Carolyn. His marriage to Isabella produced three sons: Malloy Patterson (1832-1902), Charles Calhoun Patterson (1835-1910), and James Postell Patterson (1839 – ?). A Patterson Family History describes Charles as living in, “Richmond County, NC, where he was a man of considerable wealth and prominence.” Several references to him in the Fayetteville Observer suggest that he may have been politically active as well. Charles died on April 26, 1848. His wife Isabella had begun a mental decline in 1847 and by 1860 had been certified mentally ill.

Probably after the death of Charles, Duncan McLaurin, Isabella’s brother, offers to take Isabella her three sons into his home. At this time Duncan shares Ballachulish with his two remaining spinster sisters, Effy and Mary. Isabella’s mental condition deteriorated until finally she spent some time in an asylum. In Duncan’s copy of Isabella’s insanity proceeding, question four asks, “What is the Supposed cause of her insanity?” Duncan answers: “Ill treatment of her husbands and his general drunken profane conduct.” A reference in Duncan McKenzie’s 1838 letter to John McLaurin supports the fact of Charles Patterson’s ill treatment of Isabella: “… Charles Patterson is not content with his sprees when abroad but must be needs keep the critter by him at home if Such be the fact I certainly do not envy his family their happiness.” Evidence exists that disrespect and blame directed at their father’s memory may have been the source of discord between Duncan and his nephews in early adulthood and late adolescence. Though apparently Malloy did his very best to defy his Uncle, Duncan continued to give them shelter and legal guardianship until they achieved adulthood. He made sure Malloy was educated at Chapel Hill, but the outbreak of the Civil War likely precluded the younger nephews from their educations. Malloy never married. Calhoun, though married, may not have had any surviving children. Postell married and had a number of children. Just before Duncan’s death in 1872, he faced several law suits brought against him by one Patterson nephew and one McKenzie nephew, both in North Carolina. Neither of them succeeded nor is it clear from the letters alone what they were about, though property or the value of it might have been involved.

Isabella’s illness began around 1847 and lasted until her death in 1864. The family tried mightily to take care of Isabella themselves and not completely out of necessity. Barbara’s opinion was that the family should try to keep Isabella at home rather than send her to an asylum. She felt Isabella would be better off. However, when Duncan could not keep Isabella from leaving the house and placing herself in difficult if not dangerous situations, he evidently decided to find a place for her at the newly opened North Carolina Insane Asylum under the care of Dr. Fisher. Through 1858 and 1859 her mental health condition did not improve, though she remained relatively physically healthy and expressed a desire to return home. Isabella’s son Malloy, of legal age but not in any practical way settled enough to keep his mother, threatened to sue Duncan for his mother’s guardianship. Dr. Fisher was of the opinion that if Isabella could find attentive home care, she would be just as well or perhaps better off. 

 The North Carolina Insane Asylum opened in 1856 at Raleigh. Funds for this facility were legislated in 1848 after the social reformer Dorothea Dix  gave a moving speech to the North Carolina state legislature. It is interesting to note that in this speech Dix suggests that the poor have a right to public funds for care comparable to the mental health care wealthier families can afford, and it is in the public interest to provide that care. During the first half of the 19th century, North Carolinians had few options for the care of the mentally ill beyond home care and the jails. Some sent relatives to out-of-state facilities. 

According to an 1860 mental health questionnaire, Duncan answers that there was no family history of the illness. He also replied negatively when asked if Isabella had ever had epilepsy. One positive note in Dr. John Malloy’s certification process in the Isabel Patterson Case is this quotation, likely supplied by her brother Duncan, “Her recollection of things passing since her derangement and before then from her infancy up is astonishingly good. Her juvenile songs, jokes even to very minutias are as fresh in her memory as when passing.” By 1860 whether Isabella was cared for in the home of Duncan, another relative, or continued to be institutionalized is unclear. 

In 1833 Duncan McKenzie includes Charles Patterson in the list of people with whom he hopes to correspond in North Carolina. Evidence does not exist that all of these people wrote him back, but he names the ones he hoped would write back. In addition to blaming Patterson for his sister’s illness, Duncan McLaurin also claims that Charles Patterson, without any legal authority, officiated his brother John’s marriage to Effie Stalker. Indeed, Charles Patterson did marry the couple. According to the Fayetteville Weekly Observer of 2 February 1842, “In Richmond County on Thursday evening last by Charles Patterson, Esqr, Mr. John McLaurin of Ballacholish, to Miss Effy Stalker, daughter of Duncan Stalker, all of that county.” Whether Patterson really had legal authority to perform the marriage or if this was only a barb intended to inflict pain upon Effie is unknown. Duncan McLaurin became very bitter in his old age towards family members in whom he perceived a wish to exploit the family or the family property, and he felt Effie Stalker McLaurin as well as her brother John Stalker guilty of this.

Sources:

Anthony, Robert G. Jr. and Homrighaus, Ruth E. from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. 2006. Additional research provided by J. Field Montgomery Jr. accessed 11 November 2017. https://www.ncpedia.org/psychiatric-hospitals

Duncan McLaurin’s copy of the proceeding of insanity for Isabella Patterson. About 1860. Legal Papers. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Dorothea Lynde Dix, Memorial Soliciting a State Hospital for the Protection and Cure of the Insane, Submitted to the General Assembly of North Carolina, November, 1848, pp. 8–9, 14–15, 16–17, 26–28, 39–41. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newnation/4748

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Charles Patterson. 7 April 1833. Boxes 1 & 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 Manuscripts Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McLaurin to Effie Stalker McLaurin. 4 October 1872. Box 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscripts Library. Duke University.

“Married.” Fayetteville Weekly Observer. 2 February 1842. newspapers.com

Pearl River Navigation Project [LA,MS,] Environmental Impact Statement. Appendix C Cultural Resources Evaluation. October 1992. Accessed on Google Books 12 November 2017.

  

Kenneth McKenzie and his November 1833 letter to his son John

Kenneth McKenzie in North Carolina

Several documents place my third great grandfather, Kenneth McKenzie, in North Carolina in 1807. The first is from the North Carolina Land Grant Files, which shows a Kenneth McKenzie having purchased 100 acres of land in Richmond County in 1807 “beginning at a Black Jack on E. side of Gum Swamp.” This would have been very near the home that Hugh McLaurin was building for his family at Gum Swamp, “Ballachulish.” The second document shows that in 1811, a Kenneth McKenzie purchases property on the northeast side of PeeDee River and on the southeast side of the main fork of Cartledge’s Creek.” The deed is purchased from Joseph and Elizabeth McDowell and witnessed by James Thomas and Peter Covington. This is possibly the very land that Kenneth’s son Duncan McKenzie was farming when he married Barbara McLaurin.

Another Richmond County, NC document that may have involved my third great grandfather Kenneth is the indenture of a child, Allan Johnston (Johnson), seven-years-old. This Bond of Apprenticeship, made on 24 September 1813, was located and shared by a descendant, Harold Johnson. This is the same Allan Johnson, who the Duncan McKenzie family so happily came upon at Ft. Claiborne as they neared Covington County on their migration route.

In 1827 Kenneth’s Uncle Donald Stewart in Guilford County wrote a responding letter to him in care of Duncan McLaurin. Stewart has learned from Kenneth’s earlier letter of Mary McLaurin McKenzie’s death and sends his condolences. He also invites Kenneth to visit for a little philosophical discussion, but warns him against his tendency to become overly passionate. If I were to guess the reason for Kenneth’s elusiveness, in real life and in genealogy research, it would be this temperamental and perhaps unsettled element of his personality. The full quotation is revealing:

“You should have with us

much philosophy as possible, the cross acci=

=dents of life, and not suffer yourself to

be led into any practices in consequence of

them: you know, that your irritability of

disposition is very great and consequently

that much reflection; if attention is required to

transcend it; otherwise you might be head=

=ed to a fatal situation; you have al=

=ready experienced the effect of sudden gusts of

passion, let it be an awful warning to you

in future.” — Donald Stewart

Kenneth writes from Brunswick County

SPSmithvilleChronology4 copy
These maps appear in Volume 1 of Bill Reaves’s Southport (Smithville) A Chronology as cited below.

By 1832, just before Duncan left for Mississippi, his father Kenneth also left his will and power of attorney with Duncan McLaurin and heads eastward, soon to be living on property at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County, NC. What drove him to leave Richmond County, if it was a specific event, remains unknown. According to his one surviving letter in this collection, written to his son John in 1833, Kenneth is living with his second wife and newborn son, “five miles from New Inlet lighthouse & six above Smithville a little courthouse town & a Ship Harbor.” Today the remains of the town of Smithville are part of Southport, NC. Kenneth’s property is not too far from Ft. Fisher of Civil War fame. Years earlier and by 1833 an inlet had been created by a storm. Congress agreed by 1829 to build a number of lighthouses “to illuminate the 25 mile stretch of the Cape Fear River between Oak Island and Wilmington.” Evidently, the lighthouse mentioned in Kenneth’s letter was the Federal Point lighthouse, built by 1816. It stood for about two decades before it burned in 1836. It was repaired and then replaced near but not on the exact spot. (See the Ft. Fisher lighthouse excavation article cited below.) The one standing in its place during the Civil War was taken down in 1863 so as to avoid attracting Union forces, though blockade runners needed the lights. Likely the shortage of oil for the lights decided the issue. The base of the first two at this location have been excavated, but it is thought the base of a third might be buried under the present day aquarium near the Ft. Fisher historic site.

SPBirdsTrees5-15-17
A flock of white ibis fly over Southport on a spring afternoon. It is easy to imagine the multitude and variety of birds that must have spent at least part of their lives around the mouth of the Cape Fear River, which sports an aviary today.

Another historic site of interest is the old Smithville Cemetery in the town of Southport. This historic cemetery contains some very interesting tombstones and monuments to sailors lost at sea. However, no evidence exists that Kenneth McKenzie might have been buried here. In an 1834 letter to his brother-in-law John McLaurin, Duncan worries about his father, “I have not had a letter from my father since last October I answered his last if he received it I am supprised he does not write if you know where he is or where I will write to him let me know in your answer Duncan stated he was in Wilmington but expected to leave there and take up his old trade of practice.” Kenneth’s “old trade of practice” might have been itinerate ministry, practicing physician, or less likely teaching, which he has admittedly been doing in Brunswick County. Beyond Kenneth’s 1833 letter, we only know that his second wife, referred to as “Stepmother” in the letters, by 1837 is expressing her desire to come to Covington County, MS with her adult daughters from a previous marriage and her McKenzie son, Kenneth Pridgen. Apparently, some time between the 1833 letter and 1837, Kenneth may have died or for some reason may have left his family. A slight possibility exists that he may have found it necessary to return Scotland. After lauding Scottish immigrants as the best neighbors in the letter he appears gripped by emotion at the death of two of his friends to whom he refers by their Gaelic names suggesting a nostalgia for his homeland:

“I am sorry for the Death of 2 of my best friends

& the friends of mankind Oh my dear old

friend Major Duncan Donachaidh Machd

-Dhonuil oh what a kind Heart …

I am sorry also for the Death of

friend C Cahoun he was a Real friend of mine

from his childhood”

This letter also suggests that Kenneth is attempting to farm the property near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. He disparages the land there for it refuses to yield. He appears to have tried to grow corn, pease, potatoes, and perhaps rice. The rice, he claims, is not much in demand. He also tries fishing with little success, “I laid out $25 in fishing lines last spring & Did not catch a Barrel of fish,” – interesting, since the area as a whole depends a great deal upon tourism and fishing for sport today. The cost of living near Smithville was higher because the main port was Wilmington. His predominant income seems to have come from teaching nearby, “31 miles from home up to the Upper end of this county.”

The son John McKenzie (1794-1834), to whom Kenneth’s 1833 letter is addressed, apparently lived with his wife Betsy (Elizabeth Webb) and five children near Duncan McLaurin in Richmond County. It is evident in the correspondence that John McKenzie dies in 1834. Duncan McKenzie mentions in a letter not long after that he would be willing to help Betsy and her family relocate to Mississippi, but this evidently never happened. Betsy dies in North Carolina in 1872. Some descendants of John and Betsy still reside in North Carolina. Betsy’s tombstone still stands at Stewartsville Cemetery, but John’s is gone. He does not appear on the burial list but was likely buried there near his mother and wife. Some of his children have tombstones still standing in this cemetery.

ElizabethMcKenzied1872at76
Betsy McKenzie’s tombstone in Old Stewartsville Cemetery near Laurinburg, NC reads, Elizabeth McKenzie; Died May 19, 1872 in the 7th year of her age. I know my Redeemer liveth –

Kenneth’s messages to his to his son John

The main messages Kenneth wishes to convey to John in this letter are threefold. The first one is to tell John how happy he is that a conflict with a man named Grimes has ended and that a question concerning his “little Legacy from Mrs. Smiths Esate” had ended. The second concern seems most important, and that is the fact that John had put his land in Richmond County up for sale. Kenneth admonishes John not to sell, while disparaging his own newly acquired property in Brunswick County:

“I am thanks be

to the great giver of all good; well

pleased at Everything about your situation

Health mind & circumstances only one thing

Excepted; & that is your advertising you

Land for Sale I hope you will not sell

to any person as your land is valuable

and I should Say fully worth the Rise of

$500 let me make a Calculation 236 Acres

at $2-25 per acre which will amount to

five hundred & thirty-one Dollars & if  you will wait

Twelve months Ill give you at that rate

myself if nobody Else Does Your land John

is – 40 – percent better than this land I now live on”

On the contrary, John’s brother Duncan seems to be encouraging him to migrate to Mississippi, for in April of 1833, Duncan writes to his brother-in-law Charles Patterson and says that he has his eyes open for a “convenient place for him (John) near my own tell him to remember what I told him If life lasts I will be as good as my promise.” Unfortunately, for John life did not last, though Duncan offers to help Betsy and the children if they wish to come. Kenneth, however, does not approve of Duncan’s move to Mississippi and in his last words to his son encourages the opposite:

“I also Recd one (a letter) from your Brother

Duncan full of Satisfaction to my poor heart

Now my dear children John and Betsy consider yourselves at

Home Dont give up your Home for a Song

as your Brother Did Your land acre for acre

is actually better than your Brothers Therefore

I insist on you to hold to it”

The third concern of the letter is really a bit of news. Kenneth explains that in his old age he has fathered a half brother to Duncan and John. He brags upon the health of this baby, a gift in his old age.

“John and Betsy you have a little Brother born on the

7th October named Kenneth P for Pridgen I am

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

as large as your Mary when born write on the Rect of this”

Kenneth’s religious faith

Kenneth’s religious faith is pervasively evident in this letter and is especially obvious as he consoles John almost prayerfully that justice in his conflict with Grimes has been served. The last few lines of this quotation seem particularly appropriate since father and son will never exchange earthly words again:

“He that died on Calvarys awful mount here

the groans & Sighs of them that put their trust in

him to wit. them that through his grace has come

to him with their Sins being crushed Down under

that tremendous load which neither men nor

Angels could Remove but he alone that trod the wine

press & bore their transgressions & Rose again for their

Justification & sits Enthroned to bear their prayers unto his

Father this my Dear Children is the consolation that is

worth living & Dying for therefore let us meet always

at his throne of mercy Especially in sweet morning

or Evening shades and all Day & night until his witness will

bear witness with our Spirits that we are born of God Amen”

One can imagine from Kenneth’s words that he had the potential to become very emotional about his faith. Perhaps we can find here the seeds of his son Duncan’s difficulty in aligning himself, at least in later life, with a particular established church. Clearly Duncan shows by his words that he was a man of faith, but it was left to his sons in Mississippi to join specific churches. Influenced likely by their marriages, Daniel joins the Presbyterian Church; Duncan and John become Baptists – all after moving to Smith County.

Kenneth McKenzie and Relations in Scotland

Kenneth McKenzie was born around 1768 in Scotland, probably in the area of Argyll, since some family are referenced in the Duncan McLaurin Papers as residing in that place. The following is a list of letter references to Kenneth McKenzie’s family, who are from this area of Scotland:

  • Donald Stewart’s 1822 Will: “And that the money arising from the sale of the aforesaid Slaves with their increase be remitted to my relations in Scotland in the following portion Vis. To the children of my sister Catherine McKenzie one fifth part of my estate to be equally divided among them to them and their heirs forever.” Donald Stewart is from Argyllshire.
  • Donald Stewart’s April 1827 letter to Kenneth McKenzie mentions a nephew in the Highlands, Rev. John McMillan, a clergyman of the Church of England: “I have a letter by him (Duncan Stalker) from the Highland; but must defer answering them until I write to your nephew Mr. McMillan; so as to make one reply do for all”
  • An April 1840 letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin references his Uncle Donald McKenzie: “I received a letter from my uncle Donald McKenzie of South Ballochelish Glencoe North Britain he wrote in Sept 1839 it is in the same hand write that you love, he filled a very large sheet of strong paper with fine and close writing, it contains much news and with all he says if I will write to him an encouraging letter he and his sons and son in law Hugh McKenzie who is grandson of my grand uncle Alexander McKenzie … My uncle and sons are in the Slate quarry where he left home they say they have a sufficiency to bring them and but very little more”
  • The April letter is followed by a July 1840 letter in which Duncan McKenzie requests Duncan McLaurin to write to his Uncle Donald McKenzie: “I wish you on the receipt of this to write to my uncle in Scotland giving him your views plainly — address him south Bulachellish Glencoe and c”
  • Duncan McKenzie mentions his uncle again in March of 1841: “Daniel (Donald) McKenzie of Appin Glen coe wrote a letter on the 12th Nov. last which I received some time in January last in which he states that he will try to emigrate to this country next fall together with his three sons and seven daughters and familys one of his sons is married also four of his daughters, they propose landing in New Orleans … The old man complains of the hardness of the times in Scotland I really expect that it is necessity drives him from the home of his childhood, and the land of his fathers”
  • In January of 1842, Duncan McKenzie makes another reference to his father’s family in Scotland: “I now Say to you that my letters (to Donald McKenzie) fell into the hands of a cousin of mine who says he is the oldest Sone of my youngest Uncle Allan McKenzie, you are also aware that my Uncle Allan left his native country Some years Since and emigrated to Australia or Australasia an Island adjacent to the continent of new holland, his Sone left him in Scotland the Sone being in his fifteenth year and went to Paris where he attended in the hospital for six years. he then traveled with a young french nobleman over France, Ittaly, and most of Spain where he entered the army as surgeon but soon lost his health where upon he retraced his steps and last summer reached the land of his birth, in traveling through Scotland visiting his scattered relatives he came on my letters in the hands of Cousin John McMillan … he then lost no time in writing to me Stating that So Soon as he obtained a medical diploma from the faculty in Glasgow which he would have conferred on him this winter he would Come to North America … he also States that a brother of his is in Missouri”
  • Again in 1843 Duncan McKenzie references this cousin in Missouri: “I recently received a letter from my Missouri Cousin… he is doing business for Messrs John Perry and Co. Rush Tower, Missouri”

These excerpts from the letters in the Duncan McLaurin collection are evidence that Kenneth likely was born and emigrated from Argyll, Scotland. Another source that places Kenneth McKenzie in Argyll is from Marguerite Whitfield’s 1978 McCall and McLaurin family history cited below. She states that Hugh McLaurin, Duncan and Barbara McLaurin’s father, had a sister named Mary, who married Kenneth McKenzie. However, she had no knowledge that this couple ever left Scotland. Whitfield’s genealogy deals more extensively with the McCall family and does not acknowledge the Duncan McLaurin Papers if she knew of their existence at all. My third great grandmother, this same Mary McLaurin McKenzie, wife of Kenneth and mother of Duncan and John, died around 1825 and is buried in Stewartsville Cemetery near Laurinburg, NC.

MarywifeofKennethd1825at68
Mary McLaurin McKenzie’s tombstone in Stewartsville Cemetery reads, Mary Wife of Kenneth MacKenzie and Daughter of Duncan MacLaurin & Catharine his wife. Died Sept. 21. 1825. Aged 68 years. “Blessed are the dead that died for the Lord.”

SOURCES:

(If the link is not hot in this list, copy and paste it into your browser.)

Arnold, Lisa. “Price’s Creek Lighthouse.” 2007. http://www.southporttimes.com/featured/2007091001.html accessed 22 October 2017.

Cox, Dale. “Old Smithville Burying Grounds.” 2011. http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/smithville.html accessed 22 October 2017.

The Will of Donald Stewart of Guilford County, NC. 27 February 1822. Boxes 3,4,5. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript. Duke University.

D. C. Stewart to Kenneth McKenzie. 15 April 1827. Boxes one and two. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Hotz, Amy. “Ft. Fisher dig uncovers pre-Civil War lighthouse.” Star News. 20 Nov 2009 http://www.starnewsonline.com/news/20091120/fort-fisher-dig-uncovers-pre-civil-war-lighthouse

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Charles Patterson. 7 April 1833. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

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

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

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

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

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

North Carolina, Land Grant Files, 1693-1960 for Kennith McKenzie. Richmond, North Carolina. Certificate Range 1652-1766. Issued 10 Dec 1814. Ancestry.com

“Oak Island Lighthouse.” http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=352 accessed 22 October 2017.

Reaves, Bill. Southport (Smithville) A Chronology Vol I (1520-1887). Broadfoot Publishing Company: Wilmington, NC 1978. early maps. accessed Brunswick County Library 2017.

Roberts, Cheryl Shelton and Roberts, Bruce. “NC Lighthouses 1861-1865.” Lighthouse News. Summer 2011.  http://files7.webydo.com/91/9170945/UploadedFiles/1ED0DB6F-E220-5FB3-40D1-C9B48EE74C22.pdf

Whitfield, Marguerite. Families of Ballachulish: McCalls, McLaurins And Related Families in Scotland County, North Carolina. The Pilot Press: Southern Pines, NC. 1978.

Words Between Sisters

BMcKLetExcerpt
Excerpt from Barbara’s 1817 letter to her sister Effy. 16 June 1817. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

On June 16, 1817 Barbara McLaurin McKenzie wrote a letter to her favorite sister Effy because she was homesick for her family and “uneasy” about the health of her aging mother. Barbara was married to Duncan McKenzie, who farmed on the Peedee River within about sixty miles of Gum Swamp. Likely this was more than a couple of day’s travel in a wagon – less by horseback – yet still far enough away to impose an obstacle for very frequent visits. Barbara’s anxiety is palpable in these lines,

“Duncan came last night I was verry glad for we did not here a word Since uncle was down there I was very uneasy about Mother that she would be Sick this Summer I hope she will get well now my patience was a most out till Duncan came I kept dreaming every Knight of father and Mother and the all of you.”

The Duncan she refers to is probably her brother Duncan McLaurin. Barbara goes on to say in the letter that they are late with the crop and will not go down “till the Sacriment will be at the Hill” when she will stay a week. With the hopeful prospect of one or more of her sisters returning to PeeDee River with  her to visit a while, she remarks on the “Jelious pout” her sister Effy displayed when Barbara did not write her: “you Said I forgot you but not as long as I live & we did look for father and one of you every Saturday but you did not come.” This last was to be prophetic for Barbara, especially after she migrated with her husband and children to Mississippi. Sisters and brothers still did not come, and her life would become so busy and probably sometimes so grueling that she would want to write but either never did or her letters may not have survived in this collection.

A physical complaint Barbara expressed in this letter would also appear in letters written by her husband and children many years later from Mississippi. She had developed a pain in her hip which she blamed on a rough wagon trip, “I had a mity sore pain in my hip for … too weeks I did go one night to preaching we rid very fast I was thinking it was that rased the pain.” This pain would follow her the rest of her life, a challenging one for most yeoman farmer women. For example, the family had no chimney in their new home in Mississippi and would have to bake their own bricks, which was not necessarily a priority – the crops were. Though it helped that they moved onto already cleared land, no chimney likely meant cooking outdoors and moving heavy pots. According to later letters, the family had brought at least one enslaved woman with them from North Carolina, and possibly this was so that she could help Barbara when she was not needed to help in the fields.

Nevertheless, Barbara McLaurin, my second great grandmother, must have had a fine 19th century childhood. Probably born about five years before the turn of the 18th to 19th century, she likely spent a great deal of her time helping out on the family farm and enjoying the home that her father built when he purchased land near Gum Swamp at Laurel Hill, North Carolina. Born into the Hugh McLaurin and Catharine Calhoun McLaurin family, Barbara grew up enjoying a household filled with people and female companionship. Her many sisters by far outnumbered the two brothers, Duncan and John. By 1817 she and three of her older sisters were married: Jennett McLaurin (John) McCall, Sarah McLaurin (Duncan) Douglass, and Isabella McLaurin (Charles) Patterson. Three of her sisters would remain spinsters: Catharine, Mary, and Effy. Although Duncan never married, her brother John married Effie Stalker McLaurin.

Hugh McLaurin would likely not have concerned himself so much with educating daughters as with sons. Duncan, though only about four when he crossed the Atlantic, was by far the most literate of the children. His brother John was a farmer and less the man of letters – an infant when the family left Ballachulish in Argyll province for Wilmington, NC in 1790. Hugh may have worked in the slate quarry at Ballachulish, Scotland, for he came to America with finances enough to get him and his family across the ocean and to purchase property upon his arrival in the new land. The same need for readily available fertile land, affordably taxed, on which to establish a family farm must have been one motivating force that drove the Hugh McLaurin family from Scotland following family and friends that had gone before. They came to a new continent from Scotland in much the same way the Duncan McKenzie family was inspired to leave North Carolina for Mississippi.

Hugh named his new home and farm Ballachulish, after his hometown in Argyll, Scotland. In fact many Argyll families settled in North Carolina – McCalls, Stewarts, Calhouns and others – most of them becoming land and slaveholders. Many of them are buried in the old Stewartsville cemetery near Laurel Hill that survives today. Hugh’s home would pass from generation to generation, beginning with nephew Hugh McCall, to whom Duncan left all of his personal property upon his death in December of 1872. According to the record of Marguerite Whitfield, a McCall descendant, the property was still in the hands of the McCall family in 1977. A later descendant of the McCalls has photographs and remembers the house still standing in 1982.

From Ballachulish to Mississippi, Barbara’s words speak to a strong family relationship that spans the distance of frontier roads and dreams of a better life.

Sources:

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

Letter from Barbara McKenzie to Effy McLaurin. 16 June 1817. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Whitfield, Marguerite. Families of Ballachulish: McCalls, McLaurins And Related Families in Scotland County, North Carolina. The Pilot Press: Southern Pines, NC. 1978. (This text contains much valuable information, especially about the McCalls and about Scotland roots. However, the information on Barbara McLaurin McKenzie can be corrected with information from the Duncan McLaurin Papers and many other records. Also, two Effys are confused – Effy McLaurin, Barbara’s sister, and Effie Stalker McLaurin, John’s wife. Barbara’s sister Effy died in 1861, and listed Barbara’s children and grandchildren in her will. Effie Stalker McLaurin died in 1881 preceded in death by her husband and all of her children. Effie, John’s wife, is most likely the Effie that lived in her old age with the Hugh McCalls. Duncan McLaurin died in December of 1872, and his will was briefly probated within weeks of his death.)