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

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

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

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

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

Not much news of interest since the election

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

but night was made hideous by the howls

of the Politicians rejoicing in their election

and disappointed ones mourning over their unsuccess. — Owen McLaurin

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

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

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

Owen’s Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“as the Yankees

are afraid that their, ‘on to Charleston and

Savannah’ may turn out as their on to

Richmond did. I believe Sherman and Dupont

are not desirous of relinquishing the laurels they

won in the Port Royal affair which they will

without a doubt loose if they try a land route

to either place. — Owen McLaurin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next option Owen mentions may involve a substitute:

Fathers present plan to get one under

18 is the best and if he does not succeed

in getting the one he now has his eye on

I have another plan in view not for getting

out of service but to get some government office

by being detached from the Regiment. — Owen McLaurin

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

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

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

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

Confederate Conscription

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

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

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

and the CSS Fredericksburg

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

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

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

the war was brought on by designing men

to gratify their ambition and they do not

seem willing to continue in the army &

fight, when the good of our country is not

the main object in view it appears

that the fires of Patriotism are burning low — Owen McLaurin

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

The Yanks are reported to be dredging the

channel at Drewry’s Bluff which is just

opposite to us at St. Helena at any rate

the authorities will have obstructions

placed there in a short time.

We are doing well on St. Helene now

as we have a stove and the weather

is pleasant. — Owen McLaurin

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

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

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

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

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

Aboard the ironclad C.S.S. Fredericksburg

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From the online Naval Encyclopedia online cited in Sources.

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

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

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

Dear Uncle I beg of you all to re-

member me in your prayers, where

one like myself is exposed to both

the missiles of the enemy & all kinds

of wickedness among those with whom

I am thrown — Owen McLaurin

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

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

There appears to be

a strong peace feeling in Congress

& on board this ship There are

numbers of men who are for peace

on any terms, I am sorry to

write it but it is the truth — Owen McLaurin

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

hire out all those of the negroes even

those as small as Charles or Darling,

if you could get their victuals &

clothes for them, I would not sell one

except those for which you would

have to pay for the feeding of, and

those I sold I would not receive confed

erate Currency but notes with

the most approved security and at

long dates … with

the interest payable annually — Owen McLaurin

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

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

The James River Squadron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aftermath of the War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OwenMcLProbateHearingIdentification1873

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

furniture —I cant say how much — farming implements

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

a dozen chains. one wagon,

there was a safe, dining table four

small tables two common bedsteads. one grindstone

there was corn there cant say how much some fodder

Six Bales of cotton, 2 mattresses belonged on the

common bedsteads — some blankets in a box two were

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

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

gallons. — Kenneth McKenzie

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

“There were fifteen cattle at least there after the

death of Owen, part of them the cattle

enumerated as belonging to the Estate of John

McLaurin, the balance I supposed to be the increase,

I suppose there were 10 of the old cattle that

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

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

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

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

safe I suppose was worth $10. The dining

table I suppose was worth $2, or $2.50

the small tables I reckon were worth $6 a piece

I would suppose the beds were worth $50

each with their furniture the common Bedsteads were worth $100

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

$4.00 each the Blankets were worth a

dollar a yd 10 or 12 yds in a Blanket

worth say $10 there were two — three I think

The grindstone was worth $3. The pots or pot

and boiler were there after Owens death

and worth (the lightest would weigh 75 lbs

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

and the Boiler $6. I know of some cotton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel C. McKenzie : Farmer, Teacher, Doctor

DanielMcKHS copy
Daniel’s great grandchildren, visited Smith County and found Daniel’s grave, his headstone broken by time and wear. Daniel’s grandchild, Mittie McKenzie Geeslin, who lived to be 101 years old, had the marker replaced with the exact wording as the original. Information generously contributed by Paula Harvey, Daniel’s direct descendant.

In an 1851 letter, Daniel’s brother Kenneth describes him physically as the smallest one of the “tribe,” perhaps one reason he was inclined toward pursuits that required some education. Duncan McKenzie would also describe Daniel as “reserved” in nature.

After his experience in the Mexican War, he may have become more cautious. He hesitates for some years before practicing medicine because he is weighing the risks of having to make a life or death decision. His lack of formal education in this profession undoubtedly gave him pause.

By the time Daniel C. McKenzie’s parents, Duncan and Barbara (McLaurin) McKenzie arrived in Covington County, MS in 1833, they had already provided their older children with educational opportunities better than many. Barbara’s brother, Duncan McLaurin, was a respected educator in Richmond County. His own school records show that he taught the oldest children of Duncan McKenzie and the children of Duncan’s brother, John. Daniel’s Uncle Duncan was an inspiring teacher for many of his students, evidenced by the number who corresponded with him as adults even from distant places. Of the six McKenzie brothers, Daniel was most inspired to further his education.

Daniel was born on 9 August 1823 when his parents were both about thirty years old and farming on property in Richmond County, NC. Daniel’s McLaurin grandparents, a number of unmarried aunts, and Uncles Duncan and John McLaurin were living within visiting distance at Gum Swamp. His grandfather, Hugh McLaurin, had named his new residence Ballachulish after the home in Scotland he had left in 1790. Until about 1832, paternal grandparents Kenneth McKenzie and Mary (McLaurin) McKenzie also lived near. Mary died in 1825. Kenneth would leave Richmond County around six years later. Duncan McKenzie, likely responding to the siren call of abundant land and cotton wealth, would follow a number of relatives and friends, who were successfully making money farming in Mississippi. Daniel was probably about ten when the family arrived in Covington County, MS near Williamsburg.

Farming would occupy everyone living on the place. For some time the farm land in North Carolina had become increasingly overworked, and a farmer with five sons would be desirous of establishing an inheritance for them. The prospect of making a fortune growing cotton on fertile land newly opened by Native American removal is what likely drew them to migrate. However, Duncan McKenzie admits after about a decade that any success is hard won. The family probably remained of the yeoman class. The vicissitudes of economic trends, the currency and banking problems that plagued the nation, challenged the family. What ultimately concerns Duncan about having migrated is the diminished prospect of educating his children. Duncan, as most Mississippi small farm families, would depend upon locally operated tuition schools. Teachers did not often remain in one place for very long. He laments in his letters to his brother-in-law that, though he is satisfied with his move, a satisfactory formal education for his children is elusive. Daniel in particular is most desirous of an education and has benefited from an early emphasis on such in the place of his birth.

In an 1838 letter Duncan McKenzie considers sending Daniel, and perhaps his younger brother Duncan, back to North Carolina for schooling. The departure of a mutual friend, Gilchrist, for a visit to North Carolina has tempted Duncan to send them with this responsible person:

I am almost tempted to send Danl with

Gilchrist to your school, his youth will for the present

Save him the ride, Should you continue teaching for any

length of time equal to that which would be necessary

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

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

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

an easy matter to educate them here — Duncan McKenzie

Of course, Daniel never makes the trip to North Carolina for his education. In the end it is too expensive, and every person is needed on the farm.

A year later, Duncan is somewhat appeased when the community near Williamsburg is able to persuade a Mr. Strong of Clinton Academy to conduct a school near them in which Latin will be taught. Duncan even finds Daniel a pony to ride the four miles it will take to get him back and forth from school:

Danl has once more commenced the studdy of Lattin under

the instruction of a Mr Strong late principal of the

clinton Academy Hinds Co. Mr Joshua White and others

of the neighborhood Succeeded in getting a School for

Strong in 4 miles of me I procurd a pony for Danl

to ride, he is in class with Lachlin youngest Sone of

Danl McLaurin of your acquaintance of yore and Brother to Dr Hugh Fayetteville —

Danl tho 3 years from that studdy appears to have retained

it tollerable well — Malcolm Carmichael, Squire

Johns sone has a small School near my house Dunk

Allan and Johny are going to him, he Malcolm came

here early in Janry and took a Small school worth

Say $20 per month — Duncan C. McKenzie

Duncan ends this March 1838 letter by describing Daniel’s hurry to be off to school. On the way to school, he will be mailing the letter Duncan has just finished at the designated Post Office in Williamsburg.

By 1839, Daniel’s father is present at a school examination and was not pleased with the progress of the students, though Daniel and a friend, James L. Shannon, appear to have been the best in the class, according to his father.  He tells Duncan McLaurin that if he had them for a year, he “would not be ashamed of them.” By 1841 Daniel is crushed when his friend and classmate James Shannon leaves to attend St. Mary’s Catholic College in Kentucky. Earlier another classmate, Lachlan McLaurin, had also quit the local school. Despite the loss of his companions to other pursuits, Daniel appears to have maintained his desire for an education.

Daniel likely joins in with his brothers hunting in the forests near their home and engaging in what they call “swamp drives,” attempts to flush out a wild boar. In 1839 Duncan reports that Daniel had an accident pricking his foot on a rusty nail. In the 19th century this would be the cause for some concern, because the chance of infection was great with no antibiotics available. Evidently, the wound was kept clean so that infection was avoided.   

At his uncle’s request in July of 1843, Daniel composes his first letter to former teacher Uncle Duncan McLaurin at Laurel Hill, NC. Daniel would have been about twenty years old when writing, with some justifiable pride, about his first teaching position. Clearly, the language of the letter is carefully constructed to impress upon his uncle that he has been a worthy recipient of Duncan’s early tutelage. His use of literary allusion, Latin phrase, and political reference reveals an intimate knowledge of his audience. Perhaps Duncan McKenzie, long time correspondent with Duncan McLaurin, hovers nearby offering suggestions to his son as to content. Daniel authors only five letters that survive in the Duncan McLaurin Papers, but each one attests to historical events and personal landmarks in his own lifetime.

He begins this first letter by admitting that his father has told all of the interesting news already, “which renders one almost barefoot in commencing.” However, he commences by describing his teaching position. It is a small school about seven miles from their home in Covington, County. He teaches about twenty five students at one dollar and fifty cents per month. The tuition is two dollars and fifty cents for teaching Latin. Daniel is boarding with a Revolutionary War veteran, John Baskin. Baskin, “comfortably wealthy,” lives with an aging daughter and orphaned grandson. Baskin’s library includes books that are meant to improve the mind of the young, and Baskin’s storytelling pleases Daniel very much. He relishes the quiet as well — likely the kind of peace after a long day only a teacher could appreciate. Daniel describes Baskin’s stories as “history to me they are interesting and entertaining he considers an hour occasionally is not ill spent when devoted to Politics.” I can imagine Duncan McLaurin settling in to read this letter with earnest at the mention of politics. Daniel explains that Baskin’s opinion rests somewhere between that of John C. Calhoun and Thomas Jefferson. Daniel explains with literary allusion:

he is cherished

in principle like Paul at the feet of Gamaliel between

the contrasted feet of Calhoun & Jefferson this stripe

in his political garment he says is truly Republican

but in reality it seems to me to be of rather a different

cast more like the gown of the old woman Otway

if you will allow me to make such

comparisons — Daniel C. McKenzie

Gamaliel was a Jewish teacher and Christian Saint, a person admired by both Christians and Jews. The “old woman Otway” is a dramatic character created by the 17th century English dramatist Thomas Otway. Otway casts a beautiful woman as a catalyst for war. Apparently, during the nineteenth century the plays of Thomas Otway were receiving somewhat of a revival.

Daniel continues in this first letter to express a desire for further education but says he will be patient since he is of an age now that he must be getting on with his adult life. In a political vein, he also mentions that his employers are preparing a barbecue at or near the schoolhouse, “intending to celebrate the day hard as the times are.” This barbecue is held in conjunction also with an election for a representative, “to attend the call session of the legislature.” He ends this letter offering his best to his grandfather, Hugh McLaurin of “Ballachulish”.

In October of 1843 Duncan McKenzie writes of Daniel’s devotion to his students. Apparently, Daniel has been grieved by the death of two of his young charges, the funeral of one from which he has just returned. In the coming years Daniel would teach in Laurence County. By 1845 Daniel would encourage his brother Kenneth to teach as well, though Kenneth’s attempt to do this work does not last very long. Daniel would teach in Garlandsville in Jasper County, where he enjoyed, “the rise if 30 scholars his rates are $1 1/2 to 3 per month.” In Garlandsville he is boarding with a Dr. Watkins, whose library he uses to study medicine. Apparently, Dr. Watkins is a physician of some respect in the community. Unfortunately, the school becomes overcrowded. Likely, a study regime in addition to teaching a large school was a challenge. His father describes him as having lost some weight by the time he returns from Garlandsville.

Whether Daniel will follow teaching as his life’s career is still an open question to his father. Daniel evidently is still yearning for more schooling, likely towards becoming a physician. His father writes in 1845 regarding his difficulty in reading Daniel’s intentions:

Danl has not at any time reveald to me directly his intentions in

regard to his future plans or intentions in fact it is a matter of common

remark that he is distant and reservd and very difficult to become

acquainted with I think he seldom tells anyone what he intends

doing until he is engaged in it — Duncan McKenzie

While Daniel is fighting in a Vera Cruz skirmish during the Mexican War, his own father is at home dying. Daniel’s next letter to his uncle is written after his return from serving briefly as a volunteer in the war with the “Covington County Boys” and after his father’s death. Daniel opens his August 1847 letter by saying that he had been home more than a week. Daniel had been one of eight Covington County men, who voluntarily served as amateurs in the war with Mexico. They were “enrolled in Captain Davis’s company, Georgia Regiment, under Gen. Quitman,” according to the article, “From Tampico and the Island of Lobos,” published in The Weekly Mississippian from Jackson, 19 March 1847.

Daniel explains that the group was sent home after one of them, Thomas H. Lott, died after a skirmish at Vera Cruz. The injury to his thigh was not lethal until it became infected — the only casualty of the eight. Many soldiers in this war died of diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, or dysentery. Another of the group, Cornelius McLaurin, was very ill during the skirmish at Vera Cruz. Indeed, all of the group were ill of dysentery at one point or another. Their return was expedited after Daniel receives news of his father’s death and the general ill health of families in Covington County. Upon return he found their health improving:

I was at the gate before I was recognized, tho

at midday — They had heard here that we had gone to

ward Jalapa (Xalapa), a town in the interior, by was of Cerra Gordon (Sierra Gorda)

and of course was not expecting me. — Daniel C. McKenzie

While in Mexico, Daniel is impressed enough with the Castle San Juan de Cellos to attempt a description in his letter. Situated over a half mile into the sea, large ships are able to anchor very near the walls. Daniel illustrates in the following words:

This castle, worthy of the

name too, covers ten acres of ground on water the wall in

the highest place is seventy feet being eight feet through at

the top and thirty where the sea water comes up to it. I should

judge forty feet through at the base The wall is built of coral

stone the light house out of the same is as much larger

than the one at the Balize (La Balize, LA) of the Miss River, which is a

large one, as the latter is larger than a camson brick

chimney on the walls of this castle were … 300 heavy

pieces of cannon which were kept warm from the morning

of the 10th to the 27th March tho they did but little damage — Daniel C. McKenzie

Daniel admonishes his uncle to tell Uncle John McLaurin that he had purchased a new gun in New Orleans. His brother Kenneth refers to this gun as “Daniels Spaniard gun.” Daniel says that he paid forty-five dollars for the gun, “which will hold up — 300 yards I shot Mexicans at 100 yards distance with it — I will put it to better use and kill birds and squirrels.”

Two references in Daniel’s letter are indicative of racial attitudes at the time. He refers to his Mexican enemies as “the tawny creatures.” Toward the end of his letter he complains, I think in a lighthearted manner, that his ink is pale and a “rascally nigger young rumpled the paper about the time I was finishing.” Although this last comment was perhaps even affectionately made, it was based in the general belief of the superiority of the white race. The child to whom Daniel refers was the very young daughter of one of the female enslaved persons on the farm. According to her husband Duncan McKenzie, Barbara had developed a special relationship to this female child. Both of Barbara’s daughters had died, probably leaving her quite open to having a close relationship with a female child. Part of Barbara’s daily task on the farm was to have charge of the enslaved children too young to work. Today we understand from the science of the human genome that differences among the people of the earth have little to do with skin color. The differences we have from one another cannot scientifically be used to indicate racial superiority. However, Daniel, his mother, and her favored enslaved child were living in a 19th century world.

Daniel is farming with the family but admits that he has, “taken up my medical books again.” These two pursuits occupy Daniel’s time. He knows he is needed on the farm now more than before his father’s death and reassures his uncle that their crops will likely sustain them this season. One battlefield experience for Daniel was apparently enough. He considers returning to fight in the military but quickly decides his absence in a war would increase his mother’s grief. After his Mexican War experience, Daniel would commit himself to farming, teaching, and studying to be a physician, a lifelong dream.

As far as becoming a practicing physician, Daniel admits to some hesitancy. In his letter of November 1851, he has apparently been considering it seriously. Traveling in Mississippi has occupied much of his time. Since October he has  traveled over, “some dozen counties or more in the upper part of the state.” Franklin County, Mississippi near Natchez was another destination. While there he stopped to visit John Patrick Stewart, son of Allan Stewart and a friend of his uncle’s. Daniel, decades younger than Stewart, describes him as “again elected clerk in that County (Franklin) I was in Meadville and found the contented old Bachelor with fiddle in hand trying to learn to play some sacred songs on that instrument.” In addition, Daniel discovers that Dr. Lachlin McLaurin has enjoyed a successful medical practice in Franklin county. In the end, Daniel tells his uncle, “I prefer school teaching for a little to jeopardizing the lives of fellow creatures for mere money.” Evidently, he still lacks the confidence that a formal education and licensing program may have given him. Mississippi had declared its attempt at medical licensing requirements unconstitutional some years earlier. However, many physicians left the state for a medical education. One such person, and likely a distant relative of Daniel’s, was Dr. Hugh C. McLaurin of Brandon, MS. Hugh would have been a bit older than Daniel, but his family had the means to send him to Pennsylvania to study medicine. According to Duncan McKenzie, in 1846 while teaching school Daniel reads from some of Hugh’s medical books. (Hugh is of the B family of McLaurins and Daniel from the F family. Ancestors of these two family lines came to America in 1790 aboard the same ship. A number of descendants migrated to Mississippi from the Carolinas.)

In the 1850 census Daniel is listed as living with his mother, who is head of household. He is twenty-seven when he travels over parts of the state considering his future. Between his travels he manages to be at home in order to vote in the elections. Duncan McKenzie had been a southern Whig and his sons at first follow in that political tradition. Daniel and his brothers at this point are Unionists and do not want to see the Democrats, or Locofocos, as they are called, control state politics. It appears that in early 1850s Mississippi at least the idea of breaking up the Union over slavery remains a partisan issue. Daniel writes,

The political contest in Mississippi is over

and though the waves still run high the storm

has moderated to a gentle breeze. Foot has gained

the day by a few feet about 1500 votes as I hear …

Brown in this the 9th district has succeeded in beating

our Union Candidate Dawson by a considerable

majority In this part of the state the people

are so tied up in the fetters of Locofocoism

that nothing is too dear to sacrifice for its

promotion. — Daniel C. McKenzie

The “Foot” he references is Henry S. Foote, Whig candidate and winner of the election for governor of Mississippi in 1851. He explains that Democrat former Governor Albert Gallatin Brown’s hue and cry was that keeping the Union in tact was a “Whig trick.” Daniel knows that his Uncle Duncan would be interested in the political success of another relative: “John R. McLaurin son of Neill of Lauderdale County who prides himself in being called a, descendant, of Glen Appin is elected to the Legislature from that county Disunion of course.” John R. McLaurin is Daniel’s second great Aunt Catherine of Glasgow’s grandson from the D family of McLaurins.

In this letter, Daniel mentions a McKenzie relative, his Uncle John McKenzie’s son, who has apparently been overcome with religious zeal to the point that he has been declared insane. This begs the question at what point religious enthusiasm crosses that fine line from fervent piety to mania. Daniel writes his opinion on the matter: “though the cause which he advocates is much assuredly the one and only thing needful yet certainly so much zeal as to destroy that better part which he wished to save and which survives the grave was not at all necessary.” He expresses hope that time will restore his cousin’s reason.

Daniel ends his 1851 letter saying that the talk of Covington County is “money and marrying” and starting for Texas.

In the middle of the 1850s, tragedy strikes the McKenzie family with the suffering of Barbara McKenzie. Daniel reveals in a December 1854 letter to his uncle that his mother Barbara appears to be afflicted with a cancer of the mouth from which she is finding no relief. Daniel has been working as a physician and has been treating his mother’s illness since July when the sore in her mouth and glands in her neck began to enlarge. At first he used available treatments for a non-cancerous ulcer but fears he may have made the malignancy worse. He has had several other physicians look at the growth, and they concur that it is what was called then a Gelatinform cancer. Daniel writes, “The sore in her mouth continues to enlarge it now covers nearly all the roof of her mouth affecting the glands of her neck on the right side.”

During Barbara’s horrific illness Daniel says that Miss Barbara Stewart, daughter of Allan Stewart, has been staying with his mother. Barbara Stewart, has been living with the family of her brother-in-law by the surname Davis. She has also been working at the Seminary School founded by Rev. A. R. Graves. However, at this point she has left Barbara’s side. John, the youngest McKenzie son, regularly sits with his mother, and Daniel says he will stay with his mother for a while. The community has been plagued with “scarlatina” and the mumps. His brother Kenneth has contracted the mumps, and has had to stay away from the house for fear his mother might contract them. By April of 1855 Barbara was forced to give up her struggle. Reverend A. R. Graves preached her funeral service. More than likely she was buried on the family property near her husband and infant daughter in Covington County.

Apparently, Daniel begins his work as a physician in 1853 at Augusta, MS, according to his brother Hugh. As for the success of his work as a physician, Daniel says that his net profits for 1854 would not “amount to but little more than a cipher. I have not collected and am in debt for board and expense.” Daniel ends his letter with a comparison of the medicine and politics. He has found that he no longer supports the Whigs or the Democrats but is finding himself in line with the Know Nothing Party. He says in medicine and politics, “there has been and is yet many vague theories.” He also ads that if one enshrouds anything with mystery and secrecy it draws the attention of the curious, who must then, “see analyze and understand.” With that he says he really knows nothing about the new Know Nothing party but advocates most of the published principles. In simple terms he is probably leaning towards that party while still considering his political stance.

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Sarah M. Blackwell. Photo courtesy of Paula Harvey.

In 1856 Kenneth writes that Daniel is living in Raleigh, Smith County, MS. Daniel had married eighteen-year-old Sarah M. Blackwell of Smith County, MS in 1857. Their son John Duncan was born there on June 2, 1858. Mary “Mollie” Isabelle was born on February 29, 1860 in Raleigh in Smith County. According to the 1860 census, Allen Mckenzie, Daniel’s brother, was living in their household and working as a saddler. Since about May of 1853 Daniel had been practicing medicine. He is working in 1860 as a physician with real estate valued at one thousand two hundred dollars and a personal estate of seven thousand two hundred sixty-five dollars. Apparently, Daniel purchased property from his father-in-law, John G. Blackwell, who is a successful Smith County farmer. Before 1860, Daniel has persuaded his brothers to sell their parents’ Covington County property in order to purchase in Smith County. According to their correspondence, they are living on property along the Leaf River: “I have bargained for a track of land in this County 480 acres which is considered the best in the Co. for which I am to give $1000 … I want them to sell in Cov and pay the $1000 and take this.” It is possible that the land in Smith had not yet been entered in their names, for these McKenzie brothers are not listed in Boyd’s Family Maps of Smith County, Mississippi. However, their fathers-in-law are listed as owning Smith County property in 1860: John Blackwell and R.C. Duckworth.

John G. Blackwell (1819-1890) and Mary Thornton (1820-1892) were Sarah’s parents. According to Smith County, MS and Its Families, “John was a merchant and before the War between the States owned a vast amount of land.” In 1858, Daniel’s brother Duncan describes a trip to New Orleans with John Blackwell, likely on a merchandising trip. The two decided to drive a one-horse buggy to Brookhaven in order to save money by only boarding one horse while they took the train to New Orleans. Blackwell’s horse foundered early in the trip, so they substituted with one of Duncan’s horses. All went as planned until about fifteen miles from home:

he (Duncan’s horse) did well untill we got within about 15 miles

of home on our return when the wheel

Struck a Stump the axle tree broke

the horse scared ran with broken Buggy

a short distance when the Buggy turned

over hurting my side verry much so it has

not entirely got well yet tho not serious

like I thot it was  — Duncan C. McKenzie

During the few years before the Civil War begins, Duncan McKenzie becomes the primary farmer on the Smith County property. Hugh is working as a merchant in a store on the property. Kenneth is working as a carpenter and Allen as a saddler. John, now married to Susan Duckworth is farming with his father-in-law. Daniel and his wife have their own property. Daniel is working as a physician when he decides to give up medicine for merchandising with John G. Blackwell. In November of 1858 he writes:

My health has been very bad since about the middle

of Sept. I had an attack of Typhoid Dysentery from

which I recovered very slowly. I was able to ride about

the first of this month. I rode several nights successively

a good distance. I now have Bronchitis in spite of my

efforts and those of another physician. The inflammation

was not arrested in its acute stage it is assuming

a chronic form, which I dread very much — Daniel C. McKenzie

Daniel continues to speak of his family:

My wife and child are well, my child, John Duncan,

is five months old remarkably large of his age,

Since I came to this place my professional ambition

has been fully gratified. When able I have had generally

about as much to do as I could. Collections have been

slow. I have determined to quit even if I fully regain

my health. I am engaged in merchandizing with

my father-in-law, John G. Blackwell …

If my life is spared and I gain sufficient health to attend

to anything I shall devote my time to this business. you may

see me next summer perhaps we will be getting our goods in N. York.

… If I am spared I will write again.   — Daniel C. McKenzie

Unfortunately, he cannot be spared. Daniel dies in 1860 of typhoid fever on July 13 at home. He is buried in the older portion of the Raleigh Cemetery. According to his brothers Dunk and Kenneth, he was ill for nineteen days and was aware of his condition until the last three days. He told them he was probably going to die unless he rested easy on the 17th and 18th days of his illness. Dunk describes his death as follows:

On the morning of the day before he

died aparently not conscious of what

he was doing or Saying he wished to

be raised up in the bed, and Sarah

his wife told him he was geting beter

his answer was I am going home to serve

my Savior, and reached out his hand

to her, after he was laid back on the bed

he was conscious no more — Duncan C. McKenzie

According to MS Cemetery and Bible Records Volume XIII: A Publication of the Mississippi Genealogical Society, Daniel’s headstone can be found at Raleigh, MS Cemetery: Sacred to the Memory of Dr. D. C. McKenzie/ b. Richmond County, N. C./Aug. 9, 1823/ d. July 12, 1860.

Daniel’s Children

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Daniel’s son John Duncan McKenzie in Texas. Photo courtesy of Paula Harvey.

Daniel’s Aunt Effy McLaurin, his mother’s favorite sister, died about a year after Daniel. In her will she acknowledges all of Barbara’s living children and Daniel’s two children, John Duncan and “Mollie” Isabelle. A direct descendant of Daniel said that her mother and brother, Daniel’s great grandchildren, visited Smith County and found Daniel’s grave, his headstone broken by time and wear. Daniel’s grandchild, Mittie McKenzie Geeslin, who lived to be 101 years old, had the marker replaced with the exact wording as the original. Sarah M Blackwell died on August 25, 1884, in Mississippi, when she was forty-four years old, having never remarried. Sarah is buried with her parents and several siblings in Forest County, MS. Her great granddaughter replaced Sarah’s gravestone.

Daniel’s daughter, Mary “Mollie” Isabelle McKenzie, married Samuel H. Woody. On June 12, 1936 in Travis County, Texas, at the age of seventy-six Mary “Mollie” Isabelle died. The 1930 census names her as a patient in the Austin State Hospital. According to her death certificate, her residence was in Mills County, city of Goldthwaite. She is buried in North Brown Cemetery, Mills County, Texas. Never having children of her own, Mollie raised Helen, Orbal, and Willie P., her three stepchildren. Helen’s mother was Sam’s first wife Lelia. Lelia’s sister Elizabeth, Sam’s second wife, was the mother of Orbal and Willie. According to the 1900 Federal Census, Samuel H. Woody worked as a merchant in Goldthwaite. The photo of Mollie McKenzie and her “Aunt Lizzie” Elizabeth Blackwell, five years older, was originally submitted to Ancestry by a direct descendant.

John Duncan, Daniel’s son, was born on 2 June 1858 and married Mildred Parshanie “Shanie” Risher in 1886. Her parents were Hezekiah S. Risher and Mary Elizabeth Duckworth Richer. Mildred had eighteen half siblings. In 1900 the Federal Census shows John Duncan working as a dentist in Mills County, Texas, though he also farmed. He died on March 28, 1931 in Goldthwaite, Texas at the age of 72 and is buried there. His son Hugh was born in March of 1892, his daughter Mollie was born in May 1894, and his daughter Mittie was born in October 1898. According to the 1910 Federal Census, he also had a son Anse (known as Dutch) born about 1901, a son Ben born about 1904, a daughter Elsie born about 1904, Allen and Allie are listed as having just been born in 1910. Five of John Duncan’s children died in childhood: daughters Una and Sarah and sons J.D. and Allen.

MaryMollieIsabelleMcK copy
Mary “Mollie” Isabelle, with her “Aunt Lizzie” Elizabeth Blackwell, five years older. Photo courtesy of Paula Harvey. 

According to a direct descendant, John Duncan and Mary “Molly” Isabelle left Smith County, MS for Texas probably after their mother’s passing in 1884. One of the family stories is that “Auntie Woody” came to Texas by train via New Orleans and attended the 1884 New Orleans, LA Cotton Exposition. She had a ring made from a gold piece at the Exposition which is still in the family’s possession. It is also likely that John Duncan and “Auntie Woody” made this trip together.

Susan and her Blackwell family would have to take the credit for raising John Duncan and Mollie. Daniel and Susan would have taken great pride in the adult lives of their children. Daniel would have taken particular pride in his granddaughter, Mittie McKenzie Geeslin. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse before her marriage and sought to further her education through lifelong reading.

Naming Daniel C. McKenzie

Duncan and Barbara McLaurin McKenzie, first generation Americans, attempted to follow the rules of Scottish naming. Their first daughter Catharine is named after her maternal grandmother, first son Kenneth is named after his paternal grandfather, second son Hugh is named after his maternal grandfather. According to the rules, the third son should have been named after the father or the father’s father’s father. However, his parents seem to have taken the opportunity of Daniel’s birth to make an homage to his second great Uncle Dr. Donald (Daniel) C. Stewart. Donald and Daniel are used interchangeably. Also, Daniel may not have been the third son. According to her husband, Barbara had eleven pregnancies. We can account for only eight, so there could have been an intervening child, who died very young.

Daniel is first mentioned in the Duncan McLaurin Papers in April of 1827 when he was about five years old. Donald (or Daniel) C. Stewart (d. 1830) of Greensboro, Guilford County, NC writes to his nephew and Daniel’s grandfather, Kenneth McKenzie (abt. 1768 – abt. 1834). Stewart offers his belated sympathy on the death of Kenneth’s wife. According to The Greensboro Patriot newspaper of this time period, Donald Stewart is an influential supporter of the Greensboro Academy. In this letter he also mentions Daniel:

I am glad to hear that my little

namesake is so healthy, and grows so well

I requested Mr. McLaurin (Duncan) to bring him up

the next trip he makes to this county;

if the little fellow should possess a capa=

=city, or turn for it, I will educate him — Donald C. Stewart

Unfortunately, Daniel never benefits from his second great uncle’s offer to pay for his education. According to The Greensboro Patriot of Wednesday, January 6, 1830, Dr. Donald Stewart dies “Wednesday last at 7 o’clock P.M.” Kenneth mentions “Dr. Donald Stewart” in his 1832 Power of Attorney when he leaves Richmond County, NC. During the probate hearing of Dr. Stewart’s will, it becomes clear that his extensive property has been exhausted in paying off creditors. Kenneth had hoped to inherit a portion of this property. Some believed at the time that the administrator of the estate since Stewart’s death had mismanaged and sold off some of the property to his own advantage. This, however, is never proved.

If Daniel inherits his second great uncle’s name in its entirety, it may be possible to discover what the middle initial C represents. The problem is that even in the Duncan McLaurin Correspondence, not many use their middle names in signatures, though they may use middle initials. Donald Stewart’s middle initial does not appear in a letter written to him by a relative, Dugald Stewart, from Ballachulish, Argyllshire in 1825. This letter is referenced on page 275 of Sketches of North Carolina by Rev. W. H. Foote. It describes the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in the American Revolution. Captain Dugald Stewart participated in this conflict with the 71st Frazier’s Highlanders under Lord Cornwallis.

Since Daniel’s middle initial likely derived from the Stewart family, it might not have stood for Calhoun. Calhoun may have been his younger brother Duncan C. McKenzie’s middle name, though that too is speculation. A few years after Daniel’s death, his brother John writes from the battlefield at Vicksburg to his Uncle Duncan that he has named his firstborn after Daniel, “I would be glad to see Susan and my little boy Daniel we named him after Brother give him his full name.” Since John dies in the Civil War, the C in his son’s name may have eventually come to stand for “Cooper,” a Duckworth family name. It would be gratifying to find the entire name listed in a family Bible.

Special thanks are here given to Paula Harvey for her generous contribution to this post.

Sources

Boyd, Gregory A., J.D. Family Maps of Smith County, Mississippi. Arphax Publishing Co.: Norman, Oklahoma. www.arphax.com. 2010.

Foote, Rev. William Henry. Sketches of North Carolina Historical and Biographical Illustrative of the Principles of a Portion of Her Early Settlers. Robert Carter: New York. 275.

Harvey, Paula. Photograph of Sarah Blackwell. Photograph of Sarah Blackwell and Mary “Mollie” Isabel McKenzie. Photograph of John Duncan McKenzie. Family Stories. via ancestry.com and email. 2016 – 2018.

Letters from Daniel C. McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 3 July 1843, August 1847, 11 November 1851, 8 December 1854, 25 November 1858. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letters from Duncan C. McKenzie to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin. 11 July 1858, 21 July 1860. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. February 1844, March 1845, April 1845, July 1845, January 1846, June 1846. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Letter from John McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 13 July 1862. Boxes 1 & 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

Mississippi Genealogical Society. Mississippi Cemetery & Bible Records. University of Virginia. 1954.

Original data: Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas Death Certificates, 1903-1982. Austin, Texas. USA. ancestry.com. Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982 [database on-line]. Provo, Ut, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

Smith County, Mississippi and its Families 1833-2003. Compiled and published by Smith County Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 356, Raleigh, Mississippi 39153. 2003. 77.

Wade, Nicholas. Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors. The Penguin Press: New York. 2006. 18.

Year: 1850; Census Place: Covington, Mississippi; Roll: M432_371; Page: 309B; Image: 207. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1850usfedcenancestry&h=3391938

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

Year: 1900; Census Place: Goldthwaite, Mills, Texas; Page: 5; Enumeration District: 0111; FHL microfilm: 1241659. https;//search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1900usfedcen&h=54391200

Hugh McKenzie: Kind in His Family and to His Friends

Hugh L. McKenzie (1822-1866)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have bought the place Taylorville

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

which we gave $5.00.00 It contains 2 acres of land

a large and good store house grocery lot and

stables cribs we then invoyesed the goods at

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

selling goods we have bought in Mobile

$2000 00 worth more making in all over

$4000 worth of goods and I am selling over

$ 50 00 worth per day, how long it will

I know not if it does last and we can

collect we can make money … — Hugh McKenzie

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

Day after tomorrow John will

find his lost rib in the person of a

Miss Susan Duckworth and sister to Dunks

wife I think though she is poor, John

does very well, they Dunks wife and

Johns intended has done all they could

for Allen and myself, but it is no go

I cannot marry any woman that will marry

me because she can do no better

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

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

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

Sometimes I feel lonesome

by myself then crowds come in

and keep me all day from my dinner

and sometimes late in the night

We have some fighting a Mr.

Powers a member of the Presbyterian

Church loaded a pistol and said he

intended to kill a Mr. Little Powers

went to Little and told him if he would

come out of the house he would beat

him to death Little came out and

powers drew the pistol and shot at Little

but missed Little picked up a sick (stick)

and began beating Powers

and Powers running until L beat him

to the ground Powers is badly hurt

and Littles ear is powder burnt

some booth are respectable men — Hugh McKenizie

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh’s Letters to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin

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

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

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

himself hemmed rushed out at the door

and after he passed sufficient not

to endanger each other both fired on the

negro the negro was gone some days and

came in with three Buckshot in his back

one above his sholder blade and one each

side of his back bone between the

Sholder Blade he is geting well — Hugh McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have five hundred and fifty

acres beside 94 that Daniel owns

individually I will send you the plot

of it there is about 40 acres in the

hills the rest is all in Leaf River

Swamp and not five acres but

may be cultivated with very

little draining we have about

50 acres cut and piled since we

finished laying bye our crop

that with the 40 acres that we

cleared last spring is enough of

open land for Daniel and Dunk

the neighbors say they will never

give Allen John and myself

an equal interest with them in

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

the correctness of their Prophecy — Hugh McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Lincolns thieves have not molested us

but how soon they will I cant tell there is

nothing to hinder them as Johnsons army

is all gone from the state with the exception

of three cavalry Brigades and Lorings Division

of Infantry We have some state troops

just enough to be an expence to the state

and no proffit I  had a company of state

cavalry and was conscripted I then obtained an

order to rais a company to wait on the conscript

Branscough what next I know not but

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

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

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

All the consolation that I can have is

in Saying to the un cowed that I hope they

will get a full gorge of Secession and

that any sane man could see that the

democratic wagon was going down to the

abolitionists it has been the wrath of the

Democratic party to rule or ruin the fairest

Government that ever did exist but it is

now gone hopelessly gone and the

innocent has to suffer if we conquer

a peace on any terms we are ruined in

fact I see nothing but ruin let the

conflict end as it may — Hugh McKenzie

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

Ask Kenneth to write to me

I think he could if he would …

tell him to give me his

impressions from childhood about

persons and places a recollect — Hugh McKenzie

SOURCES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land of His Infancy — Kenneth McKenzie b. 1820

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

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

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

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

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

Civil War Years

KMcKConfArmyDisharge1862

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

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

The roll of the drum the glittering bayonet the Keen

crack of the Mississippi rifle the multiplicity

of Buoie Knives and Colts Repeating pistols Show

that the boys are in for Strife or right we have

received a portion of our pay Each private

at eleven Dollars per month have received

ten Dollars in State or Confederate bonds

What will be the results of our efforts is all unknown

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

much as possible at intervals without any

attention to receipts from you, as the guide to

my correspondence. — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

Brotherly Estrangement and Politics

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

I am now living

with James McGill I appreciate the

respect with which I am treated by

himself and family, my health has

been good since the coming in of Septr

last, previously I had a severe attact

of fever from which I have not regained

my standard weight … as

for my self my future is hidden in oblive

iousness and will continue mystified

through life I fear oblivious curtain hides

the future. — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

I have bot and sold some Spanish horses

they are noted for durability I have made

some money by it, I have it in mind to

take a trip to Western Texas and procure

Spanish mares and mules two of my

neighbors boys both Brothers named Lott

have made the first trip ever made to this

country from Goliad on the San antone River

with a … of 36 Horses part of which

I bought and sold all but two which I

have yet on hand they are severe in their

disposition until tamed and conquered a

man alone cannot make more than a lively hood

by labour  — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

this morning I was at the lot

gate looking at some sows and pigs all in

peace and harmony when Allen came there

and said that I had to gather up my ponies

and leave a damned loafer I made him

some evasive and perhaps insulting answer

when he caught me by the hair and struck me

several blows before I could extricate myself

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

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

manner by him or any one else — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

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

Neighbors are generally kind in visiting tho some being close

born are not neighbors for instance the agust McLaurins

who compose the aristocracy of this county and are

amenable to the presbyterian order but they dwell more

on money finances than the immortality of the Soul

… the world they are aiming

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

and comely pairs of fine animals with gaudy decorations …

uncle they do not come to see mother since she has

been afflicted Before then when she was able to trudge

round and prepare fine dinners they were con

stantly on a visiting expedition … — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

It would be madness in the extreme

in any Patriotic heart to wish to blast

the foundation of a government

like this, but the intriguing demagogues

and fanatics leaders now in power

as has been the case for years past have

been by degrees undermining the prin

ciples of power which they cannot

reestablish — Kenneth McKenzie

Loss of Barbara McKenzie

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

I threw the chew I had in my mouth

out taking in no other for over 2 months,

inflammation seized my stomach and lungs

I used every precaution to shun …

and I am now nearly well in the time my

mind became touched or rather lit up quicker

and more sensitive than usual or at

least I imagined this to be the case, my Eyes

have been very sore for several weeks, in fact

some of the time I could scarcely see, they

are better now I hope on the mend — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

Young Adult Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I come on a visit to the country. My

Uncles John & Duncan McLaurin wished

me to stay here in this country. John Mc-

Laurin offered to board me while I would

stay and superintend Duncan McLaurins

business. I took up their offer. This is

the reason I was so intimately acquainted

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

and staid as long as I pleased and attended

to the stock and made myself as useful as I

could there were nobody but women there when

Owen was gone. — Kenneth McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1840s: Health and Deaths

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

Mary Catharine McKenzie (1838-1839) F-beah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yard, She could not conceive what cause of dissatisfaction aunt

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

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

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

Tell your father to make himself easy about

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Duncan McKenzie

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

Catharine Calhoun McLaurin (1762-1841)

CatharineCalhounMcLaurind1841at79

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

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

your mother should guard

against those febrile symptoms of which you

mentioned, by taking some cooling simple med

=icine such as Rhubarb & cream of tarter in

small quantities till it would excite a slight

operation on the bowels, keeping herself from

morning Dews & noon day Sun —  Duncan McKenzie

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

It is a source of the most sireous reflection

to us to hear that one after another of the family

are falling off from time to an untimely grave by the

same cause, to wit, that of ulcers which commenced

in my family, but death comes by the means appoin

=ted and why should we complain but say with

christian resignation the will of God be done

in your next you will please give us a minute

description of the case with your mother …

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

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

— Duncan McKenzie

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

We are glad to hear that

your mother was living at the time of your writing and

that the sore had not made such a fatal progress as

we had anticipated, at the special request of Barbara

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

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

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

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

Hugh McLaurin (1751-1846) F-ba

HughMcLaurinofBalacholishd1846at95

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

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

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

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

at least devote an equal space in each letter written they

would be the more grattifying. — Duncan McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rises to those we loved no more. — Duncan McKenzie

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

From an

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

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

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

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

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

— Duncan McKenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our friend A. Stewart came early and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Duncan McKenzie

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

He was breathing and continued to breathe till the time above

stated but never spoke nor showed any symptoms of consciousness

… being convenient I was … exam

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

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

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

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

Duncan McKenzie (1793 – 1847)

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

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

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

Hugh Carmichael Stewart (1810 – 1847)

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

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

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

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

I have spent five months at a time without seeing

a human being except my own company consisting of

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

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

On Saturday the 11th Ult Hugh C Stewart

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

on the flat firm of his screw hewing some timbers

stepped over the piece of timber he was working on the

end of a plank which his weight bore down and

having no other purchase he fell through to the

ground. the plank followed end foremost striking

him on the forehead split out his brains. the fall

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

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

Health and Deaths of Friends and Acquaintance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1840s: Stepmother and Yellow Fever

ChurchStGraveYardGate
Mobile historic cemetery, where some Yellow Fever victims were buried.photo from http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1039.

On August 2, 1847, the first case of yellow fever in Mobile, Alabama was reported for that year. The disease, which did not originate in North America, was fairly common in United States port cities in the south during the 19th century. Outbreaks would usually begin in the summer and begin to decline after the first frost. Yellow fever’s early symptoms, similar to other fevers, made it difficult to diagnose. For this reason communities were slow to initiate warnings. Unaware of the true source of the disease, controversy ensued about whether sanitation or quarantine was the best response. The 1847 epidemic resulted in 78 deaths in the port city of Mobile, Alabama. It would be the turn of the 20th century in Cuba, where a U. S. Army Commission made the definitive discovery that the transmitter of yellow fever was the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Since the mosquito was the vector, quarantine would probably not have mattered much. Extra sanitation efforts might have made little difference in the spread of this disease except to ward off secondary infection. The mosquito vector breeds in fresh water. According to the author of “The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana,” epidemic yellow fever in the United States was essentially eliminated after 1905 thanks to medical science and public health practices. The following is a brief but revealing encounter with one of its victims.

We first learn of “Stepmother” McKenzie in 1833 when Kenneth McKenzie proudly introduces his new son, Kenneth Pridgen McKenzie. He is writing to his son John when he breaks the news from Brunswick County, NC:

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

I will call her Stepmother since her first name is never revealed in any of the Duncan McLaurin Papers, and that is how the letters reference her. She is forty-eight when her last child is born. In February 1840 Duncan McKenzie writes, “I heard from Stepmother in Dec she expects to move to Mi in the spring.” Though I have never found evidence of Kenneth’s death, Stepmother is a widow in 1840, perhaps for the second time. Duncan appears to feel some concern about her wellbeing. Stepmother’s marriage to Kenneth McKenzie was not her first. Her first marriage produced at least four daughters that we know of. One of those daughters was widowed and also had a son.

Stepmother must have been desperate to find a sense of security by coming to Mississippi to be near Duncan and his family. Perhaps, as Duncan likely fears, Stepmother and her family will become dependent upon him. Still, he does not appear to discourage her from coming and probably feels some responsibility for the family. He expresses some concern for their welfare once he has confirmation that they are on their way. In April 1840 Duncan receives information that Stepmother was to leave Wilmington on March 4 by way of schooner or steamer to Charleston, SC. From there she would continue to Mobile, AL. He writes to Duncan McLaurin:

I have been looking for my

Step Mother from Wilmington, I received a letter

from her dated the 2nd of March Stating that she

was to leave there on the 4 of the same month in a

vessel bound for Charleston SC from which place

She would take passage to Mobile, Ala, She

had not reached the latter place on the 10th Inst

I am uneasy for her safety

Duncan could have rested more easily, as he would soon learn, for Stepmother was likely more adventurous and resourceful than he might have thought. In July of 1840, after the party of four had arrived in Covington County and were welcomed into Duncan and Barbara McKenzie’s home, we learn of her travels.

Stepmother initially set out from Wilmington on the fifth of March en route, via probably steamship or schooner, to Charleston, SC — a distance of around 159 nautical miles. At the beginning of her journey, she likely passed near her former home with Kenneth McKenzie at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Before passing what is today called Oak Island, she might have spied the lighthouse near her former home at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. She might have said a nostalgic good-bye to the birthplace of her young son. Or she may not have had time to direct young Kenneth’s attention to this landmark, for the seabirds following the vessel along the shoreline may have been too much of a distraction for two young boys. Stepmother also traveled with her four daughters and a widowed daughter’s young son — quite a number of people headed toward Covington County, MS and Duncan’s modest home.

However, the party was delayed two months after reaching Charleston, SC. Evidently, Stepmother’s funds were running out sooner than expected. In Charleston she made the decision to send one of her daughters back to a son-in-law in Wilmington and a second daughter stayed in Charleston. No evidence exists in the correspondence as to how this young woman was to fend for herself there. Perhaps they had family or friends in that place. Duncan does not explain further.

After a two month’s delay, Stepmother’s party of five boarded a schooner, captained by one James Nichols, en route to New Orleans, Louisiana. The schooner was nineteen days struggling against uncooperative winds in reaching port. During the nineteen day voyage traversing about 1,173 nautical miles, one daughter began a courtship with Captain Nichols, and in September of 1840 Duncan writes, “…their connubial knot was tied (on the 31st of May) in New Orleans, she thus took on her self the weals and woes of a sailors wife, her mother has not heard from her since.” Though Captain Nichols and the daughter headed for New York, they promised to return to Mississippi by way of Wilmington, where the Captain would give up command of the ship to the owners. By the end of 1840, Stepmother had received letters from her other two daughters left behind, with some assurance of their safety, but the fate of Captain Nichols and his wife is unknown.

Before leaving, Captain James Nichols placed Stepmother’s party of four (two widows and two sons) aboard a steamboat headed for Mobile, Alabama, where they arrived with seven dollars left. Duncan found land passage for them from Mobile to Covington County, MS through a friend, Peter McCallum. They stayed with Duncan and Barbara until they found a vacant house “in the neighborhood.” It appears that Duncan does not hear much from Stepmother while she lives amongst them. In one letter he describes them: “I think they are smart women,” and later says, “Stepmother and her daughter are verry industrious to make a living, they are not ashamed to ask for their wants and you know that is the first part of getting a thing.”

The following is Duncan’s account of Stepmother’s adventure:

you stated that Neil McLaurin of wilmington

had told you something about my Step Mothers leaving

that place in Febry or March, She left there on the 5th of March

and came as far as Charleston S C where She

was detained 2 months waiting a passage to Mobile

and for want of a sufficiency of funds she sent one

of her daughters back to Wilmington to a sone in laws

and left an other daughter in charles ton, She set

sail for New Orleans with her oldest daughter who

is a widdow & and an other daughter, her little sone, and her

widdowd daughters sone, five in number, owing

to contrary winds the Schooner was 19 days in making

the voyage during which time the captain was agree

=ably entertaind in courting the old ladys daughter

who he Married in New Orleans on the 31st May

leaving the two widdows to work through life

the best they could, James Nichols is the name

of the man, he parted with his mother in law

after seeing them on board a Steam boat bound

for Mobile with a promise of coming on

to her in Mi — After going a trip to New York

and returning to Wilmington where he would

surrender the schooner to the owners, and come

on with his wife, the two widdows arrived safe

in Mobile with 7$ left — P. McCallum to whom

I had previously written procured a passage for

them from thence to this place where they

arrived on last Saturday week, Still

in with us, but they are going to a vacant house

in the neighborhood, thus ends the narrative of the poor

widdows & their sones, If they are industrious they may

get along, I will try to see to this adopted little

brother he is a likely child —

MapUS1849
This map dated 1849 shows the name of Smithville, NC, now known as Southport. Stepmother’s route can be traced from Wilmington to Charleston. From Charleston, Capt. James Nichols navigated his schooner 19 days through the Gulf of Mexico to arrive at New Orleans in May of 1840.  To zoom into a version of this map visit this address: https://www.loc.gov/item/2007626897/

In fact, Duncan did not have to put himself out for the young half brother, for his half sister, named Mrs. Turner, soon married the Yankee schoolteacher that Duncan thought brought the younger students on so well in their schooling. Reese H. Jones was from Pennsylvania, perhaps Philadelphia, for he returns home around 1846 to recover from stubborn mouth sores. While Jones is in Philadelphia, Stepmother and her daughter, their two sons — probably young teens by 1846 —leave Covington County for Mobile, Alabama. Stepmother and her family had been in Mississippi about six years when Duncan writes in January 1846, “Stepmother & crew left this for Mobile some time in Nov last Kenneth and all & if it suits their convenience they may stay there, her sone in law Reese H Jones came to Williams Burgh the day after she crew & caravan passd on their way to Mobile he of course followed they reached their place of destination and I hope that is the last of them.”

The last line seems to me a bit foreboding because it actually was the last of Stepmother. About nine months after Duncan McKenzie died in 1847, his oldest son Kenneth writes to his Uncle Duncan McLaurin of Stepmother: “I have to write … of Mobile grand … is no more she died of the yellow fever in Septr last Kenneth is in Mobile if he was separate from his sister I would try to tighten his reigns and put him to work.”

One is left only to imagine Stepmother’s suffering from yellow fever. Likely they were in temporary quarters when the disease struck. At first she might have suspected the fever and chills not unlike those she may have had before. The first five days would have brought nausea, vomiting, constipation, headache, and muscle pain in the legs and back. The acute stage would follow with the yellowing of the skin through jaundice. Hemorrhaging from almost any part of the body is common. Black vomit can occur as a result of blood from stomach hemorrhages being acted upon by stomach acids. This would take the form of almost involuntary vomiting. Before death, convulsions or coma occurred. If one recovered, and some did, it would begin about two weeks from the onset of the illness.

The treatment Stepmother was likely to have endured included heavy doses of Calomel, a mercury-based compound that purged the system. Other purging methods would have included blood-letting. These purging treatments are said to have had some limited success in treating the illness.

There is some evidence that soldiers returning from the Mexican War via New Orleans and Mobile may have made the epidemics worse during 1847. Many, many soldiers died of yellow fever while in Mexico. The ships and steamboats bringing them back through these ports perhaps harbored the deadly mosquito.

ChurchStGraveyardMobileAL
This photograph shows graves at Old Church Street Cemetery in Mobile, AL – possibly Stepmother’s final resting place. photo from http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1039.

It is possible that Stepmother lies buried in the Old Church Street Cemetery in Mobile. The cemetery was originally set aside for yellow fever victims in 1819. During the epidemic of 1820, 274 people died, so the cemetery was put to immediate use. The cemetery covers over four acres.

Volume One of the Mobile County Burial Records from 1820-1865, page 113 lists “MaKenzie, Mrs., 60, North Carolina, Sept. 30, 1847.” The same record on page 112 lists, “Jones, R. H., 35, U. S., March 2, 1847.” Apparently Jones, likely weakened from his previous illness, succumbed first. His cause of death may also have been Yellow Fever. Whether Stepmother’s daughter, her son, and young Kenneth P. McKenzie survived the epidemic and perhaps made their home in Mobile is awaiting discovery.

Stepmother died in September of 1847. Ironically, in 1848 the American physician Joseph Clark Nott became one of the first to introduce the idea of the mosquito vector. It would take a second American war at the end of the 19th century in a tropical climate — Cuba during the Spanish-American War — to confirm the mosquito as the source of yellow fever.

SOURCES

Colton, G. Woolworth, J. H. Colton, John M. Atwood, and William S. Barnard. Map of the US of America, the British Provinces, Mexico, the West Indies and Central America, with part of New Granada and Venezuela. New York: J. H. Colton, 1849. map. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007626897/.

“Distances Between United States Ports.” U.S. Department of Commerce. Dr. Rebecca M. Blank. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D. National Ocean Service. David M. Kennedy. 2012. p 4. https://nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/publications/docs/distances.pdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitchell, Mrs. Lois Dumas and Mrs. Dorothy Ivison Moffett. Burial Records: Mobile County, Alabama 1820-1856, Vol. 1. Mobile Genealogical Society: Mobile, AL. 1863.

“The Saffron Scourge: a History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905.” Jo Ann Carrigan. 1961. LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 666. https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/gradschool_disstheses/666

“A Short History of Yellow Fever in the US.” Outbreak News Today. Accessed 24 June 2018. http://outbreaknewstoday.com/a-short-history-of-yellow-fever-in-the-us-89760/

Sledge, John S. “Church Street Graveyard.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. Accessed 28 June 2018. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1039.

Yellow Fever. History Timeline Transcript Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services. Accessed 25 July 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/travel-training/local/HistoryEpidemiologyandVaccination/HistoryTimelineTranscript.pdf

“Yellow Fever.” Alabama Epidemic History. Alabama Genealogy Trails. Accessed 23 June 2018. http://genealogytrails.com/ala/epidemics.html

1840s: Penning His Stories

turkeys

From 1840 until 1847 Duncan McKenzie wrote twenty-nine surviving letters to his brother-in-law Duncan McLaurin. Within them he touched on the subjects of weather, crops, and politics  probably more consistently than any other. However, armed with a desire to entertain his audience and with some obvious individualistic and masculine braggadocio, he included stories and anecdotes that reveal his own character and that of the society in which he lived during the 19th century.

One need venture no further than Facebook memes for evidence that critters make entertaining subjects. Duncan McKenzie thought so too. In March of 1841 Duncan is describing land that he has recently purchased. He says the Covington County, MS property resembles North Carolina land near Laurel Hill, “East of the head of Leeths Creek only more mixed short strawd pine oak & Hickory.” He adds that it may not be the richest land in Covington County, but it is flat and one could, “see across on the ground in the remotest part of the field.” Covington County also has rolling hills and land that is good for livestock, but Duncan apparently wants land on which he can grow crops. He begins his “turkey story” by saying that while they were “sowing oats at the lower place, “a number of turkeys were visiting us daly, I turned to and built a pen and captured twelve of them.” He describes the turkey feasting as, “at first a delicious rarity but had turkey lasted much longer bacon would have been preferred.”

It is likely that some of the meat consumed by Duncan’s family and eight enslaved persons was wild. The McKenzie boys spent their leisure time in the nearby forests. They also raise hogs on their farm. Indeed, the freshness of their slaughtered and “put up” hog meat rested upon Barbara’s judgment. From descriptions of their “driving the hogs” from the forest, it is probable that they allowed their domesticated livestock to forage in the woods, though they may have also used their plentiful crops of corn to feed hogs. Fencing wooded areas of their land for the purpose of providing a habitat for their hogs would not have been unusual. Evidence in the letters suggests that they may have regularly hunted deer and likely enjoyed venison.

Even in more settled North Carolina in 1843 they must not have been above trying to “tame” deer. In response to his brother-in-law’s mention of a tame deer, Duncan McKenzie describes one they have on their own farm and how it gets on with a menagerie of critters:

you spoke of a tame deer query is he living yet, we have one

a year old and is thus far quite innocent and harmless but will

fight the dogs, yesterday two hounds attacked him he whipd,, both

and came off unscrachd,, his horns are large for a yearling, tho spiteful

to strange dogs ours and him lie down together, they will fight for him —

we have also a pet lamb much more mischievous than the deer

a mixed multitude dogs sheep & deer are common companions

in the yard — Duncan McKenzie

In an 1844 letter Duncan tells another deer story. The story involves a mutual friend, Duncan McBryde who was plowing with the McKenzies. They encounter a deer that has become trapped within the confines of the fence. McBryde suggests they catch the deer. Kenneth is dumbfounded at the thought, but Allan unhitches his mule and calls the dog, Amos. They are off on the chase. Sadly, the story lacks a resolution since the 174 year old paper upon which it is written is damaged:

I must here insert an anecdote on

Duncan McBryde who was at work with us last week, on

tuesday morning a deer was discovered running through

the field, … on reaching the fence he

made an effort to jump the fence but could not repeated

but failed, Duncan seeing this exclaimed to the rest come

boys lets catch him, what said Kenneth catch a wild deer in

an open field of 80 acres, yes said Duncan, god, yes, go go it said

Allan unhitching his mule and calling Amos a little cur … both …

went Duncan, Allan & Amos …

Duncan in a few… — Duncan McKenzie

The Mississippi forests of the 19th century were still habitats for larger, more dangerous animals such as bears and cougars, also known as panthers. Bobcats were and still are found in Mississippi, though they are quite shy.

The “Tiger Story” begins on a late spring Saturday in June. It is also muster day, which means that the free men of the community between the ages of 18 and 45 were called to meet at a prescribed location in their community to present themselves, along with their personal rifles and ammunition, for militia review. The Militia Acts of 1792 were designed to have a militia on call that the president would be authorized to call forth in times of necessity. Over the years this male ritual became somewhat festive, and was often the scene of political stump speeches.

Evidently this particular muster day a group of Covington County neighbors asked Duncan McKenzie to join them on the way to the muster ground. They had not gone far when they heard Kenneth, “encouraging the dogs smartly and with some degree of excitement.” According to Duncan this is what followed:

 … I took

a favorite stand near a point of the creek or river as we

often call Buoye and soon heard the leaping of something

which I took for a deer but on its imerging from the thick

which it did with a high leap I discovered it to be a

verry large tiger he stood for a moment in a broad opened

road gazing on me with fire eyes you may guess I lost no

time in letting him have the contents of my gun …

as two buck shot passed through the heart yet he with

an awful spring made his way directly for me but

ere he could reach me to take revenge he staggered off the way …  —Duncan McKenzie

Duncan goes on to say that this was the first animal of that species that had been killed there for some years. To add to the story he says there were possibly two since the dogs kept tracking. They took “the fierce looking beast,” to the muster ground nearby for public exhibition.

Evidently, Duncan McLaurin was not satisfied with the identification of the animal, for in August of that summer, McKenzie writes a description to him:

we did not measure either hight or length

but compared his hyhth to that of a young colt with a length

proportional to the highth as that of the house cat … the color

is a dark yellow and black spotted, the tail long and slim

with rings alternately black & yellow, the very end tipd with

bright yellow. this species of animals are the most daring

of all the wild beasts that infest our forests …  —Duncan McKenzie

This description is a bit contradictory, but the length of the tail would probably identify the “tiger” as a cougar, likely still roaming the Mississippi forests in the 1840s. However, Duncan says it had a white tip on the tail, but the tail is generally tipped black with a lighter underside.

The “Tiger Story” appears in Christopher Olsen’s book, Political Culture and Secession in Mississippi: Masculinity, Honor, and the Antiparty Tradition, 1830-1860. Olsen may have chosen this excerpt from the Duncan McLaurin Papers as evidence of the still-primitive nature of the state during the 1840s but also perhaps as evidence of the masculine culture that required bravery in the face of danger and the quick use of the weapon at hand.

Not all encounters involving weapons were between man and beast. Violence characterized human encounters as well. Many historians have confirmed the culture of violence that existed in the western territories and continued into statehood. Ample evidence exists.

StreetFightHCStewart1842
The Southern Argus of 4 January 1842 confirms Duncan McKenzie’s story of a street fight in Raymond, MS.

In 1842 Duncan McKenzie relates to his brother-in-law the tale of some trouble that Hugh Stewart, a mutual friend and migrant from NC, has encountered. Hugh has recently failed in his candidacy for auditor probably in Hinds County. Stewart had been defeated by the Locofoco candidate before the violence with a “Mr. Chilton of Raymond” ensued. Whether this is the source of the conflict, we will likely never know. The upshot is that the two men fired guns at one another rather than settling the argument with their fists, as Duncan laments. Now, he says, one of them will likely have to pay. Though even if Duncan thought it should, it is a bit of an exaggeration that their conflict would warrant being sent to the penitentiary:

both (Stewart and Chilton) being

towns men thot it more gentlemanly to burn a little powder at

each other than to try the more certain method of deciding their

quarrel by a fist and scull fight so they took two pops each

with double barreled shotguns by which no blood was brought but

court being then in the first week of its six week session the

grand jury took hold of their difference I have not as yet heard

the result of their trial but it is feared,, one or both of the boys is good

for the penitentiary which would be more humiliating to one

friend Hugh than a berth in the office of Auditor of Publick accounts

for which he was a candidate at the Novr,, Election but was unfor-

-tunately beaten by Saunders the Loco candidate for that office  — Duncan McKenzie

At least McKenzie believes someone should and probably would pay the piper, but an anecdote in an 1843 letter leads us to believe that the law was not always effective in dealing with violent encounters. Hearsay was not the only source of such stories. Newspapers of 19th century antebellum Mississippi are full of them. This violent incident involves “a couple of Yanke shoemakers in the vicinity last week being in a spray quarreld.” They evidently fought, which led to a shooting:

…the vanquishd feeling

himself aggrieved loaded his shot gun with at least 40 lead

-en balls which he deliberately discharged at his antagonist

strewing them or sowing them in him from his chin to his

navel this took place on Monday and on Friday this

same target was enabled to walk through the streets of

Mt Carmel and take his liquor as usual tho the marksman

has fled no doubt for Texas being the stronghold of evil doers  — Duncan McKenzie

In August of 1843 Duncan McKenzie tells the story of his encounter with two Floridians tracking a murder suspect. The two Florida pursuers were, “the brother & nephew of the Decd.” Evidently, the men had legal authority to find the murderer and were certain they would find him. Vigilante justice was likely commonplace, but a news item in The Vicksburg Whig newspaper notes that two murderers, William and David Burney, passed through the area ahead of their pursuers. That Duncan finds common acquaintance with the pursuers probably is the basis of his respect for them:

On Monday last I saw two men from Florida

in pursuit of a murderer whom they call Wm Burney who

killd Joseph Manning in cold blood Manning was the

Brother in law of Hector McMillan the brother of Lawyer

Alx formerly of Richmond …

Manning & George McMillan the brother & nephew of the Decd

were the pursuers, the murderer was 10 days in advance of them

they told me that they would certainly find him they were well

provided with arms and money for a long journey …

I traveled some

20 miles with them during which time they entertaind me

with the history of many of my old acquaintance, I think

them fine worthy intelligent men  — Duncan McKenzie

ManningMurderFlorida
The story Duncan McKenzie relates is, for the most part, confirmed by this notice appearing in The Vicksburg Daily Whig on 15 August 1843. However, Duncan does not mention the second murderer.

Another source of violence was the common highwayman or robber, who stalked those having come into large sums of money on the primitive roads of the antebellum south. This account was likely read in a newspaper. Duncan tells of the experience of one Reverend John G. Libby having sold two enslaved people and was returning home with quite a bit of money. Libby miraculously recovers from the attack on his life:

Hard To Kill the Rev John G Libby on his return home from selling two negro men for

which he got $1500 cash was shot,, buck shot entered between his hip and shoulder

blade he fell off his horse having a gun immediately rose attempting to shoot but could

not, his enemy who of course was a highwayman made off after which the parson led

his horse to a house nearest hand and strange to tell he has got well after coughing up

a shot from his lungs, the remaining are in his boddy, Parson Libby is also Dr of

phisic — Duncan McKenzie

Though Duncan does not reference dueling encounters of the 1840s, some historians and scholars believe the practice, formalized and common in the antebellum south, led to lawlessness. When the police and other state purveyors of the law can easily be superseded, law enforcement becomes less effective. However, according to the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, “‘Honorable’ fights were common, and on lower social levels street fights and ambushes were accepted forms of behavior.”

It is likely from political differences that some of the violent encounters of the day arose. During his years in Mississippi, Duncan was a Whig and professed little tolerance for other political stripes. The issue of the annexation of Texas was at the forefront of politics in April of 1845, when Duncan alludes to a story he saw in a newspaper, “… a little dirty Loco sheet.” They published an ethnically disparaging “Dutchman” story about the annexation. It was published, “…under the sign of the Eagle or rather the buzard,” according to Duncan:

Glorious news, great news, victory, victory, Texas anext,

a wag of a Dutchman passing by the office of the little

sheet was told of the great victory whereunto he coolly

replyd Wy meister ve all no tat Texas is next to

Lucyanne an I believe tat is ass near ass it will come tu

us in Some dime — was not the fellow in the straight fit  — Duncan McKenzie

In addition to political anecdotes, from time to time Duncan makes reference to family. In July of 1845, Duncan relates his potato story. He and Allan Stewart have spent the day together when they receive the news of the death of neighbor, long-time friend, and probably relative Daniel McLaurin. Thinking the funeral and burial was at Judge Duncan’s home, he and Allan Stewart soon went to that place. In spite of learning that Daniel would be buried on his own property, a meal ensued at Judge Duncan’s. When the judge began bragging and asked Stewart if he  had ever seen such large potatoes, Stewart responded by saying, “… that he had seen potatoes on our (McKenzie’s) table that day that one was as large as two of his.” Duncan tells this tale for the benefit of Hugh McLaurin, Barbara’s aging father, who was widely known for his excellent potato crops:

… say to your father that we have the largest potatoes … Mr. A. Stewart was here at dinner when we received notice of Daniel McLaurins death … and of his intended burial at Judge Duncans … to the point supper came on at Duncans where there were prepared some fine potatoes the Judge told us all to partake of the potatoes addressing Stewart particularly and telling him that those were the largest potatoes he, Stewart, had ever Seen a dispute ensued finally Stewart told the judge that he had seen potatoes on our table that day that one was as large as two of his. I thot it was fortunate that the judge was crippled or he and A. would fight, we were all amused and I particularly for it was flattering … to have my potatoes praised — Duncan McKenzie

Earlier in an 1842 letter, Duncan McKenzie sends a message to Hugh McLaurin regarding his growing potatoes, “you will say to your father that I cant find one of his age in my neighborhood who will contend with him in the culture of Irish potatoes, but if I find the man I will let him know.”

Gatherings were also held for weddings, and in December of 1842 Duncan reports on his attendance at the wedding of Mr. William Easterling, Jr. to a Miss Ann, who appears to have the same surname. She is from Simpson County, which borders Covington County. Duncan is impressed with the dancing done by the older Mississippian, Duncan McLaurin:

…among all the dark times we have had a gleam of sun

shine at a wedding Mr. William Easterling Jr to Miss Ann

Daughter of William B Easterling, Esqr, of Simpson County Mi —

the evening was wet and cold but the fare was good and mirth

rare as the dance was opened by the brides grandfather the Hon

Duncan McLaurin I never knew till then that Old Duncan was a

dancer. huzza for the Carolina Scotch, she being the first of his

grand children that have married promted the old man to dance  — Duncan McKenzie

On the subject of dancing, in 1846 McKenzie expresses his religious independence in a story about the young people in the neighborhood finding someone to teach them all to dance properly. Evidently, for some of the Presbyterians in the neighborhood, this form of entertainment did not sit very well:

the young folks of the neighborhood employed a dancing master to instruct in the Science, among others some of the sons & daughters of members of the presbyterian church were students and of course the parents were had up in session there was a rompus and there may be a split in the kirk, I did not go about their court, they have no control of me or my acts or I of theirs  — Duncan McKenzie

In October of 1843, they raise a structure for ginning cotton. Duncan notes that about fifteen neighbors worked under the warm, humid September sun known as “the dog days” in Mississippi. Evidently, they succeeded in getting the structure finished up to the rafters. Duncan finishes this story by listing the political officeholders in attendance. Though he describes the neighbors in attendance as “both black and white,” I am fairly certain that the blacks there were not there by choice:

We were with the assistance of 15 of

our white & black neighbors raising our gin house

yesterday, the day was verry warm for the 22nd  Septr and

our work was heavy and hot, our timbers being large

long unwieldy masses, yet we got up every particle

below the rafters, not with standing it was showery

in the evening,, in our company were our mutual

friend Archd Malloy & Deputy Postmaster,, a Post

master, one Justice of the peace, one Judge of probate

and a member of the board of County Police

consequently you would suppose that we had a

pretty decent raising especially when you would

add to our company a member of the late call

session of the legislature & a candidate for reelection,

which we had  — Duncan McKenzie

In a later letter Duncan would describe the gin as larger than any he has ever worked on before, “the rafters are 23 feet from heel to shoulder … it being now completely enclosed & c it is a splendid thing as much so as any horse gin in this neighborhood.”

Earlier he penned an anecdote about a pleasant Christmas Day doing something with friends that he enjoyed — deer driving. The McLaurins, including Cornelius, who would soon gain local fame in the Mexican War as one of the “Covington County Boys,” were on a deer drive with the McKenzies, Hugh McLeod, and Dr. Hugh McLaurin. McKenzie is able to relish the fact that no one was drinking alcohol, he being an avowed temperance man. During the 1840s Duncan makes reference to friends who have tried and either failed or succeeded in giving up alcohol. During this time a concerted effort across the country to reduce alcohol consumption enjoyed significant success. Historian James McPherson comments on the success of the temperance movement in a chapter of Battle Cry of Freedom, “The United States at mid-century.” He writes that Americans between the 1820s and the 1850s reduced alcohol consumption from “… the equivalent of seven gallons of 200-proof alcohol annually … to less than two gallons …” He adds that “During the same years the per capita consumption of coffee and tea doubled.” Here we have an example of that statistic:

… on that day Danl, Duncan, John,

Cornelius McLaurin, Hugh McLeod & your humble servant & boys

were Deer driving Oh yes Dr. Hugh was also in the drive

all being temperance or temperate men all appeared to enjoy

themselves by feasting on venson ham previously killed & dryd

and as a beverage to wash it down a cup of smoking coffee & c

This ban yan was prepared by Barbara by way of Banquet to

her friends who came to see Danl after his absence of some time  — Duncan McKenzie

In one of his last letters, for Duncan McKenzie would not live beyond February of 1847, he seems elated over the building of a school nearby. The Reverend A. R. Graves is praised for establishing, against all odds, a boarding school:

… did I ever tell you that the Rev A R Graves who is married to Jennet McNair Alx

daughter has set on foot a seminary of literary education in this county, Mr. Graves is

undoubtedly one of the most persevering men I ever got acquainted with, under every

impediment consequent on the scarcity of money he has progressed to maturity in

erecting

large & comfortable houses both for boarding lodging & c of 120 students also a large and well

constructed house for instruction, he has also funds collected sufficient to pay suitable

teachers in the minor branches of education say 60 students for one year if the parents

can board

them their tuition will be given them gratis the institution is in one of the healthiest

situations in the state, I hope he will prosper  — Duncan McKenzie

ZionSeminarySign copy
From  The Southern Reformer of Jackson, MS in 1846: “Mr. Simrall, from the committee on incorporations to whom was referred the bill to incorporate the president and trustees of Zion seminary, reported the bill back to the house without amendment. The bill was read a third time and passed.”

The town of Seminary in Covington County, MS received its name from the school established there. The institution is known as Zion Seminary and taught hundreds of students courses in medicine, law, and religion.  Sadly, it last burned in 1890, though a historical marker suggests that it burned during the Civil War. It may have received Civil War damage, but lived to see another day. Today Seminary Attendance Center exists on the old school site in the middle of town. I think it is fitting that near his death Duncan’s hope of being able to find quality education in his new Mississippi home was coming to fruition, though a little late for his own children.

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

that hand once so familiar to your glance

the stroke, now lies slumbering in death

cold, beneath the ground, only to be lamented,

his parental personage has now become

a blank, and filled up only with sorrow

he changed Earth for Eternity on the night of

the last of February at 12-oclock  — Kenneth McKenzie

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

Through the family’s grief, the grown sons continued corresponding intermittently with their uncle for years. Likely Barbara and her brother Duncan both encouraged this. Though the correspondence was not as regular nor the letters as long, it continued until after the Civil War. Their letters reveal very little about where Duncan McKenzie was buried or who might have preached his funeral, details the sons revealed in letters about the death of their mother years later.

Sources:

Humphreys, Margaret. “A Stranger to Our Camps: Typhus in American History.”

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/198540 Accessed 19 May 2018. 271-273.

“Incorporation of Zion Seminary.” The Southern Reformer. Jackson, MS. 9 February 1846. 1. newspapers.com Accessed 21 May 2018.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie 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. 27 July 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. 9 December 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 June 1843. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscripts 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 May 1844. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 25 April 1845. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscripts 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.

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 28 December 1845. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin papers. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke University.

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

“The Militia Act of 1792.” http://222.constitution.org/mil/mil_act_1792.htm. Accessed 19 May 2018.

“Street Fight.” Southern Argus. Columbus, MS. 4 Kamiaru 1942. 1. newspapers.com Accessed 17 May 2018.

“Violence, Crime, and Punishments.” Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill. 1989.1470.

“William and David Burney 1843.” The Vicksburg Daily Whig. Vicksburg, MS. 15 August 1843. 3. newspapers.com Accessed 21 May 2018.