Decade of the 1830s: Agriculture in Mississippi

Cotton
Cotton ripened in the fields near Sikeston, Missouri.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rigidly enforced against them whether they are willing or not

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

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

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

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

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

litigation”

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

“we have planted a little corn, but from

much rain we are likely to be late with the main

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$2 from that for freight insurance Storage and Commi

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

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

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

much — I could have disposed of my crop at home

as usual, but thinking that there was Something

to be made by trying the head of the market

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

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

Selling ever since I came to the country, the first

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

at 4 cts the purchasers hawling the cotton from the

place to the gins or paying me for the Same —

you see from the above that I have missed the figure

this time”

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

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

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

& Thompson, Merchants at that time in very good Standing

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

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

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

have failed consequently this far I have recd nothing but the

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

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

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

others who are Similarly placed”

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

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

“Owing to Kenneth bad health and my

own inability to perform hard labor, we are late

with our work, the cold wet and backwardness

of the Spring would not justify forward plan

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

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

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

instant”

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

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

I did not see the frost but Saw the

effects of it on potato leaves & persimmon bushes, in

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

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

water courses failing, a constant fountain near

the fence is visited by numerous herds of cattle Suffi

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

Monday evening the 19th the weather is still

clear and hot and no appearance of rain this is the

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

earth to the roots of the corn”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“we have just finishd

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

as yet but expect to commence so soon as the Season

will permit — Since the 15th of Janry the weather

has been unusually cold till about the  middle of last

week, Since it has Been quite pleasant till today —

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

we Sowed a little wheat

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

and the wheat looks verry yellow”

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

He prefers, “selling

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

and get our supplies of groceries and all heavy articles in

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

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

necessarys,”

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

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

“where a man is Satisfied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tailor Duncan Calhoun’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Description Sabine Parish, Louisiana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage or Wanderlust

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

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

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

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

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

The Mexican War and Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Bound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duncan Calhoun’s Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship with Duncan McLaurin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters and legal documents are listed chronologically

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Health of Family and Friends

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

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

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

and Satisfactory letter from him Dated Rodney May the 1st

Rodney a village on the Mississippi above natchez he called on

Capt Hugh Peter Fairley the Camerons & c all were well

except Daniel McLaurins family who were Sick of the Scarlet

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

his arival there.”

A Possible Visit to NC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but my little matters call my attention here…”

The Land

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

Cousin Duncan Calhoun

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

“our Taylor

Duncan Calhoun late of Ft Claborn on refusing

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

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

The dandy nettled with Such measures walked out of the

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

the large head of the taylor but lucky for the latter

the dandy was not a Sure mark but unlike a man

our hero taylor instead of the offender ran away

to mobile So report Says…”

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

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

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

Health of Correspondents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

diameter being the largest except two others which came from

both extremities of the lower jaw. numerous small particles

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

Enslaved Persons

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

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

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

Crops in 1836

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

scarcely an article that the farmer will raise but will Sell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“King alcahall” and Politics

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

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

“…last monday was our Election of

deligates also for a member to fill the vacancy in Congress

occasioned by the death of Genl. Dickson at the precinque

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

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

most of them to be led by Jackson nomination and

caucus dictation. however even in that the times

are changing for when I first came here it was

unsafe for one to call the name of Jackson in vain

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

not a Jacksonian he was called a Damd nullifier or some

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

Family Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this winter he will probably bring the article”

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

Barbara’s Health and Family News

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

“My family Since

my last, has been in tolerable health with the exception

of some attacks of cold which in some inStances has been

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

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

passed, She became verry weak, She is now recruiting

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

at present”

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

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

Crops and Economy

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

“…we have planted

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

should the weather continue cool and now dry after the wet

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

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

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

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

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

all the fall sowing of oats none of them escaped”

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

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

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

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

the New Orleans Merchants consequently our merchants can

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

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

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

our cotton or send and agent who will purchase our

necessary, cotton is at par with gold or anything else

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

our own State money at the above discount …”

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

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

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

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

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

“You cannot

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

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

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

gone he is represented as a perfect spendthrift.”

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenneth McKenzie and his November 1833 letter to his son John

Kenneth McKenzie in North Carolina

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

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

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

“You should have with us

much philosophy as possible, the cross acci=

=dents of life, and not suffer yourself to

be led into any practices in consequence of

them: you know, that your irritability of

disposition is very great and consequently

that much reflection; if attention is required to

transcend it; otherwise you might be head=

=ed to a fatal situation; you have al=

=ready experienced the effect of sudden gusts of

passion, let it be an awful warning to you

in future.” — Donald Stewart

Kenneth writes from Brunswick County

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

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

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

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

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

& the friends of mankind Oh my dear old

friend Major Duncan Donachaidh Machd

-Dhonuil oh what a kind Heart …

I am sorry also for the Death of

friend C Cahoun he was a Real friend of mine

from his childhood”

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

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

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

Kenneth’s messages to his to his son John

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

“I am thanks be

to the great giver of all good; well

pleased at Everything about your situation

Health mind & circumstances only one thing

Excepted; & that is your advertising you

Land for Sale I hope you will not sell

to any person as your land is valuable

and I should Say fully worth the Rise of

$500 let me make a Calculation 236 Acres

at $2-25 per acre which will amount to

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

Twelve months Ill give you at that rate

myself if nobody Else Does Your land John

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

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

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

Duncan full of Satisfaction to my poor heart

Now my dear children John and Betsy consider yourselves at

Home Dont give up your Home for a Song

as your Brother Did Your land acre for acre

is actually better than your Brothers Therefore

I insist on you to hold to it”

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

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

7th October named Kenneth P for Pridgen I am

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

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

Kenneth’s religious faith

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

“He that died on Calvarys awful mount here

the groans & Sighs of them that put their trust in

him to wit. them that through his grace has come

to him with their Sins being crushed Down under

that tremendous load which neither men nor

Angels could Remove but he alone that trod the wine

press & bore their transgressions & Rose again for their

Justification & sits Enthroned to bear their prayers unto his

Father this my Dear Children is the consolation that is

worth living & Dying for therefore let us meet always

at his throne of mercy Especially in sweet morning

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

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

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

Kenneth McKenzie and Relations in Scotland

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

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

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

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

SOURCES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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