Minutes of Hancock County’s Police Court, 1863-1866

 ….a Civil War activity
            A lady named Hilda Hoffman spent a lifetime collecting thousands of documents relating primarily to her area of residence, Pearl River County, Ms. While these papers are mostly of a genealogical nature, some are historical and have to do with other areas.
Mrs. Hoffman is now deceased, and the collection is being studied.
            In the process of reorganizing what has become known as “the Hoffman Papers,” Dr. Marco Giardino came across an original booklet of minutes of a Civil War era organization in Hancock County. It consisted of the minutes of meetings of the Police Court, reflecting activity from 1863 to 1866.
            Neither Marco nor I was cognizant of such a group, and on inquiring at the office of the Chancery Clerk, we could find no one with knowledge of this group ever having existed.
            Exist it did, however, with a great deal of activity involving many of the most active members of the county. Moreover, substantial monies were raised and spent.
Well organized, it had a board and committees of several types. Members, at least in some cases, were elected. Taxes were assessed and collected. Meetings were governed by parliamentary procedure.
            This was not a creature wholeheartedly of the county’s making. In one preamble to the minutes, it was said to be “Called in Conformity of an act of the Legislature, entitled an Act better to provide for the families of Soldiers approved AD December 2, 1863.” This, then, seems to be its primary purpose, although reading through the documents indicates that the assistance was to be primarily if not exclusively to families of volunteer soldiers. One must wonder about the families of conscripted soldiers.
            There are other puzzlements. One is with regard to the place of meeting: almost always the “Court House of Gainesville.” It is well known that the court house burned in 1853. While it is easy to assume that another building was used for this purpose, another question as to why the meetings were not held in the new county seat at Gainesville.
Other Police Courts
            A little digging into history discloses that other areas had police courts. Whether they functioned with the same mission is questionable, however. In the case of Baltimore, Maryland, it seems that one such organization must have pre-existed the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. To quote a May 9 document of the mayor, it states, “In the report recently made to your honorable body by the board of police commissioners…it was suggested that the most feasible, if not the only practicable, mode of stopping for a time the approach of troops to Baltimore was to obstruct [the railroads] by disabling some of the bridges.”
             It is clear that this police court was already functioning at the start of the war, and that its mission was more involved than helping the destitute. Another source, writing about Baltimore, says, “He learned that the city’s mayor and board of police had issued an order forbidding the use of any steamers in Baltimore harbor ‘without the permit of the board of police.’”
            In a report on Fort McHenry, we find what thanks were given these citizens: “The prisoners at Fort McHenry came from all classes and walks. Among the most prominent civilians detained at the fort were the marshal of the Baltimore City Police Force and the Board of Police Commissioners.”
            Closer to Hancock County, it is found that Desoto County had fallen to the Union in 1863, and mention is made that “The Board of Police spent much time during the war years extending aid to the families of soldiers to prevent starvation on the home front.”
            In Adams County, an October 1856 bill can be found for road repairs authorized by the Board of Police. Tallahatchie County Mississippi’s Confederate Muster Rolls contains the Oath to the Confederate States of America: “We solemnly swear that we will support the Constitution of the Confederate States…and that we will faithfully discharge to the best of our abilities the duties of the office of members of the Board of Police of said county according to law. So help us God.”
            Carroll County also had a board of police. They kept minutes from 1861 to 1865.
This note adds a suspicion to presumption that Hancock’ board started earlier than 1863. There probably did exist at one time, a book preceding the one under discussion. This volume begins with a board in place, suggesting that other activities came before.
A review of the entire document follows, with greater attention to the first several meetings. Less detail is given for subsequent meetings, as much is routine activity. The more important activities have been placed in bold type, in order that they may easily be seen among the more ordinary functions of the organization.
April 1863 Term
            Whether or not this was the very first term, it was an important one, and it gives a window into the activity of the Police Board. Five board members were present, Joseph Martin being president. Also in attendance were a Deputy Clerk and a Special Deputy Sheriff. Nine “overseers were appointed at this meeting, with their districts clearly marked off and “all the hands” of those respective areas being part of their responsibility. (The job of the overseer becomes clear in later meetings, wherein it is specified that they are overseers of the poor.) Commissions were ordered for each of the nine.
             In addition, eleven “captains of patrol” were appointed. Duties are not clearly delineated, but “all the persons” or “hands” in said beat were “allotted thereto.”
            The meeting was concluded after $72 was allowed to a pauper in Beat 5, and $552.70 was authorized to Joseph Martin out of “the relief fund.”
May 1863 Term
            Board members were essentially the same, but the preamble to the minutes used a slightly different designation, calling the group the Board of Police.
There was not a great deal of business. It did include three payments to members ($140 to $157) for “hauling corn for the destitute families.”
October 1863 Term
            Strangely, the next entry in book of minutes skips several months, to October. In this meeting, taxes were levied for fiscal 1863. It appears that the county tax was to be equal to the state tax.
            New appointments as “overseers of the poor” were made for Beats 1-5. Treasurer George Moore gave a report to the effect of the following balances: $66 – county finances; $46 – volunteer relief fund; $92 – probate judge fund.
            Each destitute family of a volunteer in service was to be given $30 from the relief fund.
Salient facts, Subsequent Meetings
            The foregoing is intended to give a glimpse of normal business. At this point, names of the important participants include Joseph, Martin, Elihu Carver, Geoge Holloman, Alphonse Williams, David Mayo, James Cuevas, John Hover, wily Toomer, Solomon Seal, William Stewart, Henry Weston, S. J. Farve [sic], Luther Russ, D. W. Johnston, W. A. Whitfield, Henry Carre, John Calhoun, Samuel Murphy, Samuel White, and W. C. Wheat.
            As more important actions become apparent, they are detailed, as below:
           12-2-63: Commissioners to help destitute came under Sec. 1 of the above Act. Bondfor Treasurer Moore was under Sec. 2, and provided that he furnish bond in amount of $10,000.
            2-1-64:Rates for A. Mitchell’sferry established: Footman, 2 cents; Horse and Rider, 25 cents; Buggy and horse Cart, 50 cents; Waggon [sic] & team, one dollar.
            3-7-64: Treasurer was ordered to pay Stewart $1,000 out of relief fund. D. S. Bayard [?] allowed $15 for hauling 20 bushels corn to destitute.
            4-4-64: Isaac Attaway awarded $48. “it being a balance due him for the keeping his son a pauper for the year 1863. Bates and Holleman allowed to change road running to their residences so as to run around their farms instead of through them. Mary Favre allowed $50 for “keeping Rachel Pollard a pauper of said county.” Joseph Martin (president) allowed $300 out of relief fund.
            6-6-64: James Graves appoi nted overseer of Pearl River road from Pearlington to Napoleon with all the hands at Pearlington and up toS. J. Favers[sic]. Other overseer appointed included Samuel White, Dr. Griffin, Toomer, Whitfield, Seal, Smith, Pitman, Carver, and Long. Each area was clearly delineated. Several commissioners made their reports. Sheriff was authorized to sell jail irons. Sheriff to hold elections for one survey and one ranger and two Justices of Peace. Johnston allowed $50 for one “blank book.” [This entry, along with others about expenses, may well indicate a substantial inflation of the period. Paper, in particular, is known to have been scarce.]
            7-4-64: David Moya appointed president of new term. Sum of $15 given to Thomas D. Moore “for saving the minutes of the Probate Court of said County, from theYankees….” from [Following the word “Yankees” there appears an undecipherable symbol, possibly shorthand. [N.B. This is the first indication that there was any direct action or presence of Union forces.
            8-1-64: This seems to indicate that Moya is only president pro tem in absence of Martin. Report made of recent elections of JPs. List made of awards by name and coded title to 25 people; amounts are mostly $2, with a few at $4. Sum of $25 authorized for stationery. Payments of $45 allowed “for services rendered the families of volunteer soldiers to be paid out of relief fund.” [Herein lies the suggestion that such payments were possibly only for families of volunteers, not to include families of conscripts.]
            10-10-64: New appointments of “overseers for the poor” were made, one for each of five beats. Several payments approves, the largest being to Calhoun in the amount of $600 for 15 months of “keeping and maintaining D.S. Brush.” Payments of $2 and $4 approved for 38 individuals, listed by name and code letters, similar to above, but this time broken down by Beat number.
            11-7-64: Finance reports made, showing $18,047 in relief fund, $370 in county funds, and $87 in probate funds. Mary Favre again allowed funds for Rachel Pollard, this time in amount of $110. Commissioners for destitute families allowed $13,786 out ofrelief fund. D.W. Johnston, assessor, made “returns of the assessments of his county for the year 1864.”
            1-2-65: George Holloman now president. Board ordered that future meetings be at Smith’s school house, seven miles above Gainesville. Commissioner Jacob Seals allowed $500 out of relief funds; another, illegible, given $1,000 out of fund. Roberts allowed $15 for removal of jail irons. Johnston given $90 for making out assessment rolls and stationery. 
            3-6-65: Meeting held at “Jourdan’s Smiths School House [sic].” Future meetings were to be at court house in Gainesville. Sheriff ordered to hold election for one county surveyor, one member of Board of Police for Beat 5, Justices of Peace, and one constable. [This is first specific indication that members of board are elected.]
            4-3-65: John V. Toulme now a member of the board. Wm. Poitevent appointed overseer of the poor for Beat 2. Henry Carre appointed overseer of the River Road from Napoleon to Gainseville; “hands” include J.V. Favre, two Murphys and others. Twenty persons are appointed “Grand jurors to serve at next term of Circuit Court.” Payments in amounts of $2 and $4 allowed to twenty persons. Samuel Jones allowed $150 for booksand stationery. J.J. Bradford allowed $200 “for stationery furnished during his term in office.” Board ordered a rescission of commission of Jas. McGee, who was replaced by Stewart, who was then allowed $1,000 out of relief fund.
            8-7-65: Henry Weston appointed overseer of road from Pearlington to Napoleon “with all hands in Pearlington and all other hands liable to work said road.” Other new overseers were Russ, Holloman, Randall, Stockstill, Necaise, Seals, McGee, and Byrd.
            10-9-65: Amos Seal appointed overseer from the fork above the swamp to Hog Pen branch, including nine hands named Seal, plus Nathan Seal, negro. Wheat also named overseer, to cover inside road from the three bridges in Hobolochitto swamp to Black Creek; Wise to be overseer of inside road from Black Creek to Henly old place.
            10-16-65: Following members elect appeared and produced credentials: Martin, Toulme, Holloman, Smith and Ladner. (Note: this is only one week after last meeting.) Martin then reelected. John Poitevent was made sheriff. Johnston, Randall, and Johnson were appointed commissioners “to let out and superintend such repairs as may be required to be done on the Court house at Gainesville and report the same to the board.” Ezra Carver and John Long were made commissioners of the Shieldsboro area involving the bay road and the 8th mile post to the west end of Ravine Favre.
            11-8-65: List of persons to be “Grand Jurors to serve special term of the court.” Listed by Beat number. Motion was made to take John Brush off the list of paupers. John Calhoun given $10 “for keeping J. S. Brush a pauper of this court,” in addition to $271. John Moore allowed $6 for making a coffin for Rachel Pollard, pauper. Many new overseers were appointed, including LF Russ on the inside Shieldsboro road leading from Pearlington; hands named include Narcis (Black Boy) and JFH Claiborne, “and all his hands in his employ.” In each case, a clear description is given to outline the areas. A special election was called to elect a coroner. Substitutions were made for the commissioners to repair the court house, and given instruction “to advertise forproposals [be] made to them in sufficient time to have the court house repaired by the meeting of the next court.” They were further allowed to contract in the best interest of the county; it was stated that the “first Moneys received in the treasury will be applied to defray the expenses necessary for the repairs of the Court house and Jail.” Report of treasury showed balance of $506.05.
            12-4-65: [Mostly illegible] It seems that a license was requested by Roberts, possibly to sellspirits. John Huber presented petition signed by majority of voters of Beat 2 “or retailing of spirits and various liquors in less quantities than one gallon in the house known as ‘Stanley House,’ about two miles north of Gainesville.” Board ordered approval.
            1-1-66: $135 to be allowed Mary Favre for keeping Rachel Pollard. [Much illegible] County clerk allowed $125 for books.
            1-2-66: Special meeting. Bradford, clerk of court, allowed $63 for extra services in 1861 and 1862. Other tavern licenses applied for. [Could it be that such were not allowed during the war?]
            3-19-66: Stewart applied for liquor license. $48 allowed to Attaway for keeping a pauper. Petition of majority in Beat 5 for liquor license for house known as Saint Louis Exchange in Shieldsboro. Roberts authorized to “change houses,” but retain the name “Mulberry house.” Roberts allowed additional $8 for removal of jail irons. $88 authorized for books. More Grand Jurors appointed by Beat.
            4-2-66: Adolph Bolanger applied for tavern license. John Montz applied for license to sell liquor in Beat 5 in house known as “Crescent Exchange. Liquor said to be limited to less than one gallon. $184 allowed Murray for “keeping Peter Attaway a pauper.” Rates of taxes established for fiscal 1866 as follows: County tax equal to state tax; probate tax 5% of above; special pauper tax and other purposes 50% of state tax.
            The last documents are comprised of several pages of small amounts, similar to those mentioned above. The first seems to be a recap, dated April 1865, and shows a balance brought forward of $27,286. The last pages reflect the years 1863 and 1864.
Whitfield: The mention of W.A. Whitfield is intriguing. This appears to be the same as the person JFH Claiborne mentioned as living on the bay at the site now referred to as Pine Hills. He called it Belle Fontaine. Other information shows that Whitfield was actually a plantation owner in Harrison County. In the minutes, he is treated as someone living to the north of Gainesville, being an overseer of an area including the swamps around Hobolochitto (Minutes of June 6, 1864). It may be that some folks moved north during the war for protection against the Yankees.
Scharff book: There is mention of “Board of Police” on p. 174, but here Scharff equates it to County Board of Supervisors. The era is antebellum, perhaps about 1852, as no reference is given, and it dealt with land pricing, removal of obstacles in Pearl River, and reclaiming swamps.
Another mention is on p. 242, and tells of legislation in 1867 concerning and election to determine the county seat: “There was intense rivalry. Gainesville got the most votes, and the Police Board chose to remain at Gainesville, but the circuit court decided that Shieldsboro had received the majority of ‘legal’ votes, a wording which suggests irregularities in the voting.”