Editor’s note: This article was written by Russell Guerin as part of an unpublished manuscript co-authored with Marco Giardino, Ph. D. It includes some information to be found elsewhere on this site.
Slavery in Hancock County
In January 1861, the State of Mississippi adopted the following resolution:
DECLARATION OF THE IMMEDIATE CAUSES WHICH INDUCE AND JUSTIFY THE SECESSION OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI FROM THE FEDERAL UNION.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
Although the early settlers of Hancock County required fewer slaves than those of other areas, some of which included the huge cotton plantation of the Delta, the area of study was in fact part of Mississippi and accepted slavery as an institution.
An article printed in The Gainesville Advocate April 8, 1845, testified to that truism. The article is called, “Hints on the management of Slaves,” and contains the following suggestions:
Never threaten a Negro – but if you have occasion to chastise him, do it at once.
Never show passion before them.
Always keep your word to your slaves.
Have no favorite.
Do not be betrayed, by a source of good behavior.
Negroes have very inferior minds and brains.
The Negro is sadly deficient in conscientiousness.
In pursuance of the plan of our publication, we shall take care that our readers have more on this important but much neglected subject.
The Advocate appeared to presuppose the general attitude in the county toward slaves and the institution of slavery. However, analysis of the population brings into question whether many settlers owned any slaves. Moreover, the occupations of the settlers as listed in the census reports indicate many were simply workers, lumbermen, sea captains, etc; these were pursuits which did not require ownership of slaves as necessitated on large plantations.
Gainesville at the time of the article’s printing was Hancock County’s seat of government.
The available information regarding slavery in the 19th century Hancock County is somewhat confused. The 1820 census totals 1,594 persons, of which 1,168 were white and 452 were slaves or “free coloreds.” The census of 1830 shows the total population of 1,961, including slaves, but does not break out the numbers. More details are given in 1840, indicating 2,239 white, 74 free coloreds and 1,054 slaves.
The foregoing is for the county as it was then constituted; in 1841, what is now Harrison County was broken off and so it is difficult to measure growth of present day Hancock County. However, it would appear that the white population alone had grown to 2,478 by 1850. Unfortunately, no calculation was made for slaves. While in the 1850 census contained a column to indicate color, in no case is that item completed. It must be assumed that only whites were counted.
It is probably a safe assumption that the ratio continued roughly at two to one. More importantly, it seems that the families in the area under study for this report, owned a relatively small number of slaves, with a few exceptions.
Claiborne is reported to have had 100 slaves at the start of the Civil War. They averaged only 800 pounds of cotton per acre, and so they were probably not all field hands.
It is not known how many Jackson had, but it was probably less than Claiborne’s number. When Jackson’s debts were mounting in 1860, wife Sarah wrote to son Andrew III that they had to sell 16 slaves the previous year, and…”the expenses of the year will make it necessary to sell as many more this fall.”
It is evident from the 1830 census that Lewis Daniells, previous owner of Clifton, had 36 slaves; ten years later, he owned 62. Asa Russ also is listed in the 1830 census, with 14 slaves; Samuel Russ had 29.
The 1840 census indicates that most of the other owners had fewer slaves. Of those in the Pearl River area, almost all slaveholders were from the Carolinas: Jacob Seal had 3; William Seal 6; A.S. Leonard 32; Asa Russ 14; Samuel Russ 29; Sempronius Russ, 2; Poitevant 13; Wingate several. Other slaveholders in the county with fairly large numbers were Cowan with 32, Isaac Graves with 38 and John Toulme with 12. Asa Russ was also trustee for 21 slaves owned by his sister, Amelia.
Of course many residents were not farmers. Their occupations were often listed as simply laborers, sailor or merchant.
According to Hickman, slave population was relatively small due to the fact that the soil in the pine forests was not of the richness to support large plantations. Blacks outnumbered whites in none of the pine counties. He states, “The great majority of black laborers in the Piney Woods from 1840 to 1933 were employed in lumbering, and a sizable number were naval store workers.” One of the naval stores was operated by Francis Leech and I. B. Ives at Napoleon before the Civil War. A Francis Leach is listed in the census of 1850. 
Similarly, Napier has written that most farmers (63%) owned no slaves, while the great majority, about 78%, owned land.
Letters: Primary Evidence
Primary evidence regarding the treatment of slaves can be gleaned from the Jackson family letters, as well as other documents of the period.
In the Jackson correspondence, the same names crop up often, as these were apparently trusted, long service hands; occasionally, family members appear to communicate messages between servants in different locations. There are anecdotes bringing out the human connection between master and slave, such as the treatment of Samuel’s abscessed tooth and the effort to save the dog from snakebite.
In one incident, Samuel, on hearing of small pox at another location, vaccinates all his young slaves; of course reflections of human kindness in this occurrence must be tempered with the awareness that slaves were valuable property.
In the several years covered by the Jackson letters, only one happening of a serious nature is narrated. This involves a runaway who is captured twice by Samuel. The first time Samuel was ready to kill him, but succeeds in having him bound to the house. He is then guarded for the night by two of Samuel’s servants but is able to free himself from his bonds and escape. Naturally, it must be questioned whether the guards were complicit in his getting away. Samuel then sends off for bloodhounds, and a search continues through the day without success. About a week later, Samuel wrote, “Billy just called me out and I found the negro waiting to see me. He says the mosquito’s are so bad he cannot stand them and begs me to take him to his master…I am glad he has come in for I had determined to kill him at first sight”.
Letters in late 1860 reveal anxieties about the changing economics and politics of the time. Sarah wrote to Andrew her son on September 3rd, “there are a good many places for sale, at this time, land negroes, stock, &c…abolitionism is I think alarming the negro holders, and many of them are anxious to realize a large sum in cash for them now, while prices are high.”
Similarly, Samuel in a letter to his mother on November 13th expressed growing panic. He wrote from Clifton: “Pa and I went over to the city on last Friday expecting to start up to the Ark. River & other places but on arriving in the city and hearing of the election news & finding so much excitement found it necessary one of us to return. We met several members of the court of Hancock County and they told us they intended putting in force the law requiring every owner of slaves to have some one to overseer or be on the place themselves or they would be subject to a heavy fine or other penalties.”
It should be noted that in their sojourn in Hancock County, the Jacksons did not appear to have hired an overseer; instead, young Andrew seemed to have been given that responsibility.
It is believed that at least one large landholder, Christian Koch, who had more than 500 acresowned no slaves. It is further asserted that Koch was a militant abolitionist. This does not quite square with a document that has surfaced in which he donates “my Negro boy Joseph whose age is about fourteen years” to Celeste Jane and Isaac Francis Graves, children of James and Florentine Graves. This was done on January 16, 1851, “in consideration of the natural love and affection which I have and bear for my well beloved friends. Although the document is listed as a Bill of Sale, no amount of money is specified. It is not known how Koch acquired Joseph, and it may be significant that he gave the boy away.
Letters exchanged within the Koch family over many years are studied in another part of this text. It is evident in these letters that the work of farming Bogue Homa was done by wife Annette, their children, and hired hands, some of which were probably relatives.
Even after considering the above anomaly, it was apparently out of principle that Koch farmed his spread without the benefit of owning his field hands. It appears that he had less compunction, however, about renting a slave. In a Probate Court accounting of credits for the Doby estate, it is recorded that on June 4, 1852, Koch paid $125.50 for the wages of Paul from August 4, 1851 to June 4, 1852. Paul is listed in the Doby inventory as a male slave, age 35; he was subsequently sold by the estate to Wm. J Poitevent for $1,130.
Renting slaves at a daily rate was apparently not uncommon. In the same document described above, it is shown that Luther Russ also employed Paul for “one month, less two days” for $14.00. Another Russ paid wages for Washington in the amount of $45.00, after deducting for “loss time and absence” at the rate of $10.00 per month. Washington was only age 16 at the time, but later was sold to Poitevent for $1,355.00.
The will of Marceline McArthur indicates that long-term leasing of a slave was also done.She directed, “The Negro man slave named Piere (sic) shall be hired out from year to year until my said youngest child shall be of age, and that the proceeds of his hire shall go toward the support, schooling, and clothing of my children, and I do wish that he not be hired out of this county and state, and I do not wish him to be hired to go upon any water craft.” It is perhaps worth noting that Mrs. McArthur was the fourth largest landowner, according to the 1850 census, with real estate valued at $35,000. She was the mother of Elizabeth, called Lizzy by Annette Koch and identified as the widow of Moody, killed by the citizen’s committee during the Civil War.
A document dated June 20, 1839 made Asa Russ trustee on behalf of his sister for her slaves. She, Amelia P. Russ, had become engaged to Daugherty Gause, and together “…they entered into a marriage agreement in order to secure to the sole use & benefit of the said Amelia, his intended wife, certain slave property & the same were to remain to her separate & sole use and entirely exempt from any will liability on his part….” Twenty-one slaves were then listed, with their names and approximate ages. Twelve were age ten or less. It was mentioned that they were all slaves “…coming from said wife’s father’s estate.” One dollar was paid for Gause’s consent, after which the agreement purported to “…grant bargain sell & deliver unto Asa Russ & his assigns the afore mentioned slaves In Trust …that he is to hold said slaves & their increase for her sole & separate use & benefit and that he is to have the hiring of them out to the best interest of Amelia P. Gause or to put them on a farm should it be desirable…. The said Asa Russ is only personally responsible to Amelia P. Gause for such sums as he may receive on account of such slaves.”
Legends concerning Slavery
Legends involve two important sites with regard to slave trading very early in the 19th century. These were the Pirate House in Waveland and the house that later was to be occupied by Claiborne as Laurel Wood.
Although there is no hard evidence to support these stories, the coincidence of some details lends credibility to the legends. In the case of the Pirate House, it is believed that the house was built about 1803 and involved Jean Lafitte or at least his patron in the importation of slaves. The story would perhaps be more believable if it did not include the persistent assertion that a tunnel ran from the sandbar to the house. What is known is that a small bayou leads from open water to a pond that is located to the west and behind the original house. The pond and bayou still exist, much as they did according to some of the earliest plats in the Hancock County courthouse.
The Claiborne house, said to have been built around 1800, unfortunately was razed in the 1960s. However, observers have recorded that under the raised house was a “slave block” to effectively imprison slaves; in one reference it was described as having iron bars, forming giant cages.
Constitution: Slavery Allowed till 1808
A fact of the time that is difficult to ignore involves the prohibition by the United States government of the importation of slaves into Louisiana. This took effect in 1804, fully four years before Congress legislated the same for the rest of the United States. In fact, the Congress was known to be incapable of legislation regarding any management of slavery because of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution. It reads, “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand, eight hundred and eight.”
Jefferson had attempted to include in the Declaration of Independence language that was decidedly anti-slavery, but was thwarted by the Continental Congress in the final draft.It appears that what Jefferson could not accomplish for the thirteen states, he was able to do partially for the Louisiana Purchase. This was because, at Jefferson’s recommendations, Congress established the government of Louisiana on the basis of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which outlawed slavery. Obviously, there was still some compromise, as Louisiana slave owners were allowed to keep their current slaves.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast, especially secluded inlets such as the Pearl River and Mulatto Bayou, surely could have afforded cover for the furnishing of illegal slaves to neighboring Louisiana.
WCC Claiborne on Slavery
In his work on W. C.C. Claiborne, Joseph Hatfield points out that the Spanish colonial authorities, just prior to the Louisiana Purchase, had permitted settlers to traffic in slaves, and that “…during the three-week retrocession of Louisiana to France three French ships delivered 463 African slaves into the territory. “ He further states that Claiborne made no attempt to interfere with slave importation until the 1804 ruling.
Charles Gayarre also reported on the problems created for W.C.C. Claiborne by the above changes. “Another source of tribulation to Claiborne was the necessity of soon preventing altogether that slave-trade to which the ancient population was accustomed, and which could not continue under the new regime. It was a task which, had he been so disposed, it would have been impossible, for the present, to perform strictly and effectually. Negroes were daily smuggled into the territory through the Spanish possessions by way of the lakes Borgne, Pontchartain, and Mauepas.” Quoting Claiborne in a letter to Jefferson dated November 25, 1804, he states, “The Searcher of all hearts knows how little I desire to see another of that wretched race set his foot on the shores of America…. But, on this point, the people here are united as one man. There seemed to be but one sentiment throughout the province. They must import more slaves, or the country was ruined forever.”
 Journal of the State Convention and Ordinances and Resolutions, Adopted in January, 1861. Published by order of the Convention, Jackson, Miss., E. Barksdale, State Printer, 1861.
 By one estimate, he had 55 in 1860. Coastal Environmental Study, p. 24. (Marco: need exact title of study)
 Nollie W. Hickman, Black Labor in Forest Industries of the Piney Woods, 1840-1933, Mississippi’s Piney Woods: a Human Perspective, Noel Polk, editor, University of Mississippi Press, 1986.
 He was a distiller of “Spit T” – probably indicating turpentine. From Ireland, Leach was 36-years old and owned real estate valued at $600. His wife was from South Carolina.
 Napier, Piney Woods Past: A Pastoral Elegy, p. 20.
 Deed Book A, Hancock County courthouse, 636.
 Probate Records, Hancock County, microfilm, Hancock county Library, Bay St. Louis,Ms.
 Ibid, Will book.
 Deed Book B, Hancock County courthouse, 351-52.
Joseph T. Hatfield,, William Claiborne, Jeffersonian Cetunion in the American Southwest, (Lafayette, Louisiana: University of Southwestern Louisiana,1976), 177
 Charles Gayarre, Charles, History of Louisiana (New Orleans: Claitor’s Publishing Division, 1974) vol 4, 33.