…. clues to business before the courthouse fire
Because the Hancock County courthouse burned in 1853, destroying many years of irreplaceable records, historians and researchers have been unable to assemble much information pertaining to our early residents. Fortunately, some land owners thought to have their personal copies of deeds reentered after 1853, and these are usually identified as such in the deed books.
Probate records, dealing with suits, appointments as guardians and commissioners, and other legal matters, have helped somewhat. Leafing through these files, one might find older documents, preceding the fire, have been used as evidence in matters after 1853. They would have been personal documents that have remained in the files and serve to give a bit of a window into earlier happenings.
Another source of information is found in early tax rolls. After Mississippi became a state in 1817, counties were required to post tax rolls, the purpose of which was twofold: to collect taxes for the county, and to keep a roster of men for military reasons.
Much of this collection has been compiled by Jean Strickland and Patricia N. Edwards. A booklet called Hancock County, Mississippi Early Tax Rolls & W.P.A.Manuscript is available in our historical society and the main library.
While the publication can be viewed in its entirety, it is instructive to gleans some of the facts and details that might give a better picture of what was happening in our area in the early years. There are indications of a growing population, along with increased wealth; some of these dynamics can be followed for individual property owners.
Some curious facts emerge. One may be surprised to find the value of clocks, and carriages, whether they be two- or four-wheeled, were distinguished. Bowie knives had to be reported and taxed.
The rolls cover the period 1818 to 1843. It must be remembered that until 1840, Hancock included Harrison and until late 1800’s, parts of Pearl River county. It is possible to isolate many of the settlers in the study area simply by name recognition. Some general observations are noteworthy:
Only men ages 21 to 50 paid the tax; older men were included in the rolls, but without being taxed.
Of 170 counted in the first list, 39 were living on or near Pearl River, indicating early utilization of that waterway. Many are listed at Shieldsboro, but it must be considered that such designation may was much more inclusive than present-day Bay St. Louis.
Tax rates were determined by three columns of figures: Wp, S, and F. Taxes were paid on the number of slaves owned (“S”), sometimes at a rate higher than for white persons “Wp”), but at other times apparently at the same rate. In several instances, there seems to be a mention that the rate for a free person of color (“F”) was much higher. This appears clearly in the 1838 roll, wherein the rates are stated as follows: Wp – 37 1/2 cents, slaves – 62 1/2 cents, free persons, $3.00. In a sampling of other years, the rates are not listed as such, but simple calculations reveal that the usual rate for free persons of color was $3.00 as against 75 cents for a white person. It is also of note that in most years, no free persons are listed.
Listed as taxed are acreage with their value, slaves, merchandise sold, meat cattle and town lots. This was not consistent, however, and the formulae could be changed from year to year.
The earliest rolls contain listings of some enormous holdings. Because of their possible significance, they are included here. They were two extremely large plots, taxed in the 1819 and 1821 rolls. One was billed to Valery Nicholas, and the other to Edward Livingston.
In the 1819 roll, Valery Nicholas is listed as owner, but apparently was representing Louis Boisdore. (Probably this was really Nicolas Valery, listed in a Consolidated Association of Louisiana Planters as having a presumed wealth in 1827 of $20,000) is shown as a zero under WP (white person), meaning either over age 50 or non-resident. He was taxed on 40,000 acres, shown as a Spanish title, and was taxed at $216. He owned no slaves. In 1822, he paid tax on 80,000 acres, valued at $160,000; the tax was $640, and the property was said to be at “Boderie Point.” (The assessor for that year, Harmon Hammond, probably was attempting to spell the name Boisdore as pronounced in French.) In that year, it is indicated that his payment was to cover tax for 1820 and 1821 as well. Significantly, Valerie Nicholas is mentioned in the deed by which Lewis Daniells purchased Clifton Plantation, as the agent of the heirs of Don Louis Boisdore, “late of New Orleans.” He is “of the same place under and by virtue of a letter of Attorney from the said heirs under date of first day of November in the year 1823.” (Simple calculations show that 80,000 acres equates to 125 square miles, or the distance from the Pearl to the west bank of the Bay of St. Louis.)
Also in 1819, Edward Livingston paid tax in the amount of $82.34 for a grant at what is now Pass Christian. For the years 1820-1822, his tax was $122.28. His land was valued at $30,568 and was comprised of 15,284 acres. Livingston was a prominent member of the U.S. House and Senate and served as Secretary of State under President Andrew Jackson. Originally from New York, he moved to Louisiana in 1803 and practiced law in New Orleans. Like Valerie Nicholas, it appears that Livingston was not a resident of Hancock County, and owned no slaves in the county. Livingston appears again in the 1836 rolls, with 12,934 acres on the “Sea Coast,” and no slaves, taxed at $32.33.
Why these two large parcels were removed from the tax rolls in subsequent years is unknown. In the case of the Boisdore claim, it has been found to have been litigated in the courts for many years. This can be found in United States v. Boisdore, 52 U.S. 11 How. 63 63 (1850).
Details of what was taxed is curious. In 1838, billiard tables (there were only two), money loaned at interest, and pleasure carriages were added. Another change occurred in 1841 with the addition of bonds and bank stock, watches and clocks, Bowie knives, and cattle. Watches and clocks were valued at anywhere from $5 to $60. Only four Bowie knives were admitted to, one by Sempronius Russ, but settlers claimed 12,164 cows.
The subject of the Bowie knife is intriguing. It was not invented until 1827 and improved in 1830. Bowie died at the Alamo in 1836, but his knife had become famous enough to be an item of taxation. This was partly because it was declared illegal by several southern states in the 1830’s to manufacture or sell the Bowie knife; in Alabama, there was a $100 transfer tax, and any killing with one was to be adjudged murder regardless of circumstances.
The inclusion of cattle in 1841 is revealing, as previously there were not many indications that the early settlers were ranchers as well as farmers or timbermen. In 1836, there was an inclusion of “meat cattle,” but it did not manifest large numbers. At that time, they were taxed at one cent apiece.
The 1842 rolls included the following: Jean Baptiste Toulme owned 1,400 cows. As his home was in Shieldsborough, it is doubtful that his cattle were in the city, but instead were probably kept in a rural area. In 1842, Toulme was taxed on $3,000 of merchandise sold, a comparatively large amount, leading to the speculation that this was in the form of cattle sold. His tax of $27.83 also covered his clock, watch and carriage.
The 1843 rolls taxed 5,554 cows, 9 carriages, 40 watches, 26 clocks, two Bowie knives, 234 white men, six free men of color, and 460 slaves.
Other persons of interest, all of the Pearl River area, held the following in 1842:
George Mitchell – 800 cows, plus $100 loaned and a $45 clock
Lewis Doby – 125 cows
Thomas Doby – 75 cows
Augustine Favre – 150 cows, and a $60 watch and a $75 clock
John Favre – 100 cows, and a $50 watch and a $50 clock
James Murphy – 250 cows, plus an $85 carriage
Lott McArthur – 250 cows
Charles Favre, Sr. – 100 cows
Estate of Jonathan Wingate – 185 cow
Lewis Daniells, mentioned above in connection with the Boisdore claim, owned the Clifton plantation on Mulatto Bayou. In 1836, he paid the second highest tax at $30.83, to cover his 884 acres, 700 meat cattle, his $200 carriage, and his 41 slaves.
The highest tax was paid by a non-resident, the widow of John Ioor (also Jore, Joor), with 64 slaves at “Claiborne.” This is an anomaly, as JFH Claiborne did not move to the area until 1849. It is conceivable that the location was called “Claiborne” at a later date. In the previous year, H. John Jore, Sr. was listed as a non-resident with 3,940 acres and 53 slaves, and it is presumed that he died in that year. (In another document, Joor is said to have willed his wife 500 acres in the area called Point Clear, which I believe to be in the area we now call Lakeshore.)
Many other incidental facts of possible importance can be gleaned:
……….In 1829, the “Company Pearlington” occupied 596 acres valued at $1,192, while the steam mill was on six town lots valued at $3.000.
………..In 1835, the tax computation was 37 1/2 cents for a WP, and 2 1/2 cents per ten acres.
………..1836 was the first time that Sam Russ appeared in the rolls. In 1840, he had 26 slaves and a $250 carriage at “Mulatto Bay.”
.. ………In 1837, Asa Russ shows for the first time, taxed on 10 cows, a $75 carriage, and 720 acres. In 1843, he also paid tax on $700 “notes or bonds.”
…………Jean Baptiste Favre’s 640 acres were identified in 1829 as “Hickory Camp.”
…………In 1843, the year after tax was paid by the Estate of Jonathan Wingate, David Wingate first appears on the rolls, taxed on $5,164 “loaned,” a $30 watch, $15 clock, and 12 slaves, for a total of $22.93, the highest tax for the year.
Analyses of individual ownership patterns during the period for which these early tax collections are available can also be instructive. Some, like Judge Daniells, were consistently engaged in farming with slave help, while others appear to have been land developers, perhaps speculators, without employing the use of slavery. For example, Daniells is shown from 1824 with a low in the number of slaves at 22, and his lowest tax at $16.50. By 1841, however, the number of slaves has grown, with minimal deviation, to 47, and his tax to $43.10.
On the other hand, Elihu Carver, an official surveyor, is shown with varying amounts and value of land, rising and falling from a low of 515 acres to a high of 5,124, while having in most years no slaves. Only in one year did he have two, and in a few years, one slave. His taxes were usually relatively modest, in most years between $2 and $6.
Sam White, whose name shows often in county records as commissioner or guardian or in other official capacity, owned no land for the first several years in which he appears, from 1821 to 1825, and then only 50 acres for the next four years. But then he began to acquire larger amounts, growing from 920 acres in 1831 to 2,382 in 1841. His taxes were also modest, but grew at a fairly regular rate from $1.55 in 1825 to $12.73 in 1841. In an earlier year, 1821, he paid $8.75 on $4,000 of “merchandise sold.” Another $3,000 of merchandise were taxed in 1827, in addition to $1,100 of meat cattle.
He too had few slaves, sometimes none, and no more than six, and so it is likely that he did not operate a traditional plantation. He is, however, shown in a few years with amounts of “merchandise sold.”
Isaac Graves probably owned substantial property earlier than these rolls indicate. It is known, however, that he had married the widow of Simon Favre, and it appears that his holdings include some lands that had previously belonged to Favre, who died in 1813.
The year 1828 was the first time any large amount of acreage was shown for Graves. This was for 1,957 acres in Pearlington. Later, in 1831, 640 acres are identified as being simply on Pearl River, raising the possibility that this was one of Simon Favre’s claims.
Graves’ operation must have been similar to that of Daniells, in that the acreage was comparable and he utilized a fair number of slaves. Unlike Daniells’ consistent increases in number of slaves and amounts of tax, however, Graves experience was rather level on both counts. His slaves numbered within the 21 to 34 count over the years, and his tax was usually in the $16 to $27 range.
The first Russ to come to Hancock County is believed to be Samuel. His brother Asa followed, and shows for the first time in 1836. In that year, he was taxed on 720 acres, nine slaves, a carriage worth $75 and nine meat cattle. In 1843, his assets included $700 “notes or bonds.”
The last item prompts a speculation, having to do with money “loaned at interest.” Only a few times prior to 1843 were such entries found, one such credited to John Jourdan in the amount of $1,600 in 1830. No less than 30 loans are taxed in 1843, possibly indicating an evolving economy and more vigilance on the part of the assessor. It is probable that there was no banking system at this time, and promissory notes were recorded for the safety of the lender.
Interestingly, some of the loans were made by men prominent in the county, such as the following: Lewis Doby – $800; Andrew Seal – $276.50; Jacob Seal – $400; John Wheat – $150; Jean Baptiste Toulme – $375.
Perhaps banking was coming to Hancock.