Russell B. Guerin
People have proud recollections about Pearlington’s bygone years. The town is still attractive, occupying the last scenic bluff on the lower Pearl River. Nowhere are the Cherokee roses more beautiful every spring. The number of residents has declined, but history is still there, and can be seen and felt in the ancient oaks and the layout of the streets. It is in the soil and in the movement of the river’s waters. It is written on granite markers in an ancient cemetery.
Hurricanes have never been kind to communities they pass through. Indeed, some areas have acted almost like magnets for them, and so it was in the one called ’47, and in Camille and in Katrina. Open fields and cement steps standing alone are reminders that there had been communities of people there, that there were once houses and schools, that families worked and prayed together, and children laughed and played. There is now one two-pump gas station and not a single convenience store.
Perhaps justifiably, some former residents might feel like rejected lovers, but they still proudly proclaim the city at one time possessed what was said to be the largest lumber mill in the country. Some go it one better, saying it was the largest in the world. It is something to hang onto while we unconsciously reject that the many mills that dotted the river had removed from the land its stands of virgin pine and cypress, said to have been “inexhaustible.”
It was not just the hurricanes. “Acts of God” is what they are called. Still other causes were manmade.
Such realization is not intended to lay blame, but to set the stage for what and who came before. We honor a few by name, but memorable besides the Favres and the Prays were those who danced on the logs floating downriver, the sawyers and the men who slung the axes, the shrimpers and oyster fishermen who rose long before others were awake. They – all of them – built a town.
That town did not just happen, and what happened did so early. At most, our country was not but a decade or two old when Pearlington was taking form. There are enough bits and pieces of written history of the early 1800s to indicate that the city began in the previous century. Indeed, my memory is clear about the first time I visited the cemetery, about twenty years ago, when a sign begged for the return of “Our 18th century Gate” which had been stolen by vandals.
Before there was a Town…
Who settled first? We could argue that it was those who settled the Claiborne site a few thousand years ago, except that Cedarland was older, and both were on Mulatto Bayou, not the Pearl. Still others who preceded them may have had their footprints washed away by the rising of sea levels over millennia.
In the more modern, historical world, a map dated 1561 – repeat, 1561 – of the Gulf of Mexico has surprising details, like rivers that may represent the Mississippi and the Pearl. Though not named, they are in the right places. The map is said to represent Nueva Hispania. Someone had done some exploration; it matters not that it was by a Venetian.
There is also written evidence that comes from historical times. For example, Iberville recorded that he tasted the water of a river and it was fresh. He remarked that the river was tidal at times. This was the Pearl before it had a name. Possibly Iberville was at the site which was to become Pearlington. After all, it was the first high ground coming up the river.
Consider a quote from The Journal of the Badine: “March 29, 1699. I found a fresh water river 300 yards wide and 3 fathoms deep, which branches into two streams, one flowing into the main pass and the other running among islands. I followed it for 5 leagues, and there stopped for the night. All these areas near the river seem to be very fine country, filled with beautiful meadows and a few islands, suitable for habitation.”
On January 31, 1700, the Journal of the Renommee reads, “I ordered M. Sauvolle to go and examine a river that empties ten leagues west of the ships, to see whether it is suitable for a settlement.”
Fishing for Pearls
In the same journal, we find how the river got its name. On April 25, 1700, Iberville recorded the following: “I left orders for M. de Sauvolle to go to the Acolapissas and oversee the pearlfishing.”
Probably related to Iberville’s request, we have the writing of a Jesuit missionary, compiled in 1700. His Journal of Paul du Ru tells the harrowing story of a group going to find the Colapissas village on the Pearl. The weather was terrible, the tide was very high, causing flooding, a man was lost to drowning, and du Ru had no shoes. In addition, they encountered a rattlesnake, and the guide deserted them. Altogether, a terrible story, and perhaps having little bearing on the future site of Pearlington. As with Iberville, we have no sure evidence that they were at the future site of a town.
On May 29, 1700, Iberville entered into his journal, “They could do no fishing for pearls, the waters being too swollen. Pearls are taken in the rivers.”
Le Page du Pratz, in his History of Louisiana, offers more information about the pearls. “There are likewise excellent mussels on the northern shore of the Lake of St. Louis, especially in the river of Pearls. They may be about six or seven inches long, and sometimes contain pretty large pearls, but of no great value.”
The Penicaut narrative, Fleur de Lys and Calumet, adds, “[We] came five leagues away to a river that flows into the lake, which the savages call Taleatcha, which in French is Riviere aux Pierres; in it we found some of those shells, or cockles….In these cockles pearls are found. We gave two dozen of them to M. de Bienville.”
Another source is Scharff’s Louisiana’s Loss, Mississippi’s Gain. Once more, the locus of Pearlington-to-be is suggested. “In 1722, about 30 Biloxis and Pascagoulas were found living together on the Pearl River at a site formerly occupied by the Colapissas. A map in the Mississippi State Archives by Crenay (1733) and another ordered by Sartine for the French Maritime Service (1778) show this site to be near Pearlington.”
It is not the intention of this writer to do a complete history of Pearlington, because much of that is already done. We know about Weston and his mill, and we know about Poitevent and Favre’s before they moved to St. Tammany. The facts of the erasure of neighboring towns, like Logtown, Napoleon, and Gainesville, are clear and have been covered by NASA as well as newspapers and books.
What we will be looking for here are the facts of the formation and early existence of the town. Primary sources will be sought, and perhaps will complete and augment the tales that have come down to us over the years. In some ways, it will be sketchy, for written history is hard to come by. Those first settlers, we may assume, were far too busy to contemplate writing their own biographies. Clearing their land, cultivating it, and harvesting what they grew would have been priorities.
While remaining respectful of the courage and fortitude of the people who had the guts to carve out their existence from wilderness, we must also consider that many of the early ones were not schooled in reading and writing.
There were the exceptions, like Simon Favre, and because his professional existence began during the 18th century, he has already been treated in detail on my website by my friend and collaborator, Dr. Marco Giardino. Other exceptions are PRR Pray, a giant in the law of his day, and the military heroes, like Nixon and Ripley. There will be a surprise hero, in the person of Governor McRae. They will all be relevant in the paragraphs that follow.
For the most part, this discussion will encompass a time period through the 1830s. From that period onward, we accept that later decades are already described. However, for the concluding years I make a promise, that there will be told a fascinating, true-life story of early Pearlington. It has been given to me by a genealogist with whom I had been exchanging emails for quite some time. That story will be new to almost all readers. While newness might be enticing, it is the details uncovered by this lady which will shed light on the Pearlington of long ago, facts that might never have been imagined in a fictional narrative.
Before we search old dusty files and original documents in an attempt to reconstruct the early history, we must acknowledge the work already done by two important scholars, Charles L. Sullivan (The Mississippi Gulf Coast: Portrait of a People) and Dr. Bill Jenkins (Pearlington: Church and Community).
In the extracts that follow, their chronologies are a guide. Together, they offer excellent outlines, and their facts are indisputable. I hope that we may be able to add to their work in some small ways.
1804: Ordered by President Jefferson, the Kirby Report, dated May 1, 1804, contained the following information: “From the town of Mobile to the Pascagoula there are about 18 families settled along the shores of the Bay and at the mouth of the river; and from thence to Pearl River, and upon the same there are about 30 families.”
The Briggs Report: “The extension of American postal service to New Orleans in 1804 prompted Jefferson to inquire about possible overland post routes….From that point [Pascagoula] he [Briggs] rode in a generally southwesterly direction to the Favre farm on the Pearl.” (Sullivan)
Briggs reported postal service including schooner from 1805. He rode to Favre farm, which could have been at Napoleon or Pearlington. (Sullivan)
1805: A reader should consider that the farm mentioned above might well have been at Napoleon, where we know Simon Favre lived for a time. He bought a plantation later, which we believe to have been at or near Pearlington, but the Briggs ride was in 1805, possibly before his move to Pearlington. (Sullivan)
Still, this is worthy of inclusion because it pertains to the general area.
1809: “He (Doby) lost no time in carrying out his desire to own the land that was part of West Florida owned by Spain. On April 26, 1809, he received his Spanish grant of 1280 acres, proposing to cultivate it until 1813.” (Thigpen and Jenkins)
1810: “A traveler’s account of that same year gave a more complete situation report of coastal families than that of Kirby six years before. This account listed…just under 20 families on the east bank of the Pearl.” (Jenkins).
“Following the issuance of his proclamation, Claiborne instructed Dr. William Flood, a prominent New Orleans area planter and physician, to proceed to the coast and raise the American flag at each inhabited spot. The governor further order Flood to appoint justices of the peace at those places and to present them copies of the United States Constitution and copies of the territorial law code. On January 9, 1811, Flood docked the sloop Alligator to the Simeon [sic] Favre Farm on the west bank of the Pearl, raised the flag, and appointed Favre as a justice of the peace of Biloxi Parish….In his report to Claiborne, he estimated the population of Biloxi Parish at 420.” (Sullivan)
Jenkins wrote that in 1810 there were just under 20 families
1813: “Governor David Holmes…mobilized the Mississippi Territorial Militia and ordered the immediate assault on the Creeks. Among the coast units responding to the call were those commanded by Colonel George H. Nixon and Captain John Bond of the Pearl River area.” (Sullivan)
1814: “Old Hickory rode out of Mobile along the Federal Road on the 31st parallel, a mere wagon rut through the Piney Woods….At Ford’s Fort the party turned south to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, arriving by boat in New Orleans.” (Sullivan)
Even though there is no mention of the Pearl, this is included in anticipation of the legend that Jackson crossed the subject area. Further, a quotation from Thigpen is in order: “The army crossed what is now Pearl River County in three parts, with the larger portion crossing through the northern part of the county.”
Napier has a slightly different account, this one including Pearlington. He writes that the southern part came through Pearlington, from whence Jackson’s men shipped their heavy equipment to New Orleans [Chalmette].
1815: “The Rev. Thomas Nixon, Methodist Circuit rider and nephew of Colonel George Nixon, visited his famous uncle on Pearl River in November 1815…The diary of his travel from the Tennessee Conference to the Pearl River provides unique insights of that time.”
Saturday, 11th: “We rode to Harkins’ and took supper. The Indian hotels are made of small poles, just high enough for you to stand straight in, with dirt floor, no bedding of any kind except bear skin, and not that in some of their huts. You feel bland and disappointed when you walk in and find a cold dirt floor, naked walls, and no fire. Camping out is far better than such accommodations.” (Jenkins)
1822: “Pearlington receives charter. During the sixth session of the Mississippi Legislature, in December 1822, the city of Pearlington received incorporation papers….
This morning Brother Menefee and I parted. He went to Natchez, and I to my uncle’s, Col. Nixon’s, below the Indian Territory, on Pearl River, where I arrived on Thursday, 16th.” (Jenkins)
1823: “The legislature, in it Seventh session, 1823, approved the construction of a road from ‘Granbury’s Bridge’ to Pearlington.” (Jenkins)
1824: “Col. George H. Nixon died in Pearlington. His grave is clearly marked to this day in the Pearlington Cemetery, proving the age of this community….Nixon was lieutenant colonel in the territorial militia, distinguishing himself as commander of the 13th Regiment in the Creek War of 1813.” (Jenkins)
1825: “County court sessions held in Pearlington. In an act passed February 2, 1825, sessions of County courts were to be conducted part of the year in Bay St. Louis and part of the year in Pearlington….This seems to indicate that, for a while, Pearlington served as an unofficial county seat with Bay St. Louis….There apparently was some structure in Pearlington that accommodated the courts and included jail facilities.” (Jenkins)
The latter statement is reinforced by the fact that Attorney PRR Pray, a distinguished and busy jurist, made his home and practice in the town of Pearlington.
1831: “Diary of Christian Koch proves Methodists were in Pearlington. From 1831 to 1836, Captain Christian Koch, a native of Denmark, kept a diary of his travels along Pearl River. He frequently mentions the towns of Pearlington and Logtown….Pearlington is a small town. The only trade is in wood and cotton with New Orleans. There is no church so there is service only twice a year when a Methodist from another town holds services for three or four days. Marriages are always performed by the sheriff.” (Jenkins)
The last sentence shows something very significant even though it is meant to address the subject of church services. What is evident is that the city did in fact have a sheriff, showing a fair amount of organization for a small town.
The Koch diary will be covered in more detail below.
1836: “A valuable Sulfur Spring has recently been discovered on the plantation of Johnson Hutchings near the town of Pearlington on East Pearl River. The above Spring is said to possess all the medical qualities of the celebrated Saratoga Springs, New York.” (Jenkins)
Of personal interest to me is the memory that my father, about 100 years later, drilled for sulfur, having some reason to believe it was present and available. Long-term memory has the locus of the attempt near a culvert in Clermont Harbor.
The Infant Town – a Description
With the above as background, we have a general description of the town and its reason for being. The Pearl, while it zigzagged all the way past Jackson and drained many square miles, it began several miles inland from open water. It was therefore relatively placid where the town was located. It was also deep, making it an ideal port. The waters normally had a flow southward, facilitating travel downriver. It was this element that made it easy to practice its chief function for a time, that being the transport of cotton by flatboat from the cotton plantations upriver. According to Napier, in Lower Pearl River’s Piney Woods, it was at Simon Favre’s landing, called Favresport, where the cargo was ginned. From there it would be shipped to New Orleans by schooner.
Mention is made from time to time about the Pearl as a port. One small piece of information highlights its development, and it begins with New Orleans. That city’s first drydock was established after it was built in Kentucky about 1837 or 1838, and floated down the Mississippi River to Algiers, on the West Bank. The city’s second drydock was built in Pearlington, in 1839. It was towed up the Mississippi to Algiers.
It has been stated that railroads eliminated the need to bring cotton downriver to Pearlington by boat. While this was a temporary loss of industry, it allowed the area’s largest boon to be developed. That of course was the timber industry, utilizing what some said was an inexhaustible natural supply. It was not so, but it lasted long enough to put Pearlington “on the map” and account for the many mills that eventually dotted the banks of the Pearl.
The Maturing Town: the Pearlington Company
Not long into the evolving of the town, a company called “The Pearlington Company” was created. It announced, “A plan of the town of Pearlington in the County of Hancock State of Mississippi.” It included an exacting map; in fact, it is in the form of a grid. Its caption reads in part, “This is to be my survey and plat of the town of Pearlington representing truly the square lots, streets and quay made in accordance with the directions of the Pearlington Company.” It is signed, Elihu Carver, Sen., and Elihu Carver, Jr. It also states, “This plat and diagram was made and passed…at their meeting of 24th Nov. 1819, the 16th October 1823, 24th Dec 1823, and 14th day of Feb. 1825. It is signed by Samuel White, President of Pearlington Co.
Following the above is a drawing in the form of a grid, with street names like Pine, Myrtle and Hancock, Jefferson and Washington and Adams. Lots are shown to measure 90 feet front. Streets are 60 feet wide, except Pearl Street, which is 90 feet. A public square is marked off, as is a 120-foot section for Lenoir, and nearby is a larger one for Pray.
Today’s visitors, as they tour the town, might well contemplate that they are utilizing two-hundred-year-old streets. They should know that Mississippi Highway 604, which cuts right through the heart of town, was once an Indian path.
The paperwork of the Pearlington Company was attested to by James Johnston, Justice of the Peace, Hancock County. It is more than a map; it is a work of art.
The other officials are all prominent in the history of Hancock.
According to Thigpen, in 1821, “Pearlington was of such importance and of such size as to invite the Mississippi legislature, then sitting in Columbia, to visit the thriving town. The legislature accepted the invitation and according to JFH Claiborne, was sumptuously entertained by the people of Pearlington. The members were said to have gone away most favorably impressed with the town and the people of Pearlington.”
Not to doubt Thigpen’s fascinating bit of history, but it is regrettable that we do not know where these folks were housed, where they met, where they were entertained. Even without such information, we may assume that Pearlington as a town was already well developed.
Lots, Lots, Lots!
The Pearlington Company and its backers were serious about there business. We are indebted to Marco Giardino who found an article in an unnamed newspaper dated 1820. It tells of the sale of lots. Headed “Town of Pearlington,” it reads as follows:
The sale of the Lots in this Town which was incorporated by the Legislature, will take place on the first Monday and Tuesday of October next.
This town is handsomely situated on an elevated scite [sic] at the confluence of the Pearl River with the Rigoulets [sic], and affords a safe ingress and egress for vessels drawing not more than fourteen feet water at high, and at least eleven feet at low tide.
The trade between New Orleans and this place is at all times rendered secure by the important fort Petite Coquille.
For building the soil affords the materials for brick making and a never failing deposit of shells for lime found in the immediate vicinity.
The river affords an abundant supply of fish and large banks of Oysters are found in the neighborhood.
In addition to the many natural advantages which this place undoubtedly possesses a bill has passed the Senate of the United States where it originated, and suspended with many others for want of time, will, without doubt, become a law at the next session of Congress, establishing a port of entry at the town of Pearlington.
The proximity of this place in the great mart, New Orleans, for the products of this extensive river and its tributary streams, renders it an object to the adventurer of aggrandizement.
The sale will take place on the premises at ten o’clock in the forenoon, at which time and place the terms, which will be liberal, will be made known.
The advertising was signed by G.H. Nixon, H.G. Runnels, and Elihu Carver, Commissioners. A notice at the end requests that three newspapers, the Orleans Gazette, the state Gazette at Natchez, and the paper published at St. Stephens, will please insert the above until the day of the sale.
Not only were the backers organized well to sell their lots, they were also aggressive. Judging from the frequency that lot ownership is observable in deeds, inventories of estates, and other publications, it is evident that they were also successful. Of interest also is an undated document that lists many lot owners in an organization called “Hursey Div’n.”
Progress of a different kind was in the number of mills; Napier records six at Pearlington in 1825. These reports and the maps reveal a village already well on its way to becoming a town.
Myths and Legends
Can we have a little fun?
Myths and legends are told by those who have pride in their communities, their families, and their history. The correctness of the story may be challenged but not the motivations of the tellers.
I believe that many tales that come down to us by word of mouth are not intended to deceive. For one thing, they have survived the tests of time, and may be as believable as if revealed by an angel. We just lack the paperwork to support the information. Another consideration is that even if not fully correct, the legend usually has a grain of truth. It is like the beautiful pearl that grows around the grain of sand in the oyster.
With these limitations in mind, let us consider a few of the beliefs held by well-intentioned narrators of our history.
Saucier or Boisdore – Who Built the Claiborne House?
Some say the Claiborne house was built by Saucier; others say Boisdore. Both of these historical characters claimed the land during the early days of the county, but did they build the house? Let us see what the Supreme Court of the United States said in 1850. “Under an Act of Congress passed on 25 April 1812…this claim was presented to the commissioner appointed for the district east of Pearl River. Mr. Crawford, the commissioner, reported that the land was not cultivated and not inhabited.”
The court had already reviewed the case on 24 May 1828 and concluded, “The above claim is forfeited under Spanish laws, usages, and customs for want of inhabitation and cultivation within the time prescribed by those laws and regulations.” The end result of this case was that the Boisdore claim was reduced from a huge amount, literally thousands of acres, to a relatively small amount, 1280 acres. For our purposes of investigation with regard to who built a house, we may conclude from the evidence that it was not Boisdore. Whether Saucier was the builder remains to be found. [Italics by author.]
The Hancock Hawk, a Waveland publication, placed Philip Saucier with a land grant at the site later called Laurel Wood, the plantation of Claiborne. “Around this tomb are large oaks and pines. Growing in the center of the tomb is a small cedar tree about six inches in diameter.”
The tomb is assumed to have been Saucier’s, and would lend credence to his having lived at the site, and therefore built a house at the site.
I have searched for this tomb, with assurance that my starting point was the footprint of Claiborne’s house, but could find neither the tomb nor the cedar. Still, there is good evidence of the once-upon-a-time existence of the tomb. This writer once interviewed a man, now deceased, who recalled that in his childhood games of “hide and seek” he would hide behind the tomb. One might ask, “What better evidence than that?”
The tomb probably did exist, but in itself is not an indication as to who built the house. We may never know, but the search does yield important information, at least in the reduction in the Boisdore claim as decided by the courts.
The Jackson Landing
Another assertion made by the Hancock Hawk is that Gen. Jackson, on this way to New Orleans to fight the British, after coming from Mobile, landed his troops at Jackson Landing. This was located on Mulatto Bayou, next door to the Claiborne plantation.
The hard truth is that the general never set foot in the area. There seems to be an inference in the words “Jackson Landing” that Jackson must have been Andrew Jackson, the general and future president. Factually, Jackson in this case is the wrong Jackson, but first, let us consider the written record of Jackson’s engineer, Arsene Lacarriere Latour. He wrote that from Ford’s Fort Jackson went southwest to Madisonville and then crossed Lake Pontchartrain and entered New Orleans at Bayou St John.
So, who was the Jackson after whom the landing is named? He was Andrew, Jr., the adopted son of the president, who for a brief period in the 1850s owned Clifton Plantation on Mulatto Bayou, and would have used the landing as his own. Thus, Jackson’s Landing.
Jackson’s Road – the one less travelled?
In addition, the Hawk stated that Jackson’s Military Road ran from the bayou through Beat 1. However, Jackson created that road after the war of 1812. In the publication’s defense, I offer that the reference might be to the Federal Road, authorized in 1806, according to Sullivan.
Solid as an Oak?
I note a curious coincidence in the naming of two oak trees: Dueling Oak and Suicide Oak, just like the two of the ones so named in New Orleans. Which came first?
Now that we have sufficiently covered the Hawk, we turn to the doubtless truth of one of our most esteemed historians, Dunbar Rowland, to see what he has to say about Pearl River folk.
If Dunbar said it….
We do not think of the writings of historian Dunbar Rowland as being in the “Fun” category. He was indeed a serious historian, and his contributions to the Encyclopedia of Mississippi History are indeed scholarly. Nonetheless, a reading of the Pearl River Settlements section prompts a disclaimer. Found in Volume II, a description of the settlers is disturbing except for the fact that he must not have been speaking of the Pearlington section of the Pearl River community. With regard to the settlers in the piney woods, his text is as follows:
They were illiterate and careless of the comforts of a better reared, better educated and more intelligent people. They were unable to employ for each family a teacher, and the population was too sparse to collect the children in a neighborhood school. These ran wild, unwashed and uncombed, hatless and bonnetless through the woods and grass, followed by packs of lean and hungry curs, hallowing and yelping in pursuit of rabbits and opossums, and were as wild as the Indians they had supplanted….Time and the pushing of a railroad through this eastern portion of the State, have effected a vast change for the better.
Well, at least he allowed for some improvement in the last sentence. And now a repeat for emphasis: He could not have had our subject town in mind.
Nixon and Nixon
Letting the Hawk rest for a moment, we pose another question regarding an oft-heard claim, that being an ancestral connection between our Pearlington pioneer and distinguished soldier, General George Henry Nixon, and the former president, Richard M. Nixon. I asked the question of someone who is a librarian, working in the field of genealogy, and expert in the use of Amnestry.com. Her answer: “General Nixon was not related to Richard unless there was a son of his I cannot find.”
Burial of English Dead after Battle of New Orleans
According to the “Stevens Papers” at the Historical Society, in 1815 the British buried their dead in two places in the subject area, one at the Landing and one on the East bank of the Pearl. Legend gains strength by reports of “mouldy skulls and rusty musket barrels” decorating the camps around the Landing. This is believable because there were many wounded who probably died after exodus from Chalmette. Areas cited are close to Pea Island, but higher ground inland might well have been chosen. It must be considered that Chalmette claims most of the dead, some 600, buried near the tall smokestack on what was Alcoa property at one time.
Gen. Pakenham’s remains were placed into a barrel of rum and brought back to England. This was a way of honoring the general, but it is assumed that there was not enough rum, or barrels, for that matter, for all the dead. Nor was there the will of the seamen who would have had to make that long voyage back with a lot less rum.
The Cabin Boys
The use of cabin boys as interpreters was a vital part in the communications between the French and the Indians. They were trained by being placed with a tribe for a period long enough to learn the language, a task more easily accomplished with young people than with adults. In addition, they observed customs and practices, the knowledge of which could be helpful.
As an example of their significance, a letter sent by Ordonnateur Edine Salmon to Count Jean Frederic Maurepas on December 9, 1731, covers the subject as a “principal need.” Settlers require “some good interpreters, that is to say people who can give a good account of a governor’s words and argue according to circumstances with forcefulness to the Indians. For that purpose one uses coureurs de bois, traders, and people like that who, living with the Indians from whom they buy meat and peltries, are peers and companions….”
This subject becomes simple when viewed with the clarity of accepted written history. Iberville dropped off a few young boys to live with the Indians and learn their language. It gets confusing in reading articles such as one that appeared in the Sun Herald in June or July of 1976. It tells of Iberville sending two cabin boys on such an assignment. However, some specifics were outside the usual understanding of the history as we know it. Part of the article reads as follows:
One of the cabin boys, who was named LeFavre, was sent to live with the Bayou Goulas, a Choctaw tribe which lived between the Pearl and Mississippi Rivers. History shows that LeFavre not only became one of the principal interpreters between the French and the Indians, but three generations of this family served as interpreters. When LeFavre matured he married an Indian and settled on the Pearl River [with] the Acolapissa Indians, a Choctaw tribe. This place today is Pearlington.
A search of Iberville’s logs discloses the story of a cabin boy being dropped off at Fort de la Boulaye, but without the name LeFavre being mentioned. The cabin boy was to learn the language of the Bayogoulas. We agree that Simon Favre, his father, and his grandfather were interpreters, but the rest of the story, especially the location being Pearlington, seems fanciful.
Moreover, we agree that Simon Favre had children by the daughter of a Choctaw chief, but the claim of marriage in the usual sense is not accepted. To our knowledge, Favre’s only marriage was to a white woman, Celeste Rochon of Mobile.
Additional information can be found in written history. We know from Iberville’s Journal of the Badine that on May 2, 1699, cabin boys were left at Fort Maurepas, but their names are not mentioned. A footnote states that the editor of the book could identify them: “Higginbotham gives the names of the mousses, or cabin boys, left in Louisiana as St. Michel, Pierre Huet, Gabriel Marcal, Jean Joly, Jacques Charon, and Pierre Le Vasseur.”
It is obvious that the name Favre is not one of them. He might have been among another group, or which we have no immediate knowledge. Still, the subject as a whole is so interesting that it is hoped that one day further evidence will tell the story more fully.
Historical People – Our Pioneers
Etienne Maxson, in his book, The Progress of the Races, wrote, “Doubtless the first white settler at Pearlington was Simon Favre, a Frenchman, who was sent there from Mobile by the United States government, a pioneer, about 150 years ago to civilize the Indians. Mr. Favre settled on a farm just above Pearlington, which extended about a mile above to a landing on Pearl River known as ‘The Gin’ (afterward called Favreport).”
It is possible, of course, that some other white settlers could have preceded Favre to the site later to be named Pearlington. Still, Maxson’s statement is a good introduction to show the importance of this man.
Favre, the King of Spain, and the West Florida Rebellion
It is noteworthy that in 1803, the east bank of the Pearl was not part of the Louisiana Purchase, or for that matter, of the United States. The West Florida Rebellion changed all that, but it took years, like 1810, or according to a strict interpretation of the Adams Onis Treaty, 1819 or even 1821. Meanwhile, Simon Favre had been in the employ of Spain. Consider, for example, a letter he wrote on June 17, 1809 from Pearl River to Governor Juan Bautista Pellerin: “…I cannot do less than make known that every day there presents themselves on this River various foreigners of the American nation with the idea of establishing on lands of His Catholic Majesty. I wish to know if I should or should not permit it.”
We do not know whether Pellerin answered, but Favre’s letter is important even if it stands alone. Pearlington was becoming a hot area. People from the US wanted to settle. The town was growing to the extent that it might not please the king.
In any event, the problem as seen by Favre was settled by the revolt in 1810 of the West Florida Republic. The Historic Society is in possession of a cache of Spanish documents called the “Englis Papers,” which include mentions of Favre in connection with the West Florida revolt. The communications are as confusing as they are revelatory, but worth reading.
Of note is that the revolt had been over since September. However, because there are documents suggesting such possibility of action at the Pearl, we offer the following from Pellerin to Vicente Folch dated October 22, 1810:
The night of the nineteenth, Don Simon Fabre [sic] sent an inhabitant of Choucoupoula to advise me, that four hundred men of the rebels of Baton Rouge (mounted on Horses) have arrived up the Pearl River with direction of this post….Favre did not Write for lack of time, that this news he had acquired from two inhabitants of the cited River, his Friends….The twenty-first there arrived here Agustin Lafontaine inhabitant of the Post from New Orleans, who told me that he had seen the expressed Favre, at Pine Island…and that Favre had advised him to say to all the inhabitants of this district that the notice he had given the night of the eighteenth was false that those who had given it were liars; to this news the inhabitants returned to their houses.
At least we can be assured that in 1810 Simon Favre had friends and neighbors in Pearlington. It is doubtful that any of the militants made their way down from Baton Rouge to the Pearl. Even if some did, the number quoted, four hundred, was high; it only took 80 to take Baton Rouge.
Favre according to Giardino
The most scholarly study of the Favres has been done by Dr. Marco Giardino, retired from NASA and Tulane. The following is borrowed from his article on my website, called “The Favre Family in Early Hancock County.”
Numerous publications identify Simon Favre as the first non-Native American inhabitant of Hancock County. In fact, his father, Jean Claude Favre of Mobile,
received his first land grant in 1767 for his service to the British government of West Florida. It was later determined that Jean Claude’s land was situated on West Pearl, in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.
Jean Claude’s son, Simon Favre, was a prominent citizen of Mobile and Hancock County. Like his father and grandfather, Simon was an able translator and interpreter of Muskhogean language and played a significant role during the transition of the area from Spanish control to the dominion of the United States. He was Commandant of the Pearl River under the Spanish and was appointed Justice of the Peace for the U.S. Government in 1811. In that capacity he approved numerous land grants along the East Pearl the records of which shed light on local geography and place names.
The American State Papers list ten Spanish permits made by Favre on Pearl River between 1809 and 1811.
The portrait that emerges from the study of primary references related to Simon Favre and his ancestors facilitates the understanding of the important and complicated history of Hancock County during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Favres’ significant role in the political and social affairs of the northern Gulf Coast of Mexico provides a useful point of reference for tracing the land transactions of the region through four different national administrations, shedding new light on the history and archaeology of the region.
Simon was born May 31, 1760, and was baptized on June 1, 1760, the first born son of Jean Claude and Marguerite Wiltz who married in 1759. On March 25, 1801, Simon married Celeste Rochon, daughter of Augustine Rochon, native of Mobile and widower of Marie Jeanne LaPointe and Louise Fievre. Simon Favre became a very prominent and colorful figure in the history of Hancock County. His life on the East Pearl River spanned more than 40 years, during which time this portion of Hancock County was occupied by Great Britain, Spain, and the United States. He died in 1813. His descendants continued to live in the area until today, having fought in the Civil War and becoming prominent lumbermen during the late 19thcentury. The original Favre deed consisted of 640 acres in Section 37, T8, R16W, directly north of the Challon Claim (Jackson Court House District Land Records, 1820-1847: Certificate # 12).
Although Simon Favre spent time – perhaps years – at Napoleon, it seems that he moved with Celeste to Pearlington just after the turn of the century. There, they raised their family.
Favre’s Land: the 9th Parcel
Months after being given a suggestion by Jerry Heitzmann that there might be more on Favre in Lawrence County archives, I was pleased to find that a cache of previously unknown documents were available. One of the more important discoveries was what I call “the 9th parcel.”
Some time after Simon wrote his will, he bought a plantation. A few details follow, and additional information is on my web site. But the importance of this discovery relative to the present study is that I believe that plantation was at or very near Pearlington.
A major addition to knowledge of Simon Favre comes in the inclusion of this plantation, the name of which is illegible but appears to be “Storepem,” and a list of 57 slaves not mentioned in his will. It may be that he had just bought the plantation and slaves shortly before he died, as it is not likely that he would have ignored values like these in making his will.
Favre wrote his will on May 18, 1812, scarcely a year before his death. He listed his wife Celeste and his children, and included a special provision for his son Simon Austin by a previous relationship. He also documented his land holdings, and mentioned his debts in such a way as to consider them insignificant.
Lands listed are as follows (notes in parentheses are editor’s explanations):
1. English grant – 1200 arpents on Small Pearl River – from father (This parcel has to be what is shown in American State Papers A-No.2, original claimant J.C. Favre, a British patent dated 10 April 1771, in St. Tammany Parish, LA. It was surveyed in 1775 by E. Dernford, later signed by Pintado.)
2. 800 arpents on large Pearl – from father
3. 1200 arpents on large Pearl – from English government
4. 800 arpents from Spanish government, “and likewise that I cultivate on the Island” (2nd copy of will says “also one” instead of “likewise.” It seems this is the only one identified as being from Spanish, and is probably the parcel described in AMP Report No. 4 as 1200 acres east of Pearl River, claimed on March 5, 1804.
5. 800 arpents at the place called Oncaya (2nd Inventory identifies this as “the Island between the two Pearl Rivers.”
6. one likewise at Mobile of 400 arpents that I purchased from Simon Endy
7. 400 arpents on the upper part of the river at la Boutille (spelled Bouticelle in 2nd will, and Boutille in French will) from my father, English grant
8. Also the lands given to me by the Indians on river Tombechbe
A document of importance is the “Second Inventory,” dated October 5, 1814. It was completed at the Pearlington plantation of Celeste Rochon, widow of Simon Favre. A 9th parcel was added to the previously known pieces. Values of the lands, ranging from 800 to 1200 arpents, were from $200 to $300, with the exception of the last, the 9th, measuring 800 arpents, with improvements, and valued at $500.
Included in Favre’s estate inventory were tar worth $80 and 400 empty barrels appraised at $100. It is significant that the barrels were empty, indicating they were new. This would tie into the assumption that the plantation was itself a new investment by Favre. The count too was large, and believed to mean that Favre was embarking on
collecting pine tree resin to be used in caulking wooden boats and ships, showing that already, in c. 1812, the industry in naval stores was well on its way.
Jean Baptiste Doby
Doby was one of those first pioneers who carved a home and farm out of a wilderness. His land, measuring a full two sections, is now one of those innocent looking spreads where someone driving on Highway 90 should slow down because the speed limit reduces from 55 to 45. It is no longer a farm to be planted; it has trees and grass, and a subdivision called Oak Harbor. Still there also is the rich history of Doby’s endeavors and those of his descendants.
The location of Doby’s farm splits the land north and south of Hwy. 90. A traveler going east on 90 might be conscious of this history during the descent from the Pearl River bridge, separating Louisiana and Mississippi; that person would have most of the Doby land to the right, or south side, and part on the left, or north side, where the town itself begins.
A large Indian midden, reputedly never explored, borders Bayou Cowen to the south.
When Highway 90 might have been nothing more than an Indian road, a tract of land of an unspecified quantity on Bayou Cauend, also known as Bayou Cowan, was awarded under Spanish permit on April 26, 1809, to Jean Baptiste D’auby. His name came to be spelled variously as Daube, Dobe, and Doby. Later records indicate that the land measured two sections, or 1,280 acres, the equivalent of two square miles. The Tax Rolls for years before 1828 show lesser amounts, but it is evident that from that year Doby paid taxes on the larger amount.
According to county records and tradition, Doby had come from France before 1796, the year of his marriage in the New Orleans cathedral, to Marie Jeanne Giraud. At that time, he lived in New Orleans and worked on schooners plying Gulf Coast waters, and it is believed that such travels to old Biloxi, Pearl River, and Mulatto Bayou led him to select fertile ground on Bayou Cowan for his homestead. The site was close to Pearlington, which was considered a “bustling” community and was easily accessible to New Orleans. He moved there in 1809.
Genealogist Jerry Heitzmann says, “Jean, with his family, several slaves, and three schooners, immediately built a home and shipping dock on the banks of Cowan Bayou at what is known as ‘Doby’s Point.’ The home was built under the direction of a New Orleans architect with slave labor. Near the home were pecan orchards, orange, fig and cherry trees, as well as cotton fields. It was cotton, of course, that produced his greatest income. He also raised cattle and hogs for the local markets.”
Doby’s land was certified to have been inhabited and cultivated since 1809, and approved by Governor Pellerin. Although no survey was made, it is established that the site consisted of 1,280 acres. Over several years he had the help of between six and nine slaves.
Jean Baptiste Doby died about 1831. Tax records show that the land was kept intact, and passed to son Thomas Doby. Probate records indicate that after the death of Thomas, the estate had to be split in order to make distribution to the heirs of the estate. It is not clear, however, whether the 1,280 acres was then divided. Son Louis also owned acreage and had slave labor.
A curious inclusion in the tax roll of 1836 is the notation, “Madam Doby – 4 slaves.” This might have been the widow of Jean Baptiste.
Eliza Doby and Sarah Splitly
…..a different kind of story
[Ed. note: The following is lifted with few changes from an article by this writer. It is placed here firstly because of its relevance to the Doby family, but also because it is primary source information. I ask pardon for going outside the time period previously set, but I think this is fitting, as it is so revealing of the Doby family history. The source of this story is county probate records.]
The narrative is a poignant one. It is about the required legal reporting of a guardian of several children, declared orphans in 1853. Their father had been Thomas Doby; their mother had died before him. The guardian was Samuel White.
The locus of the story is itself a fascinating place. Countless thousands of people must have passed close-by over the years when they traversed Highway 90, which runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific, without knowing anything was there. Until the advent of Interstate 10, it was the main east/west route in the southern part of the country. Even now it is just a two-lane road with little traffic and few big trucks. It lacks shoulders in some stretches.
Just south of the 18th century town of Pearlington and down the east side of the Pearl River was once the Doby plantation. It measured two square miles, on which the Doby family farmed and raised cattle.
It is now a wilderness, bounded by Cowan, White’s, and Mulatto Bayous. A tributary of White’s is Pate’s Branch, the site of the hanging of a Confederate deserter. An Indian midden, to my knowledge never explored, rises on the banks of the Cowan. Other than that, there is one place of significance, and it is enclosed by an ancient, rusted, broken iron fence inside of which are three graves.
There probably are more burials nearby, as legend has it that many Confederate dead lie below, victims of the battle of Gainesville, just upriver. There are, sadly, no markings for them.
I went there a few years ago to find the graves of Francisco and Florentine Netto. He had died in 1836, and she in 1858.
A third grave was the subject of mystery. It marked the burial place on one Sarah Splitly, wife of Henry Gabriel. An etched granite stone, broken in three pieces but since repaired, says that she was born in 1834 in Columbus, Miss. A little poem reads,
Oh, there of the home
over there by the side
of the river of light
where the saints all
immortal and fair ones
robed in their garments
Her date of death was December 31, 1888. She was unknown to the Koch family members in our group.
I had been invited by members of the Koch family, who were having one of their reunions in Waveland, MS. Netto was a progenitor of the Koch family. He had married one of the Doby girls (probably a daughter of Jean Baptiste D’Aube, who had received a Spanish grant in 1809). He had served in the War of 1812; a marker commemorates that service. A descendant was Annette Netto, who married Christian Koch; they figure prominently in the history of Logtown.
One probate record is concerned with the death of Doby, about 1850, and the appointment of White as guardian for the children in 1853. White, who owned a nearby plantation and is the person after whom White’s Bayou is named, had previously administered the estate, producing an inventory showing 224 head of meat cattle, 1280 acres, personal effects from bedsteads to frying pans, and the schooner Elodie. Also, there were eight slaves: Paul 35, Teresa 22, Octavine 5, Octave 2, Madaline 23, Mary Ann 2, Washington 16, and Rose, two months. As administrator, White joined Thomas and William Brown, who also undertook obligations to the court in order for White to serve; the three were required to bond themselves in the amount of $8,000.
In the 1853 court proceedings, White listed seven Doby children: Thomas, Eliza, Estelle, Raphael, Jose, Elizabeth and Elodie. A number of reports were submitted by White to the court, including one to the effect that the slave boy Octave had been burned. He had been treated by Dr. J.W. Pendleton at a cost of $2.00. As he was not listed in the next inventory of slaves, he had probably died.
At least one of the 1853 reports seems to have been a correction to previous documents, in that it is about happenings from the years 1850 and 1852. In White’s words, he had “…to make report of the deaths of two of the said to wit Raphael who died in New Orleans some time in the fall of the year 1850 and Eliza who died of consumption in April 1852 at Madam Gabrail’s [sic] near Pearlington.”
It was not unusual for children to die young in those days, but there seemed to be something especially pathetic in Eliza having died, already an orphan and away from her siblings. There might have been a reason, but none was apparent.
It was not until some months later, in a casual study of the census of 1880, that I found what I want to believe was part of the answer. I cannot write a script for what had happened between Eliza and Sarah, but I think there was a loving, caring relationship between the two.
The census does not give a lot of information, but there is enough to suggest my hypothesis. Henry Gabriel, age 40, his wife Sarah, age 35, and their son, Alexander, age 18, were boarders at the home of Leander King, in Pearlington. Census figures were often approximations, and it is probable that Sarah was 46 years of age, as determined by her gravestone, considered more accurate.
All are listed as mulattos.
In reflection, I can think of only a limited number of reasons why a mulatto woman would be buried in the same enclosure as Caucasians Francisco and Florentine Netto. I believe that Sarah Gabriel was given a place of honor, and that she had earned it over the years. It may have been that other Doby family members had recognized the character of this young woman in order to have given Eliza over to her care.
Many years had elapsed after Eliza’s death, but it appears Sarah’s care was long remembered.
Publius Rutilius Rufus Pray
Better known as PRR Pray, he was a distinguished lawyer who was born in 1795 in Massachusetts. After a brief move in 1822 to New Orleans to practice law, he settled in Pearlington. This move was occasioned by the encouragement of Gen. Eleazer Ripley, who also practiced law in New Orleans, having moved there in 1820. During that period the two men had formed a close friendship.
Because New Orleans was considered an unhealthy place, the clean air and climate of Pearlington was their choice. Pray relocated there in 1824.
The move of two capable practitioners of the law gives a reader pause. Was Pearlington such a commercial center and with sufficient population to accommodate two lawyers? It is known that Pray sometimes practiced in New Orleans, apparently with Ripley. It is also known that for a time court was held part of the year in Shieldsboro, and the other part in Pearlington.
Pray was highly successful. He held a number of appointments and elective offices, including the Mississippi House of Representatives (1826-1829) and the state Constitutional Convention (1832), and he was a judge of the High Court of Errors and Appeals (1837). He was elected to serve as President at the Constitutional Convention.
In addition, Pray was very active in the real estate market of Hancock County, showing great faith in it future. The land where Pray settled with his wife Maria Learned and their children was known as Tuscullum. As previously mentioned, a parcel marked with the Pray name was blocked in on the grid map of Pearlington. Some information relative to this may be found in Deed Book C, where it is stated that the homestead where the family had resided was lots 1-4, Section 28, T9s, R16w of 191 acres, plus Section 23, same township and range, of 161 acres.
Pray died, we believe, on December 11, 1839, although some sources give the year as 1840. He was buried at Belle Isle Cemetery, Pearlington. Maria Learned died in 1848. Their daughter, Theodocia M. Pray, appears to have served as the executor of his estate.
There are no slaves included in the inventory of the estate of the father. However,
Tax Rolls show that he owned one to four slaves in years previous to 1835. In that year, he paid tax on 4,000 acres and six slaves. Records also show that he owned 22 to 24 lots in the 1830s.
Unfortunately, most of the pre Civil War probate records have been lost or destroyed. There is one extant, however, for the mid-1850s. In it are found several records that update Pray’s estate settlement. When he died, he had two minor children, George and Theodocia. A new bond for $5,000 was created by the guardians, Russ, Kimball, Farr, and Leonard. This was in 1853.
In December of the same year, Samuel White gave the court some details including a $90 payment. This represented part payment of the balance on a note for the purchase of lots in Pearlington by Mazilly and Hursey. There was then a credit of $802. Importantly, this may show the continuing market for lots sold since the days of the Pearlington Company.
A year later, another payment of $90 was made on Hursey’s note, and the administrator was paid his commission. That amounted to 7% of balance held for the heirs; it amounted to $25. Listed as an heir was Cornelia N. Pray, and the estate was said to be closed.
Though the Pray estate was closed, guardianship of the minors remained active under court guidance. An inventory was prepared on October 23, 1855.
A real estate section included the following:
2 lots in Shieldsboro $6,000
One section 300
160 acres on Mulatto bayou 320
80 acres below Pearlington 500
2 lots, Jackson, MS 2,000
Next was a section on Slaves:
Martha, Negro woman 30 800
Easter, Negro woman 30 800
Albert 12 500
Charles 10 400
William 10 400
Andrew 12 100
Edward 13 600
Eldon 21 1,200
Nathan 32 1,500
Martha 2 200
Grand Total $16,200
Noteworthy is the large difference in values when lots are compared to sections. Moreover, lots in Pearlington are far higher than those in Jackson.
Ownership of slaves by the guardianship of the children is confusing, and the makeup of the list is unusual. Six are children, possibly offspring of the two women age 30, but why so many children? Pray was deceased already for a number of years before these slave children were born.
Answers are not always easy to come by. Still, this history gives some insight into a large estate, and shows how minor heirs were protected.
General Eleazer W. Ripley
Born in 1782, General Ripley distinguished himself in both the military and in the law. In addition, he served in the United States Congress for the 2nd District of Louisiana from 1835 until his death in 1839.
During the War of 1812, his leadership was noted in the Niagara peninsula campaign. He received rapid promotions to lieutenant colonel in 1812, colonel in 1813, and brigadier general in 1814.
As mentioned in the section on PRR Pray, Ripley was also a lawyer who practiced in Pearlington and New Orleans. He had resigned his army commission in 1820 in order to reenter the legal profession. It was his love of Pearlington as well as his concern about New Orleans health hazards that he encouraged Pray’s move to Pearlington.
Ripley’s timing could not have been worse. A story is told in the WPA reports that in the spring of 1820, the weather was extremely rainy, creating marshes where none had been before. Though there was no direct connection at the time, it probably was the weather that invited the invasion of the mosquito which caused Yellow Fever.
The first victim was a young German girl, a servant in the Ripley family. According to some sources, Ripley’s wife died a few days later. However, the year of her death has been well established as 1829.
Later, Ripley moved to West Feliciana Parish in Louisiana, where he was elected to the state legislature in 1835. He served until his death at age 54. In 1839, he was buried in a small cemetery at Locust Grove plantation in Louisiana.
During Ripley’s stay in Hancock County, he invested in local properties. Between 1819 and 1832, he was shown to be the owner of several lots, with values ranging from $300 to $500. It is assumed that these were in Pearlington, possibly a result of the sales by the Pearlington Company. In addition, Ripley was shown to have a 640-acre tract valued at $1280.
Christian Koch – an 1831 Diary
Christian Koch and his family are best known for their many experiences during the Civil War years. Hundreds of their letters have been preserved, giving first-hand accounts about the war and its effects along the Pearl.
While it was not the intention of this project to cover the Civil War, we happily have access to another journal, this one called, Diary of Christian Koch, 1831-1836. It is from this eyewitness narrative wherein Koch tells of Pearlington still in its formative years.
Koch was a seaman from Denmark, travelling across the oceans to America and eventually to New Orleans and from there to Pearlington. He hired on to a schooner and crossed Lake Pontchartrain, sailing eight miles up the Pearl to his destination. He describes the approach to Pearlington: “As far up the river as Pearlington the banks are low, without woods, and overgrown with tall grass or reeds ten to twelve feet high. Lots of deer and cattle live here….Above the town the country is still very flat.”
A European who has seen some of the wonderful cities of the world, Koch is not initially impressed. He made the following observation:
Pearlington is a small, insignificant town. The only trade is in wood and cotton with New Orleans. There is no church so there is service only twice a year….The town is situated on the north side of the river in the midst of a large pine forest owned mostly by the government. Although everybody can cut as much wood as he likes, still it is pretty expensive. Marriages are always performed by the sheriff, who is the only officer in the place. The negro children are never christened, and there is a big fine for teaching one of them to read.
Koch has observed that there are federal lands. If he had been aware of the forced removal of the Choctaws, he does not mention the fact. Still, his observation is important, as this was the reason that anyone could cut wood “as he likes.” It should be observed that land was cheap after Indian removal. Acreage could be bought for $1.25 per acre, minimum 80 acres. In another passage, Koch described a quarrel between two men about wood. “One claimed it had been cut on his land, while the other said it was on government land.”
Koch was an observer, and a hunter, too. Mentions are made of rabbits, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, and “a few bears and panthers, but I have never seen the two latter. The soil in the woods is very poor, but higher up the river there are some cotton plantations.”
Not all the Indians were gone. We have Koch’s description of a few:
We had several Indians with us who brought deer hides to town. They dressed in skin trousers and moccasins, and all had woolen blankets to wrap up in instead of shirts. The women and men dressed alike, only the women had long hair. They are not so handsome as the South American Indians, but look more intelligent and savage, but they never had any money until they sold their skins, so they left their guns as security. They all have guns except the children who had bows and arrows.
There is another part of the Koch diary that is in our time period but the location is outside of Pearlington. In point of fact it takes place in the Caribbean, but it has relevance to Koch and his family later in their life near Pearlington.
We know that during the years Koch was raising his family, he ran a big farm without owning slaves. As far as I can tell, only once did he hire a slave, by the day, and for a temporary period. It is also true that at times he helped the black people of Logtown financially. Perhaps he had some especially hard feelings about slavery. When the war did come, it was evident that Koch did not consider it his war. He sent his sons into hiding so that they would not be forced to fight for the Confederacy.
A part of the journal covers travels through the islands of the Caribbean. There are passages in that section in which he describes the brutality of the treatment of slaves on rice and sugar plantations.
It is hard work for the poor negroes to work these plantations….Thus I saw a young negro, for a small offense receive twenty-five cuts with the whip, and each time it cut out a piece of his flesh….[H]is hands [were] tied behind his back, and a rope around his neck by which they pulled him along like a poor animal. When he came to the ship he begged them to loosen his hands a little as they hurt so, but his master would not allow it….His punishment consisted of two hundred strokes with the terrible whip, which often caused death.
Pearlington had slaves. Many of the workers in the mills were slaves. Census reports show that the count of slaves was an important part of the record. Tax rolls indicate that each slave was counted. The money derived was important to the county.
All this is true, but Koch and his family, in their Civil War letters, did not write about this subject in the same way as Christian had in the Caribbean. Perhaps here I will be guilty of editorializing and not writing straight history, and then again I may simply be expressing hope, but perhaps what Koch observed in the islands was not what he saw along the Pearl. Perhaps the treatment of slaves was not so monstrous as he had seen in his travels.
General George Henry Nixon
Two generals, three attorneys, one governor: was Pearlington big enough to handle all of these distinguished persons? How well did they even know each other? We may be getting ahead of ourselves here, talking about a governor, but his time will come shortly.
Though we do not know for certain that Generals Nixon and Ripley knew each other, we may assume that they did. It would not be surprising to find that Nixon had encouraged Ripley to come to Pearlington.
General Nixon was born in Virginia and lived for years of his life in South Carolina and Mississippi Territory. Nixon married in May of 1806 to Rebecca Bracey. Their home became Amite County, Mississippi, beginning in 1810, and later was Marion County, moving to Pearlington only a few years before his death in 1824. In between, he went wherever his military career took him. He made his fame in the Creek War of 1813 and in the War of 1812.
Dedicated to public service, he was a member in 1816 of the Pearl River Convention, which prepared the way for statehood. He then served in the original state legislature in 1817. Meanwhile, his military honors were accumulating. He was already a Lieutenant. Colonel before the Creek War, and had been promoted to colonel by 1817. The rank of brigadier general followed soon, in 1818.
JFH Claiborne, in his masterwork, Mississippi, as a Province, Territory and State, records, “Colonel Nixon greatly distinguished himself during the war, and stood high in the confidence of General Jackson. He was subsequently appointed Brigadier General and died at Pearlington, Hancock County.” His promotion was signed by Governor Holmes on the 20th of August 1818. It reads that it was given for “special trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities.”
Why this distinguished person would choose to retire to Pearlington is not known, but whatever the reason, we may be confident that the town offered hospitality and a respite for him and his wife. Rebecca lived for many years beyond the general’s death. She died at age 80 in 1868. Over the years, records show that Rebecca on several occasions applied for and received a widow’s pension. In the case of a renewal application in 1866, three residents of Hancock County, R. Eager, J. Martin, and B. Sones, appeared before Mayor Julius Monet and attested to the fact that they had known her for many years and that “she has not during the late war encouraged the rebels, or manifested a sympathy with their cause….” Her pension was restored.
The Nixons invested in Pearlington early after their arrival. The tax rolls indicate a 4-wheel carriage in 1823 and 12 slaves in the following year. In 1828, heirs of Nixon paid tax on 169 acres, valued at $338. In addition, three lots valued at $310 were added in 1829. Similar records continue into subsequent years for Mrs. Nixon and heirs. Lots in Pearlington continue to be in evidence.
It is worthy of mention that there was another, younger Rebecca Nixon, whose relationship I have not determined. She married Elers Koch on November 23, 1865.
The graves of General and Mrs. Nixon are among the most prominent in Pearlington cemetery.
Marcia Lee, and her Surprise Ancestor
Once in a while, a story surfaces by surprise. This is one of those happenings and it is so very welcome to a writer reconstructing the past. Not only did it come “out of the blue,” but it came with the details seldom found in the pursuit of actual history. Unless I stray, the sources, almost magically, are all primary sources!
The beginnings came almost by chance. An email dated February of last year arrived and got buried, for good reason, but not necessary to the story, and so we need not go into that subject.
The sender was someone with whom I had corresponded through my web site since at least 2012. I have never met this person, who is with the public library in Pensacola, Florida. It was evident from the first email that she was a good researcher, and much more a genealogist that I. Her name is Marcia Lee, or simply Marcie, and she is too nice for me to have let a request go astray.
The good news for me is that I found the errant message more than a year later. Here is part of her first paragraph: “… not much is out there about Pearlington, MS.”
Marcie was right about Pearlington. I pass what is left of the town almost every week going between New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, MS, but I knew so little.
Marcie’s email added, “I’ve run into something I’ve hoped to find for years of research, a letter written by my 4x great aunt Mary Annette Burge, wife by first marriage to Thomas Maguire, a wealthy merchant of New Orleans & by her second marriage, John Jones McRae who became a member of MS State Senate & Governor of MS.”
By strength of a marvelous bit of coincidence, about the time I sent my belated reply, two other ladies and I were scheduled to have lunch. That meeting has now transpired. Each of them presented me with thick files about Pearlington.
Independently of each other, they have lived in Pearlington for many years. They have seen the town decline dramatically for two reasons, one, that Pearlington has long since lost its two major industries. No longer are the schooners needed to take cotton to market in New Orleans; no longer are there the stands of virgin timber once considered “inexhaustible.” The second reason comes with names who were not ladies, like Betsy, Camille, and Katrina.
Recent census reports show that Pearlington is still losing population. In the census of 2000 there were 1306 white people and 344 blacks; ten years later, there were 964 whites people and 313 blacks. That is a population loss of 20%.
What has not been lost are the memories of my two lunch companions. Their interest was to ask me to do what I might to assemble some of the facts of Pearlington. I did not promise, but said I would consider reconstructing what I could of “old” Pearlington, not of the town’s entire history, but of the earlier part, when it was expected that one day Pearlington was to become a major city. As stated above, my intention was to try to move from the first explorations to approximately the 1830s.
Mary Annette Burge – her Losses and her Gains
…and along comes Marcie…
From here on this narrative is told by Marcie Lee. Any errors or failures of transcription are to be those of the editor. After years of research into her family genealogy, she had the good fortune to find a letter written by “my 4x great aunt.” This had been a woman named Mary Annette Burge. It happens that the Burge name traces back at least to 1830 in Hancock County, but Mary Annette lived in Lawrence County, MS. At this point Marcie was not even thinking about Pearlington. In fact, she has a great deal more about these ancestors, regardless of where they were living. For purposes of this document, a connection with Pearlington is essential for inclusion.
Hereafter, her aunt, four times removed, will be called, simply, Mary Ann.
What Marcie found was that her aunt’s history went all the way back to 1803, in Georgia. Sometime later, she had moved in with her brother, Thomas, in Monticello in Lawrence County, and was still living there when she married Thomas McGuire in 1828 in Orleans Parish, LA.
McGuire appears to have been a successful businessman, working in partnership with John Betts of England. Their location was Magazine, corner Girod Street.
Betts succumbed within a year, probably to yellow fever or cholera.
In 1824, McGuire formed a new partnership, this time with Isadore W. Justamond, on Tchoupitoulas St. They operated as “epiciers,” a French word for “grocers. The activity of the business seems to have been selling food and liquors to other businesses, apparently as wholesalers.
McGuire and Mary Ann had two children, Amanda, born 1830, and William, born1832.
Besides the grocery business, McGuire had accumulated other assets, located in nearby Jefferson Parish and in the old city of Lafayette, now part of New Orleans Garden District. Census records of 1830 also indicate ownership of two female slaves, although one of these may have belonged to Mary Ann before marriage.
The fortunes of McGuire and family changed in 1833, when he became ill. According to what appears to have been a news announcement, McGuire had drowned, trying to cross Pearl River with a wagon in bad weather. This may not be accurate, as he was under treatment by several doctors for a period of two months before his death. It was in that year, perhaps anticipating his demise, that he made a holographic will. That document appointed his partner, Justamond, as executor, and charged him with caring for Mary Ann. However, he also left parts of this estate to his father, Cornelius McGuire, and to some friends in Maine.
One wonders what legal advice McGuire had when he wrote his will. A caution often followed in estate planning is that a will should not put specific bequests ahead of the primary intent, which in most cases is distribution to heirs like wife and children. McGuire left specific amounts to a number of people, some of them family, and one apparently a gardener. Sometimes because of other demands, like lawsuits and debts, a remainder interest for wife and children can be secondary. In McGuire’s will, he appoints Justamond as executor and charges him to “…settle my estate in such manner as he may think best. It is my wish that the business of the house of Justamond and McGuire should be continued under the direction of Mr. Justamond for the benefit of my wife and child or children….”
This subjected Mary Ann and children to the vicissitudes of a business, with all its inherent risks. In addition, that business had just lost half of its business management, putting all in the hands of another who could fail by sickness or death.
McGuire died on Christmas day, 1833. Bills began to accumulate. They included those rendered by his doctors, for the funeral at the St. Louis Cathedral, and for a procession tthat including twelve rented carriages. Mary Ann and other ladies wore black dresses, veils, hats, and gloves. A mahogany casket added to the appearance that in all, the funeral was costly if not extravagant.
Justamond’s duties as executor went beyond caring for the widow and children. Besides the above bills, McGuire’s father and some minor heirs in Maine were leveling charges against the estate. A suit contended that withdrawals from the business bank account were not accounted for, and that large amounts in promissory notes were written during the months of McGuire’s illness. Other suits were instituted by heirs of a woman not in the family, and by the city of Lafayette for taxes.
Before Justamond sold slaves Maria and Lucinda, he had hired them out by the day. This did not prove to be advantageous to the estate. Caught stealing, the slaves were jailed and whipped. Justamond was ordered to restore the stolen money and to pay a jail charge and a fee for the whipping. About the same time, he received doctor bills for the slave named Lucinda, who had caught the pox, and for Sally, who required a midwife.
Mary Ann’s funds were exhausted after only a couple of months. Justamond’s actions, well meaning or not, appear to have been extreme. He apparently sold the residence and the slaves to raise needed funds. In November of 1834, he had Mary Ann and son William moved to a rental on Girod Street for six months.
The next action begs for explanation, but such is not in evidence. Justamond orders Mary Ann to take up a different residence, this time in another town, another state, that being Pearlington, MS. Whether he or she had any justifiable reason for her to go Pearlington is not known. Whether he had the legal right to do so is questionable. Whether Mary Ann objected might be supposed, but once again, there is no evidence.
Residence in Pearlington consisted of rented rooms at a boarding house. It was owned by one Willis H. Arnold, a resident of Shieldsboro. Perhaps either Justamond or Mary Ann knew this important citizen other than as a landlord, but their relationship remains part of this unlikely situation.
Listed as a lawyer in a census report, Arnold had been in Pearlington at least by 1817 and maybe before, running a school called the Pearlington Academy. In addition, he owned a plantation in Wilkinson County. He owned other property in Pearlington and for a time he and his wife were postmasters in Shieldsboro. Tax rolls show him to have been wealthy, with a net worth of $3,000. In 1827, he owned 200 acres plus 37 lots valued at $1100.
Two bills rendered by Arnold are extant. The first includes a total for “sundry goods and cash” in the amount $34.81, plus rental for six months at the rate of $30 per month, totaling $180. Period of rental was figured from May 20, 1834. The second bill is similar, for charges of “sundry articles and merchandise,” but also includes a line item for “cash 30 Dec $5 & 20 = 25.00.” Rental was charged “from 25 Nov 1834 to 5th Feb 1835 a $50 per month” for a total of $116.66.
The bills for board were for “self, son, and servant,” the latter being Eliza Smith, Mary Ann’s niece. Absent was Mary Ann’s daughter, Amanda, for whom this was part of a prolonged absence. The explanation seems to be that Amanda was blind. It might be that she was being cared for elsewhere.
Arnold’s billing for reimbursement of cash amounts seems to indicate that there was something of a closer relationship than simply that of tenant to landlord. By inference, it seems that he had been advancing some subsistence amounts to Mary Ann.
Judging by Mary Ann’s requests to Justamond, payments from him as executor were insufficient. Indeed, she was having a hard time financially.
A letter written by Mary Ann in the spring of 1835 and found in McGuire’s succession files reported to Justamond that she was living on rice and coffee and had not a cent to her name. It is an unhappy letter, making a point of her never before having to want for anything. She stated that she had been sick and unable to write the letter herself, having to have niece Eliza write it for her.
The letter requests money for rent and for a list of food items. She requested that it be sent expeditiously through a ship captain named Brown, of the steamship Splendid. After expressing sympathy for Justamond’s having been sick, she makes her list of things she needed.
I want you to send me a keg of good lard [?] and some Irish potatoes and two hams such as you sent me last. I wish you to send a keg of [illegible] sugar, some cloves and nutmeg, a carafe of Madeira wine, one bottle of orange flower syrup, one of lemonade….And a bottle of good brandy for my own drink. Send me some money if you please…. I have to pay 8 dollars every month for rent. I wish you to send me what money you think will do me until August. I am as economical as I can be for my life.
Subsequently, Justamond sent thirty dollars in care of Capt. Brown.
Only a few months later, Mary Ann had become more liberal in her requests for supplies, prompting the conclusion that Justamond must have paid the bills of the estate and that the estate was more liquid than before.
About the same time, Mary Ann’s life was to change dramatically for the better.
In a letter to Justamond, she addresses him as “general,” and uses the same title for PRR Pray. Even though neither is known to have had any military history, such was perhaps a nickname. The letter was dated September 9, 1835.
You have received a letter from Mr. McRae informing you of our engagement and the time set apart for our union. It is not worth while for me to pretend [to] describe his qualities in that he is not inferior to any, his preceptor said that he is one of the most promising young men in this state. He is studying with General Pray who is one of the most distinguished men in the state. Mr. McRae’s family resides at Pascagoula. His family is very distinguished for their respectability, they move in the first circle of Mobile and New Orleans.
I hope dear General that you are not opposed to our union as you know my unprotected situation. I know you [have] been more than a father to me since my dear husband’s death but you know I am young and ill calculated to live alone. Mr. McRae will be at New Orleans in about two weeks, he will do himself the pleasure to call on you and will wait on you over to Pearlington. You must not expect to see a gamecock of a fellow when you see him. He is a very small man. We do not intend to have a very large wedding. There is not but a very few persons he associates with, therefore he will not invite but few select persons.
I wish you to send me 1 bonnet of new flowers if you can get it. Four hams, two beef tongues, one pound of tea, two boxes of sugar, and one of brown sugar. I will leave it to your taste to select what kind of wine and cordial I want on that occasion. You must send me a little brandy, also you must send me a few nuts if you can get them. Please send me some money by the next mail as I shall stand in need of it to buy little things I can not do without.
Mr. McRae was indeed from a prominent family, and of course, Mr. Pray was none other than the distinguished attorney described above. McRae was born in North Carolina in 1815 and lived in Pascagoula during his youth. In those early years, he had private tutors, eventually enrolling at de St. Ferol. He studied law at Miami University of Ohio, finishing in 1834. Whether he was already a lawyer when he began studying with Pray in 1835 is not clear. He may have been “reading the law.”
It was at this time that Mary Ann met McRae and they became engaged. His family was not in support of their plans. He was not yet 21 years old. She was about twelve years older than he was, and she had children by the prior marriage. They married in October of 1835.
Beginning in 1839, McRae and Mary Ann made a series of moves in Mississippi, first to Jasper County, then to Covington and Copiah Counties. Between 1840 and 1844, Mary Ann gave birth to four children, three of whom died as children, Kate at four, Charles at seven, and an unnamed infant in the year she was born. Only Colin, born in 1840, lived to adulthood. William, the son of the first marriage, continued to be part of the family.
In the census of 1850, McRae is shown as an attorney with a net worth of $1,500. Ten years later his real estate holdings were $28,000 and his worth was $5,000.
It appears that a move to Clarke County at age 32 marks the period in McRae’s life when he found his calling, that being politics.
He was appointed to succeed Jefferson Davis in the United States Senate in 1851.
He rose rapidly from State Senator to Speaker of the State House to Governor of Mississippi. For the latter office, he was elected in 1853 and then reelected in 1857.
Mississippi History Now offers the following account of McRae:
During Governor McRae’s first administration, Mississippi opened its first mental hospital and established an asylum for the deaf and speechless. The state also started a levee program in the Delta and adopted a new legal code known as the Mississippi Code of 1857. In Governor McRae’s second term, the state adopted a constitutional amendment designed to prevent the reoccurrence of the situation caused by Governor Quitman’s resignation in 1851.
Following the death of Congressman John A. Quitman in 1858, Governor McRae was elected to his seat in the United States House of Representatives and remained in Congress until Mississippi seceded from the Union. McRae resigned his seat in Congress on January 12, 1861. After the establishment of the Confederate States of America, McRae was elected to the Confederate Congress, where he served from 1862 to 1864.
McRae’s accomplishment were enormous. His training under Pray at Pearlington undoubtedly being at least partly responsible for his success.
As with others, the Civil War was for McRae a reversal of fortune. Afterward, he was wanted by the United States for treason, but was able through friendship to arrange for a light sentence. In October 1865, President Andrew Johnson granted McRae a pardon.
The following year, on March 19, Mary Ann died in Mobile, and was buried there. She was 63 years of age.
John McRae had a brother, Colin, who had also been wanted for treason, having served the Confederacy as Financial Agent in Europe. After the war, Colin McRae had moved to British Honduras, settled in the New Richmond Colony, which had been created for some who were exiled. There, John McRae joined his brother. It is believed that he was already in poor health, probably consumptive, and died there almost immediately after his arrival in 1868.
Pearlington was not forgotten by this family. Mary Ann’s son, William A. Burge, had maintained residence in Hancock County. He married there in 1859. When the war came, he joined Steede’s Battalion of Mississippi cavalry. In 1880, records have him living in Pearlington with wife Julia, daughter Ella and son Hubert. Also in the household was his blind sister Amanda, age 50, whose location had not been evident for some twenty years.
William lived a long life, dying in Pearlington at age 76. His wife predeceased him. A lovely grave marker in Pearlington cemetery reads, “How desolate our home, bereft of thee.”