Stanley Nelson: “Fall of a Planter, Rise of a Slave” | Notice
In mid-April 1865, Confederate General St. John Richardson Liddell was a prisoner of war in a Union camp on Dauphin Island, Alabama, when news of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln became known.
At the age of 50, Liddell saw himself as a ruined man as his fortune slipped away. His Llanada plantation on the outskirts of Jonesville in the parish of Catahoula was in deep crisis.
Liddell’s slaves, sent to Texas to work for Confederation, were freed and they would not return to Llanada’s cotton fields. Now Liddell faces reconstruction in a time of economic disaster without a workforce.
Five hundred miles from Liddell’s captivity in Alabama, but not far from his plantation along the Black River, news of Lincoln’s assassination was received aboard the Union Altamont transport ship on the Mississippi at Natchez where John Roy Lynch was employed as a pantry.
As a teenager, Lynch had been freed from slavery by Union soldiers in Vidalia a few months earlier. He was now making a living as a cook in Natchez and envisioning a new life. He would reach great heights, serving as Mississippi lawmaker and congressman, and would occupy other high positions during and after reconstruction.
But for now, he, like other recently freed slaves, has been shocked and grieved at the news of Lincoln’s assassination.
“I will never forget the painful scenes that took place aboard the ship when news of this terrible tragedy was received,” Lynch wrote in her autobiography. “Our hearts were broken, our heads bowed in sorrow, and every eye was wet with the tear of sorrow and sorrow.
“We all felt that the greatest statesman in the land had been beaten at the hands of a cowardly assassin …”
‘I WAS WITHOUT MEANS’
Since his release, Lynch began to build his new life by finding his first job in Natchez where he would for the first time be paid for his work.
“The problem with making a living was the one before me,” he writes in his book. “I was without means and without education. The only capital I had was youth, health, and the determination to win the race of life.
“My mother lived in two small rooms in a frame building on Market Street, which had been converted into apartments. Several other families occupied apartments in the same building. My brother had gotten a job at Army Headquarters as an attendant to General WQ Gresham, the general in command of the Union troops there at the time.
“Through a ten-day effort, I finally managed to find a job as a dining room server at a private boarding house for a monthly salary of five dollars. It was a small salary, but I felt I had to do something to help my mom in her efforts to make ends meet. The rent, which was unreasonably high at the time, had to be paid promptly at the end of each month, otherwise we would have no place to rest our heads.
“My mother was an excellent cook and as such often made a good amount of money over the course of a month, but the job was neither continuous nor permanent, hence the uncertain and questionable income of this source. So it was absolutely necessary that my brother and I do something to help cover the costs of the house.
In his first job at the pension, Lynch was promised $ 5 a month, but when his first payday arrived, he only got $ 4. The owner claimed that “one or two knives and forks were missing” and accused Lynch of stealing them, which was not true. Lynch began to look for another job.
Job number two was as a cook for a company of the 49e Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The men in the company hired him.
“I stayed there until the regiment was ordered to leave, which covered a period of six weeks,” Lynch wrote. “When the regiment was about to leave and saying goodbye to the men for whom I had faithfully worked, I was the lucky recipient of a modest sum of two dollars in full compensation for the services I had rendered.
Lynch didn’t feel aggrieved. He knew that the men had little money and as he noted: “I did not complain about this and I did not find any fault, for I felt that I had done a few of those a favor. who had contributed to the salvation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. ”
It did not take long for Lynch to get his third job: “I found a job in the same line with a small detachment at Army Headquarters where I stayed for about three weeks, after which I left. got paid five dollars. ”
But before this job ended, he got a job on the Altamont for a salary of $ 25 per month. Lynch felt rich.
“It was thought that the Altamont would remain in the port of Natchez until the cessation of hostilities,” Lynch noted in his book. “In fact, he remained there until shortly after the assassination of President Lincoln” on April 14, 1865.
Lynch had worked on the Altamont for several months and “got paid quickly at the end of the month”.
“I very much regretted severing my relations with the officers and the crew,” he wrote, “because they had been pleasant and pleasant … my relations with all the officers and the crew were so pleasant that the he hour of final separation was that of sadness. and regret.
Liddell, meanwhile, has returned to Black River and for the first time in many months has reunited with his beloved wife Mary.
In a book on his civil war service (Liddell Record), historian Nathaniel C. Hughes, who has researched dozens of letters and documents as well as Liddell’s diary, wrote of Liddell’s return:
“Cotton factor DB Penn told Liddell that his cotton market is shrinking rapidly. He had tried to get $ 0.34 a pound earlier, but no, he would settle for $ 0.29 if he could find a buyer. The money Liddell made, he used to buy $ 2,700 in gold. To do this, it cost him $ 3,908.25 in greenbacks. All of this, however, was applied against the debts accumulated in Llanada during the war by Mary Liddell.
Hughes wrote that “Liddell’s state mirrored that of Louisiana. From 1865 to 1870, Liddell’s world was characterized by high inflation, scarcity of goods and money, and exorbitant interest rates. Louisiana, ruled by hijacker Henry C. Warmouth, 26, has failed to meet its obligations.
“So the state couldn’t pay interest on its debts, so it borrowed more. In 1868, government bonds were sold in the market for $ 0.47 per dollar. They would drop as low as $ 0.25. ”
During the war, the dikes along the Mississippi and tributaries broke and were in urgent need of repair.
To add to this problem, according to Hughes, “one scourge in 1866 was followed in 1867 by another failure. It was not until 1868 that an average harvest arrived. That year Liddell experienced a severe drought… instead of the 500 to 800 bales it produced each year in the 1850s, Liddell’s land produced “only 76 manufactured bales in all and it had to be split” .
“The worsening of all of these dangerous economic conditions was a severe labor shortage. The Freedman’s Bureau demanded that contracts be negotiated with former slaves and approved by the Bureau. In the meantime, the staff and policies of the Office have continued to change. ”
Liddell’s son Judge went to Texas to bring back Liddell’s former slaves, but they refused to sign labor contracts and in the end most, if not all, did not return to Llanada.
“In desperation,” Hughes wrote, “Liddell has teamed up with PS Kennard. Kennard would procure 100 good workers east of the Mississippi and bring them back to Black River. The partnership turned out to be disastrous. Kennard, who produced only a handful of workers, escaped with the $ 5,000 Liddell had given him, along with unauthorized drafts… for an additional $ 3,500.
Liddell took legal action, but he lost every penny.
LIDDELL’S FINANCIAL RISK
Four miles down the Black River, Liddell’s enemy Charles Jones was doing much better. Jones had political ties to a few influential people he had met while living in Baton Rouge in the early 1850s and continued until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Since the late 1840s, the two planters had been embroiled in a bitter feud. Jones had started and it got worse after being hit in the face and back by a neighbor, Eliza Nichols. Jones had publicly accused her of sleeping with her husband. When he refused to apologize and retract his statement about her, she responded by shooting him.
Liddell was the only other person standing along Sycamore Avenue outside Jones’ Elmly Plantation when this incident occurred. Jones accused Liddell of firing the shot that hit Jones in the back. Liddell denied it and Eliza said she was the only person who fired a gun that day.
A few years later, Liddell shot and killed two of Jones’ friends. Both, like Jones, had declared that they intended to kill Liddell.
Historian Michael Lanza in his study of the feud wrote that Jones “became a Republican after the war and thus began to profit from his now superior position over Liddell. Liddell did not adapt well to the conditions of the rebuilding.
“In 1866 he mortgaged his 1,508 acres in Llanada for $ 18,114.52, and in 1868 the Citizens Bank of New Orleans held a mortgage for $ 25,000. In 1868 he was unable to honor the $ 25,000 mortgage. In 1868 he was unable to pay the mortgage payments on his plantation, so the bank seized two-thirds of the property. The bank allowed Liddell to continue farming that part of the land.
Downstream, Charles Jones got wind of Liddell’s financial problems.
Her main problem with her neighbor Eliza Nichols and her husband, Philip, arose out of their refusal to sell her their land. That’s why he slandered Eliza. He believed that this would lead the couple to leave the parish of Catahoula in shame and that their land would then become his.
Now he felt his upstream enemy was in financial jeopardy. Jones decided he wanted Liddell’s land.
The Jones-Liddell feud, also known as the Black River War, would soon escalate.
Nothing irritated Liddell more than the idea that Jones might own the land where Liddell’s parents were buried.
He was more than willing to give up his life to prevent this from happening.