Antebellum Days (Part 3)


The success of cotton production in the south is actually due to Massachusetts resident and Yale graduate, Eli Whitney, who patented his cotton gin invention in 1794. According to Mississippi Forests and Forestry even though cotton production greatly improved because of the Whitney’s gin, planters didn’t want to pay the high cost required to use the gin, which had been installed throughout the southern states. The cost was two-fifths of the profits paid in cotton itself. Because of this, disgruntled planters designed their own machines after Eli Whitney’s invention giving no regard to the violation of Whitney’s patent #72X dated March 14, 1794.

In 1795, John Barclay, a Natchez planter who had seen Eli Whitney’s gin in South Carolina, and Wilkinson County planter, Daniel Clark, Sr. developed a crude gin much like Whitney’s.  Barclay and Clark’s pirated machine brought mass production capabilities to the cotton industry that would soon dominate commercial agriculture in the Mississippi Territory.

Whitney and his partner, Phineas Miller, fought for the patent rights to the cotton gin with costly law suits against the owners of the pirated versions, but a loophole in the wording of the patent, which didn’t change until 1800, seriously delayed the process. Whitney never collected the monies due him. 

After the War of 1812 and the inauguration of Mississippi into the Union in 1817,

east central Mississippi, wherein Lauderdale County lies, developed the plantation order of raising cotton, selling it to English markets for approximately ten cents a pound. Two decades passed before the territory improved its cotton production, not due to the gin, but to the early varieties of cotton, such as the Creole strain imported from Siam. Though it was of high quality and yield it was difficult to pick and subject to disease.  The Tennessee green seed was immune to disease and rot, but was deficient in quality and yield.  Around 1820, a type of Mexican cotton characterized by easy-to-pick large open bolls appeared and during the next decade, this strain was crossed with Tennessee green seed, producing a hybrid that flourished throughout the South. This species, later refined by Dr. Rush Nutt and other planters, became known as Petit Gulf Cotton.

Cotton money became as well established as cotton and in 1822

the legislature established a uniform system for handling this money. This system allowed ginners to issue receipts certifying the number of pounds of cotton delivered to the gin. In turn, the receipt was used like money in settling debts or handling other business operations.  Cotton money enabled planters to operate on the basis of cotton that would be available in good salable condition at the ginner’s warehouse.

The early 1830’s expansion, including the establishment of Lauderdale County through the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, in the United States was fueled by the widespread construction of new railroads and canals. The government had sold millions of acres of public lands, mostly to speculators who hoped their well-located parcels would increase in value as the railroads and canals drew settlers into the area.

The Tariff of 1833 and government land sales brought wealth into the Treasury’s reserve.

In 1835, President Andrew Jackson paid off the national debt and the American Treasury rapidly accumulated a surplus. Congress passed a measure to distribute the surplus to the states. This surplus was invested in more railroads and canals.

As high cotton prosperity thrived in mid 1830’s, more and more forests were sacrificed for fields. Though production of cotton greatly improved and increased, corn remained the principal staple in the south throughout the antebellum period.  Easily grown all over Mississippi, corn was an important food crop to everyone, including hogs, cattle, and other livestock. The long growing season allowed for two crops of corn to be planted each year, one in early March and the other in late May or June.  Cotton seed was used as a fertilizer and cowpeas were planted between the rows of corn to reduce erosion and add nitrogen to improve the soil’s fertility. 

The boom reached its height with a wealth of cheap land, lenient credit prerequisites from state banks, and high prices.  More banks had been established and were issuing notes with no regard for solvency. State government and individuals hoarded gold and silver and used paper notes to discharge debts instead. Thousands of immigrants, planters, farmers, and speculators poured into Mississippi to reap the rewards.

Alarmed by the vast amount of state bank notes paying for public land purchases,

before leaving office, President Andrew Jackson issued Executive Order passing the Specie Circular (Coinage Act) that commanded the Treasury to no longer accept paper notes as payment for such sales. Gold and silver would be the only acceptable payment for government land.

It would be up to newly elected President Martin Van Buren to carry out that order in early 1837 when he stepped into the new administration and a major bank crisis. Banks began restricting credit and calling in loans while depositors rushed to their banks to withdraw their funds. Unemployment affected the entire nation and food riots broke out in large cities. Construction companies who couldn’t meet their obligations sparked the collapse of railroad and canal projects, and damage to thousands of land speculators.

The Panic of 1837 left the country’s economy in ruins, severely hampering the cotton trade with federal tariffs and duties. In 1838, almost $7,000,000 of “paper” money was still in circulation.  Nevertheless, as Mississippi intensified its efforts in industrial development, by 1840 east central Mississippi’s cotton production had doubled, as had its Negro slave laborers.

In 1850, the East Central Mississippi developed it agricultural and forestry resources with cotton gins, sawmills, farm implement manufacturers, grain millers carriage makers, and leather finishers,  adding greatly to the industrial capital investment. The 1850 Census records for Lauderdale County reveal that the white population was 6,052 and the slave population was 2,661. The 1850 Agriculture census reveals the following annual statistics for the year ending June 1, 1850:

Acres of improved land: 51,386

Acres of unimproved land: 86,714

Livestock:       horses – 2,080

                        Asses and mules – 418

                        Milch cows – 4,839

                        Working oxen – 1,695

                        Other cattle – 6,580

                        Sheep – 6,191

                        Swine – 28,481

Bushels of wheat: 2,808

Bushels of rye: 109

Bushels of Indian corn: 324,459

Bushels of oats: 21,771

Pounds of rice: 102,203                     

Pounds of tobacco: 1,529

Bales of cotton (400 lbs. each): 4,195

Pounds of wool: 10,500

Bushels of peas and beans: 15,411

Bushels of Irish potatoes:  3,705

Bushels of Sweet potatoes: 111,444

Bushels of barley: 20

Bushels of buckwheat: 150

Pounds of butter: 69,034

Pounds of cheese: 888

Toss of hay: 10

Pounds of hop: 20

Pounds of beeswax honey: 20,344

By 1860, corn remained the major staple crop in Lauderdale County,

enjoying an increase in production of approximately 46-47%. However, from 1850 to 1860 the county’s cotton production rose by astonishing amounts with an enormous increase of approximately 370%.

by Richelle Putnam

Antebellum Days – Schools (Part 1)

In Lauderdale County’s early days, education revolved around household activities and everyday survival.

Living off the land required the backbone of most household members, from fetching water from a nearby creek to firewood for cooking and staying warm.

The first school in the territory had been established for Choctaw children by Presbyterian Missionaries in 1824 at Coosa Indian Village, six years before the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and the death of Indian Chief Pushmataha in Washington, D. C.   Evidence of white men living among the Choctaws was reported the 1831 Armstrong Choctaw Indian Census of the area, which was before the Indian Removal Act.

Somewhere around 1835, after log homes and a few churches had been built,

settlers began seriously considering their children’s education. Families in a somewhat close proximity of one another banded together to establish what was known as a “patron” school, where one settler furnished a log cabin, another furnished wood and bare necessities, such as tables, chairs, etc., and everyone pitched in to the pay the teacher.  The teacher and/or the patrons provided the few books for the schoolhouse.

Schools operated in various time increments, one or more months at a time, in different locations in the vicinity due to poor transportation capabilities. The school house was usually located near a water spring or creek to assure ample water supply. Often church, community meetings, and Justice of the Peace court were held in the school. Often, when a new community church was built, the school relocated into the old church building.

These schools were referred to as academies,

such as White Sulphur Springs Academy in Lauderdale and Walnut Springs Academy in the Alamucha area. By the 1840’s, patron schools existed in or near Marion, Alamucha, Sageville, Bailey, Suqualena, and Lauderdale and taught grades one and two for one or two 4-month periods each year.  Higher Education academies were Marion Academy established in 1837, and Alamucha, formed in 1838.  Later academies were Pinckney-Vaughn Academy and the Cook Academy.

On May 9, 1837, the State Legislature passed an Act to incorporate the first trustees of the Marion Academy.

They were James Ruton, James Murry, Benjamin T. Larke, John R. Leath, Isaac Barr, John F. Chester, Horatio B. Warbington and Theodore S. Swift. These trustees were empowered to receive donations, purchase or mortgage real estate, these purchases not to exceed $5000 and personal estate not to exceed $10,000.  Another stipulation was that the academy could not be located more than one mile from Marion.

The Board of Police, formed by the laws of the State of Mississippi in 1841, established further guidelines for the state’s public school system, including the appointment of a school commissioner for each of the five Police Districts in Lauderdale County.  The Board of the Police retained most of the power over the school system.

No Board of Police existed until the 1832 Constitution of the State of Mississippi, and even then the Sheriff retained most of the power until the 1840’s and 50’s.

The Board of Police divided each respective county into five districts and from each district, qualified voters elected one member for the term prescribed in the constitution under the rules and regulations the board had adopted. The first members of the Board of Police served for a period of 18 months until the second election, which was for a period of two years.

Lauderdale County set up five districts in April 1834, but no records exist since the records were burned in a courthouse fire at Old Marion in November 1837.

On November 16, 1847, the Lauderdale County Board of Police composed the following:

“Whereas the Board of Police (forerunner of the Board of Supervisors) for the county have held their meetings without any rules of order governing themselves, which has by allowing wrangling and disorder greatly delayed the transaction of business and prevents any dignity from attaching itself to their court, and thus tended to detract from their authority – giving occasion for idle and jesting remarks calculated to bring the board into contempt – we therefore the members of the board of police for Lauderdale County do for the more speedy and regular transaction of business, and for the respect we bear for each other, for our government to adhere and maintain the said rules and such others as we may from time to time find it necessary to adopt.” This was signed by L. B. Banes, President; Isaac G. Suttles; L. B. Moore; Daniel Cameron; and A. (Abie) Clay.

The Jan. 24, 1854 Lauderdale Republican recorded that bids were being taken on the building of Alamucha Academy, Marion, evidencing its longevity.

1854 – 1856 – A Directory of Marion, MS compiled by Fred W. Edmiston from the Lauderdale Republican


by Richelle Putnam