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Biography of John A. Watkins

Jefferson County Tidbits # 50  Colonel John A. Watkins

Some Interesting Facts about Jefferson County, Mississippi was written by W. H. Watkins ... and it relates the story told by his father, John A. Watkins

     Colonel John A. Watkins, son of Asa and Sarah McDonald Watkins, was born December 3, 1808 in Jefferson County, Mississippi Territory.  He was the grandson on his mother's side of Willis McDonald, of General Marion's Brigade. The early boyhood days of Colonel Watkins were passed amid the troublesome and exciting scenes incident to the great Creek War of 1813 - 1814, of which he retained a vivid recollection to his dying day. 
     His early education was received in the "old field schools' of Jefferson
county. At the age of seventeen he was sent by his father to St. Joseph's
Academy, Bardstown, Kentucky, to complete his education.  At some time in
1825, while on a trip to Rodney from Vicksburg - the Mississippi being the
name of the steam boat on which he traveled - he met the Natchez bearing
General Lafayette, then on his way from New Orleans to St. Louis.  The two
boats tied together in midstream so as to enable the passengers of the
Mississippi to see the guest of the Nation.  General Lafayette stood on the
boiler deck of the Natchez and bowed to his applauding admirers, among whom was young Watkins.
     After attaining his majority, Mr. Watkins moved into the town of Rodney,
where he engaged in mercantile pursuits, and soon became one of the most
prominent men of the community.
     A man of culture and wife information, he attracted to himself the
foremost men of this time, and entertained at his house such men as Henry
Clay, General Zachary Taylor, Governor McNutt, Governor Poindexter, General Leslie Combes, Judge F. J. Lee, of Virginia, Thomas Corwin, and Dr. Drabke, the well-known scientist.  With these men he was on terms of intimate familiarity.
    He also corresponded with On. R. C. Winthrop of Massachusetts, B. W. Leigh, William J. Duane, Jackson's Secretary of Treasury, and with Mrs. Torrance, wife of the Chief Justice of  Canada, who was a lady of the highest literary culture.  During the course of a long life, he never ceased to be a
correspondent of several newspapers in various parts of the United States.
      While living in Rodney, Colonel Watkins came much in contact with the
Choctaw Indians of that vicinity, and thus acquired a taste for ethnological
pursuits, the results of which were embodied in a series of articles from his
pen and published in the American Antiquarian.
     On May 8, 1832, Colonel Watkins married Miss Caroline Elizabeth Campbell, a daughter of William and Sarah Smith Campbell.  She died in New Orleans, November 9, 1867.  In 1848, Col. Watkins removed to New Orleans where he held a prominent social and official position, serving for many years as councilman and as State and City assessor. 
     In 1852 he refused a nomination for Congress in a Whig district, when he
could have been elected without opposition, giving as a reason that he was to poor to accept an office.  Who in these days would have made that excuse for declining a political nomination?
    During the inter-state war, Col. Watkins was an ardent supporter of the
South, and while the Federal troops were in possession of New Orleans, he
spent his time and money freely in alleviating the sufferings of the
Confederate Prisoners. 
     He continued in active business life until 1883, when advancing years
compelled him to retire.  From this time until the day of his death, he
enjoyed a vigorous old age, with a mind unimpaired and a physical frame that seemed to defy the assaults of time, a vitality no doubt inherited from his
hardy Highland ancestors.  He could read the finest print without glasses.
The Bible and Shakespeare were the favorite literary recreations of his old
age.  Almost to the the day of his death he enjoyed the society of his friends
and carried on more or less correspondence.
    He died on the 27th day of August 1898, lacking three months and six days
of completing his ninetieth year.
   Colonel Watkins left one child surviving him, Mrs. Sarah C. Divine of New

This obituary was written by H. S. Halbert

This is the last of this series of the Panic of 1813 and the life of Colonel
Watkins.  I hope that you enjoyed it.

Contributed by Ann Brown

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August 15, 2002

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