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The Facts Unravel

Sometimes interesting stuff hides behind mundane words, and a little research is required to expose what really happened.

The first trace of my ancestor Jimerson (James Jr.) Liddell is April 18, 1800, when an unknown hand recorded his birth in the family Bible. The next certain trace of Jimerson is March 10, 1828, when he bought a farm in Jefferson County MS from Elisha and Mary Ann Trader. Jimerson paid $1200 “in hand,” about $2.66 per acre.

The 1828 sales contract specified “good and lawfull [sic] money of the United States.” That means the same as “legal tender for all debts, public and private” on the Georges in your wallet.

But Jimerson did not pay with paper. The young United States swore off paper money after the worthless “Continentals” and “shin-plasters” of Revolutionary times. Not until 1862 in the American Civil War did the U.S. Treasury begin issuing “greenbacks.” Of course many states, cities, banks, railroads, etc. issued their own money, but none was legal tender. (My personal collection includes money issued by an ale brewery and a pie bakery, both in NYC.)

In 1828 the only legal tender was gold and silver coin. (Pennies have never been legal tender.) The coin's mintage, U.S. or foreign, was not important, only the known weight and value. The gold Portuguese johannes or “joe” was worth $8.80, while the tiny silver Spanish real (ree-AL) was 2-1/2 cents. Ten years later the Dahlonega GA gold strike revealed the country's first large internal source, and since 1838 foreign coins are not U.S. legal tender.

Born too late to enjoy gold and silver circulating coins, I wondered what $1200 actually meant to Jimerson. A reference book revealed that a $10 “gold eagle” of the 1820s weighs 17.5 grams, and a $1 “silver dollar” 27 grams. (With Metric there's no confusion between troy and avoirdupois.) A tussle with my calculator translated $1200 into 2.1 kg and 32.4 kg respectively.

Jimerson paid 4 and 1/2 pounds of gold or 70-plus pounds of silver (over half a Biblical talent, the maximum load one man can carry on his head.)

Surely Jimerson paid gold “in hand.” My imagination balks at the idea of a strong man with a big wheelbarrow full of hard money. What would they say down at the Walmart? Grin.

Liddell family research by Barbara Liddell Thornhill and her late father Jefferson Walter Liddell Sr.

BDL 07-Aug-2007

The Facts Unravel #2

At his untimely death in 1856 in Jefferson County MS, my ancestor Jimerson (James Jr.) Liddell owned thirty black Negro slaves.

A lot of folks have trouble discussing uncomfortable topics. To me, the best way to handle a sticky issue is to stick strictly to the facts.

Jimerson’s household before his death in 1856:
• 6 families
• 38 people, 8 free whites and 30 black Negro slaves
• 17 working-age adults (10 men, 7 women)
• 5 elderly (all slaves)
• 16 children
Of the 9 slaves not formally in families, 2 were elderly and 5 were children.

Jimerson’s slaves were “Negroes,” the term then used for people of Sub-Saharan African ancestry. All surviving documents classify them as “black” suggesting a mainly African bloodline. The classification not used, “mulatto,” described people of supposedly mixed African and European parentage. Although Jimerson’s contemporaries had many other words for fractions of races, the law generally recognized only whites, blacks, mulattos, and aboriginal “Indians.” (Mainstream science today recognizes none of these, only individual human beings.)

Jimerson was a “planter” on the 1850 census. By definition a planter owned 20 or more slaves, a “farmer” 19 or fewer. [I clearly recall this definition from somewhere, but cannot verify it.] The census coincided with the national uproar over slavery that resulted in the Compromise of 1850, a political patch-job that satisfied neither side. Jimerson’s occupation was probably true, but he disguised ownership from “the abolitionists in Washington” by counting his slaves among many others from the neighborhood under J. R. Comfort, occupation “overseer.” (Overseer Comfort. Reminds me of now-retired Judge Nice, who wasn’t.)

The typical MS planter farmed his own land, bought more slaves (not land) when prosperous, and rented his excess slaves for seasonal labor. Mixing fat years and lean, the average plantation earned perhaps 2% or 3% on the money invested. (Big-city banks offered depositors twice that return.) Full-time slave rental, desired but rarely achieved, returned about 10% of the slave’s appraised value. Slave values were standard, the same as livestock and used-car values today. Long-term capital growth came primarily from natural increase, children born into lifetime slavery. A healthy young adult slave, raised from infancy, represented a 30% to 50% annual return over childrearing expenses.

Jimerson left behind “heirs of his body” a widow age 41 and six minor children 3 to 13. Eighteen months later Martha Ann Baldridge Liddell married childless widower Rev. Thomas Calliham Brown M.D. (of the MS pioneer Calliham family.) Executor Brown kept the estate intact and sold none of the thirty slaves, but one infant, one elder, and one workingman died of natural causes 1859-1862. Upon Emancipation in 1865 all the former slaves took, or were assigned, the surname “Brown” from the current head of household. To the best of our knowledge no present-day African-descent Liddells spring from Jimerson’s slaves, but one or more Jefferson-area Brown families probably do.

Details, including the names and condition of 37 individual slaves, are on the Jefferson County MS website
(address current as of summer 2003.)

Liddell family research by Barbara Liddell Thornhill and her late father Jefferson Walter Liddell Sr.

BDL 18-Aug-2007

The Facts Unravel #3

Janice Stevens Rice recently transcribed and posted the 1820 Jefferson County Census, the first U.S. Decennial Census to include the state of Mississippi. (The 1810 Census returns for Mississippi Territory have not survived.)
Both addresses lead to the same place, current summer 2003.

THANK YOU, Janice, for your hard work and generosity.

My own ancestors appear on every U.S. Census from 1790 to the present. This is no great distinction, shared by perhaps the majority of Americans, but it has needled me to unravel the facts behind every Census. And the Fact-with-a-capital-F is the political nature of the process, starting when politically-divided Congress passes the laws defining each Census.

The first Census in 1790 was taken for three purposes. Politically, the totals apportioned votes in the House of Representatives among the states. Financially, each state owed Federal taxes in the same proportion. Militarily, the Census counted free white males 16 and over, the traditional source of “militia” (muh-LISH-uh) or part-time soldiers. Then and later the politically-appointed enumerators tried for accurate totals, but didn’t worry much with individual details.

The 1800, 1810, and 1820 Censuses counted people by “age cohorts” based on the requirements of the Militia Act of 1798. The new United States decided, against all logic and experience, that local folks could defend Freedom better than a professional Army and Navy. (Maybe they were right, given the frequency of military takeovers in new countries today.) After nine years of wrangling Congress in 1798 passed the Militia Act requiring every able-bodied white male over 16 and under 45 to lift up musket, pike or saber when the bugle called. The Secretary of War allocated manpower quotas to each state, and that’s where the Census numbers came in.

The 1820 Census for the first time picked up two political issues, the Tariff and the Slave Trade (below.) Since then additions have multiplied. Perhaps the most blatant example is the count of civil (“professional”) engineers in 1840. Congress wanted to cut West Point funding. Sylvanus Thayer got this number included to prove the need for more USMA-educated civil engineers.

The Federal Court system managed the 1820 Census, and the enumerators, all men, were sworn as Assistant U.S. Marshals giving them legal protection and authority. In most districts each census taker supplied his own pens, ink and paper, with which he copied the lines and columns from a master form. Many enumerators transcribed their results in alphabetical order, perhaps to create polished reports from informal notes.

The “first Monday in August” 07-Aug-1820 was official enumeration day. Every person alive on that day was to be counted. The actual count took 13 months, August 1820 to August 1821.

See instructions for enumerators in Maine at
address current summer 2003.

Each “dwelling house or . . . family” got one line. The first column was the name of the head of household or head of family, “master, mistress, steward, overseer, or other principal person therein.” Therein followed six age cohort columns for free white males:
• Little boys 0 to 9, children
• Boys 10 to 15, available for militia before next census
• ** Young men “between 16 and 18,” a typical 2-year “draft pool”
• Young men 16-25, primary militia pool
• Adult men 26-44, secondary militia pool
• Old men 45+, not liable for militia service

** This column is the joker in the deck. All the other age cohorts were symmetric, the same for males and females. These guys were ALSO counted in the 16-25 column. The wording invited confusion on whether or not to include 18 year olds.

Next, five age cohort columns for free white females (who produced future soldiers):
• Little girls 0 to 9, children
• Girls 10 to 15, marriageable before next census
• Young women 16-25, prime marriage age
• Adult women 26-44, prime childbearing age
• Old women 45+, past childbearing

The next column, “foreigners not naturalized,” counted aliens not subject to militia service. These people were ALSO counted under their respective age cohorts, free white above or free “colored” below.

The next three columns counted the number of people engaged in agriculture, commerce, and manufacture. These people were also counted under their age cohorts. THE perennial issue in Congress was the Tariff or tax on imports, the main source of Federal revenue. In general, farmers and merchants wanted a low tariff or “free trade” and manufacturers wanted a high tariff “to protect jobs.”

The next sixteen columns counted non-white or “colored” people, first slave males by age cohort:
• Children 0-13
• Young adults 14-25
• Adults 26-44
• Elders 45+
and the same cohorts for slave females, free colored males and free colored females. Another recent issue before Congress called for reopening the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, illegal since 1807. The census totals argued that current slaves produced enough slave babies to meet demand, and closed the debate.

For Congressional representation, every five slaves counted as three persons. This strange fraction arose from a compromise among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1788. The free states wanted NO slaves counted, while the slave states wanted ALL slaves included. Several states were ready to walk out of the Convention when James Monroe dredged up an old “poll” or head tax (tax per person) from colonial Virginia, an earlier compromise that taxed free people at full rate and slaves at 3/5ths of that rate. Late one night the exhausted delegates fell on this fraction like starving Israelites on manna, voted it, then went home to bed.

The final column in 1820 counted “all other persons, except Indians not taxed”; aboriginals were supposedly counted under tribal censuses. Has anyone out there ever seen a number in this column?

In closing, a cautionary tale. The U.S. Census is a great help for hunting ancestors, but it’s just as fallible as the humans involved. At the Liddell household in 1860, the census taker caught stepfather Thomas C. Brown, age 60, during a “senior moment.” Brown got the ages wrong for every (!) white person except himself, the names wrong on most, and turned my 12-year-old great-grandfather into a girl. Brown’s Slave Schedules are impossible to connect with individual slaves known to be present. The totals for white people and black people were correct, but little else. This brickwall baffled two generations of family researchers.

BDL 31-Aug-2007

The Facts Unravel #4

On September 26, 1836, Rev. Jno. C. Johnson married my great-great-grandparents Jimerson (James Jr.) Liddell and Martha Ann Baldridge in Jefferson County MS.

That’s what the records say. But a few more facts unravel a larger story. (The place changes from Natchez District to Villa Gayoso to Cole’s or Coles Creek to Spring Hill to Pickering Co., but it’s all Jefferson now.)

My grandmother’s research showed Martha Ann connected with the Baptist Church through her mother’s uncle Richard Curtis Jr., said to be the very first licensed Baptist preacher, and later the very first ordained Baptist minister, in Natchez District.

I assumed Martha Ann was Baptist. I was wrong.

An Internet search uncovered the history of Jno C. (John Clem) Johnson, the officiating minister. Johnson, apparently a juvenile delinquent from Kentucky, came to Jefferson and in 1805 joined Rev. Newet Vick’s Spring Hill Methodist Church. “Thomas Owens and the Baldridges put the harness forthwith on young Mr. Johnson” according to Rev. John G. Jones writing in 1887, who went on to describe Johnson’s compact build, superb constitution, and great physical strength and endurance. Johnson shortly married Deborah Baldridge and brought her into the church. The Methodists licensed him to preach in 1812, but raising a family delayed his full “itinerancy” or ordination until 1846. John Clem Johnson died five years later at the age of 68. His widow Deborah Spence Baldridge Johnson died in 1885 at age 97 mourned by a whole passel of descendants.

So a pioneer Methodist minister married Jimerson and Martha Ann. Any more facts sitting around?

The first record of James Baldridge, Martha Ann’s father, is an 1802 MS Petition. (Please correct me, but I think the residents petitioned the MS Territorial Legislature for a new Jefferson Co. to replace old Pickering Co.) Probably James and Deborah are both among “the Baldridges” mentioned by Rev. Jones above, ten siblings who migrated to Jefferson about 1802, but no solid proof has turned up yet.

So the Methodist minister was Martha Ann’s uncle-in-law. Any more facts?

Jimerson and Martha Ann named their first child, who died in infancy, John Wesley Liddell. The original John Wesley founded Methodism.

That clinches it; my ancestors were Methodists. A fine Church, I’m sure, but I was raised a Baptist. Grin.

BDL 12-Sep-2007

The Facts Unravel #5

My ancestor Jimerson (James Jr.) Liddell bought and sold property in Jefferson County MS several times 1828-1854. The legal rigmarole of Deeds and Mortgages and Due Trusts escapes me, but all the people are below with details elsewhere on the Jefferson website.

The legal documents describe Jimerson’s land in one of two ways, “metes and bounds” or reference to adjacent landowners and geography, and surveyors’ “section, township and range.”

Metes and bounds are difficult for the genealogy researcher to locate. Property “adjoining lands of Isaac Dunbar and Mrs. Sims, formerly owned by E. Smith and [before that] by Isaac Dunbar, which was sold by the sheriff of Jefferson County to Samuel Thornberry and [then] to Lewis Cable” might be anywhere. Geographic clues such as “on the north fork of Coles Creek” help some, but the Coles Creek watershed drains most of the county. Further, landmarks come and go, as everyone near the Mississippi River knows too well.

Surveyors’ coordinates locate property fairly precisely, but first one has to unravel the facts. What do they mean by “the west half of the north east quarter of Section 22, Township 9 North, Range 3 East”?

About 1798 Jefferson County was surveyed into 6x6-mile squares, roughly Townships 8, 9, & 10 North by Ranges 1 & 2 West, 1, 2, 3, & 4 East, and a fraction of Range 5 East. In the diagram, Rodney MS is located in square R, Fayette MS in square F, and Jimerson’s property in square J.

Townships North, Ranges West and East
. . . R2W R1W R1E R2E R3E R4E R5E
. . .!---!---!---!---!---!
T10N ! . ! R ! . ! . ! . !
. . .!---!---!---!---!---!---!-!
T9N . .! ! . ! F ! . ! J ! . ! !
. . . .!-!---!---!---!---!---!-!
T8N . .! ! . ! . ! . ! . ! . ! !
. . . .!-!---!---!---!---!---!-!

Each Township-and-Range square, called a “township” for short, is usually (but not always) 6 miles on a side and contains 36 square “sections.” Sections are numbered from the northeast corner by “boustrophedon,” (boos-truh-FEED-un) a two-dollar word that means “as the ox plows.” Section 22 is almost in the middle.

Jefferson Co. MS
Township 9 N, Range 3 E
Section numbers
<------- 6 miles ------->
. 6 . 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . ^
. 7 . 8 . 9 .10 .11 .12 . !
.18 .17 .16 .15 .14 .13 . 6 miles
.19 .20 .21 [22].23 .24 . !
.30 .29 .28 .27 .26 .25 . !
.31 .32 .33 .34 .35 .36 . v

One section = 1 square mile = 640 acres. Townships vary but sections are constant. Sections are further divided into halves, quarters, halves of quarters (eighths) and so on. The “west half of the north east quarter” defines an 80-acre tract, 1/4 mile east-to-west by 1/2 mile north-to-south.

Jefferson Co. MS
Township 9 N, Range 3 E, Section 22
. . . . . . . <1/4 mi>
! - - - - - - ! - - -!- - - ! ^
! North West .! West ! . . .! 1/2
!. quarter . .! half ! . . .! mile
! - - - - - - ! - - - - - - ! v
! South West .! South East .!
!. quarter . .!. quarter . .!
! - - - - - - ! - - - - - - !

Township and Range numbers have to start somewhere. Townships in southern MS count northward from Andrew Ellicott’s 1798 east-west survey line, now the straight-line borders of MS-LA and AL-FL. Ranges are taken from the “Washington meridian,” a north-south line drawn near Washington MS in Adams County. Rodney (T10N,R1W) lies about 3 miles west from this meridian, Fayette (T9N,R1E) about 5 miles east.

However, there’s a BIG problem inherent with this system. The grid is flat but the Earth is round. Professional surveyors wrestle numerous corrections into their plat maps. As a result, would-be squares often contain angles or zigzag steps, so Jimerson’s 80-acre “west half of the north east quarter” came out 79.67 acres. Presumably the difference, twice the size of my garden home lot, wouldn’t matter to a large-scale farmer.

A much clearer explanation of all this (from Itawamba Co. MS) is at
address current summer 2003.

Jefferson plat map at
extracted from an excellent 1839 plat map of MS-LA-AR available free from the Library of Congress at
and other LC maps at
addresses current summer 2003. Topographic maps available from several commercial sources, none of which pay me to advertise their wares.

People in Jimerson’s legal documents.
• Hiram Baldwin, creditor 1842
• Thomas Berry, landowner 1831
• Frederick J. Chambliss, landowner 1854
• Henry W. Daingerfield, deceased landowner 1854
• Isaac Dunbar, landowner 1828 and 1837
• John H. Duncan, Justice of the Peace 1832
• Edmund Fitzpatrick of Charlotte Co. VA, creditor 1838 and 1842
• William Ivey, deceased landowner 1832
• Cicero Jefferson, seller 1832
• J. C. Johnson, Justice of the Peace 1854 [possibly John Clem Johnson?]
• Edwin McKey, Probate Court Clerk 1842 and 1843
• A. B. McLeod, witness 1828
• Ross O’Quin, buyer 1838
• Isaac Pipes, Justice of the Peace 1828
• Sanders A. Rice of Natchez, cotton agent 1842
• Arthur B. Sims, seller 1837 and landowner 1838
• Hannah Sims, landowner 1854
• Mrs. Sims, landowner 1828
• Thomas Sims, landowner before 1837
• E. Smith, landowner before 1828
• James Stuart, landowner 1837
• Thomas A. Stuart, attorney 1842
• William Stuart, seller 1832
• Champ Terry, creditor 1842
• Samuel Thornberry, landowner before 1828
• Elisha Trader and spouse Mary Ann Trader, sellers 1828
• John A. Watkins, Justice of the Peace 1838 and cotton agent 1842
• Gustavus H. Wilcox, attorney 1838
• George Woods, buyer 1843

BDL 28-Sep-2007

The Facts Unravel #6

This essay turned into an article. See

The Facts Unravel #7

[Sensitive readers should skip this essay, which includes frank reproductive discussion.]

Two days after St. Valentine’s, 1838, my ancestor Jimerson (James Jr.) Liddell posted an unloving newspaper announcement in Rodney, Jefferson County MS.

“Notice. All persons will take notice that, whereas my wife, Martha Ann Liddell did quit my bed and board, without provocation, during the month of May [1837], I will hereafter pay no debts that she may contract. Jamison Liddell.”

What on earth was that all about? I still don’t know, but I’ve unraveled enough facts for a working theory: a newlywed spat gone public, two years of celebration, separation, joy, sadness, farce, tragedy, and a happy ending.

Celebration, autumn 1836. Jimerson Liddell age 36 married Martha Ann Baldridge age 21 in September. By the finger-counting method, assuming full-term delivery, Martha Ann became pregnant around Christmastime.

Separation, spring 1837. By May at five months Martha Ann probably began to “show.” At this point middle class women commonly withdrew from male society for “lying in” until the baby was born. (Poor women and slaves kept working until birth-pains started.) Since her widowed mother Mary “Polly” Stampley Baldridge lived in Jefferson, the young wife probably went home to Mama.

For over a year Martha Ann lived apart from her husband. Though her motives cannot be known, perhaps she had difficulty adjusting to married life under Jimerson, a New York City Scotsman 15 years her senior. (Jimerson and I have the same hair. Assuming the personalities beneath the hair to be similar, my sympathies lie entirely with Martha Ann.)

Joy, summer 1837. Martha Ann’s pregnancy advanced with the season. On September 22 firstborn son John Wesley Liddell arrived in the world. But mother and child did not come home to Jimerson.

Sadness, winter 1837/8. On January 8, 1838, Mary “Polly” Stampley Baldridge died a month short of age 46, leaving six adult and three minor children, more or less. If Martha Ann was living in her mother’s house (now probably her brother’s house) she and her infant stayed on without the excuse of visiting mama.

Farce, spring 1838. Tuesday February 13, the day before St. Valentine’s, Jimerson raised $5000 with a first mortgage on his plantation. (Converted to today’s prices, $5000 is more money than I’ve seen in my whole life.) Probably Jimerson intended to buy land or slaves, or otherwise increase his fortune, but very likely he offered a nice present to Martha Ann as a Valentine gift, and she declined. If so, doubtless his nose was seriously out of joint. Friday he cut off her credit in the newspaper notice above.

Tragedy, autumn 1838. John Wesley Liddell died October 2, a few days past his first birthday. (Infant mortality is one antidote to nostalgia for the “good old days.” Martha Ann ultimately lost 4 of her 10 full-term babies.)

Happy Ending. Perhaps their son’s death reminded the newlyweds of the most important thing in life, Life. A week or two before the tragedy the couple reconciled and Martha Ann again got pregnant. Over the next fifteen years Martha Ann bore Jimerson eight more children, a sure sign of a satisfactory marriage.

For me personally their decision proved of vital importance. The seventh child, my great-grandfather, was born in 1848. Had Jimerson and Martha Ann not reconciled, I wouldn’t even be here. Grin.

Liddell family research by Barbara Liddell Thornhill and her late father Jefferson Walter Liddell Sr.

BDL 08-Nov-2007

The Facts Unravel #8

In Jefferson County MS last Wednesday, November 19th, Rev. T. C. Brown married Jeff Liddell and Olive Hackler. Well, actually 141 years ago last Wednesday (in 1862 that day was a Wednesday too.)

Shortly after the American Civil War 1861-1865 began at Fort Sumter, Cicero Jefferson Liddell, born near Fayette 18 years before, dropped out of college to enlist in the Southern Army. (“Jeff” or “Cicero [SIS-uh-roe] Jeff” to his contemporaries, “Uncle Jeff” to my admiring grandfather.) Just over a year later, Friday 27-Jun-1862, Sergeant Jeff Liddell lost his left arm at the Battle of Gaines Mills or Beaver Dam Creek VA, midway through the Seven Days’ Battles by which Lee saved Richmond. Four days after that, Tuesday 01-Jul-1862 Jeff’s stepfather Dr. Thomas C. Brown arrived in Richmond to supervise Jeff’s medical care, and assist with some of the thousands of other broken boys deposited in the Chimborazo hospital complex. By August Jeff was well enough to travel, and returned to Fayette and family with Dr. Brown.

Since Thomas Brown left no descendants, the pleasant duty of telling his story has fallen to me.

My records of Thomas Calliham Brown are fragmentary, but the fragments show a most remarkable man. Born in 1800 GA within a fortnight (!) of Jimerson Liddell in NYC, a sprig of the MS pioneer Calliham family, Brown endured more than his share of tragedy. He buried his first wife, and later buried their only child, an adult namesake Thomas Jr. At age 58 he married Martha Ann Baldridge 43, the well-to-do widow of Jimerson Liddell. Their only child, another Thomas Jr., died at five months.

Thomas Brown wore several hats during his fifteen years among the Liddells. On the 1860 Jefferson census Brown was a planter, in 1870 a farmer. On 18-Nov-1862 Doctor Thomas Brown certified Jeff’s medical discharge from the army and the next day Methodist Reverend Thomas Brown solemnized Jeff’s marriage to Olive Irene Hackler, 17, daughter of William A. Hackler and Sarah Scott of Jefferson. (This is a cue for someone to tell us more about the Hackler and Scott families.)

Brown’s qualifications as an M.D. are uncertain. State licensure came along after the Civil War. Before the war most medicos earned their black bag by apprenticeship, and only a small minority attended medical college. However, Methodist ordination required study and examination, proving Brown’s high intelligence and talent for book-learning (or Book-learning.).

Perhaps Thomas Brown planned to spend his remaining years in comparative comfort and leisure, leading the life of an educated Southern planter. If so, the Civil War altered his plans, as it did the plans of many other Americans.

The spring and summer of 1862 must have sorely tried the 62-year-old Brown. (Yeah, I know, some 62-year-olds run marathons every weekend, but ain’t none of that foolishness in my family. We believe the Good Lord created comfortable chairs for a reason.)

The first weekend in April 1862 the Battle of Shiloh TN stunned MS and the South. To gain perspective, recall that MORE Americans were killed or wounded in two days at Shiloh, than in ALL the battles of ALL the wars Americans had fought to that time. Thousands of wounded men survived the retreat to Corinth MS, from which place authorities distributed them all along the state’s spinal railroad through Jackson.

The call went out for volunteer doctors. Records don’t show whether Thomas Brown went to Jackson or some other makeshift hospital site. (Do you remember old Dr. Meade at the train shed hospital in “Gone with the Wind”? The only horror lacking in that scene was the overwhelming stench of bodies and body parts.) If he did not go away, he was very likely the only doctor left in Jefferson for several weeks. Either way, his patient load increased exhaustingly.

On Friday or Saturday a telegram arrived in Jefferson announcing Jeff Liddell’s injury. Thomas Brown immediately boarded the train to Richmond, arriving after three or four wretched miserable days of travel. (I cannot emphasize this too much. Railroad trains left their victims bruised and punch-drunk and half-asphyxiated, and most folks wanted a day or two of bed rest after a day on the train. Another essay is in the works, discussing this exhausting train ride.)

By Tuesday Dr. Brown was in Richmond. If he arrived before nightfall, he heard the distant cannons disputing Malvern Hill on the last of the Seven Days. He examined Jeff’s wound and condition, and arranged Jeff’s general care. When the two men left the hospital six weeks later, Brown paid a Mrs. Mathias (ward matron?) $40 and one Jacob Wertheimer (male nurse?) $25 for looking after Jeff and feeding him well.

Presumably Thomas Brown rested before giving his attention and skills to some of the other 30,000 casualties from that bloody week. For most of that hot humid Richmond summer, all of July and half of August, Rev. Brown M.D. wandered the wards of Howard’s Grove General Hospital seeing to the physical health and spiritual well-being of his young charges. If his patients fit the average, one man out of four sank and died, but the other three rallied and recovered.

By mid-August Jeff Liddell had recovered sufficiently to travel. He and Thomas Brown departed for Jefferson and home, the former to complete his recuperation and the latter, one hopes, to enjoy a well-deserved rest.

BDL 22-Nov-2007

The Facts Unravel #9

[Sensitive readers should skip this essay, which includes medical discussion of battle wounds.]

Shortly after the American Civil War 1861-1865 began at Fort Sumter, Cicero Jefferson Liddell, age 18, born and reared in Jefferson County MS, enlisted in the Southern Army. Just over a year later, Friday 27-Jun-1862, Sergeant Jeff Liddell lost his left arm at the Battle of Gaines Mills or Beaver Dam Creek VA, one of the Seven Days’ Battles by which Lee saved Richmond.

The instant before Jeff Liddell became a casualty of war, he and his friends in the Fayette MS “Thomas Hinds Guards,” now D Company of the Nineteenth Regiment of Mississippi Volunteer Infantry, were advancing in battle array, holding their guns before them. A spent cannonball struck Charles A. Lehmann in the chest, knocking him unconscious. Someone said “There goes old Charlie” but Lehmann later woke up and rejoined the regiment. The next cannon shot shattered Jeff’s musket and killed the two men on his left, brothers Isaac A. and Moses J. Guice. The shot mangled Jeff’s left arm, smashed his right thumb, and removed his right trigger finger “entirely torn out to the metacarpal joint.” The regimental surgeon amputated the arm, bandaged the hand, and sent Jeff to Howard’s Grove General Hospital, part of the Chimborazo medical complex outside Richmond.

[What follows is adapted from an unpublished article I wrote a few years ago.]

Medical treatment in the Civil War can only be evaluated fairly on the basis of then-current knowledge. Beginning with Lister’s discovery of antiseptics in 1865, medicine rapidly evolved from an art to a science. “The Civil War was fought,” declared the Surgeon General, “at the end of the medical Middle Ages.” In the decades after the conflict, the Germ Theory, the idea that microscopic organisms cause disease, crystallized into medicine’s central theory and sparked a revolution in practice.

Medicos in 1860 knew physical anatomy and most major organ functions. Three out of four surgeons preferred chloroform over ether for surgical anesthesia. Smallpox vaccination “took” in about half of the patients, and no other vaccine approached this level of success. Only experimenters performed blood transfusions, and found them potentially fatal to donor or recipient seven times out of ten. The hypodermic syringe and medical thermometer were laboratory curiosities. Diseases sprang from a variety of causes, with “inflammation” the prime suspect. Physicians prescribed “depleting” or “sustaining” treatment regimes, depending on diagnosis. Quackery openly competed with orthodox medicine. “Allopaths of every class of allopathy; homeopaths of high and low dilutions; hydropaths mild and heroic; chrono-thermalists, Thompsonians, mesmerists, herbalists, Indian doctors, clairvoyants, spiritualists” dotted the landscape, according to one critic.

Doctors in 1860 usually preferred non-invasive treatment from their drug cabinet. Patients took medicine by mouth or topical application, rarely by suppository and never by injection. Often a nutritious diet worked wonders, since wartime scurvy and dysentery compounded most soldiers’ complaints. The practitioner’s medicine chest contained several powerful drugs based on opium, alcohol, and biological and inorganic poisons, as well as numerous other concoctions of varying efficacy and potency. Antebellum doctors and patients alike chose surgery as a last resort, a desperate fifty-fifty coin toss for survival. Medical professors had taught the beneficial effects of a clean surgical field since 1817, but few Civil War army surgeons overly concerned themselves with such finer points of medical practice.

Civil War surgeons may be caricatured into two factions: “conservative” antebellum doctors who operated reluctantly, and “radical” new doctors whose saws and scalpels rarely stayed. In fairness, very few antebellum doctors had any experience with gunshot and battle wounds. “Radical” surgeons argued that amputation and post-operative care produced more survivors than “conservative” wound care under army conditions. Numerous soldiers who declined to part with a member, and recovered full or partial function, attested that not all battlefield amputations were necessary.

During the Civil War four soldiers out of ten received a battle wound, and three of those reached the hospital tent still alive. Military theorists preferred wounds to battle death, on the assumption that two or more able men would leave the fight to assist one disabled man. The wounded soldier first concerned himself with the location and extent of his injury. Photographs of dead Yankees and Rebels often display disarranged clothing, not from robbery but by the individual searching for his own wound. Leaving the battlefield ran a close second in the soldier’s mind. Many suffered additional wounds as they tried to exit the danger zone and reach medical care.

Before the battle the regimental doctor erected his hospital tents well behind the front line. Lucky wounded men arrived on horseback, or in ambulance wagons driven by regimental bandsmen assigned the duty. Litters borne by two or four men brought others. “Walking wounded” came in on foot, assisted by one or two buddies.

Upon reaching the hospital tent, the wounded soldier now had to survive the treatment. If the patient would surely die, the doctor might administer opium and send him to the moribund ward. Some fraction of these men recovered; the cynic would suggest because of the lack of treatment. Abdominal wounds that perforated the viscera inevitably proved fatal. Men with chest wounds received dressings, but their ultimate recovery was unlikely. Head wounds rarely appear in hospital records, perhaps because most proved immediately fatal on the battlefield. The man wounded in one arm or leg had the best overall chance of survival.

Once the wounded man arrived on the operating table, an assistant administered anesthesia or whiskey until the surgeon deemed the patient sufficiently “limber.” Debridement followed, the removal of foreign matter and dead tissue. The surgeon might employ a probe to locate the bullet and extract clothing fragments. If the bullet passed through elastic muscle tissue, cautery stopped the bleeding and a simple dressing completed the primary treatment. If the bullet struck bone, multiple compound fractures (bones protruding from the wound) invariably resulted. Medical authorities recommended amputation for compound wounds of the extremities, but “radical” surgeons amputated for any arm or leg wound. Careful surgeons left as much limb as possible, with a fleshy pad over the end of the bone. Arm amputations usually succeeded two inches or more from the shoulder. Patients recovered faster from lower leg amputation than upper leg. Secondary amputations, those performed days or weeks after the initial wounding, proved fatal in over half of the cases.

Since no antiseptics graced Civil War hospitals, medicos accepted secondary infection as normal. They expected wounds to fester to a certain degree, and desired the appearance of “laudable pus.” The doctor’s nose alerted him to necrosis and gangrene. Gangrene in a limb demanded immediate secondary amputation at the hip or shoulder, if fatal pyæmia (blood poisoning) had not already begun. For over a century physicians and soldiers had published accounts of maggots removing necrotic gangrenous flesh, but in 1860 no authority advocated larval treatment.

Treatment regimes varied widely, because the multitude of theories of disease defied consensus. Two opposite schools of wound care advised “wet” and “dry” treatment. “Wet” practitioners bound up the wound loosely or tightly, and positioned a drip bucket to keep the bandage constantly damp. Some “dry” doctors bandaged the wound with dry dressings, while some recommended no dressings, but left the wound exposed to fresh air and sunlight. Given the variety of local conditions, all methods boasted successes. Secondary infection often resulted in fever and pneumonia. One Confederate hospital inspector estimated that one soldier out of six contracted pneumonia, and he implicated the disease in one-fourth of all deaths. Secondary infections received diagnoses of tetanus, erysipelas, pyæmia, gangrene, or the ambiguous F.U.O. (fever, unknown origin.)

Jeff Liddell survived his injury, amputation, hospitalization and recuperation, and lived to vote against Republican Calvin Coolidge in 1924. “There were giants in the earth in those days.”

BDL 06-Dec-2007

The Facts Unravel #10

Newspaper legal notice, Rodney, Jefferson County MS 19-Jan-1839:

TRUSTEE'S SALE Of Land and Negroes. WHEREAS Jimerson Liddell, by deed bearing date the thirteenth day of February, one thousand eight hundred and thirty eight, conveyed to the undersigned the following property, to wit, a woman slave named SARAH, aged sixteen years, and an infant child of the said Sarah; a woman slave named NANCY, and an infant child of the said Nancy; and a man slaved named NED, aged about thirty-five years; also a TRACT OF LAND, lying in the county of Jefferson and state of Mississippi, containing four hundred and fifty acres, and bounded by the land of ISAAC DUNBAR, ARTHUR B. SIMS, and the unoccupied lands of the United States, IN TRUST, and to secure the payment of the sum of five thousand and seventy eight dollars and seventy five cents, the sum of money specified in a certain promissory note drawn by the said Liddell, in favor of one Edmund Fitzpatrick, or order, bearing even date with the said deed, and payable on the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and thirty nine, at the Commercial Bank of Rodney; which said sum of money now remains due and unpaid; and whereas the said EDMUND FITZPATRICK, the holder of said note, and a party to said deed, for whose benefit said deed was created, has required the undersigned to sell said property, so conveyed in trust as aforesaid, agreeably to the terms of said deed, and to my covenants therein as trustee as aforesaid; Now, therefore, be it known, that I the said trustee, by virtue of the authority vested in me by said deed, shall, on Monday, the eleventh day of February, eighteen hundred and thirty nine, at one o'clock, P. M. at the dwelling house situated on the tract of land above described, expose the aforesaid land and slaves to sale, at public auction, to the highest bidder for ready money; or so much thereof as shall be sufficient to pay the said sum of five thousand and seventy eight dollars and seventy five cents, with legal interest thereon until paid, and all the costs and expenses of said trust; and shall make to the purchaser or purchasers such title as is vested in me by said deed. GUSTAVUS H. WILCOX, Trustee.

After unraveling the legal mumbo-jumbo, the facts seem plain enough. The year before, on 13-Feb-1838, my ancestor Jimerson (James Jr.) Liddell borrowed $5078.75 secured by five slaves and 450 acres of land. Jimerson didn't repay as agreed, and his property was scheduled to be sold at public auction on Monday afternoon, 11-Feb-1839.

If the auction took place, the outcome is not known. Slaves Sarah and her infant George remained with the family twenty-three years later, and elderly freedwoman Sarah Brown lived next door on the 1870 census. Slaves Ned, Nancy, and her child were presumably sold. The three slaves would have brought in $2000 or so, 450 acres maybe $2000 plus the value of houses and buildings. The mortgaged land was probably an identical-size tract Jimerson had bought for hard cash ten years prior from Elisha & Mary Ann Trader. Jimerson is known to have purchased 1984 acres, sold 157 acres, and owned 756 acres at his death, leaving 1071 acres unaccounted for. (640 acres = 1 section = 1 square mile.) Likely he lost all or part of that in the auction.

What brought Jimerson to this sorry state? Probably the economic depression called the Panic of 1837. In Mississippi, "economic collapse" would be nearer the truth. It took two decades for the state as a whole to regain the wealth of just ten "river counties" in the 1830s.

For the twenty years following statehood (1817) Mississippi enjoyed spectacular growth. Population and wealth doubled again and again. In the 1830s Jefferson County ranked among the top-ten richest counties in the nation. Jefferson had more wealth per free white man than almost any place in the world, topped only by a handful of nearby counties.

Virtually all this wealth came from borrowed money that didn't really exist to be borrowed, and finally the chickens came home to roost.

My specialty is military history, not the "dismal science" of economics. Nevertheless, in the next essay or two I'll try to explain the effects of the Panic of 1837 in southwest Mississippi.

BDL 04-Jan-2007

The Facts Unravel #11

My ancestor Jimerson (James Jr.) Liddell of Jefferson County MS lost his plantation in the Panic of 1837, a decade-long economic depression. Among the factors that triggered the Panic party politics, paper money, banking practice, and land speculation loom large. This essay, the second in a series, will examine the first two.

During the frontier period, the twenty years (one human generation) following statehood in 1817, Mississippi enjoyed spectacular growth. Population and wealth doubled again and again. By the 1830s Jefferson County MS ranked among richest counties in the nation. Jefferson and the nearby "river counties" had more wealth per capita than almost any place in the world. Most of this wealth vanished in the Panic of 1837. Another generation passed before MS regained that same total, but with wealth spread more evenly across the state.

National and statehouse politics of this period pitted "hard money" anti-bank advocates against "soft money" pro-bank proponents. (As by a distorted echo, the same terms carry completely different meanings in today's political news.) The issue arose from the fact that, for most of the 19th century, the country never had enough "hard money," gold and silver coin, in circulation compared to the number of people and the Federal land available for sale, and nowhere was this shortage worse than the frontier.

Theoretically the Democratic Party demanded "hard money" and despised banks, while the opposition Whig Party favored "soft money" and supported banks, but both parties divided internally 60/40 on the issue. To mirror this unsettled state of affairs, for the next 20 years Whigs and Democrats traded the White House every four years, while similar confusion reigned in Jackson MS. Whiggery, caricatured like modern Republicans as the party of affluence, solidly controlled affluent Jefferson County until the Whig remnants evaporated in the 1860 election that triggered the Civil War.

Specie (SPEE-shee, gold and silver coin) was the only legal exchange, and both precious metals are limited commodities. Congress legislated coin alloys and the price the U.S. Mint paid for pure metal, but commodity values fluctuate on the open market. As a result huge sums of gold and silver coin never reached the public, but shuffled back and forth between big-city banks and U.S. Mint vaults, enriching the bankers by a fraction of a percent on every transaction.

The allure of "hard money" is hard to beat. Most people then, and many people today, consider gold and silver to be the only "real money." But it isn't, really. "Money" is simply a way to compare the relative demand for materials and labor. Spices, gemstones, silk, wine, horses, and virtually every other commodity have served as currency at one time or another. Shaka's Zulus reckoned wealth in cattle. Tongans used stones, scarce on coral islands. Spartans paid their bills with iron (but this was a part of Lykurgus's grand plan to isolate Sparta, an extreme military slavocracy, from the rest of Greece.)

The ancient Eurasians chose silver, and much later gold, as universal currencies, based partly on known rarity and partly on the metals' luster and other attractive qualities. (When did you last hear the chime of a silver coin? Modern coins make a dull thud when dropped.) In the 2500-odd years since the first coins, those metals assumed an absolute value in the popular imagination. In 1837 many serious men believed that if all banks and bank paper vanished without a trace, the country would return(?) to an idyllic era of healthy prosperous self-sufficient yeoman farmers who exchanged the land's bounty for the manufactures of "dark satanic mills" far away in Europe.

"Soft money" advocates proposed paper money backed by private real estate, the one valuable commodity the frontier enjoyed aplenty. Starting in the 1820s individual states chartered private banks to issue paper money based on land. The banks obliged with a wild profusion of "banknotes." Few states exercised effective control, and frontier MS the least control of all. Year after year, until the bank failed spectacularly, the directors of the Union Bank of Mississippi refused state officials access to their books or directors' meetings, even though the state held a quarter of the bank's voting stock and was obligated to cover the bank's notes.

To be continued . . .

BDL 18-Jan-2007

Bruce D. Liddell,
Birmingham AL

Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, another essay will be along in a fortnight.
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