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JAMES GILLAM WOOD

(By Charles F. Dawkins, g-g-g-grandson of James G. Wood)

One of the early settlers of Jefferson County was James Gillam Wood, who was born November 14, 1770 in Prince Charles County, Maryland.

Wood grew up to become a planter, a judge and a member of the Maryland legislature. He also served in the state militia and was promoted to the rank of colonel.

On December 4, 1798 he married Sarah Weems Allein. They were married by the first American Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and to this marriage two children were born, but in March of 1805 Sarah Wood died at the age of 26.

In August of 1806 Wood married Martha Young, the daughter of his next door neighbor, Robert Young. They were also married by the same Episcopal Bishop.

Three more children were born while the couple still resided in Mar land.

Then in late 1811 the family uprooted and began the long, arduous ourney by wagon train to Jefferson County, Mississippi. The party consisted of the parents. five children an unknown number of slaves, cattle, and numerous household items.

They finally settled on the banks of Coles Creek on 1,000 acres of land which was purchased from Henry Hunt for $12,500.

Work began immediately on clearing timber and making brick for the plantation houses, and eventually construction was begun on a large brick home for the ever-growing family. The new residence would be called “Auburn Hall”.

The house had a large basement with a concrete floo There ere two floors above, each with four rooms, as well as a nicely finished attic. It was similar to another antebellum home in Natchez—”Concord”.

The house was completed in 1820 with most of the materials coming from the plantation itself, including the brick.

Due to the influx of a large number of settlers from Maryland the community became know as the “Maryland Settlement” with the name later being changed to Church Hill.

Eight children were born to the second marriage of Ccl. \Vood and Martha Young, but in 1821 she died in childbirth at the age of 36 at the home of her brother Alexander Young. Col. Wood never remarried.

An astute businessman, Wood began to prosper. and he was able to provide each of his children with comfortable homes including 5 00-600 acres of land, and enough slaves to maintain each piece of property.

Four of those houses are still standing in the Church Hill area — Oak Grove, The Cedars, Lagonia and Woodland. Auburn Hall was destroyed by a tornado in 1908.

At least one of Col. Wood’s business ventures was made outside Jefferson in Warren County, and was a result of his acquaintance with Joseph E. Davis.

Joseph E. Davis established a law practice in Old Greenville the same year of Col. Wood’s migration to Jefferson County and with both serving on the County Court as well as being founding member of Christ Episcopal Church, they became friends.

By 1820 Joe Davis had moved his law practice to Natchez and put his Jefferson County property up for sale.

He became very successful in Natchez and in 1824 he was able to purchase 11,000 acres south of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River which became known as Davis Bend, and in the fall of 1827 he abandoned his practice in Natchez and moved his family to their new home, Hurricane Plantation, at Davis Bend.

Eventually Davis sold off portions of the large tract to people he thought would make

good neighbors, and one of those people was Col. Wood, who on February 26, 1836 bought

1,570 acres from Davis, and brothers Henry and Fielding Turner for $88,000. Then on April 12,

1836 his son Robert Young Wood bought 513 Additional acres for $15,390.

The property became known as Ursino Plantation and was operated for many years by Robert Y. Wood and his brother, Edgar.

A year Earlier, Jefferson Davis had accepted his brother’s offer of a plantation of his own on Davis Island and he named it Brierfield, which bordered Hurricane on the north and Ursino on the east.

In the ensuing years the relationship between the Davis brothers and the Wood brothers began to deteriorate, primarily due to the failure of the Woods to maintain their levees.

By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 Ursino was being run by overseers with both of the Wood brothers returning to Jefferson County —Robert Young Wood to Woodland Plantation and Edgar Wood to Calviton Plantation after marrying Mary Hunt, widow of Abijah Hunt.

Jefferson Davis left Davis Bend in 1861 to assume presidency of the Confederacy while Joseph remained there until the fall of New Orleans, after which he fled with his family on a sojourn which would take him from Vicksburg to Jackson to Alabama and eventually back to Vicksburg.

Davis turned management of Hurricane over to one of his slaves named Ben Montgomery.

Davis had known Montgomery since their childhood and he took the slave under his wing, teaching him to read and write, giving him access to his personal library and eventually making him business manager of both Hurricane and Brierfield.

Davis later learned that a raiding party from Admiral Farragut’s fleet, had landed at Davis Bend and took what items they wanted, and destroyed the rest, including china, dishes and books from the library. They ripped up the family portraits and burned Hurricane to the ground.

Montgomery fled with his family to Ohio where he remained until the end of the war when he returned to Davis Bend, beginning a discourse with Joe Davis which years later would result in the sale of both Hurricane and Brierfield to Ben Montgomery.

Robert Young Wood would reclaim Ursino in 1866, but became bankrupt and sold his 1,557 acres to Ben Montgomery for $ 100,000 in 1871.

Wood would later claim that he had been a Whig, opposed secession and considered Jefferson Davis the cause of the trouble in the south.

Montgomery’s son, Isaiah, who was also educated and had helped his father at Davis Bend, founded Mound Bayou, an all-black town in the Mississippi Delta, made up initially of former slaves from Davis Bend, in 1887.

As with most small communities religion played a large part in the daily lives of the citizens, and the Maryland Settlement was no exception.

The first Episcopal Church was constructed of logs in 1820 and was located on Fairchild’s Creek on land donated by Isaac and Peggy Noble. It’s first Rector was Rev. Adam Cloud.

In 1826 a decision was made to construct a new brick church on land donated by Col. Wood, and it was finished in 1828.

Among members of the congregation who pledged donations for the erection of the new church were David Hunt, Samuel Calvit, William Green, Col. Wood, Alexander Young and Joseph E. Davis, oldest brother of Jefferson Davis.

In May, 1857 Mrs. Jane Wood Payne, who was living at Oak Grove next to the church, donated a piece of land to extend the cemetery, and work was begun on the present church which was completed in 1858.

As he was in Maryland, Col. Wood was active in civic and political affairs of Jefferson County. In 1812 he was Chief Justice of the County Court (Joe Davis was also a Justice of the Peace in that year).

In December of 1815 Col. Wood, along with Rev. Joseph Bullen, James Truly, J. H. Truly, J. B. Truly, H. B. Harrison, Alexander Young, Cato West, William Harper and Joseph Davis petitioned Congress to honor land grants made by the Spanish and British governments.

In December, 1815 Col. Wood, Thomas Hinds, David Hunt, David Kerr and Isaac Dunbar were commissioned to build a new jail and pillory at Old Greenville.

In March, 1822 Chief Justice Wood ordered that a court be convened for the purpose of levying a tax for the building of a new courthouse.

Col. Wood was also a delegate from Christ Church to the first convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Mississippi, which met at Trinity Church in Natchez in May of 1826.

A story from the county WPA files states that at a public dinner given by the citizens of Church Hill about 1840, Col. Wood brought out some of his good old whiskey and presented it to the committee for public use. He wished Gen. Charles Clark (future governor of Mississippi) to taste it and see if it was good.

Clark, after partaking, pronounced it magnificent, fit for anyone. “Well, said Wood, “that whiskey I have had for thirty years. I have one request to make of the crowd and it is this: pour as much it to drink as you wish but drink all you pour. It is too precious to waste”.

Col. Wood’s life came to an end on the morning of June 8, 1845 at his home, Auburn Hall. He is buried in the Wood family cemetery which is now part of the Cedars property.

His tombstone reads, “He was a kind and devoted Husband, an affectionate Father, a generous and sincere Friend and an indulgent Master”.

An obituary from a Natchez newspaper reads “His personal endowments were uncommonly fine. Nature had been lavish to him in her gifts, and his form was cast in one of the grandest and noblest of human moulds. And, like Hamlet’s father, he possessed ‘A combination and a form, indeed, Where every God did seem to set his seal. To have the world assurance of a man.’

His uniform vivacity and cheerfulness - his gaiety of temper - his sprightly and humorous conversation - like his elegant and easy politeness, acquired in the old school of manners (now unhappily almost extinct) - his unbounded hospitality, always ready to be offered equally to the rich and to the poor - his tender regard for their feelings - his charity for the faults of others and his unremitted attention to the comfort of all that sought the asylum of his roof - these, and far more than these engaging attributes, that we have not space to enumerate, all combine to make up that pleasing mass of remarkable social qualities for which he was universally celebrated, admired and esteemed.

His business habits were all of the systematic kind and by the exercise of that steady and persevering industry which ever characterized him, aided by a sound and correct judgement in the management of his affairs, he succeeded in spite of his great liberality, in amassing a handsome estate.

Kind and affectionate in all his domestic relations, dutiful in all of his social ones

SOURCES:

1. Wood cousins: Betty McGeHee, Rosa Johnston Miller, Ruth Forman Palmer, Lonnie Grisham.

2. Jefferson County Courthouse Records, Fayette

3. Warren County Courthouse Records, Vicksburg

4. WPA History of Jefferson County.

5. Christ Episcopal Church Records compiled by Ann Brown, Betty McGeHee and Lou Wagner.

6. Natchez Weekly Currier and Journal June 18, 1845.

7. Joseph B. j Pioneer Patriarch by Janet Sharp Hermann, University Press of Mississippi, 1990.

8. Th Pursuit of Dream by Janet Sharp Hermann. Oxford University Press, 1981.

9. The papers of Jefferson Davis LSU Press, 1974.

Davis turned management of Hurricane over to one of his slaves named Ben Montgomery.

Davis had known Montgomery since their childhood and he took the slave under his wing, teaching him to read and write, giving him access to his personal library and eventually making him business manager of both Hurricane and Brierfield.

Davis later learned that a raiding party from Admiral Farragut’s fleet, had landed at Davis Bend and took what items they wanted, and destroyed the rest, including china, dishes and books from the library. They ripped up the family portraits and burned Hurricane to the ground.

Montgomery fled with his family to Ohio where he remained until the end of the war when he returned to Davis Bend, beginning a discourse with Joe Davis which years later would result in the sale of both Hurricane and Brierfield to Ben Montgomery.

Robert Young Wood would reclaim Ursino in 1866, but became bankrupt and sold his 1,557 acres to Ben Montgomery for $ 100,000 in 1871.

Wood would later claim that he had been a Whig, opposed secession and considered Jefferson Davis the cause of the trouble in the south.

Montgomery’s son, Isaiah, who was also educated and had helped his father at Davis Bend, founded Mound Bayou, an all-black town in the Mississippi Delta, made up initially of former slaves from Davis Bend, in 1887.

As with most small communities religion played a large part in the daily lives of the citizens, and the Maryland Settlement was no exception.

The first Episcopal Church was constructed of logs in 1820 and was located on Fairchild’s Creek on land donated by Isaac and Peggy Noble. It’s first Rector was Rev. Adam Cloud.

In 1826 a decision was made to construct a new brick church on land donated by Col. Wood, and it was finished in 1828.

Among members of the congregation who pledged donations for the erection of the new church were David Hunt, Samuel Calvit, William Green, Col. Wood, Alexander Young and Joseph E. Davis, oldest brother of Jefferson Davis.

In May, 1857 Mrs. Jane Wood Payne, who was living at Oak Grove next to the church, donated a piece of land to extend the cemetery, and work was begun on the present church which was completed in 1858.

As he was in Maryland, Col. Wood was active in civic and political affairs of Jefferson County. In 1812 he was Chief Justice of the County Court (Joe Davis was also a Justice of the Peace in that year).

In December of 1815 Col. Wood, along with Rev. Joseph Bullen, James Truly, J. H. Truly, J. B. Truly, H. B. Harrison, Alexander Young, Cato West, William Harper and Joseph Davis petitioned Congress to honor land grants made by the Spanish and British governments.

In December, 1815 Col. Wood, Thomas Hinds, David Hunt, David Kerr and Isaac Dunbar were commissioned to build a new jail and pillory at Old Greenville.

In March, 1822 Chief Justice Wood ordered that a court be convened for the purpose of levying a tax for the building of a new courthouse.

Col. Wood was also a delegate from Christ Church to the first convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Mississippi, which met at Trinity Church in Natchez in May of 1826.

A story from the county WPA files states that at a public dinner given by the citizens of Church Hill about 1840, Col. Wood brought out some of his good old whiskey and presented it to the committee for public use. He wished Gen. Charles Clark (future governor of Mississippi) to taste it and see if it was good.

Clark, after partaking, pronounced it magnificent, fit for anyone. “Well, said Wood, “that whiskey I have had for thirty years. I have one request to make of the crowd and it is this: pour as much it to drink as you wish but drink all you pour. It is too precious to waste”.

Col. Wood’s life came to an end on the morning of June 8, 1845 at his home, Auburn Hall. He is buried in the Wood family cemetery which is now part of the Cedars property.

His tombstone reads, “He was a kind and devoted Husband, an affectionate Father, a generous and sincere Friend and an indulgent Master”.

An obituary from a Natchez newspaper reads “His personal endowments were uncommonly fine. Nature had been lavish to him in her gifts, and his form was cast in one of the grandest and noblest of human moulds. And, like Hamlet’s father, he possessed ‘A combination and a form, indeed, Where every God did seem to set his seal. To have the world assurance of a man.’

His uniform vivacity and cheerfulness - his gaiety of temper - his sprightly and humorous conversation - like his elegant and easy politeness, acquired in the old school of manners (now unhappily almost extinct) - his unbounded hospitality, always ready to be offered equally to the rich and to the poor - his tender regard for their feelings - his charity for the faults of others and his unremitted attention to the comfort of all that sought the asylum of his roof - these, and far more than these engaging attributes, that we have not space to enumerate, all combine to make up that pleasing mass of remarkable social qualities for which he was universally celebrated, admired and esteemed.

His business habits were all of the systematic kind and by the exercise of that steady and persevering industry which ever characterized him, aided by a sound and correct judgement in the management of his affairs, he succeeded in spite of his great liberality, in amassing a handsome estate.

Kind and affectionate in all his domestic relations, dutiful in all of his social ones

SOURCES:

1. Wood cousins: Betty McGeHee, Rosa Johnston Miller, Ruth Forman Palmer, Lonnie Grisham.

2. Jefferson County Courthouse Records, Fayette

3. Warren County Courthouse Records, Vicksburg

4. WPA History of Jefferson County.

5. Christ Episcopal Church Records compiled by Ann Brown, Betty McGeHee and Lou Wagner.

6. Natchez Weekly Currier and Journal June 18, 1845.

7. Joseph E. Davis, Pioneer Patriarch by Janet Sharp Hermann, University Press of Mississippi, 1990.

8. The Pursuit of Dream by Janet Sharp Hermann. Oxford University Press, 1981.

9. The Papers of Jefferson Davis LSU Press, 1974.

 

Contributed by Charles Dawkins

 

 

 

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