This letter was written by Alexander McNeill, an executor of his Uncle John B. McNeill’s estate, which included the Springfield Plantation mentioned in this letter. A slave named Henry Watson claimed that Alexander McNeill was a cruel master and flogged him severely for little reason. Watson also claimed that McNeill’s wife left him after learning that McNeill slept with one of his slaves and refused any subsequent reconciliation.
Alexander McNeill wrote the letter to his Uncle Malcom McNeill (1796-1875) — the brother of John B. McNeill — who was born in Person County, North Carolina but moved to Christian County, Kentucky, one mile south of the Sinking Fork bridge on the road from Hopkinsville to Princeton, in 1817. He took the oath of citizenship there on 28 Feb 1817. He began accumulating property at an early age, first near his home in Kentucky, but later he bought thousands of acres in Mississippi and within the city of Natchez, which greatly increased in value. He made his first investments in Chicago in 1842, at a time when travel there required carriages or horseback. He became a man of great wealth, described in an 1884 history of Christian and Trigg counties as “perhaps the richest man in the county, with a large estate and many negroes both there and in Mississippi.”
Malcom and Catherine Boddie (his fifth wife) appeared on the 1850 Federal Census of Christian Co., Kentucky, enumerated 7 Aug 1850, reporting real estate valued at $60,500 and 57 slaves. Their son Malcolm was listed as living with them, as was Malcolm Carothers. He reported an additional 72 slaves on his plantation in Coahoma Co. Alabama.
Malcom and Catherine appeared on the 1860 Federal Census of Hopkinsville, Christian Co., Kentucky, enumerated 9 Apr 1860, reporting real estate valued at $240,000, and personal estate of $36,000, including 46 slaves houses in 10 slave houses. Malcom Caruthers, age 12, whose relationship is not known, is listed as living with them.
Malcom and Catherine appeared on the 1870 Federal Census of Hopkinsville, Christian Co., Kentucky, enumerated 30 Aug 1870, reporting real estate valued at $29,700 and personal estate of $5,000. His widowed daughter Martha, by his third wife, and her children Elizabeth, Lucy, George, Malcolm, John, Willie and Nicholas were listed as living with them. Also listed were Benjamin, Rivers and William, three of the younger sons of his late son Thomas, and Lula Musgrove, age 20, a school teacher.
Addressed to Malcom McNeill, Esq., Near Hopkinsville, Christian County, Kentucky
May 29, 1826
My Dear Uncle,
Your highly esteemed favor of 14 inst. from Clarksville is received. Am concerned to hear of my Aunt’s indisposition, and sincerely hope with you “that God may again bless her with health.”
Springfield Plantation [in Adams County] goes on as usual. I seriously believe that the last crop in the State is growing on it. Will not fail to stimulate the answer to do his best. The River plantations are almost completely [overflowed], the water now rising and a number of planters have already abandoned their possessions for the hills. I am now in treaty for my lands and have the most favorable prospects of closing sales at good prices.
My retirement from the firm has afforded me but little besides my own & the estate’s affairs, keep me actively employed. I now buy cotton and share good paper with my money and the ________ edge. I am now 26 years of age and in summing up, find I am only with $35,000; owe not one cent of money and own not a dollar in bad debts. If fortunate in collecting, will have $25,000 in cash this time next year. I share first rate paper, Bankable, at 2 percent per month. I find on a closer examination that you gave notes for $20 too much which has been pleased to collect your receipt, which now corresponds with the Book.
I will merely observe that I ___ no risk of the cotton remaining on hand at the desolation and in fact am not bound for _____ ____ of any description. Owing to which circumstances had to make a sacrifice. My successors are doing extremely well. Hector [McNeill] will remain and complete his studies at Lexington as Dr. Holly’s situation, I am told, will be most ably filled.
Cotton continues extremely low at from $8 to 14 cents, and an immense and accumulating stock on sale leaves but little room for an improvement this season. Mr. Irish, when last in Claiborne, shipped the crop 45 bales of _____ to New Orleans. It appears to me it ought to have been a larger lot than that. This fact, I shall enquire into.
I have heard nothing from Charleston. The estate effects must be sold off next fall and to accomplish that end, you should certainly be ___ early, to constitute your assets. You have heretofore thrown this burden on the executors and I shall insist on your Ad___ for ____, on what property is in your state and selling it off. The persons holding it deserve no money and why delay when a serious injury will accrue to the Estate? I insist on your taking that step instantly, not only as an executor but as an heir! No considerations ought to turn a man from a correct course.
I see you are an able politician and a considerable Military character when an attack is dreaded to carry war into an enemy’s country. By upholding [Henry] Clay, or as you say, “the present administration,” you wished to direct my mind from the “coalition” that gave him a voice in it. I was one of Mr. [John Quincy] Adam’s warmest friends but must confess that facts have been hinted in the late debates that have greatly changed my favorable opinion. As to Mr. Clay, he has been used as a tool and is nothing more than an instrument in the hands of the Chief Magistrate to effectuate his purposes. Charges of the most public nature of corruption have been made. He has “skulked behind the scenes” and his partisans, not being able to refute, have waded them by personal abuse. “Tracts on stubborn things” and cannot be resisted. You, who have sectional feelings, will not be convinced. I have none and am therefore more impartial. You see thro’ the mists of prejudice & error. Before the day b____ of Truth, however, it will “dissolve like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wreck behind.” He will then be exhibited to the world in his naked deformity of character.¹
Since writing the above, Miskell has been in town and says he has but little for the hands to do with the best crop in this state which I have no doubt in the least. The Negroes are generally well with a few exceptions of slight fever, which yield readily to medicine. Miskell wishes to hear an______ally from the subject of plantations &c. wishes I should advise you that the Steam Boat Grecian ² with 500 Bales Cotton was burnt to the water’s edge a few nights ago with her cargo, from Alexandria. I am told some planters had their entire crops on board. I have 150 Bales on hand for sale below at low prices and hope to realize a good profit. It is, however, very uncertain. The greater part of the Negroes sold for estate have run away. Red River Clarke came to the plantation last night & now wishes to come back. Altho’ at the time of Sale, he refused to remain. He now finds the difference of treatment. He will be given up to his master.
My love to your family, &c.
Affectionately, — Alex. McNeill
¹ Alexander McNeill’s condemnation of Henry Clay’s character probably stems from the 1824 incident in which “a corrupt bargain” was alleged in which Henry Clay swung his support for John Quincey Adams in the presidential election, securing him the presidency in 1824, in exchange for the post of Secretary of State — believed to be the stepping stone to the presidency.
² The Georgian (Savannah, Ga.) newspaper of 24 June 1826 reported that “The steamboat Grecian from Natchez, with about 400 bales of cotton and six passengers was discovered to be on fire on the 23d ult. when near New Orleans, and was entirely destroyed.