1830’s: Hector McNeill to Malcom McNeill

These four letters were written by Hector McNeill (1809-18xx). Hector entered Yale College from Natchez, Mississippi, in February of the Sophomore year. He graduated in 1831. On September 30, sixteen days after graduation, he was married to Ann Caroline Frere (1813-1880), of New Haven and New Orleans. He became a cotton planter in the vicinity of Natchez, and later in Coahoma County, Mississippi, where he was enumerated in the 1850 census. I feel certain this is the same Hector McNeill who resided and owned property in Dallas County, Arkansas, in 1860.

Hector wrote these letters to his uncle Malcom McNeill (1796-1875) 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 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.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 1
Addressed to Malcom McNeill, Esqr., Flat Lick P. O., Christian County, Kentucky

Natchez [Mississippi]
August 21st 1834

Dear Uncle,

Your favor of the 9th ult. came to hand after a few days before I left home. I did not write you there because I had not time. My cotton was opening before leaving home. But owing to the heavy rains, I shall not begin to pick before a week or ten days. I have the prospect for a splendid crop. I made a proposition at home. I have no doubt it is much the best plan. But it being uncertain whether you will agree to my proposition (to keep it & go halves), I shall sell it as soon as possible unless your letter arrives giving the information that you will take half. In regard to the lower half adjoining our river land, I am clearly of the opinion that we ought to have it. Since you were here, the river lands have risen twenty-five percent. It would be a good speculation to buy it & sell again. Should circumstances make it necessary after a given time for us to dissolve our partnership in planting, the we will have land on which one of us can go. I care very little about it, however. I heard a gentleman offer Angus about two months ago $22,500 for it, payable in three years. But then he had bound himself not to sell it until I heard from you. I presume the man has made other arrangements since.

If you wish to enter into a partnership with Parish & Co. in planting, let nothing that I have said hinder you. I am willing to go in with you or not, just as you choose. But I very much fear the land will be sold before you can write to Angus that you will take it. I shall depend on you for my meat, at the price you mentioned. The cane ought to be cut now, immediately. Can’t you dispatch hands immediately? Get as many as you can — 15 or 20. This will enable us to make very nearly a full crop of cotton & corn the first year. You would do well to buy a first rate carpenter & blacksmith. Purchase them and I will pay half the money for them.

I, accompanied by Angus, will leave for Madison County this evening. His wife & one of his children are quite sick at my house. I have nothing more to say at present. Write to me concerning an answer. Mine is a first rate one. Shall I employ him? My best love to your family & relations generally.

Your nephew, — H. McNeill

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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 2
Addressed to Malcom McNeill, Esq., Flat Lick P. Office, Christian County, Kentucky

Madisonville, [Mississippi]
September 7th 1834

Dear Uncle,

Your letters are so long getting down from your country that I find it impossible to wait for them. It is necessary that our correspondence should be prompt and regular. A variety of new plans are substituting in this country in the place of the old ones. Aming which, I will mention the stream gin instead of a horse mill. This is a wonderful improvement, I have no doubt.

On this score of economy, they are preferable, and as for safety, they are equal to the others; for it is not necessary that the fire should be near the cotton. But here is an advantage still greater: An engine costing $700 or $800 will be powerful enough to work a gin, grist mill, and saw mill — all of which are absolutely necessary on a new plantation where a variety of houses &c. are to be constructed. What will these mills & gins cost? I was told the other day by the owner of one that $2,000 was the extent. What will a horse mill & gin cost, without the saw mill? At least $2,000.

Now, Sir, if we had plank enough in the beginning to put up a shed for a saw millm we could saw the balance for the grist mill & gin, cabins, houses &c. It is decidedly preferable to have good double frame cabins with a brick chimney in the middle, at once a good decent framed house with four or five rooms, will also be better than a log house. In the long run, it will cost but little more, when we have a saw mill. Should we conclude to saw our own plank, a good engineer can, I presume, be bought at Yeatman & Woods Iron Works, on the Cumberland River. I would also recommend a first rate blacksmith to be bought at the same place. You can, no doubt, buy a first rate carpenter somewhere in Kentucky. These three workmen will be indispensable for a new place. I will go half in these negroes. They, together with a complete set of tools, ought to be sent down under the management of Alexander as soon as practicable.

Angus has sold his other river land. In the early parts of the season, the rains in some parts of the country were very frequent and heavy, then a severe draught came on which had a tendency to make the cotton shed its forms in a most astonishing degree. The crops will be much shorter than we anticipated. I wish to make this proposition to you, viz: you meet me at our river place any time after the 15th October in order to consult about the positions of buildings, the description of them &c. We can do nothing by writing. This is important.

Our love to your family. Your nephew, — H. McNeill

N. B. You are already aware of the great necessity if sending down hands on the spot to go to clearing.

I am picking cotton which is opening very fast. I have not made a fair trial yet as to quantity in the day. I will have my crop gathered as early as possible in order to get them on the river. My wife’s father & family are about to visit France. They will leave the U, States in March. She will go down either the latter part of this month or the first of next month to stay during the winter. I shall then go up the river to our place to meet you. We will then satisfy ourselves as to the quality of our land. Angus has bought a plantation and negroes in this county about five miles from mine. — H.M.

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Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 3
Addressed to Malcom McNeill, Esqr., Flat Lick P. O., Christian County, Kentucky

Vicksburg [Mississippi]
October 13th 1835

Dear Uncle,

I came to this place two weeks since and paid off the half of the Perkins’ debt — the draft. I was then on my way to Lake Charles but it seems that I left home too soon after my illness. I was taken sick in this place and had to return home. As we have had several frosts in Madison — our cotton killed — I am now getting better, but far from being well.

Your letter of 26th ult. came to hand three or four days since. To find that you had done nothing for the plantation alarmed me. I am now on my way there altho I am advised by my physician not to go until my health is better. The arrangement with Alexander, I think, a good one. But I am very sorry he was not sent down sooner.

Before leaving home, I employed a workman to build the running gear of the [cotton] gin at Lake Charles. He will not be ready to go up before six weeks. It will then take him six weeks more to complete it. This is the best I could do. The timbers will be ready for him. I will take up clothing, blankets, shoes, &c.

I saw a gentleman this evening who says the crop of cotton at Lake Charles was very fine in September. But I am afraid he did not examine the bolls but simply the stalks. We can get bagging and rope cheaper here than in your country. It is on the decline and by the time we wish to buy it will be tolerably low. I will get an overseer between this & January; sooner if If think it necessary. I have not heard from the place for a long time and can give you no news from there.

I should think that oxen ought be got in the neighborhood of the plantation. I left Bro. Henry and Angus’ wife at my house. Bro. Henry will, no doubt, realize a very large fortune from his lands on Red River. He was offered $30,000 for half of his lands there. Angus is determined to move and settle there soon.

Our love to your family.

Your nephew, — H. McNeill

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1838 Letter

1838 Letter

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 4
Addressed to Malcom McNeill, Lafayette, Christian Co., Kentucky

Lake Charles
June 5th 1838

Dear Uncle,

It is now in June and to my mortification, the Kentucky money to buy the corn has not come to hand. But I am yet confident that something has occurred to postpone its arrival.

Now for the crop: There was a fine stand of cotton at the time you left here. The frost you predicted and so much dreaded, came on the 7th & 8th May. This killed a good deal of cotton. But about the 24th of the same month, we had three or four more frosts attended by the severest and most continuous rain — during all the month of May — that I have ever seen in any country. At the same time, the river was as high as it had been during the season, running over the banks in the low places. The whole face of the earth was inundated from the rain and every low place in the field and elsewhere was frightful to look on. We have had good weather for four or five days. The weeds and grass have nearly run away with the crop. But we have got the Lake cut — pretty good stand — clean and cut out to a stand. The old piece of corn we finished ploughing and hoeing this morning. This is the only working it has had since you left. In fact, it has not been dry enough before. And even now, we had to work through some mud. All the middles in the cotton and corn have been broke up. The ploughs are in the new ground corn. The hoes in the cut of cotton in front of the gin, cutting to a stand. Nearly every stalk of this cotton was killed. We replanted this cut about 15th May. I do not know that it will make anything. The small cuts of cotton are very much missing. These I replanted in corn. i.e., in the missing places, between the cotton. But I see the birds are taking all that. We have a fine stand of corn in the low places which is drowned out.

But let us leave the subject of the crop and turn to a more agreeable subject. The fact is, i am tired and disgusted with the place, and wish to leave it. I understand that Floyd has sold his place situated between this and Helena at $15 per acre, eight years credit without interest. I will not vouch for the report. Brother Henry arrived here about two weeks since from Shreveport, Louisiana, where he lives. His health was never better. He and myself expect to leave here in a day or two for red River. Should I like the country, I shall purchase and go over to live there, as soon as we can do something with this property. I wrote you on the 15th ult. and requested you to send the money we owe Pertino immediately to him at Madisonville for it is uncertain about my going there this summer. Ann will remain here ’til my return from Red River. She will attend to the purchase of the corn, when the money comes. The boats are now asking $1.50 per barrel in good money. It may be got for less.

Angus and Ralph have been dangerously ill but are now convalescent.

I have a request to make of you: viz: that you will consent to rescind the land trade we made. I have two reasons. The first is that I was to have given a mortgage on this land — particularly specified — and the second is that I am afraid of doing anything now that might seem like shuffling as I have been unfortunate. I am in hope this will be sufficient apology for the request. Brother Henry thinks I made a good trade. But under every view of the case, I think I had better ask you to rescind it.

Bro. Henry requests me to say to you that you are indebted to him $600 with interest from 1st June 1835 till it shall be paid. He says you were to have sent the money to Angus at Natchez, not because the money belonged to Angus, but because he (Henry) might be gone from Natchez before its arrival. He says the money belongs to him and not to Angus and he therefore requests you to attend to it on the spot. I hold the order on you for the money.

I will return by Vicksburg and will expect to receive your reply to this. Write by first mail. I will be back in 20 or 30 days.

I regard to the plantation of McNeill and Grant, I know very little about it, I understand that the stand is a bad one, the cotton is clean in the drill, but not in the banks. The stand of corn above as here seems to be good. I walked over it some time ago. Mr. White has had the young cane cut down in it. I have been down to your Perkins’ Place once since you left. The fact is, I have such a contempt for the fellow that I seldom go near him. I believe he is getting on pretty well.

Our love to yourself and little Malcom. Your nephew, — H. McNeill

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Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 5
Addressed to Major Malcom McNeill, Lafayette, Christian County, Kentucky

Magnolia,
September 26, 1839

Dear Uncle,

I have just had a conversation with the President of the Commercial & R. R. Bank Vicksburg. I transferred them some time ago from $35,000 to $40,000 of the paper I held on Anderson for my Madison plantation. Anderson traded this property to H. R. W. Hill ¹ of Nashville; or rather, he traded him the present crop of cotton and corn. I applied to the Chancellor about two weeks ago, who ordered that a receiver should take possession of the property and crops and hold them ’til it is decided in December by the Chancery Court to whom the whole belongs. The property is now in this situation. Neither Hill or myself have anything to do with it until it is decided. Hill is very anxious to get hold of the notes held by the Bank, which are secured by a mortgage on this property. If he can do it, he will sell the property under the Deed of Trust for 1/3 or 1/2 of its value and therey make me loser to the amount of from $50,000 to $60,000. He made several propositions last winter for the notes but could not get them on the terms proposed. I think I can get the notes by giving my own notes with good endorsers on five years. I proposed several names to the President today all of whom he rejected as not being sufficiently solvent. In fact, he told me there were but very few the Bank would be willing to take. I would be glad you would go on this paper on the following terms: viz: When I get up this paper out of Bank, I will hand it to you; this paper is then secured by a Deed of Trust on this Madison property. In December or January, when the Chancellor orders the property to be sold to pay the notes you will hold, you or your agent will purchase in the property — near 60 negroes and 1300 acres of land. With this property and the crops, you are to pay the notes you endorse for me to hte Bank. When all the notes are paid up, you are to make the title of this property to me. I am not yet certain that I can make this arrangement with the Bank. If you are willing to do it on this condition, you will please send me your Power of Attorney (specifying what notes I am to take up) for me to sign your name. If I do not get these notes, I shall be nearly or quite ruined. There is no hook or crook about the matter. It is just as I state it.

Write me by return mail. I am very anxious about this matter. Hill is expected down every day and it is expected he will make another attempt to get the notes. He owns the plantation adjoining it, and it is said he has been trying to sell both this summer to one man.

The health of this country has been better than it was ever known. No sickness. Nor have we had any rain for two months. Stock water exceedingly scarce. Cotton on the bottom land is very good. On the hills and in the interior it will hardly pay expenses. You had better ship some cotton to New Orleans to buy the rest of the bagging and rope. It is much cheaper there than here.

Your nephew, — H. McNeill

P. S. I have not heard positively, but I do not think Angus is dead. Perkins is Director of the Union Bank. My family in fine health.

¹ Henry Ralph Willie Hill, known as H. R. W. Hill, was a wealthy cotton factor in New Orleans, Louisiana at the time of his death in 1853. He had amassed a collection of plantations up and down the Mississippi River, and owned over 1,000 slaves. He served as Grand Master of Masons in Louisiana, and donated money to build the grand lodge, although he did not see it completed in his lifetime.

H. R. W. Hill was from near Halifax, North Carolina, and when a young boy, after the loss of his father to death, and upon the remarriage of his mother, the family moved to Williamson County, Tennessee, near Nashville. Hill is said to have walked alongside his family the whole way, armed with a rifle to shoot small game for the family to eat as they traveled.

In Williamson County, Hill became interested in a young lady by the name of McAllister, whose father was a merchant in the village where the Hill family had settled. Hill soon became an employee of his future father-in-law, and was eventually entrusted with the store, starting a lifelong career in business.

After being soundly converted at a Methodist revival meeting in 1817 (as reported in the biography of Robert Paine), under the powerful preaching of pioneer Methodist bishop William McKendree, Hill was instrumental in spreading the influence in the church, in Nashville as well as Jonesborough, Tennessee, where Hill found a prayer group meeting while visiting the town on business. The influential testimony of Hill is credited with being the beginning of the congregation known as Jonesborough United Methodist Church. Hill became an avid supporter of Bishop McKendree, entertaining the bishop often in his Nashville area plantation house, even devoting a room to the bishop’s use when he was in the area. Hill was named as a co-executor of McKendree’s estate upon his death.

In the effort to make the State of Texas an independent entity, Hill was credited as being a major contributor to the cause financially. He was even named by a sitting governor of Tennessee as a special envoy to the Texans. After the banking crash of 1839, Hill relocated to Louisiana where he settled in New Orleans and amassed great wealth. He is said to have taken special interest in the religious lives of his slaves on the plantations he owned, which is attributed to the special influence of his wife. Hill died in an outbreak of Yellow Fever in 1853, after caring for a personal family slave who had contracted the disease. It is thought Hill himself contracted the fever from the man he was ministering to.

Hill’s son James Hill was his only heir and received and then squandered his father’s fortune. A steamship was named after Hill posthumously and was sunk during an explosion in 1860.

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