Saturday, April 01, 2006


"Political editorship is nearly synonymous with opposition — another name for vexatious struggles on an arena where the gladiatorial cut and thrust is given and repelled, received and sent back, with a celerity and skill that might shame the trained bands of the Roman coliseum." - Lorenzo Besançon, editor, Mississippi Free Trader, 1839

The journalists of Natchez before the 1830s, a unique breed like journalists across the nation, served their purpose in spreading the news and encouraging debate in the new republic at they same time they struggled with debts and duels and assaults, floods, earthquakes and yellow fever epidemics. The 19th-century Southern editor also coped with the rigid demands of honor, and the conflicts that resulted from the volatile mix of honor and inflammatory material in the newspapers, on a regular basis. A Southern editor had to balance the behavior expected by his supportive readers with the offense he might give to his opponents. If he did not express his view forcefully enough, he risked alienating the political base that supported his newspaper. On the other hand, intemperate and insulting words might provide a pretext for angry letters, harsh words, mobs, beating and challenges to duels. A Natchez editor had to be prepared for fists and bricks and dueling pistols. If he toned down the rhetoric or backed down from a duel, he risked losing influence and support in the community. If he continued to berate his opponents or accepted a duel challenge, he risked bodily harm or death.

The incidents described in this chapter illustrate the conflicts that burdened newspaper editors because of the nature of the profession. The merchant, the lawyer, the planter and the doctor could avoid these contests with little difficulty if he wished, but a Southern newspaperman in a competitive, self-important environment like Natchez had to put forward strong views to be an effective statesman for his political party and stay in business. None of the four incidents discussed in this chapter depicts a formal duel, two men facing each other on the field of honor with pistols drawn. These examples depict several kinds of inflammatory material that could appear in the newspapers as well as, in two of the incidents, the violence that could result. These incidents also reveal the ongoing nature of these conflicts. An editor lived with the consequences of the contents of his newspaper for months or years. The last few months of the feud between Andrew Marschalk and George Poindexter are recorded week by week, but the bad blood between them began many years before. Personal animosities are not so strongly emphasized in the newspaper war in Natchez during the presidential election of 1828, but it was still a hot campaign because Marschalk and the Jacksonians still smarted over Andrew Jackson’s defeat by John Quincy Adams in the election of 1824. In 1837, John Quitman attacked and beat editor Lorenzo Besançon with a cane, but for Besançon, it was just one more dramatic altercation in a series of lawsuits, lynch mobs, vigilante courts and duel challenges he experienced in four years of Natchez journalism. Articles from a few months of the 1855 campaign for congressman between the ubiquitous Quitman and Courier editor Giles Hillyer produced dozens of insulting and inflammatory statements, but it was merely a part of the decade-long rivalry between the Courier and the Free Trader when Hillyer was editor.

The Natchez newspapermen set up shop in the brawling, boisterous environment of antebellum Mississippi with ambitions of acquiring land, wealth and influence. They knew, or they quickly learned, that success depended on an adherence to certain rules, a sense of honor, a stubborn persistence, and an acceptance of slavery. If it was too much for them, they gave up journalism and moved on. If they stayed, they had had to accept Southern views of honor and the potential conflict that could result.

The lives of these journalists must have contained many interesting and relevant incidents of violence, conflict, emotion, tension and humor. We know of only a few of these incidents from a few lines in newspapers and court documents. In a few cases, these incidents are inextricably tangled up with the history of the newspapers just because of the nature of the job and the society, an environment that attracted political, newsworthy conflicts that would then receive great attention in the newspapers. Examining a few of these incidents in detail may help us put ourselves in the shoes of the men who lived the daily conflicts of antebellum southern journalism.

During the War of 1812, a rising Mississippi politician assaulted the editor of a local paper after enduring weeks of ridicule. George Poindexter, a Southerner by birth, epitomized Southern honor at its least flexible and humorless extreme, and belligerently defended every perceived slight against his honor. The editor, Andrew Marschalk, lacked such a view of personal honor, perhaps because he came from a working-class background in New York City. Poindexter probably never seriously considered issuing a formal challenge to Marschalk because the New Yorker would not have been considered a gentleman and Marschalk would not have accepted the challenge. Marschalk, however, was no coward. He had been aggressively representing the interests of his political allies for years, he took his lumps when it was necessary, and his pen never seemed to run dry of venomous comments. He did not have to blast away at anybody to prove to his readership that he would represent them.

Early in March 1815, Poindexter walked into the office of the Washington Republican and struck Marschalk with a walking cane. Some sources say Poindexter used a brickbat or that Marschalk was beaten almost senseless. The two men had know each other since 1802, they had even been allies in the fractious policies of the territory’s early years, but considerable bad blood had developed between them by 1815, and the beating was only the most sensational incident in an ongoing feud that was fought in the newspapers, in the courts, and even on the battlefield. Poindexter had arrived in Mississippi Territory in 1802, just a year after Marschalk published the first issue of the Mississippi Herald. Poindexter, a young, energetic and ambitious lawyer, quickly ingratiated himself with the Claiborne faction of the Jeffersonian Republicans. (1) As early as November 1803, Poindexter had been appointed as Attorney General for the Mississippi Territory. Early in 1807, he was the territorial representative to the U.S. Congress. And by the time of the 1814-1815 feud with Marschalk, he was a territorial judge presiding at Washington, the capital of the territory, a few miles north of Natchez. Marschalk had started the Washington Republican in the capital in 1813.

Poindexter’s bad temper and combative nature were well known. Soon after his arrival in Natchez, he almost got into a fight over a newspaper article. In 1811, Poindexter killed Abijah Hunt in a duel and, soon after, he narrowly avoided a duel with Stephen Minor. (2) J.F.H. Claiborne said that “his life, at this period, was a perpetual embroilment.” (3)

An aggressive journalist, Marschalk seldom pulled punches when engaging his political opponents. An extant bench warrant shows that he had been accused of libel in Mississippi Territory as early as May 1803. In 1807, Marschalk ridiculed Samuel Terrell, the editor of the Mississippi Messenger, mocking his youth and implying that Poindexter’s faction controlled the Messenger: “I know you are a good sort of a young man — always do as you are bid, and never contradict anybody — but Sammy, as it is well known that you do not make a practice of scribbling, (nay, some go so far as to say that you are not even adequate to the reading of a proof sheet — but there is much slander in the world Sammy) — are you not apprehensive that ill natured people may accuse you of being the cats paw and Scavenger of ‘Ambidexter & Co.’?” Marschalk went so far as to suggest a parody advertisement for Terrell to run in the Messenger, an official notice that the Poindexter faction was running the newspaper: “AMBIDEXTER & Co., Ministers Plenipotentiary, Envoys Extraordinary, and Ambassadors in Ordinary ... Beg Leave to inform the public of this and the neighboring Territory that they have opened their shop at the MESSENGER OFFICE ...” (4)

A conflict between Marschalk and Poindexter might have seemed inevitable to a 19th-century Natchez observer, even though they belonged to the same party, the Jeffersonian Republicans. Federalist power dissipated pretty quickly in the Old Southwest, and the factions that developed within the Republican Party were based on personalities and local issues.

“Parties in the Territory of that day were personal rather than political,” noted Clayton James, (5) and no case demonstrates this phenomenon more clearly than the Poindexter-Marschalk feud. Court documents show that Poindexter sued Marschalk for debt in 1812. The two men had business dealings as early as 1802, but the role of this relationship in later disputes can only be based on speculation. (6) For the historian inclined to seek out a specific cause, the mists of time have hidden the ultimate origins of the feud. Both men possessed combative personalities and, by 1814, had achieved prominent positions in Natchez political society. By the winter of 1814-1815, the feud had been going on for some time, and a close scrutiny of events that culminated in this beating will help us to understand many important issues of the time, the nature of the press, and the combative culture of the Old Southwest.

The immediate chain of events that led to Poindexter’s beating of Marschalk began in the fall of 1814 when Marschalk published an anonymous letter from “A Bystander,” almost certainly Marschalk himself. The letter criticized Poindexter for disparaging remarks he had made about a memorial to the U.S. Congress for settling the controversy with Britain over the validity of many of the titles to land in the northern part of the territory. Poindexter, on receiving the memorial, “threw it scornfully down, saying that no gentleman in the town would sign such a paper, and that every man who did was a damned rascal.” Bystander pointed out that Poindexter’s statement insulted the citizens of Adams County, “men of the first respectability, standing and intelligence in the territory; and who perhaps, possess more patriotism and interest for its welfare and that of its citizens, than he has, or ever will.” (7)

Marschalk also resurrected an accusation from 1811 that Poindexter, as Mississippi’s territorial representative to the U.S. Congress, had withheld a petition entrusted to him by the people of the territory. To modern eyes, these issues appear to be minor squabbles, and figuring out why these accusations led to such acrimony and violence seems baffling. But a man’s honor could hardly be separated from his physical person in the Old Southwest. Some southerners took the code of honor more seriously than others, and few southern politicians displayed a more explosive idea of honor than George Poindexter. In addition, the right to petition was a vital mode of recourse that the generation of the American Revolution (which included Marschalk) had fought for. If Poindexter really had withheld a petition from Congress, he was denying his constituents one of the four rights awarded inclusion in the First Amendment, and his foes would be certain to describe it as an affront to the Constitution.

Within a few weeks, Marschalk published a series of letters in the Washington Republican under the pseudonym “Castigator.” The controversy of the withheld petition resurfaced and Poindexter also suffered attacks for the old duel with Abijah Hunt and many vague charges about his morals. At the same time the Castigator letters appeared, news of the War of 1812 enlivened Mississippi Territory with rumors of a British invasion along the Gulf Coast. Perhaps tiring of the political sniping but more likely eager for military glory, Poindexter resigned his post as territorial judge and joined Andrew Jackson’s army as it marched to defend the Old Southwest against the British. In early 1815, differing versions of Poindexter’s role in the Battle of New Orleans would enliven the Natchez press for several weeks. (8)

Just because Poindexter had left Natchez to march with Jackson, the newspaper feud did not subside. On October 12, Marschalk’s newspaper published the first in a promised series of letters from a writer calling himself Castigator. This letter, while harsh on Poindexter, stuck to the subject at hand — the recent memorial dismissed by Poindexter — and refrained from mentioning the earlier repressed petition, the duel with Abijah Hunt, or any other charges. In a two-column editorial, Castigator claimed to have signed the offending memorial, derided Poindexter for his insult about those who signed, and implored Poindexter to explain himself to his constituents in Adams County:

“Now, sir, I am a signer; yet, am not disposed to take advantage of your imprudencies, your intemperance, or the intoxication into which you may have been carried, by the teazing importunities (mixed with a little abuse) of a trooper, confined to the prison bounds, and like to lose his trip in consequence of your delinquency in paying him for work and labor done.

You are now, sir, categorically called on to make good your charges, or acknowledge you lie.

You cannot say, sir, you are attacked. You have thrown the gauntlet yourself first; you have attacked the whole community, as well as the representatives of the people, in terms of vulgarity becoming yourself alone, and not your station.

If, sir, the charge you are now called upon to substantiate, or deny, be too crude for the delicacy of your investigating faculties, you can be indulged with an imparlance upon joining issue on the merits of our memorial. Shew, if you can, its injustice, inexpediency, or impolity, that the attainment of its object can possibly militate against the prosperity of our territory; the peace or quiet of its inhabitants.

My reason, sir, for addressing you through the public prints is, that the occasion is public. The attack you made involves not an individual or a neighborhood, but the whole people of a territory. Our defence, therefore, as well as your justification, should be equally extensive.”

In the October 19, 1814, issue of the Washington Republican, Marschalk published the full text of the memorial “which the hon. George Poindexter finds so much fault with for its personal insinuations against himself. — Every one can read and draw his own conclusions.” The petition thanks Congress for settling the confusing state of land claims in the northern Mississippi Territory. Land had been granted and sold under several different national governments (notably England and Spain before the United States acquired the territory), confusion had reigned, and Congress had made decisions on the regulation of the validity of these claims. The memorial contained no details and blames no one for dishonesty or confusion. The memorial mentions no single individual. It seems likely that Poindexter did make the “damned rascals” comment because it would have been very easy for him to simply deny it, but his reasons for being displeased with the memorial remain obscure.

If Poindexter had criticized the memorial, he could have explained himself or he could have simply ignored the entire controversy. Instead, he had Marschalk arrested and jailed for contempt. Marschalk posted bond for his release pending a trial in the April 1815 term but he refused to post bond to guarantee that he would not print the rest of a promised series of Castigator letters. Incarcerated again at Poindexter’s insistence, Marschalk stayed in jail for several days before he secured a writ of habeus corpus from Judge Josiah Simpson. (9)

Marschalk may have gone too far in his swipes at Poindexter, but the latter surely abused his office by incarcerating Marschalk. The freedom of the press became a main theme in the Washington Republican in the ensuing weeks. Marschalk had withheld many of the remaining Castigator letters from the newspaper, publishing them in a pamphlet which he advertised in the Washington Republican. In the November 9, 1814, issue, he printed the seventh Castigator letter and set upon Poindexter’s misuse of judicial power:

“You attack, individually, the people for petitioning and judging for themselves - You then, officially, attempt to restrain their right to investigate your conduct, through the medium of the press.

When, sir, the rights of the people are invaded, there is no time to enquire the cause. Repel the invasion, and then compromise for the injury done. The submission of a free people to the constituted authorities, is only a compliance with their own laws . . . .

. . . The late attempt made by your honor to destroy the liberty of the press, has roused the attention of every pretender to liberty and republican government. It leaves no ground for suspicion - renders conjecture necessary - the act speaks for itself, in language not to be misunderstood. I mean to investigate its merit with candor and decency. Respect is due to your station; but not to your illegal and unconstitutional acts.

That your sentence against the printer (col. Marschalk) for him to remain in prison until he should give security to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, connectedly with the charge of libel, is contrary to law, I appeal to every gentleman of the profession. Nor could you or your obsequious attorney general, produce a syllable of law, or a single authority in support of your judgment . . . The last part of your sentence, ‘that he should not, in the mean time, print & c. in any form,’ was abandoned and stricken from the record sub silentio. Even to countenance the reading of such an arbitrary and unconstitutional act, exercised on a fellow citizen, in a case involving the rights of all, was calculated to excite horror and contempt, in the breast of a virtuous and patriotic judge — resistance and fury in the people — dismay and terror in its author ...

A judge may be honest in the decision of private cause and a traitor to the liberties of the people. He will manifest when a victim of his resentment is brought before him. He, then, prostitutes the sanctity and dignity of his office, to gratify his vengeance and private malice. Was not this the case with col. Marschalk, the printer, whom you imprisoned several days illegally, and unconstitutionally?”

Hardly a week passed without a new assault on Poindexter for something. In the December 7, 1814, issue, Marschalk devoted nearly four columns of type to ridicule of Poindexter. As well as a very long letter from a writer identified as “Philo-Castigator,” a number of shorter items continue the assault on the judge, such as this amusing trifle:

“The Ink fish when pushed, emits a dark susbstance, thereby clouding the water, that it may make its escape. The judge seems inclinable to try a finesse of this form; and well he may; for “Castigator” is playing him with his rod, as a fisherman would his fish. — We beseech his honor to nibble no more. Our friend in justice, and in civility, may take our “grub-street” advice, that there is a hook under the bait.”

The Mississippi Republican defended Poindexter, with articles by authors who signed with names like “Veritas” and “Aristides.” Poindexter handed out handbills under the title Judge Poindexter’s Address to the People, No. 1, but very little of the material defending Poindexter survives for October and November. Several editorials from December reveal that the editors of the Mississippi Republican successfully discovered writers who could match Marschalk for bitterness. A single article composed of a rather long paragraph called Marschalk “the miserable biped who edits the Washington Republican,” “this old dotard,” and “the pitiful old vagrant, who under the name of the liberty of the press, disgraces the art of printing by his licentiousness;- who, to gratify his personal animosity is daily striving with the vilest arts to undermine a man known to his fellow-citizens for a long series of years, for his probity and integrity.” (10) In the Mississippi Republican of December 14, 1814, a writer using the initials “N.D.” attacked the rival newspaper for its misuse of the style of “Junius,” the English political writer:

“To notice at length the tedious nothings of Castigator, or the pithy notes of his bull-faced “editor,” would be paying a compliment to both that neither deserve: ashamed of his borrowed or rather stolen garb, the former in his last piece has used his own language, and logic: the one vulgar, the other false, and truly proper for the dirty vehicle that has sent them forth amongst us.”

The same issue contains other attacks on Marschalk, including this selection from a letter signed by “Fiat Justice:”

“A certain hireling amanuensis, who weekly patches up pretty sentences from various political writers, as well as he can, and addresses them en masse to the Hon. George Poindexter, through the polished medium of the Washington Republican, when from their matter, they might as well be addressed to the President of a bible society, seems to be fighting the air, as furiously as the valiant knight of Lamancha did a windmill. Lest this beardless boy should in his contest with Æolus soar too high to afford himself a safe retreat, and be carried off in some violent hurricane, to an unknown region, I have determined, if possible, to interfere my feeble aid to prevent such a lamentable catastrophe and for the purpose, to draw his attention to a visible tangible object, against which he may charge with the greatest precision, and the guardian Angel, Truth, shall decide the victory.”

The Mississippi Republican published Poindexter’s version of the Battle of New Orleans on January 18, 1815, only ten days after the battle:

“On the 8th inst. at the dawn of day, the british forces were in motion, and instantly commenced a most furious, and vigorous assault on our lines. The attack was well planned, and bravely maintained by the foe: in the face of a galling and destructive fire from our infantry and artillery. The result was at no time doubtful, the assailants being repulsed in every charge with immense slaughter.”

Poindexter neglected to mention any acts of heroism committed by himself personally as he described a few actions of the Tennessee militia, led by General Carroll, the officer to whom Poindexter had been assigned. (11)

Marschalk responded within a few weeks with a letter written by an unnamed “gentleman of respectability, and high in rank, in Gen. Jackson’s army:”

“I am told that judge Poindexter has written letters to Washington relative to his prowess since his arrival here, and particularly, on the 8th instant. He has returned to Natchez; though you hear him spoken of in this way, you are authorized to contradict it. It is a notorious fact that on the commencement of the cannonading, which commenced the action of the 8th, instead of repairing to his post by the person of Gen. Carroll, he mounted his horse & rode full speed to New Orleans, six miles from the battle ground; and was actually met by the officer charged with the prisoners taken in the action, returning to camp, after the firing in every quarter had ceased. His conduct and flight is notorious in camp, and he is mentioned by both officers and men, with indignation and CONTEMPT.”

The following week, Marschalk continued his campaign to discredit and ridicule Poindexter, printing another paragraph from the same letter he had used the week before and running another letter about the battle, sent by a “private militia man,” who claimed that “when the first or second cannon was fired from the british, the judge was in the act of rising from the bed, — a negro boy was struck by the ball and killed near his honor; who dressed himself immediately, ordered his horse, and rode off to New Orleans, full speed, where he remained ‘till the action was over ... He has completely disgraced himself here. I am told he has pushed off to Natchez, with publications, to forestall the report: This I have from one of his best friends.”

Not content with this swipe at Poindexter’s courage, Marschalk included a very long letter from Philo-Castigator in the same issue. This diatribe fills most of a page and disparages Poindexter on a number of minor, petty points. For example, the letter accuses Poindexter of writing all of the Mississippi Republican editorials defending him, using a number of different names to make it look like he has a number of supporters. Further, Philo-Castigator ridicules Poindexter for comparing himself to Wellington and Mansfield. The letter overflows with insults but contains no substance.

On March 1, 1815, the Mississippi Republican responded with an article signed by “Aristides,” defending Poindexter as a public servant who “has filled the most honorable and dignified stations” who “retired with the full confidence of the administration.” Aristides attacks the motives and the character of Poindexter’s accusers:

“There is not in the whole circle of civilized man, a more odious and detestable creature, than the retailer of camp slanders . . . Such a being in the true style of squint-eyed gossips ever on the alert to find out something brewing in the great world, which if told, would make a noise, and somebody would not hold his head quite so high at court. Every hour brings forth materials for a letter from Mr. such a one of high rank and great respectability to his friend in the village, filled with denunciations, imprecations, frightful images, grave surmises, and downright matters of fact which Bill Tattle and a half dozen other of his messmates, “all good men and true,” will swear to, if necessary, placing it beyond all doubt, that an officer was seen riding one way, when in the opinion of Major Neverout he ought to have gone the other, and that he was only wounded, when according to the most modern system of tactics he ought to have been killed. Or at any rate, even giving up that point for arguments sake, his wound was not so bad, as it should have been, for it is now settled, in a late treatise written by Doctor Limbo on amputations, that a wound is not a wound, properly so called, unless the patient looses a leg or an arm, or an eye.” (12)

On March 8, the Washington Republican reported Poindexter’s assault on Marschalk:

“Judge Poindexter was arrested on Saturday last, on a Territorial Warrant, for an assault on the Editor of this paper, in the door of his office; and being brought before the justice who issued the warrant, refused to enter into recognizance for his appearance at court the justice not requiring security);- while a missimus was making out, to commit him to prison, he withdrew from the court house, and was followed, and taken into custody by the deputy sheriff. He then issued a habeus corpus for himself, returnable before the hon. judge Leake, and left town on Sunday morning, in custody of an officer, for the residence of the judge, in Claiborne county, after giving bond and security to the sheriff, that he would not escape, - Since which we have had no account of him.”

The feud did not end, but it had peaked with the physical attack on Marschalk. The printer was found guilty of libel for one of Marschalk’s mocking articles, but the court neglected to pursue two other indictments for libel. The court sentenced Marschalk to three months in prison, and the persistent printer did not miss a single issue. Poindexter continued to be a major character in Mississippi politics, but he moved away from the Natchez area soon after these incidents. He later served as governor of Mississippi and died in 1853.

By the election of 1828, Marschalk had been a fixture of Mississippi journalism for a quarter of a century. He had just turned sixty, but Marshalk showed he could still engage in a brawl with words and write with a poison pen against his political enemies. Even if much of what he wrote crossed the line into silly rhetoric that was easy to ridicule, Marschalk displayed an eagerness to further the goals of the Jacksonians that his readers could admire, even as some of them rolled their eyes at some of the excesses of the presidential election of 1828.

A decade and a half after the feud with Poindexter, Marschalk’s interest in the case of the slave Prince enmeshed him in some political controversy during the 1828 contest between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. Prince’s exciting story of capture and enslavement began in the interior of Africa where he enjoyed privileged status as a prince among the Futa. Enslaved by a neighboring kingdom, Prince — whose real name was Ibrahima — eventually ended up in Natchez where he suffered forty years of enslavement. Marschalk became interested in the case, gathered donations to help the cause of freeing Ibrahima, and petitioned Secretary of State Henry Clay to help return the slave to Africa. After many months of diplomacy and negotiating, Ibrahima traveled north but he did not go to Africa as originally agreed, touring the northern states, seeking funds to purchase his large family and generating publicity and attention that Natchez, and the slave states in general, would rather do without. (13)

Other editors knew and respected Ibrahima and reported his story in Natchez newspapers. Cyrus Griffin of the Southern Galaxy published a four-part series on Prince in May and June of 1828, congratulating the newly-freed slave who had left Natchez in April to go to the capital: “We ... cannot but acknowledge our gratitude to an overruling Providence, in remembering this old man, and granting him the only remaining, and, to perhaps the sweetest consolation, in the closing scene of life, of sleeping in the land of his fathers.” Griffin’s series on law, government, religion and customs in Futa Jallo indicates that the editor had spent a considerable amount of time with Ibrahima.

The election of 1828 had produced plenty of partisan attacks, invective and propaganda before the Natchez newspapers began squabbling over Prince. Supporters of Andrew Jackson had not forgotten the previous presidential election, when “Old Hickory” had won the most electoral votes, but the final choice had been decided by the House of Representatives because he did not get a majority. Henry Clay used his considerable clout to put John Quincy Adams in the White House, and Jackson’s supporters accused Clay of making a “corrupt bargain” when Adams appointed him Secretary of State.

In March 1828, Marschalk revealed another reason for the anti-Adams onslaught to come: he no longer enjoyed the patronage of the government as Printer of the Laws of the United States, a very lucrative contract that kept many newspapers viable in the early days of the Republic. “It has been taken from us, who have held it many years, under the administrations of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe … What cause, if any, was there for our rejection, and the preference of another in our place?” (14) Marschalk had held onto the position for several years under the Adams administration but the contract had been yanked because Marschalk supported Jackson. Parts of the article vaguely asserted that Henry Clay had used his influence to deprive Marschalk of the patronage when he learned from a letter that a pro-Jackson newspaper was still printing the laws when it should have been transferred to an Adams newspaper. Marschalk may have been referring to the letter he wrote to Clay about Ibrahima’s situation.

The manumission of Prince did not become an issue until a few weeks before the election. However, the newspapers of Natchez did not lack for inflammatory material for the late summer of 1828. The Southern Galaxy, an Adams newspaper, attacked the Jackson party as “ANTI-UNIONISTS” for the nullification conventions held in South Carolina and Georgia. “Sectional jealousies – personal animosities and private resentments have been increased, or awakened anew into life, and we are now afloat up on a sea of discord.” (15) The Ariel repeated an old story that Jackson had once been a slave trader. For most of September and October, the three major newspapers revisited the not-so-distant past to connect the leaders of the other party with the Burr Conspiracy of twenty years before. The Ariel and the Southern Galaxy first reported that the infamous Aaron Burr, on his mysterious tour of the Mississippi frontier, had met Andrew Jackson, stayed overnight with him, and plotted with Jackson to commit treason against the United States. Marschalk’s Statesman and Gazette countered that Jackson had been one of the first Western politicians to denounce Burr, and that many Western leaders harbored Burr during this time, including Henry Clay. Although he was not a nominee for presidency in 1828, Clay was Secretary of State to Adams, and the negotiator of the “corrupt bargain.” Clay’s association with Burr lasted long after Jackson had denounced the New Yorker, and far more damaging, Clay had represented Burr at his first trial for treason in Kentucky. (16)

In this noxious atmosphere, two weeks before the election, Marschalk used Ibrahima’s northern tour to accuse Adams and Clay of inciting the nation’s slaves to rebellion. According to the agreement with Ibrahima’s owner, the aged slave should have gone directly to Africa after arriving in the nation’s capital and meeting Clay and the president in May 1828. Ibrahima had other ideas, and he toured the North, appearing at lecture halls and gathering contributions to buy his children and grandchildren so they could be freed before he went to Africa. Ibrahima’s visit to Boston peaked with a banquet and a series of toasts and pronouncements that would make any southerner’s blood boil, including, “Southern Gentlemen, are you not alarmed? Methinks I hear Dame Fate exclaim, Africa shall be free without the aid of the Colonization Society.” (17)

Marschalk saw an opportunity to attack the Adams administration for its negligence in allowing Ibrahima’s tour. The old editor produced an inflammatory handbill (later reprinted in the October 16, 1828, issue of the Statesman and Gazette) titled “Mr. Adams and the Emancipation and the violation of the faith of the Administration,” claiming that the National Republican Party of Adams and Clay was “a large party in what are called the FREE STATES, resolved to emancipate the slaves of the south at all hazards. This party has several presses under its command, which in the same sheet in which they advocate the re-election of Mr. Adams, are actually exciting the slaves to revolt, by the same species of argument which produced the massacre of San Domingo [Haiti].” Violating the agreement with Ibrahima’s master by allowing the former slave to travel about the North was “doing more harm to cause the massacre of St. Domingo to be reacted here, than any other thing which has ever occurred in the union.” Among other flashy and incendiary statements, Marschalk’s screed warned, “the slaves of the south are openly invited to revolt and to murder their masters” and placed the blame on “the emancipating administration” of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay.

Marschalk devoted a full page to the controversy, finding a variety of ways to attack Adams and Clay on the issue of slavery. The Stateman quoted the toast of abolitionist Domingo Williams: “May the slave holders of the world be like the whales in the ocean, with the thrasher at their BACK and the SWORD fish at their belly until they rightly understand the difference between FREEDOM and slavery.” Marschalk grabbed on to this quotation and repeated it three times in the long editorial, referring to it as “the horrible toast of Domingo Williams.” He added, “recollect whose lives you are hazarding by sustaining doctrines so abominable — recollect that precisely similar threats and logic, by the Illuminati of France, to those now advanced by the Illuminati of Boston, in the official journal of Mr. Adams, produced the catastrophe of Boston, in which the sleeping babe was murdered in its cradle, and the wives and sisters of the slain were reserved for a fate more horrible than death.” (18)

Few in the Natchez district took his dramatic protestation seriously, but the opposition papers, notably the Ariel, attacked and ridiculed Marschalk’s stance. The Ariel characterized Marschalk’s article as “dangerous.” “Who would have heard of the dinner and toasts of the free blacks in Boston if this production had not issued from the press of this city?” (19) Common practice encouraged this suppression of any mention of insurrection in the newspapers of the time, and Marschalk had broken the precedent. The very danger he warned against became more likely just because he had mentioned it. The Southern Galaxy and the Ariel both piled on, accusing Marschalk of inflaming the countryside, correcting his distortions and pointing out his hypocrisy because of his own involvement in bringing Ibrahima’s plight to the attention of the administration. A venomous piece in the Ariel appeared under the title “Off to the Alligators in the Swamp!!!” and warned that Marschalk and Clay had encouraged Prince to “rouse the free negroes, and raise a mighty Army and march through the southern states, and murder the sleeping babies in their cradles, and take the wives and sisters captives, and reserve for them a more horrible fate.” The people of Louisiana and Mississippi should “prepare yourselves for the dreadful scenes that now await you . . . it is well known that Prince is marching at the head of his Black Troops with the Moorish Cimeter at his side.” (20)

Several Jackson newspapers supported Marschalk’s excesses with similar stories, and the back-and-forth sniping did not abate until the election. Jackson became president, winning Mississippi easily just as he had done four years before. It is highly unlikely that the squabbling over Prince had much effect on the political outcome, serving only to embarrass Marschalk and to provide his opposition counterparts with material suitable for ridicule.

Outraged southerners felt that inflammatory implications that any major party’s policies might encourage another Haitian rebellion had no place in political campaigning no matter how tense the contest became. Marschalk had clearly crossed a line. The rise of abolitionism would raise tensions between the sections over the next three decades and the conflict would be fueled by western expansion and the fight over Kansas. A newspaper could accuse a candidate of being too accommodating to the northerners or the Abolitionists, but the threat of insurrection should not be mentioned or applied to a political candidate for mere party politics. Santo Domingo could be mentioned in verbal attacks against northern abolitionists or during scares that an insurrection might come, but such accusations against viable southern candidates were almost unknown from the time of the Ibrahima controversy to the rise of the Republican Party.

A decade passed and the leadership of the Democratic press passed from Marschalk to Lorenzo Besançon, and the nascent parties that had fought over Adams and Jackson soon settled into a reasonably stable two-party system of Whigs and Democrats that lasted until the Whigs fell apart in the early 1850s. In the state election season of 1835, Besançon’s Mississippi Free Trader had angered the Whigs, culminating in a kangaroo court in which an angry mob of Whigs demanded an apology that Besançon later retracted. He continued his attacks on the Whigs, designating politician John Quitman as a special target.

Though Besançon was from New York state, he regularly participated in the rituals of the duel during his time in Natchez. He also stood up for Democratic politics and seemed to care little about riling up the Whigs and their hero, John A. Quitman. Besançon’s habit of detailing his adventures in the Free Trader made him a target for further Whig enmity … and an object of admiration among his political allies.

As the election of September 1837 approached and Quitman became a candidate for leadership in the state militia, Besançon called him a “noted political demagogue.” Besançon continued: “We have ever been opposed to mobs and mob-laws, because we would preserve spotless the fair fame of our city” and stated that the Free Trader would continue to report on Quitman’s attacks against the Democratic party “regardless of the threats so often made to deter us from a free exercise of the liberty of the press.” (21) The opposition Natchez Courier declared the Free Trader “guilty of an outrage upon the whole community” for its criticism of “our Quitman.” Besançon responded on September 6, the day of the election, citing Whig hypocrisy: “The Whigs never lose an opportunity of abusing a Van Buren man, even pronounce a democratic candidate an insult to the citizens of Natchez and heap the vilest epithets upon our nominees.” (22)

Early in the afternoon on that same day, Besançon and Quitman got into a fight near the Adams County courthouse. Several accounts of this physical altercation exist and William Johnson’s diary provides the most well known — and probably most objective — version. The Free Trader editor swung at Quitman with a sword thrust “that would have killed him had not a piece of Silver in the Pocket of [Quitman] arrested the Progress of the [blade].” The fight was broken up before it became fatal. (23)

In a long article titled “A Concise history of the various whig insurrections and violations of law in this city, including the late exploit of a political demagogue, on the day of the election for Major general, for which he was a candidate,” Besançon gave the longest version of the incident. According to Besançon, they crossed paths in the courtyard. “Judge Quitman with several of his friends, were in the yard ... he advanced upon me and roughly demanded, if I was ‘the author of an article in which he was called a political demagogue?’” Besançon admitted authorship. Quitman “then demanded — ‘Am I to understand that you consider me a political demagogue?” When Besançon answered in the positive, Quitman attacked him with an iron cane and Besançon defended himself with a sword cane. Quitman’s friends disarmed Besançon, and Quitman hit him with the cane several times. “Some gentlemen from the Court House, separated us, and the officers interfered. Even after that [Quitman] was allowed to retain his weapons, while some of his friends, who are very courageous when they are in no danger, cried out ‘let him flog him!’ ‘kill him!’” (24)

The Free Trader published further statements from Quitman and several witnesses on September 21, 1837. Quitman admitted that he approached Besançon on Election Day and characterized his iron cane as a “small iron stick, scarcely thicker than a wire.” When Quitman did not receive the apology he demanded, he “applied my cane to his head and shoulders.” Quitman claimed it bent on the first blow and he cast it aside, using no other weapon than his fists for the rest of the fight despite Besançon’s use of the sword cane. Quitman claimed that he stopped his attack as soon as other parties interfered, but one of Quitman’s witnesses disputed this part of his testimony, saying that after the initial interference by outsiders, Quitman “had seized Mr. Besançon by the collar and succeeded in striking him one or two blows ... before they could be entirely separated.” The same witness added the charming detail that Quitman called Besançon “a contemptible puppy and liar.” (25)

Despite the timing of the beating on Election Day, the politics of the time reveal little that could be worthy of such an outrageous attack as that made by Quitman. Like the Poindexter-Marschalk feud, the 1837 incident was more personal than political. Quitman felt his personal honor had been insulted by Besançon’s impertinence, and Quitman had to defend this honor in order to maintain his credibility among his supporters. Quitman may have avoided the dueling protocol because he had been a vocal advocate of an anti-dueling society and he did not want to appear inconsistent before his admirers. Or he may have been concerned that Besançon had already killed a man while dueling in 1837.

The two-party system that had developed in the 1820s fell apart in the 1850s as northern and southern branches of the national parties diverged in their sectional needs. The Whigs elected a presidential candidate in 1848, but this victory could be more properly attributed to the popularity of Whig candidate Zachary Taylor — a hero of the War with Mexico who rode the tidal wave of militarism into the White House — than to any genuine enthusiasm for the Whig platform. The Whigs chose another Mexican War general for the 1852 election, but the organization had been weakened by the fallout from the secession crisis of 1850, and Winfield Scott lost to Franklin Pierce. By 1856, the Whigs had disappeared and former Whigs had scattered as the political spectrum reorganized over several years. In the North, some former Whigs joined the Democratic Party but most of them entered new parties: the anti-slavery Republicans and the anti-immigrant American Party, closely associated with the Know Nothing movement. (26)

In the South, virtually no southerner could view the Republicans as an option, so the Know Nothings looked surprisingly advantageous for cautious southerners who feared that the extremists in the Democratic Party would lead the South to secession and war. Know Nothings enjoyed some success in state and local elections, especially in urban areas where the native population viewed large groups of immigrants as a threat economically and politically. (27)

However, the Know Nothings failed to develop a viable and useful platform beyond the establishment of restrictions on immigrants and longer terms of residence for naturalization. The party’s failure to grow beyond this simplistic, one-note scapegoat probably doomed the movement to a quick death from the start. (28) The movement peaked in Mississippi in 1855, and the election for U.S. Congress, Fifth District (southern Mississippi, including Natchez), points out many features of 1850s electioneering and the political chaos of the times. This contest pitted one of Mississippi’s most famous and hallowed personages, John Quitman, the Democratic candidate, against Giles Hillyer, the former Whig editor of the Natchez Courier.

Hillyer, another transplanted Northern editor, seems to have avoided fights and beatings and duels during his time in Mississippi journalism. There are no records that indicate he ever issued or accepted a challenge, endured a beating or got into a fight. Like Marschalk, he proved his worth to his readership by forcefully opposing the Democratic Party and its Natchez organ, the Mississippi Free Trader. Hillyer’s Courier clearly defended Whig or (in the mid-1850s) Know Nothing principles while supporting the slave society and berating the abolitionists.

Early in the 1855 campaign for congress, the Know Nothings courted Quitman, a former Whig known for his independence. (29) The Know Nothings had misjudged their man as Quitman, the child of immigrants, considered their anti-immigrant positions to be a needless and dangerous distraction in the face of the growing divisions in the country over slavery. Quitman, for all his recent disagreements with the Democratic administration of Franklin Pierce, sided with the Democrats and agreed to run for the congressional seat. (30) The Mississippi Free Trader paraphrased his first campaign address early in August, where he characterized Know Nothingism as “distracting our citizens upon an issue which was of small importance at best. While the enemy are marshalling their forces and thundering at our very gates, we like the ancient Jews are quarrelling among ourselves while we ought to present an undivided front to the enemy. In the next Congress men and parties will take their positions, not upon foreign or anti-foreign questions, but upon the all absorbing one of slavery or anti-slavery and the other minor questions will be lost sight of in the great struggle of the north for supremacy and the south for existence.” (31)

The Mississippi Know Nothings, spurned by Quitman, experienced a few difficulties in finding a replacement but finally settled on Giles Hillyer. Quitman and Hillyer debated in a series of meetings in September in fourteen counties. A lively newspaper war ensued, with the Free Trader and the Courier trading barbs aimed at the opposing candidates, the opposing parties, and the opposing newspapers. (32) Judging from the Free Trader’s stories and from the Courier before and after 1855, the Courier had a difficult time finding any effective material to use against Quitman. Although Quitman had changed parties, he had stuck to his strong state’s-rights stance consistently for over twenty years. “Old Chapultepec,” as Quitman was called for his role in the Mexican War, could do no wrong for many residents of the district. (33) As one editorial prophetically stated, “An enthusiasm is aroused for the Hero-Statesman of Monmouth which will triumphantly elect him as the Representative of the people, and utterly obliterate every vestige of Know-Nothingism in the District.” (34)

When the Free Trader stated that Hillyer could not be trusted because he had been born in the North, the Courier responded that Quitman also was a Yankee by birth. It would have been better for Hillyer to ignore this unfair attack as the Free Trader seized on Hillyer’s ineffective responses. Hillyer claimed to be from New York, the same state as Quitman. But Hillyer had actually been born in Connecticut. The Free Trader also pointed out that Quitman, much older than Hillyer, had been born in a New York that still tolerated slavery. “He drew in Southern principles with his mother’s milk.” (35) Hillyer’s defense and counterattack had not been fruitful. The Free Trader took advantage of many of Hillyer’s inconsistencies through the years. He had specifically attacked nativism in the early 1850s when the Courier still supported Whig principles. The Free Trader gleefully reported on some Courier articles from 1852 in which Hillyer advocated the candidacy of Winfield Scott and urged “our adopted citizens” to vote for the old general because Scott supported reducing the number of years of residency for naturalization. “Mr. Giles M. Hillyer was guilty of gross inconsistency, instability or duplicity.” (36)

Many Free Trader columns make very little mention of the Democratic platform as most issues preferred to criticize and insult the Know Nothings. Before the campaign started in August, an article titled “Know Nothing Tactics” called the nativist party “a political faction which veils its deeds in secrecy and endeavors to commit its members to systematic deception” that must “resort to fraud at every step of its process . . . They are disposed to descend to even lower depths than their brethren of Massachusetts.” The Know Nothings are described as “cutpurses of the empire” who organize “conclaves, which bind by terrible oaths and fearful penalties their members to secrecy and implicit obedience, possessing all the evils of the caucus system.” (37) One frequent theme about the Know Nothings claimed that the abolitionists controlled the party’s agenda, and the southern wing of the party had been relegated to a “humiliating position” in subordination. “The North — the mighty Abolition Know Nothing North — scorns to receive the tributes which Southern recreants offered them . . . They despise and spit upon the platform and return to their homes breathing abolition sentiments more fiercely than ever . . . demanding the total surrender of every principle which the South holds dear.” (38) On Election Day, the Free Trader reminded voters of a Courier column from May in which Hillyer wrote that Fugitive Slave Law should be modified “so as to make it ‘less offensive to the public sentiment of the North.’” (39)

The Democratic press used other angles to degrade the Know Nothings. The Courier was accused of “reviling Catholics and misrepresenting their doctrines and practices; and in forging or garbling quotations in order to render them and their religion odious to their fellow-citizens.” (40) Several times, the Free Trader published public defections from the opponents organization, such as an October 3 item titled “Know Nothingism Doomed — More Withdrawals in Franklin” which listed five men citing “a duty to discharge which we think can only be performed by voting the Democratic ticket, and dissevering all connection with every other party.”

The Know Nothings managed to get their message out, and they had some valid points from the point of view of the sectional threat of immigration to the South’s interests. In a debate with Quitman reported in the Courier on August 30, Hillyer pointed out that the North absorbed most of the nation’s immigrants, who quickly became voters with no appreciation for the South’s institutions. The balance of power in the House of Representatives tilted dangerously to anti-slavery attitudes, partly because of the growing number of immigrants in the northern states. Hillyer also warned that if sectional tensions led to secession and war, the northern armies would be filled with immigrant soldiers. (41)

Despite a valiant and spirited effort by the cresting Know Nothings, the Quitman juggernaut could not be stopped. Although Quitman lost Adams County, he won the House seat by a margin of more than 2,000 votes out of a total of more than 11,000 cast. The Democrats won the governor’s mansion and four out of five of Mississippi’s congressional seats. (42) The Know Nothings would get about twenty percent of the popular vote in the 1856 presidential contest, and then disappear. The Democrats would fall apart in 1860, torn by increasing sectional tensions and unrealistic expectations on the part of southern Democrats regarding the North’s attitude to slavery.

What can be said about these fighting editors and the Natchez society of the Old Southwest that might help us to understand their world and their times? First, the environment did not encourage a long-lasting career. Only a handful of editors survived more than five years in this environment. An adventurous life could only partly prepare an ambitious spirit for the excesses of political and personal payback in the combustible environment of Natchez. Even a figure like Lorenzo Besançon — filibuster, Mexican War veteran, gold miner — found Natchez a little too stimulating.

Besançon’s voluminous candor in his Free Trader editorials and his many exciting and dramatic exploits should not disguise the brevity of his career as a Natchez journalist. Typically for Natchez newspapermen, Besançon left Natchez after a five-year stint as an editor. After Besançon, Free Trader editors came and went almost like clockwork, seldom serving for more than three years. (43) Even allowing for some exaggeration — which may not be necessary — Besançon killed a man, suffered a severe beating and narrowly avoided a lynching. If other editors experienced similar trials and tribulations, it is no surprise that they abandoned Natchez journalism for careers and locales less violent and more financially rewarding.

Secondly, their world and career placed them in a position of paradox. A private individual not involved in journalism could control the environment in which he expressed his statements and opinions. Affairs of honor could be settled individually with a duel or an apology based on the etiquette of the dueling code. An honest editor, however, trying to fulfill his responsibility to the public and his party, risked widespread offense against his political opponents, encouraging numerous physical attacks and challenges. An editor who softened his views to avoid possibly fatal controversy risked losing the support of the subscribers on which his financial success depended.

Besançon left Mississippi in 1839 and said good-bye to his faithful Democratic readers with a farewell valedictory: “Political editorship is nearly synonymous with opposition — another name for vexatious struggles on an arena where the gladiatorial cut and thrust is given and repelled, received and sent back, with a celerity and skill that might shame the trained bands of the Roman coliseum.” (44) Modern readers of these words might not realize that he was not speaking figuratively when he compared editorship with gladiatorial combat.

Thirdly, southern editors coped with frequent attacks in various ways. Marschalk, despite his brushes with violence and conflict, avoided the dueling process mostly because his career ended by about 1830 and the level of violence of that decade had not been sparked by Nat Turner’s rebellion and the rise of the abolitionist press. Lorenzo Besançon and John Quitman, both transplanted natives of New York, found themselves products of a later time and a defensive southern culture that forced them into a cycle of violence that Besançon eventually found to be exhaustive.

Finally, it is interesting to note the relatively trivial matters that encouraged such violence at a time that the sectional issue of slavery tore the country apart. A wave of riots in the 1830s terrorized North and South both. Angry mobs targeted abolitionists and anti-slavery newspapers. In Alton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from slave state Missouri, an armed group of slavery supporters attacked and killed editor Elijah Lovejoy while he defended his printing press. The fatal attack on Lovejoy happened in 1837, the same year of Lorenzo Besançon’s involvement in four duels and the fight with Quitman.

Public violence persisted in the settled South long after it had largely died out in the North. The wave of anti-abolitionist violence that swept the entire country in the 1830s and the persistence of dueling and public violence in the South in the 1840s and 1850s might indicate the divisive power of a controversial issue, in this case slavery. But what were the issues so important to these men of honor that they spent so much time sending notes back and forth, finding seconds and a surgeon and making elaborate arrangements to shoot at one another? Gentleman of the Deep South did not seek fights with editors over slavery because no newspaper could criticize “the peculiar institution” and survive in the region. Besançon and the lawyer Thomas Armat almost met on the field of honor because Besançon had wrongly identified Armat as the author of an article in the rival newspaper. John Quitman attacked Besançon with a cane in broad daylight mostly because the editor had publicly named him in an editorial and called him “a noted political demagogue.”

Though they did not fight among themselves over slavery, the southern view of the social order fostered a culture of rigid honor. The code of the frontier that may explain the behavior of Poindexter slowly evolved into a different code by the 1820s, a code of cultural honor, a code that defined an entire society rather than the individual. Marschalk’s attempt to exploit southern fears of slave rebellion demonstrated how slavery had become a vital and unchallengeable institution. The ridicule directed against him was a very uneasy ridicule. (45)

The individuals who operated the newspapers participated in the political and cultural life of the nation, and, by the nature of their occupation, followed most important events and trends globally, nationally and locally. Especially at the local level, events and personalities ensnared many journalists because of their prominent positions as distributors of news. Often, these entanglements generated newsworthy events that the participating journalists preserved to some extent in their newspapers, defending themselves, explaining their positions and reacting to coverage in rival newspapers. Historians should not be surprised, therefore, to discover that some Natchez newspapermen and women preserved much material of interest about events in which they participated. These events can be used to demonstrate how journalists lived, but they can often be used for more general statements about politics and culture in the South.

Such incidents also help to explain what it meant to be southern, and what it meant to be a southern journalist. Beyond the pieces of data available in the records and the short version of a duel or a beating, a southern journalist lived for weeks or months with the threat of violence and conflict for every controversial word he wrote. Expanding these events, to explain what happened over time, demonstrates the dedication required to put out a newspaper with any courage or conviction. A journalist, who established his newspaper and stuck with it for years or decades, displayed amazing fortitude and dedication. He had to believe what he wrote, he had to stand by it. If he had any doubts about slavery, he kept them to himself if he wanted to remain in the South. More sensibly and efficiently, the southern editor had no doubts about slavery. He set up his paper, cheerfully neutral on bondage or supportive of the slave system, or he soon adopted a position acceptable to the community. Making sense of newspaper quarrels, often precipitated by incidents that seem trivial, can help us to understand the South.


(1) When Jefferson became president in 1801, the Jeffersonian Republicans in the Mississippi Territory assumed control of many appointed offices and soon broke into two factions. Cato West headed one coterie and William C. C. Claiborne, the recently appointed governor of the territory, led the other. The main point of contention at the time was the location of the territorial capital. Claiborne’s faction wanted the capital to remain in the southwest corner of the territory, near Natchez. West’s faction wanted the seat of government to be moved to Greenville, far north of Natchez, along the Mississippi River. Marschalk and Poindexter were on the same side at this point. The years, and the changing situations in a growing community, would change that by 1814. James, Antebellum Natchez, pp. 101-105.

(2) Abijah Hunt owned and operated a string of cotton gins between Port Gibson and Natchez. He also owned a retail business and a 3200-acre plantation. Davis, A Way through the Wilderness, p. 203. Stephen Minor was the largest cotton planter in the region in the early days of the Natchez District. James, Antebellum Natchez, p. 52.

(3) Davis, A Way Through the Wilderness, p. 233, quoting Claiborne’s Mississippi as a Province, Territory and State.

(4) Mississippi Herald, April 1, 1807.

(5) Davis, A Way Through the Wilderness, p. 233, quoting Clayton James, “Municipal Government in Territorial Natchez,” Journal of Mississippi History XXVII (May 1965), p. 12.

(6) Documents in the case of George Poindexter v. Andrew Marschalk indicate that Poindexter and Marschalk used each other’s services freely from late 1802 until at least 1806. Invoices show that Poindexter subscribed to Marschalk’s Mississippi Herald from 1803 to 1806, advertised his services as a lawyer in the Herald, commissioned the printing of handbills and notices from Marschalk, purchased books and pamphlets, and utilized Marschalk’s business for other related tasks. An invoice from Poindexter shows that Marschalk employed Poindexter as an attorney (though, unfortunately, these services are not clearly defined). Many details of the case are missing from the surviving documents, but it is clear that Poindexter sued Marschalk for debt in 1812. The two men submitted the records of their business dealings with each other, each apparently claiming that that the other owed him money. Poindexter successfully disputed many of Marschalk’s claims, and the presiding judge awarded Poindexter $23.77 during the April Term of 1814. George Poindexter v. Andrew Marschalk, 1814, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi.

(7) Washington Republican, October 5, 1814.

(8) Swearingen, The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 125-132.

(9) Swearingen, The Early Life of George Poindexter, p. 127.

(10) Mississippi Republican, December 21, 1814.

(11) In the following weeks, as Poindexter struggled to combat the charges of cowardice made against him, he collected affidavits to prove that he had not fled the battle without good reason. According to Swearingen, the affidavits claimed that Poindexter had been wounded by a cannon ball that crashed through his tent at the start of the battle and he rode to New Orleans for medical attention because camp doctors were too busy to tend his wounds. In 1816, Poindexter finally requested an affidavit from General Carroll, and the recommendation he received from his commander exonerated Poindexter of the charges of cowardice. Swearingen, The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 135-136.

(12) It should be noted that this editorial, like many of the Mississippi Republican editorials, seems to be going out of its way to avoid the real point of the letters describing Poindexter’s flight from the battlefield. Marschalk printed two very simple, straightforward letters describing Poindexter’s flight from the Battle of New Orleans. The Mississippi Republican’s reply, though it is clever and makes a good point about the nature of camp slanders, avoids the real questions. Did Poindexter flee the battle or not? This response merely muddied the waters.

(13) The story of Ibrahima is a very interesting one, carefully told in Terry Alford’s Prince Among Slaves (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977). For this paper, I have relied on pages 86-111 and 142-152, as well as some extra newspaper research to supplement the research of Alford.

(14) Statesman and Gazette, March 6, 1828.

(15) Southern Galaxy, September 18, 1828.

(16) For more information on the Burr Conspiracy and the peripheral involvement of Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson, consult Milton Lomask, Aaron Burr: The Conspiracy and Years of Exile, 1805-1836 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982); and Buckner F. Melton, Jr., Aaron Burr: Conspiracy to Treason (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002).

(17) Alford, Prince Among Slaves, p. 140.

(18) Statesman and Gazette, October 16, 1828.

(19) Ariel, October 18, 1828.

(20) Alford, Prince Among Slaves, pp. 148-152.

(21) Mississippi Free Trader, September 2, 1837.

(22) Mississippi Free Trader, September 9, 1837.

(23) James, Antebellum Natchez, p. 263. James quotes the diary of William Johnson, a free black who pursued a successful career as a barber and landowner in Natchez.

(24) Mississippi Free Trader, September 12, 1837.

(25) Mississippi Free Trader, September 21, 1837.

(26) W. Darrell Overdyke, The Know Nothing Party in the South (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University, 1950), pp. 45-56.

(27) Ibid., pp. 170-210.

(28) Ibid., pp. 261-295.

(29) Quitman had been a Whig in the fall of 1837 when he caned Lorenzo Besançon on Election Day. Robert May, John A. Quitman: Old South Crusader (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), pp. 96-98, 298-300.

(30) May, John A. Quitman: Old South Crusader, pp. 296-305.

(31) Mississippi Free Trader, August 8, 1855.

(32) Unfortunately, the Courier for this period is not as extensive as the files of the Free Trader, which are complete for August through November 1855. Some of the Courier’s political opinions can be deduced from the Free Trader’s responses.

(33) Quitman had been given the nickname for his role in the 1846-1848 War with Mexico, where he led a division and served as Military Governor of Mexico City. May, John A. Quitman: Old South Crusader, pp. 167-199.

(34) Mississippi Free Trader, August 15, 1855.

(35) Mississippi Free Trader, October 17, 1855. Quitman, quite a bit older than Hillyer, had grown up in New York when slavery was still legal in that state. Slavery was fully abolished in New York in 1827, when Quitman was nearly thirty and had lived in Mississippi for several years.

(36) Mississippi Free Trader, October 3, 1855, incorrectly printed as October 2.

(37) Mississippi Free Trader, June 20, 1855.

(38) Mississippi Free Trader, July 11, 1855.

(39) Mississippi Free Trader, November 7, 1855. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 had been part of the compromise that had stolen secessionist thunder during the crisis of 1850. It increased fines for those who aided fugitive slaves and also punished northerners who refused to help in recapturing slaves. The Fugitive Slave Law also set up special courts in northern states so that claims against alleged fugitive slaves could be judged immediately, and captured blacks could be sent into bondage more quickly.

(40) Mississippi Free Trader, September 26, 1855.

(41) Overdyke, The Know Nothing Party in the South, pp. 199-200.

(42) May, John A. Quitman: Old South Crusader, p. 304.

(43) The Natchez Courier, on the other hand, had a single editor for most of the 1850s, but Giles Hillyer does not seem to have concerned himself with affairs of honor and managed to avoid physical violence.

(44) Mississippi Free Trader, July 30, 1839.

(45) Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 25-61, 362-401.


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