Major St. John Richardson Liddell

THE LOCATIONS of the residences of enemies Major St. John Richardson Liddell and Charles Jones are shown on the map above as well as the location of the site the 1852 shooting of Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins.  

(10th in a Series)  

“Some time during the month of June, in the year 1852, the public mind of this Parish was thrown into consternation by a rumor that two men, named Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins, had been killed on Little River. The excitement grew intense when rumor assumed the definite form of fact, and when it came to be well understood that the killing had been openly avowed by Maj. St. John R. Liddell, a wealthy planter residing in the neighborhood, and a gentleman of high standing in the community.”  

These words appeared in the June 14, 1854, issue ofThe Independent newspaper in Harrisonburg concerning the 1852 killing of two men. At the time, the land on which Jonesville grew up was a plantation, while Trinity, across Little River, was a busy village of 200 people and home to numerous businesses. In that issue, the newspaper published testimony from the trial of Liddell involving the murder of Wiggins. A second trial in the killing of Glenn was scheduled to follow.  

Both men had suffered horrendous head injuries during a hail of gunfire.  

W.A. Bryan was the editor and publisher ofThe Independent, whose motto was: “A Family Journal of Literature, News, Education, Philosophy, Morals, and the Mechanic Arts – Neutral in Politics.”  

Bryan reported, “Mr. Liddell, it would seem, from the time he denounced as false, slanders existing against an injured woman, has been singled out as the victim against whom the machinations of an organized band of conspirators have been levelled. Their object has been at all hazards to get rid of him.”  

The leader of the “band of conspirators” was Charles Jones, an Irish immigrant from Kentucky who arrived in Catahoula Parish in the late 1830s, around the same time as Liddell. Both established plantations and built homes along Black River.  

Liddell’s Plantation – Llanada -- was located just outside the present day town limits of Jonesville. Jones’ plantation – Elmly (pronouncedEl-mee), where he lived – was a few miles below Liddell’s. Jones also owned the 1,000-acre Troy Plantation along Little and Black rivers, the nucleus of Jonesville.  

Liddell’s property was sandwiched between the two plantations owned by Jones.  

After the 1852 shooting of Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins along the public road beside Little River at the back of Liddell’s plantation, Liddell admitted he shot the two men but claimed he did so in self-defense. He said his life had been threatened many times by Charles Jones and his followers, including Glenn and Wiggins. The two men had been ambushed and another man may have assisted Liddell in the attack although Liddell would take all of the blame.  

 

JONES & LIDDELL  

 

“In 1847,” wrote Nathaniel C. Hughes, “Liddell’s life changed suddenly and irreversibly. Like some Faulknerian hero, his blighted existence, nervously and absurdly fastened to a man and woman dedicated to his destruction.”  

Information discovered in Liddell’s letters, correspondence and diary entries housed at LSU, provided background on the 23-year feud between Liddell and Jones. This information was included in a book on Liddell’s Civil War service (Liddell’s Record, edited by Hughes, 1985).  

“The consequences of the feud between these two families in this dark land dominated by the mysterious Indian mounds widened over the years,” Hughes wrote. “Eventually at least fourteen men would die violently, not only in Catahoula Parish on the land between the rivers, but in New Orleans itself.”  

According to Hughes, Jones acquired Elmly through a land grant patent in 1841. In 1848, Charles and wife Laura built their plantation home along Black River. Jones “had a reputation connecting him to trouble in Monroe, Louisiana, and in Kentucky. Even the relationship between the Joneses themselves was stormy. In March 1849 Laura won a judgement against Charles and had their property separated.”  

Liddell was born during the late summer of 1815 just as his parents harvested their first crop on nearly cleared land. Their farm was in Wilkinson County, Miss., near Woodville. His parents were both from South Carolina, but met in Mississippi. They had been married for 13 months when Liddell was born.  

Liddell’s paternal great-grandfather had been murdered during the Revolutionary War when Tories and Cherokees torched his home, an act that left his great-grandmother penniless. This story was repeatedly told to Liddell since he was a child.  

In Wilkinson County, Liddell’s father, became a large planter and bought more and more land, and more slaves. In 1833, Liddell, thanks to his father’s influence, was admitted to West Point, but nine months later he was booted out for his involvement in a duel.  

Aimless for a while, Liddell was quarrelsome, freely spent his father’s money and seemed headed for trouble before he returned to his parent’s plantation outside Woodville. In 1837, Liddell’s father bought him a tract of land on Black River below Trinity. Liddell built a home on higher ground a short distance from the river bank, shaped a landing and constructed slave cabins and outbuildings.  

Liddell loved farming and between the years 1842 and 1859, John and wife Mary had 10 children and adopted an orphaned niece.  

 

LAURA JONES – ‘A BAD WOMAN’  

 

During April of 1847, electrifying news spread up and down the river when Eliza Nichols sparked the Jones-Liddell Feud. At Elmly Plantation, she shot Charles Jones twice – once in the face and once in the back. She had confided to Liddell that Jones had slandered her and asked Liddell to be with her at Elmly when she confronted Jones. Eliza and her husband, Philip, lived on property beside the Joneses.  

Liddell wrote a friend that he saw Eliza shoot Jones repeatedly before taking her “away in safety, for treachery and rascality was apparent all around. That man’s wife {Laura Jones} is a bad woman. There is no telling what she will do – already there are reports that she offered a reward to the negroes to assassinate Mrs. N.” In his journal, Liddell wrote that Eliza shot Jones when he “unbuttoned his coat.” Maybe she thought he was reaching for a weapon.  

After the shooting, Jones’ blamed Liddell, not Eliza, for the attack on him although Liddell had no idea that Eliza would shoot Jones. “If I had not been there,” he wrote, “Mrs. Nichols would have been lost.”  

According to Hughes’ book, shortly before the shooting, Jones wounded a friend of Liddell’s with a knife. After he was shot Jones spent his days plotting revenge against Liddell. Close friends of Liddell’s warned him that Jones would kill him and Liddell wrote that if Jones found Liddell unarmed that Jones planned to “insult me” so that “I would rush upon him & he would slay me justifiably.”  

Around 1849, wrote historian Hughes, Charles Jones and Laura “defused the situation by leaving Black River when Jones’ wounds had healed.” Their departure also coincided with two devastating events that affected everyone in this region – a flood and cholera.  

 

FLOODS, CHOLERA & GLOOM  

 

Dr. Andrew Robert Kilpatrick, a surgeon, census taker, prolific writer, Black River planter and slave holder, penned a report on flooding and diseases in Trinity and vicinity during the year 1850. The article was published in the Southern Medical Reports, edited by E.D. Fenner, and shows the depressing conditions during the outbreak of the feud, also known as the Black River War.  

“The levees on the Mississippi river, above us, gave way, and the waters rushed upon us in such floods to soon overwhelm the whole country,” Kilpatrick wrote. “The Mississippi, the Tensas, Washita, Little and Black rivers were high in the fall of 1849, and were kept up and raised higher by the repeated heavy rains which fell in December, January and February, so that when the spring rise came, an overflow was inevitable.”  

By the first day of June 1850, “the land on the east side of Black River, and all between Tensas and Washita and Little Rivers were entirely under water.” But some of the farms on the “west side of Black River, and south of Little River, were protected from the overflow by levees, but the transpiration water damaged the crops.  

“All communication was cut off, and traveling was stopped, except by boats and skiffs. Horses were nuisances, and those little water-crafts were in great demand. Persons who never saw a country inundated can form but an imperfect idea of the distress and destruction attendant upon such unfortunate occasions. Cattle will die even where water is only a few inches deep. Hogs stand the overflow better than any other animals.”  

Kilpatrick wrote that “up to 1840 there were but few farms opened on these rivers, as it had been so subject to inundation; but since the line of levees has been extended up the Mississippi river, these lands have been proportionally protected and enhanced in value … since the lands have been opened and become valuable, more attention has been directed to this matter, and within the past twelve months {1851} much leveeing has been done, both in Concordia and Catahoula parishes.”  

The population of the area grew rapidly during the 1840s. Trinity enjoyed that growth, too, but the high water and cholera epidemic reduced the village’s population to 200 by 1850.  

Kilpatrick also compiled and collected data comprising a 10-year period from 1840 to 1850 within a 10-mile radius of Trinity. “The great mortality is amongst children; nearly one-half of them die before they are ten years old.”  

During the spring of 1849, several cases of cholera were reported, some of which were fatal. During the winter of 1850, the disease “was still hovering around, and very often the steamboats passing the river would land to bury the dead, or put off some unfortunate person in the last stages of cholera.”  

With a high water and the cholera epidemic, the end of the 1840s and beginning of the 1850s was a depressing time. Kilpatrick described it this way: “A gloom was over the whole country, produced by the apprehension of this terrible scourge and the threatening overflow.”  

 

ASSASINATION PLOT  

 

When the floodwaters receded and the cholera died out, Charles Jones and wife Laura returned to Elmly in April 1852. Jones had only one thing on his mind – to kill Liddell.  

The Concordia Intelligencer described their return as “a firebrand to the community.” With Jones was Richard Pryor, a brutal and menacing drifter and troublemaker who picked fights and bullied. Pryor along with Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins, the two men who would be shot and killed by Liddell in two months, joined Jones in hatching a plot to kill Liddell.  

During the trial of Liddell for the murder of Wiggins in 1854,The Independent in Harrisonburg reported that R.G. Wooten, a 54-year-old planter, testified he was visited by Wiggins during the spring of 1852 with a message that Charles Jones wanted to see him. After Wooten arrived, Jones led him to a back room. Glenn, Wiggins and a man named Henry Huntington also were there.  

Wooten was shocked when Jones asked if he would approach farmer James Hensley with a proposition to assassinate Liddell for $1,500 to $2,000. Wooten refused and never had anything to do with Jones again.  

A short time later, Hensley was plowing in a field along Little River when Glenn showed up. Hensley testified that Glenn told him plowing was “a slow way of making money” and proposed a faster way. Glenn offered him $1,500 to kill Liddell. Hensley answered he “would not take the life of any man in cold blood.”  

Soon after, Wiggins came by and asked Hensley to take up Glenn’s offer, promised to protect Hensley and said he “knew all the roads” that led to Texas where the two could establish a grocery business. Wiggins told Hensley they could combine their money – Hensley’s assassination pay and Wiggins’ savings -- to finance the Texas venture.  

For the second time, Hensley refused the offer.  

Warned of the plot against him and the bounty placed on his head, Liddell stockpiled weapons as friends rallied around him to protect his home and family.  

Liddell wrote a letter to a friend expressing his intention to defend himself and “destroy whomever I suspect has designs on me.”  

(Next week: Efforts to Mediate) 

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