(18th in a Series)  

In 1860 in Trinity, Harrisonburg, Vidalia, Natchez and elsewhere, the possibility of civil war was on everyone’s mind.  

There were many issues dividing the North and the South, but slavery was the main one.  

Plantation owners particularly planned to fight to protect the institution that ensured them enslaved Black labor to clear the land, work the fields and tend the livestock, among many other things. Newspapers carried advertisements in almost every issue concerning the sale of plantations that included land, outbuildings, equipment and human beings.  

Along the Black River at the Concordia Parish plantation of Dr. Andrew Robert Kilpatrick, enslaved 13-year-old Mary Reynolds had survived through terrible times. She worked from daylight to dark in the fields, felt the pain of hunger many times, was terrified of the plantation’s evil overseer and the brutal beatings he administered. Shortly before the Civil War, Mary was almost beaten to death by a white man who had rented her for a few days from Kilpatrick.  

It was no secret that the master forced himself upon the enslaved women who bore his children. Those interracial children also were condemned to bondage.  

Stories like these abounded on the plantations, including the Gillespie place on the Catahoula side of Black River, where slaves were tortured with fire.  

In the days shortly before the fighting began, The Independent, the Harrisonburg weekly newspaper and official journal for Catahoula Parish, reported that a “negro woman belonging to R.E. Holstein at Sicily Island was sentenced in court to 150 lashes for causing the death of her master’s child. While circumstances point to her guilt it was not enough to convict of murder.”  

In Vidalia along the Mississippi River, John Roy Lynch, the same age as Mary Reynolds, labored as a slave at Taconey Plantation. While Mary during the Civil War would move to Texas and live there for the rest of her life, Lynch would become an important political figure in Mississippi during Reconstruction. He would serve in Congress and in other high offices.  

At St. John Richardson Liddell’s Llanada Plantation and Charles Jones’ Elmly plantations along Catahoula’s Black River shore, there had been a few years of peace in their ongoing feud. Two men had been killed as a result of the deadly dispute and Jones had been shot, too.  

Liddell had been tried for killing two of Jones’ followers in what became known as the Black River War. The Jury found him not guilty of murder, believing without doubt that he had acted in self-defense.  

Now Liddell and Jones were preparing for a much bigger war, one that would divide brother against brother and result in bloodshed across the land. There were many issues, but keeping the enslaved on the plantations was goal number one. Before the South was left in ruins, great efforts had been made to keep things just as they were, slaves and all.  

The Independent chronicled the months leading up to civil war, including news about Charles Jones and John Liddell.  

 

THE DAYS BEFORE WAR  

 

On January 4, 1860, the paper carried an advertisement of a civil case, Joseph Lallande vs. Laura Jones, wife of Charles Jones. The legal notice said that by “virtue of writ of Fieri facias in this case issued from the District Court of Catahoula,” the sheriff had seized Laura’s property that had been mortgaged to secure the debt.  

The advertisement noted that Elmly Plantation, also known as Elmly Place, a cotton plantation, including stock, farming utensils and appurtenances would be sold in a sheriff’s sale on February 4, 1860.  

The property represented one tract of land fronting Black River and was “bounded by lands occupied by the widow and heirs of {Mr.} Neely and below the lands of Philip R. Nichols.” Nichols was the husband of Eliza Nichols, who had been slandered by Jones. Although in the late 1840s Eliza had shot Jones in the face and back, Jones blamed Liddell for the incident. Jones wanted the Nichols’ land and when they refused to sell, he slandered Eliza to force them to move.  

Also, included in the sale of Elmly was 109 enslaved men, women and children.  

A year later in 1861, Sheriff D.M. Pritchard advertised another sheriff’s sale, noting that he “has seized property of defendant Charles Jones described as land, slaves and personal effects purchased by Charles Jones on March 3, 1860 at sheriff’s sale issued from court.” This was apparently part of a legal maneuver to protect the Jones’ land from the banks due to unpaid notes. Jones somehow managed to save the land just as the Civil War was breaking out.  

In the same issue, under the headline, “Breckenridge and Lane,” a group of local citizens expressed their support of two politicians, John Cabell Breckinridge as president and Joseph Lane as vice-president. They were supported by the pro-secession Southern wing of the Democratic Party.  

Breckenridge had served as vice-president under James Buchanan and was a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican who would win the election. Lane was a U.S. Senator who had served as governor of Oregon Territory.  

A resolution had been passed earlier at a meeting in Trinity in support of the ticket.  

Felix Robb, who had served as parish sheriff, was president of the group and Liddell was secretary.  

The group regarded Breckenridge and Lane as “True National exponents of the great principles of Equal Rights in the Territories and the just administration of the government.”  

Also, The Independent reported that another group of Catahoula residents was meeting to support the nomination of Sen. John Bell of Tennessee as president and former congressman Edward Everett of Massachusetts as vice-president under the Constitutional Union Party, formerly known as the Know Nothing and Whig parties.  

A committee was formed in Catahoula to help elect Bell and Everett. Charles Jones was one of the supporters of that ticket.  

 

TRINITY VIGILANTE COMMISSION  

 

On December 19, 1860, after Lincoln won the election in November, The Independent reported that Captain J.M. Philips was elected chairman and O. L. Ellis secretary of what would become known as the Trinity Vigilante Commission.  

A vigilante takes the law into his own hands, often times serving as judge, jury and executioner.  

A committee of five was elected to draft resolutions of the meeting.  

Liddell was elected chairman and committee members included Maj. William Beard, Col. John W. Stone, James W. Metcalf and Noah Reddick  

Guest speaker was C.B. Wheeler, who counseled the attendees that the South had to stand up for its rights.  

Because the group believed that Abraham Lincoln was elected by northerners – a “fanatical people” – who “avowed hostility” to the South, his election had given “abolitionists and disaffected persons in our midst” more courage to “incite to incendiarism and insurrections.”  

The group resolved that:  

“The government of the immortal Washington was good enough for ancestors and is good enough for us.”  

The “South has broken no national law.”  

Additionally, the members:  

-- Pledged their “lives and fortunes to sustain the action of our state.”  

-- Asked Governor Thomas Moore to convene the legislature to hold a secession convention.  

-- Named their group “the Trinity Vigilante Association” with “plans to hold meetings every month on the 1st Saturday.” The association stated it would “enforce order among the slave population and bring to prompt punishment public disturbers of the peace, suspicious persons, abolitionists, incendiaries and the like.” The group appointed captains of patrols in various wards and vowed to arrest anyone members “think proper.”  

-- Would organize a corps of minute men for emergencies. Liddell and William E. Gaulden were charged with leadership of this group.  

An executive committee was elected to manage affairs and correspondence with other associations.. The executive committee included Liddell, Robert Wilkinson, Joseph Benjamin and O.L. Ellis.  

 

THE LAST ISSUE  

 

In Harrisonburg, Judge James Gowan Taliaferro and his son, J.Q.A. Taliaferro had purchased The Independent in 1856.  

Taliaferro was a pro-Union man and could have been considered one of the “incendiaries” the Trinity Vigilante Association was determined to eliminate. Born in Virginia in 1815, he arrived in Catahoula Parish at the age of 17. His father, Zachariah, built a sawmill at the foot of the hills at Rhinehart.  

While studying the law at Transylvania University in Kentucky, Taliaferro met a Kentucky girl, Elizabeth Williams. They married in 1819 and thereafter moved to Catahoula, where Taliaferro established his law practice in Harrisonburg. Elizabeth, who gave birth to a dozen children, died in 1850.  

Over the years, Taliaferro served as postmaster, parish judge and clerk of court, while also farming, raising livestock and buying land. He owned approximately 1,500 acres by 1860.  

Taliaferro had long been active in politics with connections to both the National Republicans and the Whig Party, which included party leaders Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams.  

While Taliaferro was a slave owner, he did not seem to like the institution.  

The number of slaves in Catahoula doubled during the 1850s, from 2,520 in 1850 to 6,113 in 1860, according to census figures. Of the 1,013 white families living in the parish in 1860, 327 owned slaves. The increase in the slave population was due to one thing, to fill a growing need for forced labor to produce cotton, the white gold of the South.  

During the final years of the 1850s, Taliaferro feared a civil war was coming. He preached against it in his paper. In January 1861, during the Louisiana Secession Convention, Taliaferro, the oldest delegate there, was one of a handful who opposed secession, but without success.  

Four months later, in the May 8, 1861, edition of The Independent, Taliaferro wrote that he and his son could “no longer conduct the paper in conformity with its title, and a dependent mouth piece we can have nothing to do with. There is not on God’s green earth a more odious restriction anywhere upon the freedom of the press, than that which prevails in the Confederate States at this time … Our press has opposed with the little ability it has possessed, the secession and disunion doctrines that are now in the ascendant.”  

After five years of ownership of The Independent, Taliaferro and son could no longer continue printing as the South lined up for war against the North.  

Taliaferro’s last issue included his philosophy that had been printed in every issue on the front page: “I defended the republic in my youth; I shall not stop as an old man.”  

But the majority of whites, including Jones and Liddell, felt differently. Both would be involved in intense fighting for the Confederacy during the war, Jones at Shiloh and Liddell throughout the rest of Tennessee and elsewhere, including Catahoula Parish.  

(Next Week: Off to war.)

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