Llanada Plantation

THE SITE of the old Llanada Plantation in Catahoula Parish, established in the mid-19th century by planter St. John Richardson Liddell, is still a farming operation and includes the cleared ground in the bottom half of photo. That’s Jonesville, Trinity and Little River at the top and Black River at right.    

 

(37th in a Series)  

In late 1868, General St. John Richardson Liddell, among the early planters establishing himself on Black River 30 years earlier, filed for bankruptcy.  

The Civil War had ruined him financially. He had spent four years fighting for the Confederacy, spending most of the time far from his Llanada Plantation on the outskirts of present day Jonesville in Catahoula Parish.  

His total indebtedness in 1865 was $86,808.31 (approximately $1.5 million today) and growing.  

Liddell’s wife Mary had operated the plantation while Liddell was at war. She had kept it afloat against great odds but it had been a losing battle.  

“Bankruptcy and humiliation of having to deal with friends, strangers, and enemies on terms of helplessness drove Liddell to write his children,” wrote Nathaniel C. Hughes, who decades after Liddell’s death edited the general’s war memoirs, which Liddell had written immediately after returning home when the war ended.  

“Study every word and sentence,” Liddell wrote of the family records listing land holdings and transactions “for you will be preyed upon by covetous and designing men who profess to be more or less connected with my affairs, and who will strip you of the last cent if they can.”  

He had spent years building up the plantation and would not have earned a fortune without an army of enslaved people clearing the land, tending the crops and livestock, digging the ditches, cutting the trees and on and on. Now those enslaved people had been freed by the Union army and were choosing paths that took them far from Llanada.  

The state was in economic chaos.  

In his plantation diary, Liddell wrote, “Everything seems to work against me and ruin stares me full in the face. I am indifferent to all things, but substance and clothing for my family.”  

Hope had all but vanished.  

Few things made Liddell smile in the days after the war while only one man could make him shake with anger, drawing emotion that no one else could.  

Liddell wrote of the man in his diary, calling him “unprincipled,” “villainous,” a “slanderer of everyone,” a “back-biter of even his best friends,” a “swindler,” “disliked by all honest and honorable men,” and a person whose character “is base to the core.”  

Liddell’s feud with the neighbor had begun years earlier. It had involved much bloodshed. And more was to come.  

 

SPRING OF 1852  

 

The winter and spring of 1852 had been stressful along Black River.  

Planter Charles Jones had for all practical purposes declared war on Liddell, who lived four miles upriver.  

Jones, his family and his slaves had left Black River in the late 1840s, partly because of a great flood and a cholera epidemic and also because Jones, considered a handsome man, was recovering from gunshot wounds. His face and back had been shot up. Earlier he had, for all practical purposes, called a female neighbor a harlot – accusing her with sleeping with a nearby plantation overseer.  

When Jones refused to apologize, she shot him twice. Liddell was blamed by Jones for the second shot, but it was Eliza Nichols who fired the shots. She acknowledged that to friends.  

During the months to follow, Black River was quiet.  

Then in early 1852, the Jones clan returned from Baton Rouge. Jones brought with him a no count troublemaker named Richard Pryor, whose job, it appeared to everyone on Black and Little rivers, was to bait Liddell into a gunfight.  

Pryor threatened to kill Liddell himself. He also offered to pay anyone $1,000 of Jones’ money to kill Liddell.  

During the spring of 1852, Liddell was so concerned for his family that his neighbors came at night to protect the home in case Jones and his henchmen launched an attack.  

 

‘EVASION OF A FAIR FIGHT’  

 

Then, according to the Natchez Free-Trader, this happened:  

“In May, Liddell, in front of his house, disarmed a white servant of one of Jones' friends. This was done after the master had been requested to cause his servant to cease carrying and firing arms near Liddell's premises: The course of the servant having annoyed Liddell and alarmed his family.  

“The result was an insulting letter from the master and a challenge from Liddell. The challenge was accepted. {Samuel} Glenn and Pryor, then hostile to Liddell, were designated as seconds of the acceptor.  

“They proposed a fight three miles within the Texas line, on the Ft. Jesup  road, dictated the time at which Liddell should leave home, and that only principals, seconds, surgeons and a servant apiece, should be present.”  

Fort Jesup was a U.S. military post built in 1822 in western Louisiana near the Sabine River close to Many. It was first commanded by future President Zachary Taylor, who named the fort after his friend, Brigadier General Thomas Sidney Jesup.  

This crude pathway leading west from Catahoula Parish was known by several names, including the Texas Road and the El Camino Real.  

According to Mickie Smith’s book (“Sicily Island: A Partial History”), the “earliest road through Sicily Island was the Texas Road, leading from Rodney, Mississippi, through Tensas Parish, crossing Tensas River coming through Sicily Island, on to the hills and further.”  

Concerning the proposed duel, the Free-Trader wrote: “To accomplish the distance in time but one road could be travelled. The terms were thought to be unusual, and as no terms would be agreed upon by Glenn, Liddell, under the advice of friends, declined them, by letter, as an evasion of a fair fight, and intimated the belief that he would be intercepted on the route.  

“The acceptor thereupon threatened (to use his own language) ‘to take him (Liddell) wherever he could find him.’”  

 

‘ARTICLES OF COMBAT’  

 

In his study of the feud, Michael Lanza added details to the story:  

“A white employee of Henry Huntington {of Trinity}, a friend of Jones, shot his pistols as he passed Liddell’s house. Liddell confiscated the man’s arms. Huntington wrote Liddell that he (Liddell) was ‘a damned overbearing, insolent man, and I believe a damned coward.’  

“Liddell replied to Colonel William Stanton that first, he had warned the servant of the action he would take if the servant fired his pistol, and secondly, in reply to the remark about being a coward, Liddell answered that he would meet Huntington in ‘fair and open combat.’  

“Huntington drew up ‘Articles for Combat.’ The two antagonists were ‘to meet and fight on the main Road leading from Natchitoches to Fort Jessup to Nacogdoches three miles within the Texas line.’  

“In this reply to Huntington, an understandably suspicious Liddell remarked that the proposition to meet ‘out of the way in Texas’ was ‘unusual, unheard of, and an evasion of a fair fight.’ He believed some foul deed was intended on the way.’  

“He also added that, ‘Henceforth, I wish no further communication from you or your friends.’”  

This incident was only one of many in which Liddell faced harassment and threats from Jones and his friends.  

 

‘LAY OUT A ROAD’  

 

All along Black River and other interior rivers in Catahoula Parish, plantations had been developed during the 1840s and 1850s, a period of rapid growth. The community of Trinity grew into a bustling town during the 1840s and was an important trade center, located at the confluence of four rivers.  

Police juries were created in 1807. Along with justices of the peace and judges, these three entities originally met once a year and had the authority, according to the law, “to fix the time for cattle to run at large; to decide on the necessity of fences and their form; and to order and provide for the execution of whatever concerns the interior and local police and administration of their parish.”  

In her book on Sicily Island, Mickie Smith wrote that when the Police Jury “named a person to ‘lay out’ a new road, it meant that the smaller trees and underbrush were cut, and the road, which was not much more than a trail through the woods, meandered around the larger trees.” When possible, old animal trails were followed.  

In 1811, police juror positions became elective. In 1813, the parish was divided into wards and in 1816, according to Smith’s book, the first major levee and road law established that the “owner of lands situation on the banks of the river throughout this state, shall be held to give to the public, and to keep constantly in good repair, a highway at least twenty feet wide and the whole front of his property.”  

Slaves built many of the early roads.  

“Roads were the principal business of the Police Jury meetings in the 1800s,” Smith wrote. “At that time, they met only twice a year, and one meeting was a budget meeting.  

“The residents would petition the Police Jury for a road from one particular place to another, or change the location of a road. Then the Jury would appoint a committee to ‘lay out a road’ where one had been asked for. The committee usually tried to place the road on a section line, so each land owner would only have to give half of the footage for a road. By 1858, the roads were given members and districts …”  

In 1853, the Legislature adopted the first law requiring that roads be marked for travelers: “All forks of roads must be marked with a post or posts, with arms pointing the way of each and every road, with the directions to the most public places to which they lead, with the number of miles to that place.”  

 

OLD SOLDIERS & HEARTBREAK  

 

Such was the state of politics and progress when in 1835 early settler William Leland moved his family from Natchez to the hills of Sicily Island along the Texas Road at a community known today as Leland. (His name was originally spelled “Layland” but over time the spelling morphed into “Leland.”)  

Leland had been born in Virginia along the Shenandoah River. In 1776, he enlisted in the Continental Army and fought the duration of the war. He served under General George Washington, the future president, during the long, bitter winter at Valley Forge.  

Approximately four years after Leland settled in the parish, Liddell and Jones began developing their plantations. Leland was believed to be about 100 years old by the early 1850s and apparently died some time prior to the Civil War.  

Three decades after Liddell made his first cotton crop between Black and Little rivers and four years after the Civil War ended, Liddell’s financial problems quickly became secondary when another body was buried in the family cemetery.  

Wrote historian Hughes: “The ultimate blow to St. John R. Liddell came on February 17, 1869, when Mary Metcalfe Roper Liddell died.”  

Along with the loss of Liddell’s beloved wife “went all hope.”  

With his plantation in bankruptcy, his fortune lost, his youngest children’s future in jeopardy, Liddell believed his life had lost all meaning.  

Now only one man – Charles Jones – could arouse emotion of any kind in Liddell’s broken heart. For so many years he and Mary had lived with Jones’ threats of assassination and harm. Liddell had even killed two men in self-defense – Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins, both friends of Jones – because of Jones’ insistence that the two kill Liddell.  

Jones had been a terror.  

In another year, this feud – this Black River War -- would come to a bloody conclusion.  

(To Be Continued)  

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