(33rd in a Series)
In 1862, feuding neighbors Charles Jones and St. John Richardson Liddell were from far from their Black River plantations.
Both were fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Jones has been wounded at Shiloh, while Liddell was on the move in Tennessee and Alabama, where he almost died of typhoid fever. Both of his sons fought as well, one later dying as a result of battle wounds and disease.
The feud had exploded in the late 1840s after Jones was shot in the face and back by a woman he had slandered. Yet Jones accused Liddell of firing the shot that hit him in the back. Jones had menaced Liddell and his family for several weeks prior to being shot by Eliza Nichols.
Afterward, Jones declared war on Liddell, and in 1852, Liddell shot and killed two of Jones’ supporters, Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins, both of whom had threatened Liddell’s life. During a trial, jurors, without leaving their seats in the courtroom, immediately found Liddell not guilty when the judge asked for the verdict.
The feud was put on the backburner when the Civil War broke out, and while the feuding planters were off fighting, the Union army and navy visited Catahoula and Concordia parishes.
Along the Mississippi at Natchez, John Roy Lynch’s master had gone off to fight for the Confederacy while Lynch, in his early teens, was relieved of house servant duties at Dunleith mansion and sent to the cotton fields of Tacony Plantation at Vidalia. Lynch’s mother was also as a house servant at Dunleith.
During Reconstruction, Lynch would rise in politics as a congressman in Mississippi and go on to serve in other high government offices. He was bright, self-educated and hard working. He would later purchase hundreds of acres of land in Natchez.
But during the Civil War, as he recounted in his biography (Reminisces of an Active Life: The Autobiography of John Roy Lynch): “I was separated from my mother and subjected to the hard and cruel fate of a plantation laborer. This was in 1862. There had just been a disastrous overflow in that part of Louisiana in consequence of which that section was very unhealthy.
“Shortly after I was put to work I was taken with a severe attack of the swamp fever, which very nearly resulted in death, and from the effects of which I did not fully recover for more than a year.”
‘BUT ONE CHICKEN’
In July 1863, the Yankees took control of the Mississippi, including the towns of Vicksburg, Natchez and Vidalia. Once that happened, Lynch wrote that he “decided to make an effort to get to my mother. But getting across the Mississippi River was a serious problem that was before me. I had, of course, no money, but I had made an effort to raise some chickens. In that line I had not been very successful, for when I got ready to leave the plantation, I could claim ownership of but one chicken and that one was almost too young to command a fair price.”
The Tacony house and the slave quarters were on the outskirts of Vidalia, which then was anchored on the Mississippi riverfront. Lynch wrote: “When I reached Vidalia, I saw for the first time a live Yankee soldier. I approached him and inquired if he wanted to buy a chicken.”
“What is it worth?” the soldier asked Lynch.
“Whatever you choose to give,” Lynch answered.
The soldier offered Lynch a dime.
“The bargain was closed,” Lynch said, “and I was immediately possessed of my first piece of Yankee money, which was a ten-cent paper bill, of which, however, I had possession only a short while, for I was not long in finding the owner of a small boat, to whom I gave the ten cents to take me across the river.”
‘VERY HANDSOME, INFLUENTIAL’
To the west along the Black River on the Catahoula Parish side, the wives and young sons and daughters of the men at war did their best to hold things together. Liddell’s wife, Mary, struggled to keep the family fed at Llanada Plantation. Many of Liddell’s slaves were sent to Texas in 1863 to work for the Confederacy.
Four miles downriver at Elmly, Charles Jones’ wife Laura was in charge.
Charles Jones was born in Kentucky in 1812. Both of his parents were dead by the time he was 14 years of age.
Jones and Laura had three sons and two daughters – all born in Louisiana. During the late 1840s and early 1850s, when cholera and a flood devastated the countryside, Jones, not long after being shot by Eliza Nichols took his family to East Baton Rouge Parish.
The census taker found the Jones family there in 1850. Jones was listed as a farmer. He was 38, wife Laura was 28. The oldest child was seven. Jones owned 43 slaves.
In Baton Rouge, he reported real estate valued at $35,000.
By the winter of 1852, Jones was back in Catahoula where he focused all of his energies on harassing Liddell and that would soon result in Liddell killing Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins.
By 1860, Jones was a wealthy man. He was worth $250,000, a fortune during that era.
Jones and his business partner, William Dunbar, a lawyer from Baton Rouge, had begun investing in property in Louisiana as early as 1836 when the two men paid $3,200 for land in Rapides Parish.
In 1845, Jones, wife Laura and Dunbar sold Jones’ sister, Elizabeth Smith, five acres of Black River frontage and also that year sold Elizabeth and her husband eight acres of cleared land enclosed with a rail fence.
Jones and Dunbar made multiple property purchases in Catahoula during the 1840s. Jones was constantly buying land and when he found a property he wanted, he would sell his soul to the devil to get it.
While no photos or portraits exist of Jones, he was described in a book by Thomas Smith as “very handsome, influential, and politically powerful.”
‘GOOD FOR EVIL PURPOSES’
The Jones-Liddell feud, also known as the Black River War, attracted scores of headlines over the years. Liddell wrote about Jones often in letters to friends and family. He kept a journal.
Legal documents, census records and various correspondence written by friends and relatives of both men offer snippets of their lives.
Using many of these records, historian Michael Lanza researched the feud and wrote:
“Liddell was definitely of the opinion that Jones held friends whose characters were quite questionable. This fact also lent itself as a source of enmity between the two families. Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins were two of Jones’s associates of whom Liddell had little regard.
“In 1848, Liddell recorded that Samuel Glenn had his house insured and that two weeks later, it was burned to the ground. The insurance was supposedly obtained ‘to build another and better.’ He also said that three or four hundred cords of wood in the Pine Hills, belonging to Glenn and attached by the sheriff, were burned after the attachment.
“Moses Wiggins was, according to Liddell, ‘a factotum (of Glenn) – a kind of spy or striker – good for evil purposes.’ An anonymous letter of January 1850 stated that Wiggins would ‘kill Liddell as he would a mad-dog.’ Mr. T. Alexander, an Odd Fellows member, had earlier told Glenn, also a member, that his conduct to Liddell was unbecoming a member of the Odd Fellows.”
Five years after Liddell shot and killed both Glenn and Wiggins, and three years after the trial in which Liddell was found not guilty, there was one last attempt to settle the differences between Jones and Liddell.
Lanza wrote that a “truce between the two families was arranged through the good offices of William Beard, Jones’s friend. Charles and Laura Jones signed a statement November 8, 1857, agreeing that the Liddells and Jones would pass one another as strangers and without recognition. Also, if one party had a cause for grievance, the other party should be informed of it previous to any action whatsoever. Liddell did not sign this agreement.”
The dust settled between the two feuding families after that and through the Civil War, but afterward, when both men returned, the feud would turn into the Black River War.
‘DEAD MULES AND HORSES’
In Concordia Parish, not long after Union forces occupied Natchez, John Roy Lynch decided to return to Vidalia to visit Tacony and check on a family that had cared and sheltered him while he was enslaved there. During that visit, a Confederate force raided the plantation and surrounding countryside, taking food, livestock and supplies before Union soldiers drove them away.
“Later in the day,” Lynch wrote, “after the smoke of the battle cleared away, I left Tacony en route to Vidalia and Natchez. In about a mile from Vidalia I could see marked evidence of the engagement, in the form of dead mules and horses, bullet holes in fences and bridges, and devastation in the cotton and corn fields, but I saw no dead bodies.
“I had to give a good account of myself before I could cross the picket line just outside of town of Vidalia, but before dark I was happy to find myself once more in the two little rooms occupied by my mother at Natchez. My appearance was a great relief to my mother who was seriously apprehensive that I had either been killed or carried away into captivity by the Confederates.”
(To Be Continued)