Report From Natchez, Mississippi After the Civil War Possibly Written by Levin R. Marshall Who Owned Hawkswood
Though ostensibly a simple request to switch the address of a newspaper subscription, the letter was more of a bitter and darkly brooding rant against the devastation of the Civil War, the Reconstruction Era, and freed slaves. The author of the letter was not identified. It is, however, readily apparent and nearly certain that the letter was written by Levin R. Marshall who once owned the elegant mansion on Pelham Neck near City Island Bridge known as Hawkswood. Throughout the time he owned Hawkswood, he remained a resident of Natchez from which he oversaw his plantations and slaves, but summered in Pelham in the mansion which became known as the "Marhsall Mansion" at "Marshall Corners." See Mon., Feb. 10, 2014: Hawkswood, Also Known as the Marshall Mansion, Colonial Hotel and Colonial Inn, Once Stood in Pelham Near City Island.
Levin R. Marshall was originally from Virginia. He became a successful banker in the river city of Natchez, Mississippi. He invested in cotton plantations, a hotel, and a steamboat packet company. By the start of the Civil War, he had amassed more than 25,000 acres of farmland in three states. Five of his plantations, totaling 14,400 acres, were located in Adams County, Mississippi and in Louisiana. He owned 817 slaves in 1860 and lived on an estate known as "Richmond" just south of Natchez. He had 32 slaves at Richmond to tend to his family's needs and take care of the estate. Marshall was a millionaire -- reputedly "one of only 35 millionaires in the entire country" at the start of the War.
As one would expect, Marshall's plantations and agricultural businesses were destroyed by the War. His 817 slaves were freed. His finances were devastated.
Levin R. Marshall died in Marshall Mansion in the Town of Pelham while visiting his summer home on July 24, 1870. As part of its effort to develop the area as Pelham Bay Park, the City of New York thereafter purchased the Marshall estate in 1888 although the property was not maintained thereafter with the attention to detail and loving care that had been lavished on it for many decades. Bolton wrote about the Marshall Mansion in the 1881 edition of his History of Westchester County published after his death saying:
"Hawkwood, the residence of the late Elisha King, Esq., is now owned by the widow of the late Levin R. Marshall, and adjoins the property of Captain J.R. Steers, on the south. The house is built of stone, in the Grecian style, and presents a fine front of columns to the water. The beauty of the scenery in this vicinity is greatly heightened by the close proximity of City Island, and the richly wooded shores of the Point. The grounds, containing a great variety of choice trees, were laid out by the celebrated gardener, Andre Parmenteer. Nearly adjoining Hawkwood, in the south-west, is Longwood, the residence of A. Newbold Morris, Esq."
Source: Bolton, C.W., ed., The History of the Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester, From Its First Settlement To the Present Time Carefully Revised by its Author By the Late Rev. Robert Bolton, Vol. II, p. 71 (NY, NY: Chas. F. Roper, 1881).
The letter published by The Cincinnati Daily Enquirer on December 12, 1867, a little less than three years before Marshall's death, sheds fascinating light on Marshall at the end of his life if, indeed, the letter was his. It seems to be a dark and hopeless letter filled with racist rants against the freed slaves of the region, the early years of the Reconstruction Era and the "Black Republican Party" that controlled the politics of the region. The letter describes the United States as "in a most deplorable condition" mired in the muck of "lamentable" politics. It says that "the crops have so signally failed in Louisiana and Mississippi that real want and suffering are staring most of us in the face." It further states, rather dramatically, that "Ruin, ruin is a word that all in this section comprehend, without a reference to Webster or any other lexicographer."
The author of the dark and brooding letter notes that landowners are unable to pay wages to freed slaves to do the work to harvest crops and that the region, like the nation, was in a "deplorable condition" with "no immediate prospect of any improvement" and "worse off than ever!"
According to the author, there was "No business of any kind doing" and no money, saying further: "This you may think a gloomy picture, but a more truthful one never was drawn."
At this point the letter devolved into a combination of complaints regarding the reconstruction process, the Freedmen's Bureau, and freed slaves, concluding with the statement: "A state of desperation exists here, such as has no parallel in the world's history."
Clearly much of the value of Levin R. Marshall's assets had been destroyed by the Civil War and its aftermath. His affluent lifestyle and, indeed, his pre-war way-of-life had been entirely destroyed. He know longer had available to him the laborers he misused to build his lifestyle and his holdings. He seemed to have grown bitter over the reconstruction efforts during the early years of the Reconstruction Era. He complained that the few planters in the region able to harvest any cotton saw most, or all, of that cotton simply confiscated by the Freedmen's Bureau. He even lamented the fact that freed slaves had "thoroughly organized in every county in the State, such as Loyal League clubs, G. A. R., and other such imitations of their worse white brethren."
Levin R. Marshall's life, as he once knew it, was over. This letter reflects both his consequent anger and bitterness. It reveals much about the man who once summered in Pelham.
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Below is the text of the letter published in the December 12, 1867 issue of The Cincinnati Daily Enquirer. It is followed by a citation and link to its source.
Condition of the Country -- A Sad Picture.
[Correspondence of the Cincinnati Enquirer.]
NATCHEZ, MISS., December 3, 1867.
I write to request that you will have my paper sent me here. I left a memorandum with one of the employes of your office while in Cincinnati, giving my change of address from Pelham, Westchester County, N. Y., to Natchez, Adams County, Miss., but presume, in the excitement of the election returns from New York, Minnesota and elsewhere, it has been laid aside. It is the only paper I take pleasure in reading, and in this God-forsaken, devil-taken country I can not do without it.
Our country is in a most deplorable condition. Aside from its political aspect (which is lamentable), the crops have so signally failed in Louisiana and Mississippi that real want and suffering are staring most of us in the face. Ruin, ruin, is a word that all in this section comprehend, without a reference to Webster or any other lexicographer. Not a single crop has been made, where expenses will be met. On the contrary, the advances for supplies and wages of negroes can not be paid. We are in a deplorable condition, and no immediate prospect of any improvement. Instead of bettering ourselves, as most of us thought we could, we are worse off than ever! No business of any kind doing, from the fact of there being no motive power, in the shape of money. This you may think a gloomy picture, but a more truthful one never was drawn. Where any cotton was made, most of it, and in some cases all that planters made, has been seized by the 'Freedmen's Bureau,' perhaps (?) for the benefit of the worthless, idle negro; and this, too, after the planter has been at the expense of feeding, housing, and otherwise caring for the miserable vagabond.
And this the return! Every thing taken for the darky, and absolutely nothing for the white man and his dependent, perhaps starving family! How long are we to endure this state of things? I have not yet seen the man who says he intends planting again -- in fact, such a man will be a curiosity, and could well be exhibited by the side of Barnum's gorilla (or, 'may be,' future candidate of the Black Republican party for the next Presidency). I mean, the gorilla, of course. No one has the money to invest in negro labor.
Other troubles we may look for in a few weeks, as an immense number of negroes will be thrown out of employment, with no prospect for being employed for the coming year. As a consequence, theft, robbery, and, perhaps other far worse outrages, that we all anticipate, without the power to avert.
The negroes are thoroughly organized in every county in the State, such as Loyal League clubs, G. A. R., and other such imitations of their worse white brethren. A state of desperation exists here, such as has no parallel in the world's history."
Source: FROM MISSISSIPPI -- Condition of the Country -- A Sad Picture, The Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, Dec. 12, 1867, Vol. XXXL, No. 336, p. 1, col. 4 (NOTE: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
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I have written about the Hawkswood / Marshall Mansion on other occasions. Below are a few linked examples:
Mon., Feb. 10, 2014: Hawkswood, Also Known as the Marshall Mansion, Colonial Hotel and Colonial Inn, Once Stood in Pelham Near City Island.
Wed., Apr. 5, 2006: "Hawkswood", Later Known as the Marshall Mansion on Rodman's Neck in Pelham.
Thu., Jun. 28, 2007: 19th Century Notice of Executor's Sale of "Hawkswood" After Death of Elisha W. King.
Fri., May 07, 2010: Image of Hawkswood Published in 1831.
Thu., June 28, 2007: 19th Century Notice of Executor's Sale of "Hawkswood" After Death of Elisha W. King.
Mon., Apr. 26, 2010: Public Service Commission Couldn't Find Marshall's Corners in 1909.
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