Lamar County, Mississippi Genealogy and History


Pamela J. Gibbs County Coordinator

Lori Thornton,  State Coordinator
Deb Haines
, Assistant State Coordinator

WPA History of Lamar County, Mississippi


        James Copeland, called the Southern Land Pirate, and his intimate associates Gale H. Wages, president and chief of the clan; Charles McGrath, Vice-president; McClain, Secretary; and John Elva, Henry Sandford, Sampson Teapark, Richard Cable, the Vigilant Committee, William Brown and Mobile Tyler, all formed what is known as the Copeland Clan.

        James Copeland joined the Wages-McGrath Clan in the year of 1839. He had started stealing small articles, as knives, etc., then he stole pigs and sold them at 32 each. He was put in jail and his mother had confidence in Wages and consulted him as to means of escape from punishment. He planned with them to destroy the Court House. Thus the Court House was burned and Wages influenced him to join the clan.

        The first influence of the Copeland Clan felt in this county was in 1843. Fear and dread reigned in all the county. There was a general outbreak of robbing and stock stealing, the County swarmed with idle characters who had to be controlled with vigilants, organized to suppress the wave of crime that swept the country.

        The Clan planned to murder Robert Lott and Tom Sumrall who lived near Oloh, then in Perry County, (now Lamar). They disguised themselves. Wages passed as a Mr. Jones; Harden as John Newton. They accomplished the killing of Robert Lott and Tom Sumrall, and Wages gave Harden the map of all the roads in the county. They used a mystic alphabet and went out in disguise, carrying skeleton keys, locks, lock picks, crow bars, and all kinds of tools. They stole and sold Negroes, robbed houses, murdered, looted in the most fiendish manner. McGrath was a preacher, and he would hold revival meetings while the Clan stole horses on the outside.

        Wages and McGrath had a difficulty with a farmer named Harvey, over a $40 note. Harvey shot and killed Wages and McGrath. Wages' people offered $1000 to James Copeland for the death of Harvey. James organized his band and set out to get Harvey. James and the outlaws with him hid in his cabin on Big Creek, ten miles south of Lumberton. They had a fierce battle and Harvey and a Mr. Poole were killed. It was here that James Copeland lost the map of the place where the $230,000 in gold was buried. It has never been found and some say it is still buried in Catahoula Swamp. The article does not explain where the gold came from in the first place or how it came to be buried.

        James Copeland escaped but was later arrested and brought to trial at Old Augusta, Perry County. He was tried for the murder of Harvey because of all the crimes he had committed they could not pin anything on him but murder. All the other members of the Clan met a violent death. Jim Copeland was hanged at Old Augusta on the 30th day of October, 1857 at 4 o'clock P. M. The day before he was hanged he wrote the following letter to his mother:

October 29, 1857
Mrs. Rebecca Copeland

My dear Mother:

        It is with painful feeling indeed that I attempt writing to you, upon the present occasion. I take this opportunity in knowing that at the same time it is the last one of the kind which I shall ever be permitted to enjoy on this earth. It is long and much that I have suffered in prison since my first confinement in Mobile County and yet it seems as though nothing will pay my debt except my life. I've had my trial and was convicted upon a charge of murder and I have rec'd the awful sentence of death. The sheriff told me that tomorrow at 4 o'clock I should be hanged according to the order of the court.

        Oh, my dear mother, what an awful thing is this to reach your ear. I would it could be otherwise, but you are aware that I justly merit the sentence, you are knowing to my being a bad man, and dear mother, had you given me the proper advice when young I would now perhaps be doing well. It is often I have meditated upon this subject since my confinement in prison and often I have remembered my dear old father's advice when I was young, and repented a thousand times over with sorrow and regret that I have failed to receive it as good advice. If such a course I had taken no doubt I would be doing well at this time, but it is now too late to think of things past and gone. The time has come when I have to take my departure from this world, and it pains my heart to know that I have to leave my brothers and sisters. And much am I mortified to think how distantly you have treated me here. Not the first time have you been to see me, but I can excuse you for all this and I want you to prepare to meet me in heaven. Mother, long has the time been when life has not been any satisfaction to me. I am now in the dungeon with the cold icy bars closed around me, cold as clay. Much have I suffered, but after 4 o'clock tomorrow my trouble will be over or worse than at present, this I am not able to tell. I have been praying to My God, praying for the pardon of my sins but I do not know whether my prayers have been heard or not. The scriptures say that, "The spirit of the Lord will not always strive with Man." And again "He that call upon the Lord in the last days shall be saved." I believe that I have some spark of hope, but tell you this hope hangs upon a slender thread. Dear Mother, it makes tears trickle down upon my cold cheeks to have to pen this to you. Dear Mother, I have to close this letter, my heart is overflowing already, so when you receive this you can keep it as a memorial, and remember that poor James is no longer on earth. I have bid you a long farewell. Dear mother, it appears that my very heart will break with the very thought of this, could I but see you once before my death, it would give my breaking heart some relief. Now my dear old mother, I bid you a long farewell, forever and ever.

James Copeland

W. P. A. Table of Contents
Will Purvis


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007  by Pamela J. Gibbs except where otherwise noted.


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