Reminiscences, Sketches and Addresses Selected from
My Papers During a Ministry of Forty-five Years in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas

by J. R. Hutchinson, b. 1807. Publication date - 1874

Submitted by Sue Moore sbmoore@swbell.net
from the Making of America, U of Michigan


About the time of the removal of the Indians from North Mississippi to the Indian Territory, west of the river, Vicksburg began to assume the appearance of a city. On my arrival from Louisiana to take the pastoral charge of the Presbyterian Church in that place, in the Fall of 1836, I beheld a most animated scene. The eye of the stranger was greeted by the sight of a most brilliant panorama - crowded streets, thronged wharfs, well-filled warehouses, and a large and bustling population.  Every man seemed to be a man of business. Multitudes were running to and fro. The countenances of all beamed with hope, the hearts of all beat high with joyous expectation. Crowds of Virginians and Kentuckians, with their families and slaves, were pouring in from every steamer; and from this city of the bluffs, as from a hill of observation, multitudes were selecting fresh homes on the Sunflower, the Yazoo, and other portions of the vast territory offered for sale, by the withdrawal of the red men to the further west. New streets were opening, scores of new dwellings were in process of erection, and every corner rang with the noise of the saw and the hammer. Property of all kinds in Vicksburg rose to a fabulous height; and hotels were crowded to such a degree as to make it necessary to portion out, by chalk-marks on the floor, designated spots where strangers might lie down and repose for the night.  Physicians and lawyers and land speculators were innumerable. No city in the South was more attractive than Vicksburg. Every man was going to Vicksburg. Every speculator was buying lots in Vicksburg. 

Soon, however, the scene was changed. That melancholy pecuniary revulsion which, in 1838, came upon the whole commercial world, spread like a funeral pall over the young city. The hum of business began to die away.  The wheels of industry moved sluggishly. The sinews of trade were cut; and ere long every citizen experienced the effects of a wide-spread embarrassment. And soon, from loss of confidence and loss of trade, from fires and epidemics, Vicksburg became but the shadow of its former self. Its wealth had taken to itself wings like an eagle, and had fled. The gay and busy multitude that once thronged its streets had faded away.  They slept their last sleep on the bleak hillside after life's fitful fever was over. "Lord, what is man! His days are as grass. As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more, forever."



Let us take a brief glance at another "picture from life in Vicksburg." We pass over the years of 1838 and 1839, down to 1840. But the gloomy fall of 1841, who can forget it, who can describe it? It was the great yellow fever year. If an invading army had suddenly burst upon the town, the panic could not have been more terrible or the effects more desolating. Disease and death entered almost every dwelling. For six long weeks we bore the dead to the grave in almost one continuous stream. The shafts of the pestilence flew thick and fast. And the fairest were the first to fall. The maiden was cut down in her bloom and beauty, the young man in the midst of his pleasures; the old man and the man of influence, the learned counselor and the eloquent orator. Death tore away the props of families, removed the ornaments of the State, broke down the pillars of the church, and clad our city in lamentation and woe, leaving behind weeping widows and desolate orphans. Then, upon a damp and chilly Sabbath morning in November, with a heart almost broken with the afflictions of the people, I staggered to the church, and in the audience of sixty-four men (all told), and not a female in the house, I spoke from these words of St. Paul: "But this I say, brethren, the time is short. It remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passeth away."


Turn over to another tragedy in the Walnut Hill city. Vicksburg had been, for some years before the season of yellow fever, the seat of the gamblers. The formidable gang of the Murell men, which had pervaded the entire State, had been dispersed. Murell, their ringleader, had been incarcerated in the penitentiary at Nashville, and hordes of horse-thieves and negro-stealers had been broken up. Then another formidable cloud arose. Fierce and lawless men, but of polished manners, who had been increasing in numbers and power in the young city of Vicksburg, had attracted the notice of the people of the great South, and had even called down the animadversions of members of the British Parliament. Gamblers ruled the day. Gambling-tables had usurped the place of law and set peaceful citizens at defiance. Suddenly the mass of quiet and law-abiding men, who loved their property and their families, arose in their armed majesty, and, after the outlaws had killed Dr. Bodley, they seized the ringleaders, put some on flatboats and set them adrift on the Mississippi, and dragging five of the remaining number to a neighboring hill, improvised a long gallows, hung them by the neck until they were dead, and buried them in unhallowed graves. Then, for a time, the place had peace. 


Next arose the reign of the duello. Almost "every man had his little game." Every one had his duel. Rival lovers had their duel. Almost every dispute was settled by a duel. Foote and Prentiss had their duel. Haagan and McCardle had their duel. There were duels of pastime and duels of etiquette. Aikenhead and Flaherty fought about the right mode of preparing Irish potatoes for the dinner-table. Chilton and Harris left the Odd Fellow's lodge when in session, crossed the river, and fought.  General Foote and S. S. Prentiss had another awkward duel; and so crooked was the general's firing, that Prentiss cried out to the little boys on the trees that overhung the ground, "Boys, look out, or you will be hit. General Foote can't shoot straight. He has missed me three times." Lastly, there were some who became celebrated surgeons or famous seconds to duels.  Dr. Green was tall and gaunt. He seemed to me far above six feet high, solemn and grim at that: " The fiend was long, and lean, and lank, And moved upon a spindle shank." But because of his skill in loading rifles for duels, Prentiss dubbed him "Death's ramrod." Thus, from grave to gay, swung the popular current.  The last serious affair of the kind, to which I would now advert, was the celebrated duel between Col. A. K. McClung and Major Menifee, opposite the city, in November, 1838. Col. McClung was a nephew of Chief Justice Marshall, and was a famous duelist, skilled to perfection in deadly weapons, had killed Col. Allen, of Brandon, and, after many encounters of the kind, finally committed suicide.

A challenge was passed and accepted between the parties. Great preparations were made. Fresh dueling weapons were ordered from New Orleans. Sporting men came in crowds from Jackson, Brandon, and the interior towns. Bets were freely made and accepted. The hills around the fatal spot were covered with thousands of spectators. At the hour appointed the parties took their position, the word was given, the parties fired, and Menifee fell. McClung fled to the interior. Major Menifee was buried on Friday.

What is the law of Mississippi? The challenger, or bearer of a challenge, is prohibited from holding any office of trust, and is liable to six months' imprisonment, and a fine of one thousand dollars.  All justices of the peace are required to give testimony against duelists, and the survivors in a duel required to pay the debts of the man killed.