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WPA Slave Narratives for Chicot County

Between 1936 and 1938 the Federal Writers’ Project collected over 2,000 oral histories with former slaves. While Arkansas collected more histories than any other state, no interviews were collected in Chicot County. However, six narratives taken in cities across Arkansas are by former Chicot County slaves (or their children):  Fanny JohnsonNannie MaddenJames MorganLucretia AlexanderNannie Jones, and Mattie Nelson. A seventh narrative by a former Chicot County resident, William Lattimore, describes his move from Mississippi to Arkansas.

Fanny Johnson was 76 years old in 1936 when she was interviewed at her daughter’s house in Hot Springs. She recalled she was a 5 years old slave on the Woodfork Place near Grand Lake when the Civil War started. Her parents were born in Maryland and were brought to Nashville, TN by Woodfork, who owned several plantations throughout the South. Fortunate for her family, Woodfork “didn’t believe in separating families.” The overseer on their plantation was good to them “most of the time.” She recalled “Just once did anybody on the Woodfork place get whipped” unlike at the plantation next door. There the overseer could be mean with the whip. She stated “Why you could hear the sound of the strap…the ‘niggah drivah’ would stand and hit them with a wide strap…Some they whipped so hard they had to carry them in.”

Fanny was too young to work in the fields during slavery, but she helped her grandmother take care of babies while the women work in the fields.

After the war, they were taken (presumably by Federal troops) to the The Bend, Jefferson Davis’ former plantation near Vicksburg. She later returned to Arkansas, living and working in Jefferson County and in Oklahoma. She also worked as a cook in tourist towns like Eureka Springs and Hot Springs.

First page of Fanny Johnson's WPA Interview

First page of Fanny Johnson’s WPA Interview

Nannie Madden, interviewed in West Memphis at age 69, was born in Lake Village in 1867, just after slavery. It’s not clear from her narrative, where her parents were enslaved. Her father served in the Union Army, and after the war rented a farm at Red Leaf Plantation, then managed by Isaac M. Worthington. Her mother died there in 1876 and her father died in West Memphis at another daughter’s house at age 88. She stated, “I farmed and worked all my life.” Nannie recommended Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Booker T. Washington’s Own Story of His Life and Work,and a biography, The Master Mind of a Child of Slavery–Booker T. Washington by Frederick E. Drinker.

James Morganinterviewed in Little Rock, was born in Chicot County in 1873. His father, Aaron Morgan, was brought to Chicot County as a slave by his master, Charles McDermott. Morgan believed his father and mother were brought here from Georgia and South Carolina, but the 1880 Census shows Aaron and Rosa Morgan were both born in Louisiana–where Charles McDermott was from. His mother’s first husband was sold during slavery and Aaron and Rosa met after freedom. Once free, Aaron stayed on the McDermott plantation and sharecropped. Later, according to James, Aaron bought 160 acres of government land for $1.60, and “built a house and cleared it up.”

Morgan worked 35 years on the Missouri Pacific Railroad; 22 years as a foreman. He retired in 1932 and received a pension from the government for his work on the railroad.

Lucretia Alexander, interviewed in Little Rock at age 89, was a 12 year old slave on the Rossmere Plantation in Chicot County when the Civil War began. She was born in Copiah County near Hazelhurst, Mississippi and arrived at Rossmere when she was “six or eight years old.” She remembered the plantation’s four overseers by name. The last overseer, Tom Phipps, was “mean…mean as he could be.” She recalled, “I’ve seen him take them down and whip them till the blood run out of them.” Once, he whipped her and “aimed to kill.” Protected by her mistress, Susan Chapman [Read], Phipps was run off the plantation.

Lucretia’s mother and father were both born in Virginia. Her mother, Agnes Toliver, “was treated well during slavery times”; but her father was sold five times, because he “would take nothin’.” Later, Lucretia’s mistress purchased him for $1500 without ever seeing him.

During the Civil War her mother stayed on the plantation because her children had been “refugeed…off to different places to keep them from the Yankees.” Lucretia’s brother returned in 1865, but she did not see her sister until 1869.

When freedom came they were told “You’re free as I am” by a Union soldier.  She recalled, “old colored folks…that was on sticks, throwed them sticks away and shouted.”

After the Civil War, Lucretia stayed on the Rossmere Plantation for about 4 years and was paid $12 per month, plus food and cloth. Next she worked in the fields, making more money. Around 1923, she moved to Little Rock. She stated, “I have been a widow for thirty years. I washed and ironed and plowed and hoed–everything. Now I am gittin’ so I ain’t able to do nothin’ and the Relief keeps me alive…I used to take a little boy and make ten bales of cotton. I can’t do it now. I used to be a woman in my day. I am my mother’s seventh child.”

Nannie Jones was 81 years old when interviewed at her home in Pine Bluff. Living at Dr. Gaines’ Plantation, she was only 4 years old when the Civil War started. She remembered being a cute little girl around the house…”a pet.” But when freedom came, she recalled people “jumped up and down and carried on.” Her mother was sold down river from Kentucky, but died when Jones was small. Her father likely fought for the Union Army for a short time. As an adult she worked “in the field and anywhere. I worked like man.”

Nannie Jones: “My father went to war on one side but he didn’t stay very long.”

Mattie Nelson was 72 years old when she was interviewed in Pine Bluff. She was born around 1865 during her family’s “emigration” from Texas. Her unnamed parents were enslaved by the Chapmans — Johnson and Elizabeth Chapman. The Chapmans, like many slaveholders in Arkansas trying to protect their property, took slaves to Texas in 1863. Mattie remembered “I member when I was a child mistress used to be so good to us. After surrender my parents stayed on there with the Chapmans…til they died.”

While her parents were illiterate, Mattie went to school. But still work called. Mattie began working at age six, rolling logs and cleaning up new ground.

Without her maiden name or her parents’ names, it was difficult to find more about her. However in the 1940 Census, she is still living in Pine Bluff.  The 75 year old is a widow and taking care of her grandson, Fred Burt, age 9.

William Lattimore, 78 years old when interviewed in Pine Bluff, likely only spent a few years in Chicot County. He was born in Canton, Mississippi in 1859. He remembered Yankees soldiers’ arrival in Canton during the siege of Jackson in 1863. His father joined Col Ziegler’s 52nd US Colored Infantry that year.

After the Civil War, the family moved to Vicksburg and shunned an opportunity to return to their old plantation. He remembered “Mr. Lattimore [old master] came and wanted my father to live with him…before the surrender old master whipped my father over the head with a walking stick…and I was afraid he would whip him again.”

William went to school after freedom and went until he married. It’s difficult to piece together a concise timeline. However, he moved to Arkansas, first Chicot County and then Jefferson County. He became a school director at 18 and was elected justice of the peace (probably in Jefferson County).

There were three men with the last name Lattimore in Company G of the 52nd USCI–Reuben, Hilliard, and William. In the 1930 Census, a 65 year old William Latimer [sic] of Pine Bluff lists his father’s birthplace as Virginia. According to service records, Hilliard Lattimore was born in Virginia. However, in the 1900 Census a William Latimore in Chicot County, born in Mississippi in 1852, lists his father as born in Tennessee. The William Lattimore that served was born in Davidson, Tennessee. Further research into the soliders’ pension files would lead to more information.

The full text of most of the WPA slave narratives are available on the Library of Congress’s Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938.



Belmont Plantation House: Some Facts

Belmont LOC

1936 HABS Photograph, Library of Congress

When cotton prices rose in the 1850s, Delta planters like the Worthingtons and Johnsons built mansions like Belmont, Mount Holly, Willoughby and the Lakeport Plantation. While we have lost Leota (1883), Willoughby (1932) and Mount Holly (2015), Belmont and Lakeport still stand. Lakeport is restored and owned by Arkansas State University; and Belmont has new owners with grand plans for the 1857 home.  Below are a few  facts about the Belmont Plantation.
    • Belmont was built around 1857 for Dr. William W. Worthington (1802-1886) and Elizabeth (Stringer) Worthington along American Bend on the Mississippi River. The next year that bend would become Lake Lee.
    • Belmont’s name may have been derived from Belle Island, the island plantation surrounded by American Bend (later Lake Lee) and the Mississippi River. Belle Island was owned by Judge Benjamin Johnson was a native Kentuckian who became one of Arkansas’s Territorial judges in 1821.
    • The dominant architecture of the house is Greek Revival. However, Italianate brackets along the cornice and pediment show architectural tastes were in transition.
    • Belmont and Lakeport both feature double galleried, three-bay projecting porticos.

  • Belmont has some of the finest plaster work in Mississippi.
  • The entry medallion at Belmont is nearly identical to the the medallion at Lakeport.
  • William Worthington was one of four brothers from Muhlenberg County, Kentucky who settled in the Delta (AR & MS) in the 1820s and 1830s.
  • The land on which Belmont was constructed was originally owned by Alexander G. McNutt, who served as Mississippi Governor from 1838-1842. The land was later purchased by William’s brother, Samuel Worthington. William purchased the land from his brother in 1855 and then constructed Belmont around 1857.
  • Samuel Worthington built the Willoughby (Wayside) Plantation to the southwest of Belmont in 1858. Samuel’s daughter, Amanda Worthington, penned her diary there during the Civil War.
  • There is strong evidence that the same builders from Madison, Indiana constructed Belmont (1857), Willoughby (1858), and Lakeport (1859). The same evidence suggests the builders also built a home at Leota (likely for Isaac Worthington’s widow) and another at Grand Lake, Chicot County, Arkansas.
  • Samuel’s Willoughby Plantation home, then vacant, was razed in 1932 for the expansion of the levee. Samuel’s son estimated it cost $35,000 to build and furnish the Willoughby home.
  • Isaac Worthington and his wife, Anne Taylor Worthington, settled at Leota. The Leota home fell into the Mississippi river in 1883. Anne was the sister of Lydia Taylor Johnson at Lakeport.
  • Anne Taylor Worthington’s house at Leota was, according to a 1936 newspaper article, “a handsome two-story brick home facing the river [built] exactly like Belmont except that it had two wings whereas Belmont has only one.”
  • Elisha Worthington, who settled in Chicot County, was the largest planter in Arkansas. His prized Sunnyside Plantation also had a large home. One newspaper report described it as “magnificent,” but little else is known about it.
  • The 1860 Census for Washington County is missing (as are the county’s 1850s tax records), however in 1855 William Worthington owned 80 enslaved laborers. His holdings most likely increased during the next six years until the Civil War began.
  • During the Civil War, from 1863-1865, supply rich plantations like Belmont were often raided by troops to feed and supply the Union Army operating in the Lower Mississippi Valley.
  • North of Belmont, in the winding Greenville Bends, Confederates often attacked Union transports and gunboats. This prompted retaliation on planters and plantations along the Bends, including the burning of Old Greenville in 1864.
  • The Worthingtons owned the home and land until 1929.
  • Belmont was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1936. The HABS photographs are in the Library of Congress.
    094144pv_Belmont Interior

    1936 HABS Interior Photograph, Library of Congress

  • The Weathers family soon acquired the house and owned it until the mid-1940s.
  • In 1946, Belmont became the home of the Belmont Hunting Club. 
  • Most of the changes to Belmont in the upstairs and in the north parlor took place in the 1990s during the ownership of Fernando Cuquet, Jr.
  • Added to the National Register in 1972, Clinton Bagley’s nomination text is the best source of history on Belmont.
Fact sheet created November 2015 by Blake Wintory of the Lakeport Plantation, an Arkansas State University Heritage Site — lakeport.astate.edu. Updated 05/04/2016


Craftsmen in Chicot County 1860-1870: A Brief Look

Advertisements for architect/builder and a painter/paper-hanger in The Chicot Press, February 26 1870

In an 1870 Chicot County newspaper two craftsmen advertise their services. Architect and builder J.W. Trawick is an “Architect and Builder” at “Luna, Ark.” He “solicits contracts for buildings of every style, and will promptly perform all work in his line.” Your “Satisfaction is guaranteed” he states confidently. In  the 1870 Census, Trawick is listed as a thirty-four year old carpenter. Living at Luna Landing, he was born in North Carolina, as was Jane (sp?), his thirty-three year old wife.

John Barnes, a “Painter, Paper-hanger and Glazier” also advertised his services. Barnes offered a more verbose and sweeping guarantee: “All work done by him warranted to give entire satisfaction, and to be as good as any done in the South.” In the 1870 Census, Barnes is a thirty year old painter. Living at Lake Village, he was born in Illinois; his wife, Mary Jane, age eighteen, was a native Arkansan.

Ten years earlier in 1860, Barnes is a twenty-three year old painter; listed this time in the Census as a Indiana native. In 1860, he shared a Lake Village residence with several other craftsmen:

  • Charles Pearcy, 29 year old bricklayer, born in Kentucky
    • Margaret Pearcy, 18, born in Tennessee
      • Charles H, 4, born in Mississippi
      • Richard, 4 months old, born in Arkansas
  • Isaac Norton, 25 year old bricklayer, born in New York
  • George Rundle, 23 year old painter, born in Virginia

Living next door the bricklayers and painters in 1860 is Andrew J. Herod, a mechanic (builder). Herod was in Chicot County as early as 1858 and likely arrived in Lake Village to help build the new county seat. He advertised his services in the January 17, 1861 Chicot Press— the only antebellum Chicot County paper known to survive. Like Trawick, a decade earlier, Herod styled himself a “Architect and Builder.” He

SOLICITS contracts for buildings of every style. He is also prepared to furnish Designs, Estimates, and Perspective Drawings of all the modern orders of architecture: build, measure, superintend, and furnish working plans for building at modest prices.

 Herod, a Mississippi native, was later appointed Mississippi’s State Architect by Governor Benjamin G. Humphreys in 1865. However, little is known about Herod, and by 1870 he was farming in Yazoo County, Mississippi.

The Chicot Press, January 17, 1861

Above Herod’s 1861 advertisement is an ad for A & E Molero, Plain and Ornamental Plasters and Cistern Builder. In the 1860 Census, Edward and William Molero are English born plasters, likely brothers, ages twenty-six and thirty-five. They are living in the Packet House Hotel with a number of Lake Village notables (lawyers, a printer, a merchant, a mechanic/builder and a physician), including Daniel H. Reynolds and William B. Street. A year later the British-born plasterers had been recruited into Reynolds’ Chicot Rangers. The Moleros settled in Meridian, Mississippi, where Edward appears in the 1870 Census and William in the 1910 Census.

Other building tradesmen residing in downtown Lake Village in 1860:
 
John T. McMurray, 23, painter, born in Jamaica, Residing at the Parker House Hotel.
Daniel B. Miles, 22, bricklayer, born in Mississippi.  Residing next door to the Parker 
     House Hotel with his wife, Arthenia Miles, 22
 
John C. C. Bayne, 30, painter, born in Georgia.  Living with his family. 
      sometime between 1857 and 1860]
            Margaret Bayne, 24, born in Alabama
            Charles J. Bayne, 6, born in Mississippi
            George Bayne, 3, born in Mississippi 
 
Thomas Bateman, 20, bricklayer, born in England.  Living at the Buck Horn Hotel, John
      Hunnicutt, Innkeeper








“Mexican Tamale” Recipe, Lake Village M. E. Church South Cook Book, ca 1920

Mrs. C. B. Cornell’s “Mexican Tamale” Recipe

Just in time for this weekend’s Hot Tamale Festival in Greenville…a ca. 1920 recipe for “Mexican Tamales”

This recipe appears in a cookbook published by the Lake Village Methodist Episcopal Church South (today’s Lakeside United Methodist Church), around 1920.  The cookbook is part of the Arkansas Cookbook Collection at the Special Collections at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Anybody know who Mrs. C.B. Cornell was? She was living in Lake Village as late as 1946.

I wonder how these “Mexican Tamales” compare to Mrs. Rhoda’s Hot Tamales?



Gifts of 2012

The Season of giving is the perfect time to reflect on the gifts Lakeport has received in 2012.

In April Lakeport received nineteen of the original balusters that had been removed and placed in Helen Epstein Kantor’s Greenville home ca 1950. Read more about the balusters in the post:  Balusters Return to Lakeport!

Balusters in Kantor house, 2008

In June Richard M. Johnson, brought Lakeport a number of goodies for a long-term loan. We received several books; Two books, from the 1830s, belonged to Richard’s great-grandfather Lycurgus L. Johnson; the remainder of the books belonged to Richard’s grandfather, Dr. Victor M. Johnson and included medical texts, a bee keeping manual, and literary volumes. Richard also brought Lakeport his grandmother Martha Johnson’s beaten biscuit maker, his grandfather’s bee foundation maker, and a cradle that was in use in the family from the 1870s into the 1970s. Richard also donated a love seat which needs restoration.

In September, during the opening of our exhibits, we received several donations.

Cat Johnson Pearsall, daughter of Robley Johnson, donated her father’s baby book, family newspaper clippings and her father’s final written memories of Lakeport. Inside her father’s baby book we found a lock of young Robley’s hair and his first photo from Thanksgiving Day 1908 in Greenville, Mississippi.

Victor & Martha Johnson with son Robley, Thanksgiving Day, 1908, Greenville, Miss.

The 1908 photo’s location in Greenville has proved a bit of a mystery. There seems to be an iconic rose window in the background that might be a church. Victor and Martha were introduced at the First Christian Church in Greenville, a church his sisters Linnie Johnson and Annie Johnson Starling founded. But the structure in the background doesn’t seem to resemble known images of the Christian Church (like this one at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History) or any other turn of the century church in Greenville.


Bill Gamble, a Greenville resident and a descendant of Lyne Starling, donated Lyne’s 1871 Yale Yearbook. The Starlings, led by William Starling, purchased Sunnyside Plantation in 1868. Lyne’s brother Charles also attended Yale that year and married Annie Johnson at Lakeport in 1878. You can read about their sister Lollie’s memories of Lakeport in the post Laura (Lollie) P. Starling (1854-1946).

On a related note: Ben & Phyllis Starling, residents of Botha, Alberta and descendants of Charles Starling, donated William Starling’s Civil War notebook and surveyor’s hand level (ca. 1863).

Finally, two portraits were shared with Lakeport.  One is a portrait of Sam Epstein, who bought Lakeport in 1927 from Victor Johnson. It is on loan to Lakeport from Lynda Festinger White, grand daughter of Mr. Epstein.

Sam Epstein, ca. 1940

Ed Warren, grand nephew of Frank H. Dantzler, Jr. donated the portrait of Mr. Dantzler’s mother, Julia Drake Dantzler. The portrait hung at Lakeport while Mr. Dantlzer managed Lakeport from 1927-1950 (Dantzler partly owned Lakeport between 1927-1940).

Julia Drake Dantzler, mother of Frank Dantzler, Jr., ca. 1880

Thank you to all the donors in 2012 and years past! Donations deepen our understanding of Lakeport’s history and create a richer experience for visitors.



A Stroll through downtown Warren, Arkansas

After a meeting in Warren (Bradley County), I had the chance to stroll around downtown Warren.  I was impressed with how much of its historic fabric is still intact.

The courthouse is an impressive two-story structure designed in 1903 by Little Rock architect Frank W. Gibb.  The National Register form on AHPP’s website describes the building as :
 an impressive two-story brick structure with towers.  Distinctive features of the building include brick quoins arched windows with keystones, gauged brick voussoirs, denticulated cornices, and the usage of two colors of brick.  A cut-stone water table extends around the entire building.  The most distinctive feature of the building is the clock tower located on the southwest corner.  The main body of the tower is two-and-one-half stories with a four-faced clock located atop.  Centered above the clock is a cupola featuring archways, denticulated cornice and a hexagonal roof. 


Near the courthouse are two Art Deco style buildings, the 1931 Warren Municipal Building and the 1948  Warren YMCA (now the Donald W. Reynolds YMCA after a 2005 remodeling and expansion).

Warren Municipal Building

Warren YMCA / Donald W. Reynolds YMCA

Two other bulding that caught my eye were the First State Bank of Warren (1927) and the Bailey House (ca. 1900).  The Bailey house, built for a local druggist, has a unique cupola and other Victorian features. AHPP’s description of the Bailey house claims it “is one of the most architecturally interesting residential structures in south Arkansas.” The First State Bank of Warren struck me with its proportioned neo-classical architecture and the watchful eagle perched atop the building.  First State Bank does not appear to be on the National Register.

Bailey House

First State Bank of Warren

There are many other historic buildings in downtown Warren.  AHPP’s website lists 13 buildings that are on the National Register, so you can explore more there.  Luckily, in July 2012, AHPP will hold a Walks in History Tour and we’ll be able to learn more.

Walks in History Tour sponsored by Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

July 14, 2012 – Historic Downtown Warren

Historic Downtown Warren. In 1880 Warren, the Bradley County seat, became the western terminus of the Ouachita Division of the Little Rock, Mississippi River & Texas Railroad, providing a reliable means of transportation for the town’s vast timber resources. A multitude of small lumber mills operated in Warren and Bradley County in the 1880s, but the industry was later dominated by large mills like the Southern Lumber Company and the Arkansas Lumber Company. The aforementioned companies partnered in 1899 to build the short-line Warren & Ouachita Valley Railroad from Warren to Banks to aid in the shipping of timber. Warren is also the self-proclaimed “Pink Tomato Capital of the World,” hosting the Pink Tomato Festival each June. The tour group will meet at the Dr. John Wilson Martin House at 200 Ash St. Co-sponsored by the Bradley County Historical Museum.


Courthouse Records: Lycurgus Johnson to Lydia Taylor

The marriage of  Lycurgus Johnson, age 24, and Lydia Taylor, age 19, on June 13, 1842 is recorded in county records at the Chicot County Courthouse.  The marriage was officiated by Lycurgus’ uncle, Benjamin Johnson, who was the Federal Judge for the District of Arkansas.

Lydia Taylor was the daughter of Col. Benjamin Taylor.  Col. Taylor was among the Kentucky kinsmen who began buying Arkansas land in the 1830s.  He had four daughters, Ann Taylor Johnson Worthington (widow of Lycurgus’ uncle James Johnson before marrying Isaac Worthington), Mary Jane Taylor Cable, Lydia Taylor Johnson, and Theodosia Taylor Sessions.  Col. Taylor died in 1850 when he and his horse were swept away and drowned during a rainstorm.  He is buried in Lexington Cemetery.

Lycurgus and Lydia had twelve children during their marriage:

1. Joel Johnson, born May 16, 1843, died Dec. 30, 1847
2. Benjamin Taylor Johnson, born March 25, 1845, died Jan. 8, 1848
3. John Henry Johnson, born Oct. 23, 1846, died Dec. 20, 1847

4. Mary J. Johnson, born October 21, 1848
5. Linnie Johnson, born September 12, 1850
6. Theodore Johnson, born May 6, 1852
7. Annie Johnson, born April 25, 1854
8. Cave J. Johnson, born February 13, 1856
9. Walter L. Johnson, born January 8, 1858
10. Julia J. Johnson, born July 12, 1860, died November 1, 1869
11. Victor M. Johnson, born February 17, 1863
12. Cable Johnson, born March 15, 1865, died August 5, 1867


Except for one, all the children, were born in Chicot County, Arkansas at the Florence Plantation or Lakeport Plantation.  Linnie Johnson was born in Lexington, Kentucky in September, where the family spent their summers. The couple’s first three children died within three weeks of each other at the Florence Plantation in Arkansas.  Mostly likely the cause of their early deaths was a cholera, yellow fever or influenza epidemic.  Those three children are buried at the Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.  The two children who died at Lakeport Plantation after the Civil War, Cable (d. 1867) and Julia (d. 1869) are buried at Lakeport.  Lydia and Lycurgus are both buried in the Frankfort Cemetery near Lycurgus’ father, Joel.  It is unclear where Lycurgus’ mother, Verlinda Claggett Offutt (1795-1868), is buried.  There is no marker for her at Frankfort Cemetery and she’s not listed on Joel’s obelisk marker.



Another Season of Cotton

One of things that makes Lakeport special is the continued cultivation of cotton around the home.  With the home still in its original surroundings, its link to the past is ever-present.  In 1831, Joel Johnson left Scott County, Kentucky with 23 enslaved laborers for Chicot County.  The enslaved laborers slowly carved a plantation out of bottomland hardwood forests.  By 1850 the Lakeport estate contained 4,013 acres, 132 slaves, 20 horses, 34 mules, and 85 cattle.  It produced 4,000 bushels of corn, 475 bales of cotton (400 lb), 300 bushels of potatoes, 300 bushels of sweet potatoes, and 20 bushels of peas and beans.  

Green Fields of Cotton, July 22, 2010

The fields of cotton provide a beautiful backdrop to Lakeport and its agricultural history, but we should also think about how much Lakeport changed in the past 160 years; Plantations are no longer diversified centers of agriculture.  Lakeport is strictly in cotton now.  There are no mules, horses, or oxen and no corn is grown to feed those beasts of burden.  And rather than grow their own food, cotton farmers today likely buy their food at grocery stores like Sunflower or Yee’s Food Land in Lake Village.  Cotton plantations have also gone through several stages:  slave-based labor to sharecropping and tenant system to mechanization today. Where it took hundreds of laborers and animals to grow a season of cotton in 1850, today it requires a handful of workers, plus tractors, fuel, and cropper dusters that spray for pests and the defoliants that reveal the white bolls of cotton that we see in September.

Cotton Picking, September 16, 2010
Crop picked and half the field brush hogged, September 20, 2010 



Laura (Lollie) P. Starling (1854-1946)

Lollie Starling, ca. 1930. Photo Courtesy Margaret Hink Starling,
Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada.
Lollie Starling came to Chicot County from Kentucky after her father, William Starling, purchased the Sunnyside Plantation in 1868. In her “Memories,” Lollie describes details of the Lakeport home and the marriage of her brother, Charles, to Annie Taylor Johnson at Lakeport in October 1878. After the sale of Sunnyside to the Calhoun Land Company in 1881, the Starlings moved to Greenville, Miss. Her brother Charles and his family moved to Canada in 1908. Lollie later moved back to Kentucky writing many letters to family in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Canada.


Lakeport Selection from Memories of Laura P. Starling
The Johnson home at Lakeport, Arkansas, was really a beautiful home. Mr. & Mrs. Jonson had built it to suit themselves, soon after they were married. There was a long broad hall opening into a reception room at the back. In this room there was a lovely bay window that made it a beautiful room for entertaining. Several wedding ceremonies were performed here (Cave’s mother and father were married in this room).

[Lollie is referring to the marriage of her brother Charles Starling to Annie Taylor Johnson and their son Cave Johnson Starling (b. 1885 in Greenville)]

A very large parlor and family dining room were on the left side of the hall. Cave’s father made the punkah (swinging fly brush used over the dining room table). The parlor had beautiful brasses and a very handsome velvet carpet, Aubusson, I think–that Mrs. Johnson’s mother-in-law had used fifty years, then given it to Mrs. Johnson and she used it fifty years.

[Lollie discusses the South Parlor of the house, which is the most formal of the parlors. In this room portraits of Lydia and Lycurgus hung above the mantle (portraits were painted by William F. Cogswell in the mid-1850s). This is also one of the few references we have to floor covering in the house–possibly a French Aubusson carpet. Traditionally, floors were completely covered in antebellum and Victorian homes with carpets and floor cloths. We see evidence of carpet in many of the rooms (i.e. tack marks in the corner),as well as photographic evidence of the carpet that once went up the stairs. And, of course, we have the entire 15′ x 26′ floor cloth from the entry of the home.  

Update 12/11/12: Lollie may have remembered an Aubusson,  but  they are delicate carpets that would not be fitted to a room or tacked down.  Therefore, the tack marks in the South Parlor at Lakeport would have been for a fitted carpet such as a Wilton (cut pile) or Brussels (loop pile).  

Lollie also makes the only known reference to a “punkah” in Lakeport’s dining room. You can still see “the swinging fly brush” at many antebellum homes in Natchez. Lakeport’s punkah is gone, but evidence of its installation was found in the ceiling during restoration.]




Recent Media


A few items related to Lakeport and history in general appeared in the media recently.


First, the Log Cabin Democrat (Conway, AR) published a little story about the restoration of our piano back on June 29.

Second, that story was picked up by the AP and republished in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (behind pay wall) on Sunday in the Little Rock edition and today (Monday, July 12) in the state edition. The stories are essentially the same, with some minor editing by the AP. The one thing they didn’t fix is the wrong date for the construction of Lakeport. It’s 1858/1859, people. That time frame is based on historical documents and dendrochronology of the large beams in the attic. I have not idea where they got the 1856 date.

Third, the Sunday Democrat-Gazette (paywall, but see link to text in the bibliography) published an interesting guest column titled “‘Historical truths’ not always based in fact” by Elliott West, a Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. The column is a response to a July 6 column by Mike Masterson, opinion editor of the NW Arkansas edition, titled “Deconstructing history.” The issue on the table for Masterson is the historical relationship between African Americans and the Democratic Party. Masterson recites arguments based on “historical facts” he heard recited by a speaker at the Arkansas African American GOP Caucus. The issue for West is Masterson’s understanding of history and “facts” and not checking if they are true or not. West writes, “The majority of the ‘historical truths’ in Masterson’s column are, to borrow his own opening words about what he has been taught, ‘incomplete, inadequate and just plain wrong’.”

Masterson’s agenda is to paint Democrats consistently on the wrong side of slavery and African American Civil Rights throughout history. Oversimplified political rhetoric like that does not make for good history. West, a world-class historian, catalogs Materson’s errors, half-truths and omissions. For instance, Masterson claims that the Missouri Compromise “reversed earlier abolition and allowed slavery in much of the federal territory.” West points out there was no government effort to end slavery, but the Compromise did forbid slavery in western federal territories north of Arkansas. Masterson’s errors of omission are just a egregious; while he notes the first African Americans elected to Congress were Republicans, he fails to mention “that Republicans almost wholly abandoned the interests of former slaves, and in the 1930s…the Democrats found it useful…to step up on their behalf…and most African Americas switched parties.”

The historical complexity of politics and racial allegiance applies to Arkansas as well. Of the 85 African Americans elected to Arkansas General Assembly in the 19th Century, only a handful were not Republicans–two Democrats and at least four Greenbackers. In 1874, Democrats “Redeemed” state government and ended Reconstruction, but blacks were still in representative government until the passage of the Election Law of 1891. The bill, passed largely on party lines, helped suppress black Republican votes and rural third parties like the Agricultural Wheel. After 1893 there were no African Americans elected to the General Assembly until the 1970s, when they were elected as Democrats.

The shift to the Democratic party began in the late 1920s with the formation of the Arkansas Negro Democratic Association. In the early 1920s, the Republican Party’s Lily White movement (which also reared it head in the 1890s) tried to force out black Republicans like Scipio Jones from the Arkansas Republican Convention. The exclusion of black delegates in 1920 led black Republicans to nominated their own gubernatorial candidate, John H. Blount, a Forrest City educator and former slave.

The founder of the Arkansas Negro Democratic Association, Dr. John M. Robinson, acknowledged his own ties to the Republican Party—his grandfather was a Republican and Robinson voted Republican all his life; however, Robinson, according to an Arkansas Gazette account, “expressed the opinion that after 60 years of proof of gratitude for ‘emancipation,’ the negroes of Arkansas now should be free to express their admiration for [Arkansas’s Democratic] Senator Joe T. Robinson.” The Preamble to the October 1928 Constitution and By-Laws and Order of Incorporation of the Arkansas Negro Democratic Association of Arkansas stated:


Based upon conclusions established by years of experience, it is the common understanding of the American people that government functions can be best promoted and maintained by or through political parities with well defined ideologies, and feelings that we have proved our loyalty and expressed our gratitude to the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln and that the day has arrived that the Negroes of this country must become more largely interested and integrated in all political faiths and creed, and feelings that those of who find ourselves in accord with political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson—the founder of the Democratic party—that shall take this method to declare our faith in and allegiance to the principle of the Democratic Party and in order to unite Negroes and promote continued service and activity, we have this day ordained and established this Constitution and By-Laws.


The ANDA’s 80 year old political rhetoric is a bit opaque, but it plays fewer games with facts and history than today’s rhetoric. Of course, the ANDA rhetoric was part of a larger political strategy to win back the right to vote and to do that within the only party that mattered in Post-Reconstruction Arkansas–the Democratic Party.

Parts of the history of the ANDA can be viewed at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center–a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage devoted to Arkansas African American History.

Bibliography

Dillard, Tom. “To the Back of the Elephant: Racial Conflict in the Republican Party,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 33 (Spring 1974), 11-12


Pulaski County Democratic Committee Scrapbooks, Book 4 in Arkansas History Commission.


Wintory, Blake J. “African American Legislators in the Arkansas General Assembly, 1868-1893,”
Arkansas Historical Quarterly 65 (Winter 2004): 385-434.


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