A Kentucky Planter, Part Five

dsc_0759

The Zion Baptist Church in Louisville has historic ties with the Taylor Family

These past few columns have focused on family of John and Mary Taylor who owned between 1840s through the Civil War, a palatial mansion, “Mauvilla”, at Westport, Ky. on 600 acres and a large frame home, “Hollywood”, on an 11,000 acre cotton plantation in Arkansas. The Taylors had ten children and reported over 200 slaves on tax records between their two estates in Kentucky and Arkansas. They travelled extensively between their two homes by steamboat on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

This Taylor story includes an association of connections between family Taylor members, their slaves and the descendants of all, cast within the web of this family’s enterprise. From this exploitation emerge the stories of two individuals, Robin Loucke, a great granddaughter and direct descendant of the Taylors, and Rev. W. H. Craighead, a man whose parents were enslaved by the Taylors at Westport. The following is a continuation of Craighead’s story from last week.

The Rev. W. H. Craighead and the Zion Baptist Church

Born in 1861, W. H. Craighead’s mother and father were enslaved laborers of John Martin and Mary Taylor at Mauvilla outside of Westport. Craighead learned to read and write at a “rural school” and developed a “consuming” desire to further his education. It is probable his education was from Elijah Marrs and his brother, H. C. Marrs who offered classes for children through the local colored First Baptist Church in LaGrange. From his narratives, Elijah stated they had 150 children that attended. Elijah Marrs, a former slave who recruited blacks to fight for the Union during the Civil War, was a leader for social justice and education. He risked his life many times to reach out to African Americans in rural communities against the threat of KKK activities.

Marrs was a faithful member of the association of The State Convention of Colored Baptist Churches which had been organized in 1865. This Association, initially comprised of 12 colored Baptist churches from across Kentucky, came together to support public and religious education initiatives and by 1869 there were over 12,260 members representing over 27 churches.

At the first meeting of the Convention, in 1865, Rev. Henry Adams, proposed a college be established for former enslaved people. The efforts for the college languished until 1879 when the Trustees of the Convention of the Colored Baptist Churches of Kentucky bought four acres in Louisville to serve as the campus. The first President of the Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute was Rev. Elijah Marrs. Marrs was replaced in 1980 by William Simmons who expanded the Institute that received state university status and was renamed the State University for Negroes (now Simmons University). These critical events were a beacon of opportunity for people like W. H. Craighead.

At the age of 25, W. H. Craighead moved to Louisville and found work at the home of Professor Hast who was a well-known music teacher. Craighead worked various odd jobs and enrolled in classes in the newly formed college. On May 24, 1895 a Courier-Journal column highlights commencement services for “four young colored men, G. T. Britt, W. H. Craighead, William Boren and I. S. Lair” of the State University’s College Department. The commencement, held at the Masonic Temple on 4th and Jefferson, was attended by 1500 people. G. T. Britt delivered the salutatory address followed by W. H. Craighead, “who discussed in a very instructive manner, ‘The Influence of Christianity Upon the World.’ Mr. Craighead was applauded often.”

At the time of this commencement Craighead had become the Rev. W. H. Craighead at the Zion Baptist Church. He had been preaching at a small church when the minister at Zion died unexpectedly and Craighead filled in. From there Craighead’s tenure lasted through the next 45 years. During those years Craighead helped grow the membership to 1200. He served on state and national boards for the Baptist Conventions. He was very proud that his church had the “the first Negro boy scout troop in Louisville” and that in the 1933 annual parade of the Jefferson County Sunday School Association, Zion Baptist Church had 300 children in the parade, receiving first honors. He also administered to those in need through his ministry. When orphaned children needed homes, he helped secure them; when the first man was electrocuted for murder, Craighead was with him and gave him requested Baptism and prayer before his execution.

Undeterred by the history of his past, Craighead offered the following: “There was a time when the Negroes and the whites were a bit uncertain about their attitude toward one another. That has passed and today, the colored people realize and appreciate the help and encouragement they receive from the white people.” On August 26, 1942 Craighead died at 80 years of age. His legacy was passed on at Zion Baptist Church which in later years became the site of many civil rights activities under the leadership of pastors such as A. D. Williams King who was Martin Luther King’s brother.
Note: These series of columns are written as a tribute to the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture which recently opened.

You can contact Nancy: nancystheiss@gmail.com

A Kentucky Cotton Planter, Part Four

Pb 1852 first page

This is taken from Rob Morris’s fictitious story about a the plight of a slave girl that defended her mistresses honor. These type of stories helped contribute to the growing resistance of enslaved laborers.

By 1850 the perfect storm came together for those in the bondage of slavery. The demand for cotton produced more than 60 percent of total exports in the United States. The invention of the cotton gin, the new cultivars of cotton that allowed greater harvest per slave, the internal slave labor laws, and cheap southern lands were some of the factors that contributed to the explosion of the cotton industry. By going internal, documentation of the slave trade was somewhat opaque. Tax reports only required a slave owner to list ages and genders of slaves. Slave names were not required and documents regarding slave sales and transactions are rare in historic records.

These past few columns have focused on family of John and Mary Taylor who owned between 1840s through the Civil War, a palatial mansion, “Mauvilla”, at Westport, Ky. on 600 acres and a large frame home, “Hollywood”, on an 11,000 acre cotton plantation in Arkansas. The Taylors had ten children and reported over 200 slaves on tax records between their two estates in Kentucky and Arkansas. They travelled extensively between their two homes by steamboat on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The Taylors came to their estates through a long line of family relationships. Mary’s stepfather, Peter Rives, was a land surveyor who took advantage of cheap land in Arkansas when the government offered large parcels derived from the forced removal of Native Americans. John Taylor’s kinfolk had settled in Oldham County, some receiving large parcels of land from military service. (According to a Taylor descendant, Benjamin Taylor, John’s sister, Hetty Hawes Taylor Gibson and her husband, William Mallory Gibson, lived nearby at Sligo.) Both John and Mary were from families that had held enslaved laborers throughout generations and were “accustomed” to having servants and field hands at their disposal.

This perfect storm created an irresistible economic opportunity. Large plantations operated by family’s like the Taylors, could expect annual incomes of a $250,000 (estimated at today’s inflated value) not to mention the values of their enslaved laborers (top dollar for “prime field hands” in 1850 was $1,600). Costal ports such as New Orleans had nearly quadrupled in population with the increased cotton production. By 1860 two billion pounds of cotton were produced in the United States. This industry reached far beyond the southern states by fueling the warehouse suppliers, markets and investors from the north. But once the cotton left the field it became “sanitized”, the cruel and unjust system of slavery that produced the cotton was ignored.
The prospect that a family operated a large cotton plantation in Arkansas by replenishing enslaved laborers from their farm and connections in Kentucky is understated. The family could cut out the middle man in the slave trade and rely upon family connections to replenish needed workers. This allowed for more control of the laborers by becoming more aware of the relationships between the slaves. Since these laborers were “undocumented” between the two states and only counted as numbers on tax records, accountability became seamless.

This Taylor story includes an association of connections between family Taylor members, their slaves and the descendants of all, cast within the web of this family’s enterprise. It serves as an example of the culture of the United States at a time when economics and social justice struggled under the umbrella of a new democracy. It took the personal suffering and sacrifices of the enslaved laborers, freedom seekers and abolitionists to question the exploitation of humans under the guise of democracy. From this exploitation emerge the stories of two individuals, Robin Loucke, a great granddaughter and direct descendant of the Taylors, and Rev. W. H. Craighead, a man whose parents were enslaved by the Taylors at Westport. Both demonstrate how the shackles from their past did not deter their efforts to strive for a just world where all people are valued.
The Rev. W. H. Craighead and the Zion Baptist Church

W.H. Craighead was born into slavery in 1861. His mother and father were enslaved laborers of John Martin and Mary Taylor at Mauvilla outside of Westport. In an article from the Courier Journal (1937) he stated the following: “My mother told me I was born in 1861 on the Taylor plantation in Westport. I have only a very faint memory of the days of the War Between the States. I do recall, however, an older brother, who became a drummer in the army, rattling on the bottom of a tin bucket that we children might march in step. When it comes to my mother, my recollections are most vivid. She never had any schooling and could neither read nor write; but she was a rather remarkable woman. As an expert housemaid in the Taylor home, she was at all times in close contact with the white people. There she absorbed all of the better things which the leisurely life in a cultured home could give. She was really well educated in many of the little niceties of life.”

Note: These series of columns are written as a tribute to the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture which recently opened.
You can contact Nancy: nancystheiss@gmail.com

A Kentucky Cotton Planter, Part Three

taylor-gravestone

Commodore Taylor was John Martin Taylor’s Great Uncle. There are many Taylor family members that settled in Oldham County after the Revolutionary War. Most was slave owners and brought these enslaved laborers with them when they came to Kentucky.

This column continues with the story of Dr. John Martin Taylor (1819-1884) and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Robertson Rives Taylor (1824-1868). The Taylor’s owned a palatial 18 room brick mansion called “Mauvilla” by the Ohio River close to Westport from 1855 to 1878 (which was razed in the 1950s) as well as a very large dogtrot log home (recently purchased by the University of Arkansas) by Bayou Bartholomew in close proximity to the Mississippi River. The couple along with their children and enslaved laborers, traveled back and forth by steamboat, several times a year between their homes. In May this year, I travelled to the Arkansas site and met with the Drew County Historical Society, a Taylor descendant, Robin Loucks, and staff from the University of Arkansas which included archaeologist, Dr. Jodi Barnes. There are many interesting aspects of this family that are insightful to life in the Antebellum South and their homes in Kentucky and Arkansas.

The economics of this family was driven by the increased demand for cotton that gave highly lucrative returns on investments. The textile industry in Great Britain was at an all-time high by the mid-19th century with 75% of the cotton produced coming from the southern cotton fields in the United States. Increased output in the South was pushed by several factors such as the invention of the cotton gin, new cultivars of the cotton plant, enslaved laborers and cheap land.
The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 separated the seeds from the cotton fiber so less labor was needed to pick out the seeds and could be redirected toward field production. Another aspect of cotton production was new cultivars of the plant. The new cultivars of cotton plants grew higher so that laborers could pick easier and faster, without having to bend down over the plants. The term “high cotton”, often used as referring to the “good life”, came from the enslaved laborers who appreciated the taller cotton plants that were easier to pick.

The cheap land was provided by the federal government through the forced migrations of Native Americans from the South by establishing a systems of reservations west of the Mississippi River. The push for this forced migration came primarily from Andrew Jackson.

Even before Jackson was elected President of the United States in 1828 he had been a major proponent of Indian removal in the southern United States. He had previously led military forces that resulted in acquisition of lands from the Creek Indians in Alabama and Georgia. Jackson’s authorized raids on the Seminole Indians, accused of harboring fugitive slaves, in what is now part of Florida, influenced the sale of the Spanish held 22 million acres to the U. S. Two years after Jackson took office as President he was able to influence Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This act allowed for the government to survey, divide and auction off millions of acres at bottom low prices. Owning a large plantation became a reality for many with little means. The rich delta lands along the fertile soils of the Mississippi Delta cost pennies per acre.

Mary Elizabeth’s stepfather, Peter Gilman Rives (b. 1793 in Virginia) followed land sales and became a land surveyor taking advantage of the government tracts of land available in Arkansas which was still wilderness land until reaching statehood in 1836. Rives was attracted to the rich soils along the Mississippi River in Drew, Desha and Lincoln Counties. This included the world’s longest bayou, Bayou Bartholomew that ran parallel to the Mississippi River. The Bayou, stretching 364 miles, became the most the important inland stream in the interior Delta until the advent of the railroad. Cotton and timber could be easily transported to the Mississippi River to the markets in New Orleans.

Rives patented large parcels of land through partnerships such as his association with the American Land Company. He cleared a parcel of land and built a small log cabin where he could operate from and farm. By the time Arkansas became a state, Rives built a comfortable home on the Mississippi River and married the twice widowed Martha Goodloe Robertson Arnold who was Mary Elizabeth Taylor’s mother. Through this association, Mary Elizabeth and her husband, John Martin Taylor, bought their initial acreage for their cotton plantation. By that time, the cotton boon was in full force.

The Taylor’s “Hollywood” home became the center of their cotton operation. Among some of the outbuildings that have been documented include a cotton gin, log stable, outdoor kitchen, barns and a large smokehouse. A small cemetery close to the house includes John Martin’s grave and some family members.

The Taylors used enslaved labor for their cotton operation in Arkansas as well as their 600 acre farm operation in Kentucky. The 1860 Census records of slave schedules for John Martin Taylor from Drew and Desha County in Arkansas indicate listings for 184 slaves. In Oldham County in Kentucky, tax census, at the same period, show the Taylors listed a total of 23 slaves, 8 over the age of 16 years with a total value of $8,050. Associations of their enslaved labor force between their two homes in Arkansas and Kentucky highlights the enterprise of the internal slave trade.

Next Week: Continues with interviews, research and stories about the Taylors and their associations.

You can contact Nancy at nancystheiss@gmail.com