1859: Horace Moore Polk to John Houston Bills

Horace M. Polk in later years

This letter was written by Horace Moore Polk (1819-1883), a native of South Carolina, the son of Thomas Independence Polk (1786-1861) and Sarah Isham Moore (1786-1848). Horace was married to Ophelia J. Bills (1826-1885) and was the father of at least seven children by the time this letter was written in 1859. Ophelia was the daughter of John Houston Bills (1800-1871)—-to whom Horace addressed this letter.

Horace served in the Louisiana legislature from 1856 to 1859. In the 1850s and 1860s, Moore owned a plantation in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, and he lived in Bolivar, Tennessee, from the late 1860s until his death on September 14, 1883. Many of Polk’s letters can be fund in the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. Some of these letters pertain to state and national political issues such as a Louisiana legislature elections committee and related threats from “thugs” in New Orleans (January 31, 1856); the possible presidential nomination of Stephen Douglas and Polk’s preference for Douglas over a “black Republican” (March 7, 1859); and the rise of African Americans in Reconstruction-era Louisiana politics and of Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress (February 20, 1868). Polk also provided news of the health of his wife and children, commented on plantation crops such as cotton and corn, and mentioned the effects of delayed telegraph news on war excitement in Bastrop (October 11, 1861). [see Polk Family Letters]

See also 1861: Horace Moore Polk to John Houston Bills published on Spared & Shared 9 in 2015.


Eye Knocker Plantation
January 11, 1859

Maj. Jno. H. Bills
My dear Sir,

I have just arrived at the plantation and now have all my negroes down except two negro women who have recently been confined and were not in a condition to be removed. I will bring them down about the first week in next month when I will bring my family. Ophelia is staying with Father until that time. I shall by that time have the addition to my house, which is necessary. The house I am now writing in has two rooms and having an excellent double cabin on the lower place (plantation originally settled by three persons), I have hauled up one of the pens and will attach it to this house which will do until next summer when I will move up the other. I have already moved up from the lower place two excellent negro cabins and they are now occupied.

I am taking a good start to make a crop, by getting down in December. Cotton stalks are removed from most of my corn land and I could have had most of them off but Mr. Gray has only finished picking cotton within the last few days. He has lost from falling out & left in the stalks nearly as much cotton as we make in the hills. Getting rid of stalks is a rough job. They grow quite large. Some have heavy stalk cutters weighing 350 or 400 lbs. drawn by two mules—a cylinder 9if spelled right) with 9 steel blades around it which is passed over the row of cotton stalks (1 mule on each side of the row) which cuts them up very nicely. The machine requires but one negro to manage it and he rides one of the mules. It costs about 60 or $70 and the price alone keeps me from getting one of them. Economy being now the flag under which I expect to sail for many a year to come.

I am more than ever pleased with my place and know that I could never have got such a place if Mr. Gray’s debts had not compelled him to sell. He was deeply in debt when he bought here two years ago. The place was then not sufficiently opened. The first year he made 80 bales. This year 165—about a bale per acre. Mr. Gray is one of the best men in the world & my particular friend. we hope to elect him U. S. Senator in a few weeks & if any man could possibly be elected from North Louisiana, he would be. But we are in a minority compared to South Louisiana.

I expect to go down on his account to remain until after the election which take place (by our Constitution, the 2nd Monday after the meeting of the legislature & then return home and see my ground properly prepared for corn, stay 3 or 4 weeks, and return the last week of the session, and close out my political career. This I expect to do without a sigh even though my chances for preferment for high office from my position and unmerited goodwill of many friends throughout the State would be almost certain to advance me long beyond my deserts.

My name has been connected with two of the highest offices in the gift of the people in the State, but I have most peremptorily refused to be considered in any way a candidate for office. My first and last duties are to my family and every energy must now be bent to pay for a place which will be a small fortune when paid for to my children. I feel sensibly the force of your remarks in regard to my future prospects depending so much upon the price of cotton. I had weighed the subject as well as I was able, knew you and others of my family were anxious for me to leave the hills—felt that I was there breaking slowly through surely—which would soon be accelerated as my children grew larger, and feeling confident that if cotton kept up (and all the chances are favorable to it for years to come) and sickness did not injure me, I had found a place where I could redeem the past and get to making money. I was glad to meet the chance I did for a No. 1 place. I have no fears it will ever command as little money as I gave for it.

Lands scarcely worth half the money are selling for as much and still they come and want to buy on Bartholomew. I have been told by an intelligent gentleman that my lands are worth nearer $50 per acre than what I gave for them and I have yet to meet anyone who thinks Mr. Gray got as much as they are worth. Old Mr. Smith, a stranger to me, says my track is nearer to Maury City, Middle Tennessee lands than any he has seen since he left there 40 years ago. I shall plant 200 acres in cotton & shall expect with ordinary luck to make 200 bales id I can pick them out. We can safely calculate on 40 bushels of corn per acre. C. B. Polk made corn enough for 50 hands and 25 mules on 100 acres last year.

I wish Marshall would come and look at the place [ad]joining me. It is small—240 acres—but can be added to. 100 in cultivation about the same old deadening and cut down. Could make a bale an acre. The man who owns it has 3 negroes and makes last year 40 bales cotton. 15 of it yet to pick. I am under many obligations for your kindness in offering to assist me in entering back lands but I have through Mr. Gray already purchased all that is desirable (he having discovered another area about to enter them). I shall enter only 120 acres more.

Write me at Baton Rouge. Love to all. Am very truly yours, — H. M. Polk

My logs are cut and rolled on 75 acres of land. I have paid Mr. Gray about $1,500 & will pay him the balance of 1st payments about the first of March. we do not hear very often from Tennessee. Please get all to write to Ophelia & I would be very glad to get letters also. As ever yours, — H. M. P.

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