1852: Rebecca Ann (Gustine) Minor to James Gustine Minor

The following letter was written by 39 year-old Rebecca Ann (Gustine) Minor (1813-1887), the daughter of James Parker Gustine (1781-1818) and Mary Ann Duncan (1790-1863). Rebecca was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but raised in Philadelphia. She married in 1829 Capt. William John Minor (1808-1869) and lived most of the time in Natchez at the family residence they called Concord.

Minor owned three sugar cane plantations: the 1,900-acre Waterloo Plantation in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, as well as the 6,000-acre Southdown Plantation and the 1,400-acre Hollywood Plantation in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. However, as an absentee plantation owner, he did not live on those plantations. He hired overseers to make sure the slaves were working on the land. He corresponded via mail with his overseers regularly, sending them precise instructions while living in Natchez himself. Moreover, his sons lived on the plantations part of the time. From 1855 to 1861, his son Stephen lived on the Waterloo Plantation until he joined the Confederate States Army; in 1862, his other son Henry took over.Another son, William, lived at the Southdown Plantation and also managed the Hollywood Plantation.

He served as the second President of the Agricultural Bank in Natchez, Mississippi. He was well connected among the planter elite, and visited planters Duncan F. Kenner (1813–1887) and Henry Doyal as well as the McCollums, the Cages, and the Gibsons. He read De Bow’s Review and kept a diary. Politically, he was a supporter of the Whig Party. He was in favor of tariffs on sugar, which meant more profit for domestic sugar producers like himself.

During the Civil War of 1861–1865, he supported the Union and opposed secession, as he believed that would be bad for the sugar industry. However, he was arrested by Union forces with his son Henry in Houma in 1862; they were released a week later in New Orleans. Meanwhile, Unionists stole sugar and molasses from his Hollywood and Southdown plantations, under the false pretext that it had been deserted, even though overseers and servants were there. Minor was on friendly terms with Union Generals Benjamin Butler (1818-1893) and Lorenzo Thomas (1804-1875), whose forces protected Concord (his Adams County, Mississippi, plantation) on September 29, 1863, and on March 10, 1864. Both during and after the war, Minor asked for reparations for the financial losses he had endured due to the theft of commodities by Unionist forces, to no avail. By 1863, he had realized his slaves had become unwilling to work; they also killed hogs and sheep.

Because of General Order No. 12 imposed by Union General Nathaniel P. Banks, he was forced to pay them wages. Slaves, who had gotten used to working “under the threat of punishment,” were not motivated by their salaries; as a result, Minor tried to reduce their wages if they failed to work. By 1865, Minor paid one third of the crop profit at the Waterloo Plantation to his slaves. He signed a work contract with his slaves at the Southdown and Hollywood plantations whereby they agreed to work ten hours every day except for Sundays and received specific hourly wages as a result. Moreover, Minor agreed to clothe, feed and house them all. Minor was a supporter of Abraham Lincoln, whom he called “the most conservative & ablest man in the Washington Government.” He deplored his assassination, as he believed Lincoln would have been fair to Southern agriculturalists. [Wikipedia]


Cherry Grove [Plantation] 1
July 13th, 1852

My Dear Son,

You will no doubt be much surprised to hear that we are yet in Adams county. Major [James Pierre] Surget invited us down to recruit the health of the family and he has shown us every kindness and attention. Little Frank is now recovering. He is gaining slowly his strength and is fed some six or eight times a day. Just as Frank 2 became convalescent and your Father had left me for Waluter [?] taking George Morton, and Celey Halley was taken sick with violent fever and a threatened inflammation of the stomach. I thought my evils would never end. He has however recovered having been skillfully treated by Dr. Foster. He had 12 leaches applied on his stomach and at the same time Indy was sick so that I only had Betsy and Jim Black to assist in nursing. And Kate 3 still has her screaming fits—which alarms Major Surget very much. Night before last she screamed so long that he was fearful she would go in convulsion. He ordered her a bath and with salt in it stood by, saw her put in, and then had her rolled up in his flannel gown—Kate screaming all the time. After she came out, she insisted upon Hally’s getting out of his bed for her to sleep in and then ordered the sheets to be changed. I wish only John and yourself were here.

Cousin Catherine 4 is still my favorite. She is a fine girl. I fear John will be too late. I think my prophesy will yet be fulfilled. The last of the fortunate family of S[urgets]—-will be the choice. I would rather have her for a daughter-in-law to any one I have ever seen. Her Mother and her Father I have admired more than words can express. You must see Major Surget in his family to find out his amiable qualities. I see new virtues in him every day.

We dine tomorrow at the Hylands, next day at Mrs. Denny’s, and this Friday go over to Dr. Jenkins to roll nine pins. I hope on Thursday morning your Father will return. The health of the plantation is much better. Miss Sarah Surget is a great belle. She has very pretty eyes and I am very much pleased with her. She will soon be married. Jane J. Anderson [ ] match with Dr. or Mr. Ralston has created a great sensation. Only think the marriage ceremony was performed at Richard Chitard. They had written to Henry Chitard to present them to be married at Minorca. Henry refused. I regret Richard had not sent them off. I could fill your sheets with much news but I have not the time as I must write to Aunt Sarah.

Tell John I saw Miss Dunbar this morning. Also Dr. Jenkins who gave me the news of him. I hear of his presenting bouquets to Ladies and that he is a favorite among the fair sex. I will write to him very soon. Only imagine me moving about when the thermometer is at 96 on the galley. I am more than ever anxious to return to Natchez and should not regret (excepting parting with Mr. and Mrs. Kenner) that I never return to Waterloo.

My dear son, I must scold you. you ought never to write anything that is vulgar. Now I think Mrs. Woodman’s message was decidedly so. I am sorry to find you paid this disagreeable and foolish woman any attention, and I fear she has paid court to you and flattered you. Madam Montgomery is not a Lady. She received too marked attention from gentlemen. I wish you to improve in your style of writing. Take pains with the penmanship and the style must be pure to please me. Recollect I am not able to give you a copy—but you have education. Take every advantage.

All have retired with the exception of William and Catherine. They are alone in the parlor. If William was only older, it would do. William rides out with Kate. They spent the day at Magnolia—Mrs. Denny’s place. The gentlemen have not returned from Black River. It is thought there will be no fighting.

Remember me to all friends and do let me know how Mrs. Charlotte Davis is. Tell Grandma Gus I will write to her the very first leisure moment and also offer my sincere congratulations to Aunt Matilda and to Mr. C[harles] P. Leverich on the birth of their daughter. How much pleasure it would give me to see them all. Goodnight. With most affectionate love, ever dear son [and] believe me to be your sincerely attached Mother, — R. A. Minor

1 Cherry Grove Plantation is located five miles from Natchez in Adams county on Second Creek. The mansion was built by Pierre Surget (1731-1796), a French planter, in 1788, over 2,500 acres of an English land grant, granted to him by the Spanish government. As such, it is one of the earliest private residences in Natchez. After his death, his widow Catharine (Hubbard) Surget expanded the grounds of the property. By 1850, the house belonged to their son James Pierre Surget (1785-1855), with sixteen house servants in residence. Cherry Grove has been in the continuous ownership of the same family since 1788 and has remained always a working plantation. It remains in the family of Surget descendants. Cherry Grove Plantation is today one of the best preserved and most complete plantation complexes in the Natchez area. The original plantation residence constructed by Pierre Surget and his wife Catharine burned in the mid-nineteenth century, and the present picturesque and architecturally significant residence was constructed about 1865 by Pierre Surget’s grandson James Surget, Jr. The form of the house, which consists of a residence constructed upon a fully raised basement with a central five-bay block and flanking single-bay wings, has the regionally early single-pile plan with rear “cabinet” rooms enclosing each end of a rear gallery recessed under the rear slope of the roof. Likewise, the facade of the central block features a gallery that is recessed under the front slope of the roof. These features suggest the possibility that the present house may have taken its basic form from the earlier house which burned. The original flanking wings with octagonal bays and gable-end balconies represent the concession of the builder to the popular taste of the 1860s. The collection of plantation outbuildings is exceptional and includes an unusual tenpin frame alley building with attached late-nineteenth century gymnasium, smoke house, detached kitchen building, corn crib, stables, privy, sheep stalls, and barns. Hand-hewn cypress troughs for feeding and watering the stock are rare plantation survivals, and the plantation cemetery containing the graves of Pierre and Catharine Surget and their descendants is located within sight of the main dwelling house. The plantation gains added significance from its long history of family ownership. Pierre Surget, originally a seaman by trade, was the patriarch of the Surget family in Natchez, a family that formed one of the largest planting dynasties in the entire South. Pierre’s son Frank was described by one contemporary historian as the most extensive landholder and successful planter in Mississippi.

2 Francis (“Frank”) Octave Minor was born in 1847.

3 Katherine (“Kate”) Lintot Minor was born in 1849.

4 Catherine Surget (1834-1926) was married first to James Gustine Minor (1839-1860) in 1853. She married second John Duncan Minor (1831-1869) in 1855. Catherine’s collection of letters are housed at the University of Michigan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s