A paper on early Yalobusha County history, and the James K. Polk Plantation, written by Mr. W. C. Bryant. This letter is from the files of Bruce Gurner.

Perry Mountain -- Polk Mountain

John Perry, a Choctaw Chief, had his tepee (actually it was a log cabin) on a cone shaped hill between two creeks. The hill was called by settlers, Perry Mountain, and the creek on the east was called John Perry Creek, and the creek on the west, given the name of his wife, Susan Perry Creek. The rich land between the two creeks was Chief Perry's personal preserve and was occupied by a few tribesmen and slaves.

The Indian Village, "Perryville," was three miles east of this Perry Mountain and was in charge of John Perry's two brothers, Charley and Harry Perry. It was a half mile south of the village of Bryant and spread up and down along Okachickima Creek. On the Okachickima hills is yet seen burial ground and gravestones of the Perry's and also the log cabin, post office building where J. E. LaCook told me that Bob Brooks was postmaster thirty years. In the creek below was the undershot water mill where Polk and the pioneers ground their corn; the foundation logs are yet be seen when waters are low.

The Indians moved west in 1833. Mr. Shade Hale, the grandfather of Col. A. E. Jennings of Memphis, Tenn, a pioneer of energy and thoroughly dependable, took the contract to transport Chief Perry's personal effects to the Indian Territory. Mr. Hale told me that one wagon was loaded with silver bullion and coins covered over with household goods. Only the Chief and Mr. Hale knew the contents and Hale made it his care to make the journey on this wagon.

James K. Polk of Tennessee was elected to Congress in 1825. He became Speaker of the House in 1835. In that period, the Congress was flooded with petitions for abolition of slavery and in lurid phrases setting out its offense to Civilization and Christianity. Polk and his brothers and brother-in-laws were owners of slaves and lands in Tennessee on a moderate scale.


I have been informed years ago by some of the old men in this section that Polk was accustomed in coming to Mississippi with a desire to have intimate experience and knowledge of the merit or demerit of the system of slavery on a large scale. He knew it was under fire and wished to prepare himself to defend the position he might take.


I enclose a letter dated January 2nd, 1835 from Dr. Silas M. Caldwell (who married Polk's sister) to Polk announcing the purchase of the Yella Busha Lands and comments on same.


Dr. Caldwell, Polk's brother-in-law, William H. Polk, brother of James K. Polk, owned and operated as partners until 1838 when J. K. Polk became sole owner and operator.

A log cabin with a rask chimney was built on top of the cone-shaped mountain. A spring about 200 feet from its porch furnished water and Manuel, a slave boy, attended to all necessary services of house and horse, and fuel and thus made the two annual visits at planting and harvest times ideal outings for a Polk man of great toil with the burden of Government. "Old Mack" on the sunny days when riding beside me in my buggy has stated that up on the mountain "the Marster could jess look out and see every plow at work".

Troy Landing, on Yalobusha River between Grenada and Holcomb, was the point of shipment of Polk's plantation. Major William Bobbett, Dr. Towns, John T. Leigh, A. T. McNeil, Capt. Lake, Hugh Torrance, Dr. S. Bell and Mr. Winter were among those who in this County met or corresponded with Polk and his plantation. Polk's plantation realized his expectations in production and nothing of adverse or censorious character happened in its affairs. His Last Will and Testament (see Probate Court Book A, page 148 in Courthouse in Coffeeville, Mississippi) bequeathed the slaves and land to his widow. She sold the land and 56 slaves in February, 1860 to J. M. Avent of Rutherford County Tennessee. Polk's activities as planter and slave owner had shown nothing in its operations and usage repugnant to Christianity and Citizenship.

Polk died a few months after his successor as President was inducted into office in 1849. He was buried three times - First on the lawn of his home- next in cemetery in Nashville -- next on the State Capitol grounds at Nashville, Tennessee.


Bancroft says, "His administration, viewed from the standpoint of results, was perhaps the greatest in our National history. Let us tabulate:


Under it was established the U. S. Naval Academy
Annexation of Texas and its admission as a state
Admission of Iowa and Wisconsin as states
War with Mexico-Acquiring New Mexico, Arizona, and California
Treaty with Great Britain, acquiring the Oregon Territory and fixing the present boundary
Establishment of the Warehouse system
Establishment of Independent Treasury system
Establishment of Smithsonian Institute
Establishment of Department of Interior
Treaty securing right of way for our citizens across Panama Isthmus
N. B. all our Pacific Coast and waters and islands from Canada to Mexico, we owe to Polk.

Polk was, with all his honors, an inauspicious and diffident man. He wore his honors with simplicity and dignity. He never lost touch with humanity.
His memorial and shrine should be made on this cast of greatness. Thus will be necessary:
A Direct road to the mountains
A flight of steps up the mountains
A log cabin office and its spring of water
A statue of this "Napoleon of the stump"
TVA illumination
A cottage for caretakers.

The mountain and approaches will be donated by the present owners, as also the old post office and its site on Okachickima where he got his mail, and the old mill site where he ground his meal.

We citizens of Yalobusha County, descendants of the neighbors, admirers and friends of President Polk, want Polk plantation and Polk mountain to be known, and wish to give wide knowledge of his activities here, and to establish a memorial of him on the spot where his plantation log cabin, and which served as office and apartment during his visits to his plantation.

The County has acquired right-of-way and has surveyed, cut out, and opened a section line public road from Bryant to a point opposite Polk Mountain on top of which stood the cabin office. It is a dirt road and useless except for stock and vehicles.

A right-of-way from the public road to the top of Polk's mountain and the ten acre plateau (or what is needed) on top of the cone-shaped mountain where stood the cabin office will be deeded to the public and the cabin should be restored and the route and grounds marked appropriately. The road on section lines as laid out should be put in first class shape for automobile travel from this point. A TVA line should furnish current to light it up, and about 200 concrete steps from the level of the valley to the top of the mountain should be laid. A shrine must be accessible to be of value and a credit to a great president and sturdy people.


The distance from Bryant (the present site of the remains of the town of Perryville, Hendersonville, and Plummerville, and the Okachickima post office (the former post office of the Polk plantation) to the top of Polk Mountain is about four to four and a half miles.


We apply to you because there is no hope that private or local tax money will be available to perpetuate and show forth this history dear to us since 1865. We have been subjected to poverty, desolation and simplest living conditions; Our only property is real property on which taxation and mortgage charges are so burdensome that each homestead is now a liability. We have no political weight.


Under President Polk, the U. S. acquired the Oregon Territory and the Mexican cessions, and this "Napoleon of the Stump" whom Bancroft says that "his administration viewed from the standpoint of results was perhaps the greatest in our National History" deserves a memorial. 1835 is the anniversary of his purchase and organization of the "Yellobusha" slave plantation, and nothing could be more fitting than a shrine to his memory be constructed and opened 100 years from that date.

These ideas of Mr. Bryant, if realized, would have been a fitting tribute to the memory of President Polk. 

*********

“My Dear Master”: An Enslaved Blacksmith’s Letters to a President

February 5, 2019 by Adam Rothman

An unusual letter arrived in the mail for the Tennessee planter James K. Polk shortly after he won the 1844 presidential election. Written from Carrollton, Mississippi, and dated November 28, 1844, the letter began “My Dear Master” and was signed by “Blacksmith Harry.” Here’s what Harry wrote:

 

My Dear Master

 

Suffer your faithful survant Harry to say a fuw words to you by letter written by one of your best frinds in this Country to inform you that I am doing the best I can. I have been so over Joyed at the newse of your Elevation that I have hardly Known what I was and some of the whigs call me President to Plage me and to ridicule you but this I know that I have hardly Eate drank slep or worked any since I heared the Glorous newse.

 

You may be assured my dear Master Jimmy that I have done all in my Power for you though (I am) an humble negro. I made some votes for I have ben betting and lousing on you for the last several years but I have made it all up now.

 

I must tell you whate I have won on your Election & I have got near all in hand cash $25 and 11 Par Boots 40 Gallons Whiskey 1 Barrel flower & Lotts of tobacco but you must not think that I will drink the whiskey my self. No sir for I have Treated it all out in Electionaring for you through my friends who stood by me in Electionaring troble. I tell you Master Jimmy that I made some big speaches for you and though an humble negro I made some votes for you.

 

I am in hopes that you will come to this State befoure you go to the white house & let me see you once more before I die for I am in fear that I will never injoy that Pleasure. If you do come down to your Plantation & dont come to Carrollton Please write to me or to Mr Kimbrough the man that has me hired and I will come up & see you.

 

I am getting ould & my Eye sight getting so bad and I am so badly afflicted with the rheumattis Pain that I cant do as well as I would like to do and I do not Know whose hands I may fall into the next year as Mr Kimbrough sayes that he cant hire me any more if he has to give near the Price that he has had to give heretofore. I would like to live with him if the Price is so as to Jestify him in hiring me but let that be as it may my dear master I axspect to serve you faithfull as long as I live let my condition be what it may.

 

I have nothing more but remain your faithfull & loving survant during life. Give my best love to my old mi[ ]. When you write Please let me know how she is also Mr Walkers family. I have 12 Children all living. Give my love to all the rest of my frinds & relations.[1]

Blacksmith Harry

********

This document is the rarest of items in the vast manuscript collections of the Library of Congress: a letter written by an enslaved person. Thanks to the digitization of the James K. Polk papers, an image of the original is now available online.