Way Around the Brick Wall: The Plantations

As we were making our long way around the brick wall of my great-grandfather Richard William Gines (1860-?), the trail led to several plantations in Tensas Parish, Louisiana.

The first  plantation we found was called Marydale.   What attracted us here was a nearly forgotten tax record from Tensas Parish that showed Rebecca Gines and “Don” Gines living on the plantation in 1899.   Census records suggest that this is the family of Milford Gines, residing in Police Jury Ward #3 of Tensas Parish.  The 1900 census shows the family consisting of Milford, 52; wife , “Beckie,” 50, and sons Austin, 17, and Dorsey, 22.  [The tax record transcription undoubtedly refers to Dorsey, or “Dor,” where it says “Don.”].  Within several households, and therefore also perhaps on the grounds of Evergreen Place, are the families of Charles Gines (Charles; wife “Loue”–short for Luellen, and daughters Eliza and Mandy) and Jane Gines: Jane (the widow of Milford and Rebecca’s son Ben); sons Milford, 20,  Alfred, 7 and “Isic” Hill, 3; and daughters Caroline, 18, Nancie, 13, and Elnora Hill, 5.

After the Civil War, a number of new freedmen stayed on the same land they had worked while in bondage.  So it is a reasonable inference that these Gines families and others nearby had worked on Marydale  as slaves.

Marydale was owned originally by Alexander Blanche.  He was born in Scotland and came to America in 1851.   At some point, Marydale came into the hands of Charles Gustavus Dahlgren.  A native of Philadelphia, Dahlgren had been a U.S. Navy officer.  In 1835, however, he moved South to try his hand at making a decent living from the land.

In Natchez, Mississippi, Dahlgren became one of the pillars of planters’ society.  He purchased a sizeable quantity of land, apparently icluding Marydale acrsoos the river in Tensas Parish.  Married twice, his step-dauhgter from his second marriage was the novelist-provacateuress Sarah Ellis Dorsey.  Mrs Dorsey had scandalized Mississippi social circles by carrying on a friendship of some sort with Jefferson Davis, later leaving her entire estate to him.

During the War, Dahlgren raised two regiments of troops for the Confederacy.  He was made brigadier general of the 3rd Mississippi Brigade.   Dahlgren had strong views about the prosecution of the war; unfortunately, his views did not coincide with those of Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee.  He was eventually relieved of command and marginalized by his former friends.

Dahlgren’s brother, John, was a an admiral in the Federal navy, and his other brother, William was a U.S. spy stationed in England to keep any eye on Confederate purchasing agents.

When the Battle of Vicksburg was lost, Dahlgren abandoned Mississippi (as well as Mary dale) to go to Georgia.  He returned to Mississippi to re-establish himself after the war.  However, he was unable to so, and thus headed back to New York in 1870. He died there in 1888.

Evergreen Place was owned by Haller Nutt, the son of Dr. Rush Nutt, a Virginian, who had moved to Natchez, Mississippi.  Haller Nutt’s mother was the daughter of the founder of what is now the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Haller Nutt was educated at the University of Virginia and then returned to Mississippi to assist his father with the family plantation near Natchez,  called Laurel Hill.  The elder Nutt was very much fascinated with the science of cotton growing and so was the younger man.   Rush Nutt had traveled in Egypt and had observed cotton-growing in that nation.  He brought back to Mississippi several Egyptian cotton seed stocks which he hybridized with so-called Mexican seeds.

Haller Nutt eventually owned several plantations in addition to Laurel Hill.  These included Evergreen Place and Winter Quarters in Tensas Parish, Araby in Madison Parish, and Cloverdale near Natchez.  Nutt was one of the largest slaveholders in  all of northeast Louisiana.

Despite being one of the richest men in two states (Louisiana and Mississippi) and notwithstanding his Virginia ancestry  and education, Haller Nutt was a firm Union man.  In fact, General Grant issued a series of “safeguards” to ensure the safety of Nutt’s family and properties when the U.S. Army was operating in his vicinity.  In return, Nutt gave Grant’s troops hogs and other items of subsistence.  Nonetheless, as the Fderal forces moved against Vicksburg, Nutt’s property was burned and looted.   The U.S. Congress later passed a bill compensating hsi widow in the amount of about $260,0000.

Why are these plantations and their stories important to our way around the brick wall?  Well, first, they are in Tensas Parish where many Gines surnamed people appear in the census.  The 1899 Tensas property tax rolls show Elijah and Caroline Gines living on Evergreen Place; presumably they may have worked in bondage there. As we’ve noted above, Rebecca Gines and her son Dorsey lived at Marydale Plantation.  The 1900 census shows her husband Milford living with them.

Second, these plantations are connected to the landowners (and therefore, the slaves) of the Mississippi Delta.   Thre are several Delta counties in Mississippi with large numbers of Gines surnamed people.

But they raise many questions as well.  There are so many slaves involved that it is difficult to link census names and ages to slave schedule ages and genders.  We need to know how the slaves were traded among the Natchez planters.  Did they stay together as afmilies (more apt to happen in Louisiana because of the church-driven Code Noir)?  How did they acquire their surnames?  How did they migrate throughout the region?

Fortunately, there seems to be a great amount of information on this area and these plantations.  It will  take a while to fully analyze, but we may have at least found the motherlode in the fatherland–that being Tensas Parish.  So we can press ahead on several leads in Tensas Parish.

Next: Have we really cracked the brick wall or not?


1.  Gower, Herschel, Charles Dahlgren of Natchez: the Civil War and Dynastic Decline, (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 2002).

2.  State of Mississippi, Dept of Archives & History, Pilgrimage Historical Association Collection, Nutt Family Papers 1841-1911. Absract at http://mdah.state.ms.us/manuscripts/z1817.html


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