The Last Soldier, And Bontura

Across from the Refuge Baptist Church in Lincoln, Alabama is Halls Cemetery. Inside is this monument for Pleasant R. Crump, who lived to the age of 104…

…and was the “last living Confederate soldier in Alabama. Last living soldier that witnessed the surrender at Appomattox, Va.”:

This article has more about Mr. Crump, and the author had his photographs of the monument used in an episode of History’s Mysteries.
Well, actually I’m confused because the article says “PBS’ History’s Mysteries”. H/Mysteries is a History Channel show and PBS’ show is History Detectives. I looked really quick at both and couldn’t figure out what the episode was based around.
Anyway, one of the things I noticed when looking at the PBS History Detective website was that they had done a feature about Bontura in Natchez – we’ve been by there before:

They were investigating how the man who built the home in 1851, Robert D. Smith, went from “traveling on a ship full of captive individuals destined for servitude to owning a luxurious home”. The transcript is here, but here are the interesting excerpts:

Robert Smith was 16 years old when he got off that slave ship. What was life like for a free man of color here in New Orleans then? That’s a question I have for city historian professor Rafael Cassameer, whose family has lived here for more than 200 years. Why would a free person of color have moved from Baltimore to New Orleans back in the 1820S?

Rafael: No segregation by race, no segregation by class…

(he set up a grocery business)

Judith: We have the year, 1837. We have the other person involved in the deal. And we have page numbers, so that we can now go to the original document. This is an act of sale from Robert D. Smith, free man of color, to Edward Barnett. He is selling a house, Orange and Camp Street in the American sector, Lower Garden District is what they call it now.

Tukufu: Okay.

Judith: He’s selling it for $4,000. That’s a lot of money.

Tukufu: And like a true entrepreneur, Robert Smith knew how to make a profit.
Judith: He bought it for $650, so he’s buying bare property.

Judith: Yeah. Well, let’s see what else we’ve got here. He’s selling a house. He is selling a mortgage. He’s making another mortgage. He’s selling two slaves to two different people.

Judith: This is a power of attorney to a man in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the purpose of “manumitting, emancipating, and granting freedom to his female slave named Ann McCauley together with her four children, for the express purpose of freeing them.”

Tukufu: Wow! So Robert Smith emancipated Ann McCauley. But why? And what happened to her? It looks like she couldn’t stay in Louisiana. In 1830, Louisiana passed a law that made it impossible for a freed slave to remain in the state. Louisiana slave owners were afraid that freed slaves like Ann would be the wrong example for those still in captivity. So after she was freed, she would have been forced to leave New Orleans. All of this is happening in the space of six weeks. Which is suggestive that he’s not staying in town. He’s selling everything off. He’s leaving town. Why would Smith sell off all his property and leave the city that had brought him success? Natchez is right across the state border, up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. I’m going to check the public records to see when he’s first mentioned.

“You are hereby authorized to celebrate the rights of matrimony between Robert D. Smith,” — our guy — “and Ann McCauley” this is the woman that he purchased in New Orleans. He’s marrying her, here in Natchez, Mississippi. In the 1840S, half of Mississippi’s Free Blacks lived in Natchez. This would have been a place where Smith could marry and live with his wife free. So Robert Smith did travel a slave ship, but not as a slave. He was a free person of color. In New Orleans, he was a successful businessman, but was forced to leave to have freedom for the woman he would marry. And he settled in Natchez, where he prospered in a taxi business, built a house and called it home. My journey ends here, back in the Coys’ house in Natchez.

Tukufu: And so they ultimately ended up here in Natchez, Mississippi, in this beautiful home.

Coys: This is a love story.

Tukufu: It is a love story. It’s about love and it’s about freedom. In part, he had to escape from Louisiana to find freedom to marry his wife in Natchez, Mississippi. Certainly helps us to understand Robert Smith and his family and why he came to Natchez.

Leave a Reply