The Ancestors Of George & Hazel Mullins

by Philip Mullins

Chapter 3 - Post-war depression and recovery in SC


Samuel Varnadore Plat, S.C.
03-1 (Click to view)
Willow Swamp Baptist Church Roll
03-2 (Click to view)

Summary: The end of the Revolutionary War left South Carolina economically depressed. The invention of the cotton gin created a boom in cotton production that resulted in the Great Migration to Mississippi Territory. Many families from the Orangeburg District rushed to claim prime cotton land in the Natchez District of Mississippi.

Although Samuel Vernadoe owned large tracts of land in South Carolina, he too left for Mississippi with his entire family. He and his sons subsequently claimed hundreds of acres of land on the Tangipahoa River where Osyka, Mississippi, is today. Personal reasons that may have affected Samuel's decision to leave South Carolina are discussed.

The decline of indigo and rice production

The years just prior to the Revolution had been prosperous years for the people of South Carolina. This prosperity had depended primarily upon the indigo crop which by 1750 had largely replaced rice in economic importance. However indigo had been subsidized by the British government. The success of the Revolution and the subsequent loss of the indigo subsidy, coupled with the introduction of chemical dyes, made indigo less profitable. Its cultivation in South Carolina had seriously declined by 1790. At the same time the newly arrived Scotch-Irish settlers in the Piedmont or uplands regions had cleared so much land in the red clay hills for corn and beans that the Santee River began to flood. This flooding had serious consequences for the large number of Huguenot rice plantations along the lower Santee. The change in the river meant not only flooding in the fall and spring but also low water during the summer months. The cultivation of rice became uncertain and more difficult. These changes and the destruction caused by the War of Independence left the state of South Carolina economically depressed in 1790. The state had a huge surplus of slave labor, thousands of acres of improved farmland, a growing rural population and sufficient quantities of capital. What stood between it and prosperity was the lack of a crop which was both suited to the soil and climate of South Carolina and in strong demand on world markets.

While the Americans were fighting for their political independence, the spinning jenny, the spinning machine and the power loom had been invented in England for use in the making of cloth. Wool was the most common and the preferred fiber for cloth making but the development of the cloth industry in England created a demand for other fibers as well, including cotton.

Cotton had been used in the Americas to make cloth for a thousand years and it had been cultivated as a garden plant in the Carolinas since the 1670s. It was not commonly used as a fiber because it was extremely difficult to separate the lint from the seed. The use of hand labor to remove the seeds resulted in a fiber that was too expensive to compete in price with wool. Consequently, even in the South, cotton cloth was a novelty. A machine that could delint cotton had been discussed by Carolinians many times. Everyone realized its potential but no one could imagine its workings. It was not until 1793 that someone successfully designed a machine that could separate the cotton seeds from the lint.

The invention of the cotton gin

While visiting in South Carolina a Yankee engineer named Eli Whitney sat in on a discussion between his host and some neighboring planters about the need for a delinting machine. A few days later he built a working model of the first cotton gin. The machine created a sensation. Whitney and his backers foolishly hoped to keep the design of the machine a secret until they could obtain a monopoly on not only its manufacture but its use as well. However within two years of its invention and before Whitney could even get his first production models on the market, imitators had built and were using cotton gins based on slight modifications of Whitney's design. For the next thirty years Whitney tried to enforce a monopoly for his patented cotton gin. While he was spending a fortune on legal fees, new and illegal gins sprung up everywhere.

The cotton gin proved to be far too important for it to remain the property of one man. The Carolinians adopted it as their own without even so much as an acknowledgment that Whitney had built the first one. In fact Whitney's lifelong efforts to enforce his monopoly were seen as a threat by Southerners who had come to rely upon the machine for their livelihood. Feelings against Whitney were so strong that only after he was long dead did Southern historians begin to name him as the machine's inventor.

The year following the invention of the cotton gin a Revolutionary War hero named General Moutrie grew a large field of cotton on his plantation in South Carolina. Using Whitney's original machine to remove the seeds from the lint, the crop proved to be a financial success. The next year General Moutrie and a neighboring planter expanded their cotton acreage. By the mid-1790s others were planting cotton as well. The original machine installed by Whitney continued to operate and imitators built their own gins and were cleaning cotton for a percentage of the crop. Thereafter the acreage devoted to cotton multiplied. Until 1820, when the cotton market was finally glutted and the price fell accordingly, cotton was clearly on the ascendance in the South. All a man needed was land, labor and a local cotton gin. Few cotton farmers got really rich but the dawning of the age of King Cotton made it easier for everyone to make ends meet. The few, such as Hampton Wade who became millionaire cotton planters, inspired the rest to do likewise.

During the war years all of Leonard Vernadeau's sons lived on his farm near Orangeburg. They were still all at home in 1782 including Henry who, at 33 years of age, was the oldest. Some of the boys may already have been farming on their own account. Henry is on record as having sold a beef cow worth two guineas to a company of rebel militia during the War. However Henry continued to live on or near his father's farm until Leonard died sometime prior to 1809. In 1794 Henry patented 254 acres next to his father's acreage. After his father's death Henry moved 40 miles south and patented a 1,000-acre tract in the Beaufort District of South Carolina. In 1809 he crossed the Savannah River and spent the rest of his life in Georgia.

Samuel Varnadoe was Leonard's third son. Samuel already owned land when in 1788 he patented 181 acres about ten miles from that of his father. In 1703 he patented another 263 acres and in 1807 another 376 acres. The last tract was held in partnership with his son-in-law, Vincent Reeves. All of this land was in a single block about eight miles south of Orangeburg. Samuel's neighbors included John Sally. This was probably the same man who had commanded the militia unit Samuel had served in during 1780. Samuel kept this farm for about 20 years. He and his first wife raised eight children on this farm. Soon after Leonard Vernadeau's death and only four years after patenting the last and largest parcel of land, Samuel Varnadoe Sr. sold his farm. Taking most of his children with him, he made the long trek to Mississippi Territory.


The descendants of Leonard Vernadeau leave South Carolina

Two of Leonard Vernadeau's sons, Henry and Samuel, left South Carolina soon after he died. It appears that Henry and Samuel may have left together. Henry, the older son, had seven children and a daughter-in-law when he left South Carolina. His brother Samuel left with four married children and their spouses, four younger and as yet unmarried sons and two slaves. Henry and his family traveled about 100 miles into Georgia before settling down in Laurens County. Samuel's group stopped briefly in Jones County about 40 miles to the northwest of Laurens County. They then continued westward.

When Leonard , Samuel's oldest son (and a grandson of the original Leonard Vernadeau) was 33 years old, he and his younger brother Moses left Jones County, Georgia. In 1809 they got a passport from a judge in Georgia and traveled to the newly-opened Natchez District in what later became the state of Mississippi. They had to travel some 400 miles through two Indian nations to get to Mississippi. They needed the passport to prove to the Indians that they had no intention of settling on the Indian's land, that they were only passing through. These two were the first of our ancestors to move to Mississippi.

In 1811 Samuel Varnadoe Sr., along with his four remaining sons and two of his sons-in-law, moved to join his sons Leonard and Moses in Mississippi. Samuel's entourage consisted of himself, his second and pregnant wife, his third son George and his new wife and the three remaining boys, all still unmarried. One of these youngsters, Samuel Junior, is our ancestor. Also in the party were two slaves, Samuel's daughter Arcadia and her husband and a second daughter and her husband. In all Samuel brought seven of his children with him to Mississippi. The seventh was a baby named Pearl. The baby was supposedly born while the family waited to cross the flooded Pearl River less than 40 miles east of their destination. Two of the grown boys later returned to Georgia but the rest stayed with their father and their step-mother in Mississippi Territory. One of the two who returned to Georgia became a very wealthy planter. When he died in 1842 his Mississippi kinsfolk inherited 27 slaves valued at $12,025 from his estate.

Samuel chose land fronting on the Tangipahoa River just north of the site of Osyka and just south of Isaac Carter's land at Chatawa . Samuel's son Leonard located land a half mile to the southeast and on the other side of the river. Later Leonard entered nine 40-acre lots where the Osyka-Progress road crosses the Tangipahoa River. The other children and their families chose land in the immediate area.


In 1810 the Samuel Varnadoe family consisted of nine white men and boys, six white women and two Negro slaves. The slaves could only supplement the labor of the whites. They were too few to constitute the main labor force. Some of Samuel Varnadoe's neighbors had a larger number of slaves but none of Varnadoe's neighbors could be said to be "planters". They were simply farmers who owned slaves. The presence of a pair of slaves, probably a married couple, in a large family of whites was almost typical. The slaves were part of the family and were treated like a cross between a retarded child, an apprentice and a poor relative. In 1820 Samuel owned four slaves and his oldest son Leonard owned one. The three additional slaves were probably children of the first two. Among Samuel's neighbors was Nancy or Ann Simmons, another of our ancestors. In 1816 Nancy Simmons owned seven slaves. By 1820 she owned ten, eight of whom were field hands. This was a comparatively large number of slaves for that time and place. The group probably consisted of two or three sets of parents and their children. Although slaves had a price and a market in slaves existed, they were in fact almost never sold. What the slaves dreaded most was the death of an owner. It was then that their families were split up, divided among the heirs and transported to regions unknown.

I have no information about when the ancestors of either Nancy (or Ann) Tyler and her husband, Richard Simmons, came to this continent. Some people say that Ann Tyler was the great-granddaughter of a Henry Tyler who lived in Charles River County, Virginia, in 1652. Solomon Simmons told his grandson that Ann Simmons spoke with a brogue or accent of "Dutch" (German) origin. If this was so then it is possible that she was somehow related to the German-speaking inhabitants of the Orangeburg settlement. Most of what we think we know, including the following, is conjecture. In 1800 Isaac Carter and his wife (who is said to have spoken German) and their seven children and nine slaves were living in Orange County in South Carolina near the forks of the Edisto River. Not far away lived William Taylor (Tyler) in a large household that included 16 slaves. Tradition has it that this Isaac Carter was Ann Tyler's uncle and that William Taylor (Tyler) was her father. William Taylor would have been Isaac Carter's brother-in-law. In the same neighborhood in 1800 lived Samuel Carter who was in some way related to Isaac Carter and hence to Ann Tyler. This last family, Samuel and Charity Carter, later moved to a spot just below the present Mississippi-Louisiana state line near where the town of Osyka, Mississippi, is today. It is possible that Samuel Carter and his family came to Mississippi in the spring of 1810 with Isaac and Ann Carter. Thus in 1812 when Richard Simmons, his wife Ann Tyler along with their ten small children and one or two slaves made the journey from South Carolina, they had relatives to welcome them. What we do know is that the Simmons family stayed with a relative of Ann Tyler Simmons until they chose a site for their farm on the Bala Chitto Creek some four miles east of the Carter farm.

Neither the Simmons nor the Varnadoe's left their friends and relatives in South Carolina to live apart. They moved to where friends and relatives had already settled. The Great Migration from South Carolina to Mississippi involved large numbers of relatives and neighbors moving at the same time and destined for the same locale. In 1800 the Varnadoes, Simmons and Carters lived quite close to each other in Orange County, South Carolina. In that same neighborhood we also find several families of Sandiffords and Felders. By 1830 several of these families appear on the Pike County, Mississippi, tax rolls.

The 1800 census of Orangeburg District lists Charles and David Felder. By 1820 these men were living in either Amite or Pike County, Mississippi. Charles Felder had been ordained a deacon of the Willow Swamp Baptist Church in Orangeburg County in 1805 at the same time as was Richard Simmons. This church met in the home of William Tyler, whom I have guessed to be Richard Simmons' father-in-law. Also on the Willow Swamp Church roll in 1805 is Daniel McDaniel, probably the father of the Daniel McDaniel who lies buried in the cemetery of that name near Chatawa, Mississippi. Further research will show that many other families who were neighbors in South Carolina moved to Pike County, Mississippi, at about the same time.

One purpose of this story is to offer, not just a description of what happened, but to provide enough background so that the reader can formulate an explanation of why things happened. With this in mind I offer the following editorial.

It is impossible to know what personal reasons lie behind Samuel Vernadoe's decision to join the Great Migration from South Carolina. Some possible explanations have already been mentioned. However there are two special circumstances that pertain to Samuel Vernadoe that I want to mention. The first has to do with the South's "particular institution." The census of 1790 for Orangeburg District lists 5,900 slaves and 12,370 whites. There were four large plantations in Orangeburg District that had over 100 slaves each. There were another half dozen or so with at least 50 slaves each. Without discounting these slaves, there were about two whites for every Negro slave in the district. Isaac Carter's family had eight whites and nine slaves. The family of William Taylor (Tyler), Ann Tyler's father, had 13 whites and 16 slaves. Both of these families had a higher than average number of slaves. Richard Simmon's family with his wife, one child and one slave, would have been about average. The large Varnadoe families, including that of Samuel Varnadoe with one slave, were clearly slave-poor. Twenty years later, in 1810, Samuel Varnadoe still had only two slaves even though he owned over 500 acres of land. In 1820 he had four slaves. Whether for reasons of conscience or poverty, Samuel never owned more than a few slaves. This circumstance may have led him to leave South Carolina.

Slavery had a way of impoverishing farmers who were not themselves slave owners. Every farmer's income was debased to that of the slave. This fact was known to the people of South Carolina. Some of the very earliest settlers of South Carolina were economic refugees from Barbados where they had been driven to bankruptcy by slave competition. If further proof were needed a Carolinian had only to watch the Quaker settlements in Georgia sink deeper and deeper into poverty because of their refusal to own slaves. In a sense owning slaves made a farmer more efficient in the same sense that commercial farmers are more efficient than subsistance farmers. Some Southerners refused to own slaves for reasons of conscience and they suffered the economic consequences just as do those few modern farmers who operate outside of the money economy..

The second circumstance that may have influenced him to leave South Carolina has to do with Samuel's role in the Revolutionary War. Unlike his brothers Samuel had not taken up arms on the rebel side. His only military service had been with the Loyalist militia. He was a Tory as were many of his neighbors. The War in South Carolina was, in reality, a civil war. Wounds may have been slow to heal. 4,000 British sympathizers left Charles Town with the British fleet in 1782. Between 50,000 and 100,000 colonists from the northern colonies migrated to Canada in 1783 and 1784. Thousands of Loyalists from the southern states crossed into British West Florida or moved to the West Florida Parishes north of New Orleans. Others moved to the Natchez District whose inhabitants had remained neutral during the Revolutionary War. It is probably impossible to know how many of these colonists were fleeing political persecution or, more importantly, if Samuel was included among them. It is true that Samuel remained in South Carolina until 1809 but it is also possible that he stayed only because his father needed him. This same line of reasoning may apply to other migrants to Pike County as well. In the same company of loyalist Orangeburg militia in which Samuel and Henry Vernadoe served was a William Tyler. William Tyler may have been the father or a brother of Ann Tyler Simmons.

A third circumstance was not unique to Samuel Vernadoe. Land speculation was the driving force of the American's movement westward. Samuel and the majority of his new neighbors in Mississippi Territory may simply have sold their holdings in South Carolina so they could buy better land further west while the newly available land was still cheap. Maybe Samuel was just another land speculator who rushed to claim new lands as soon as it was wrested from the native Indians.

Whatever drove Samuel Varnadoe Sr. to leave South Carolina drove his neighbors as well. It is worth repeating that these pioneers did not leave their friends and relatives behind. A high percentage of Samuel Varnadoe's neighbors came with or followed him to Mississippi. Once in Mississippi they choose farm sites within ten or twenty miles of each other. Some families, such as the Varnados and the Simmons, stayed on these farms for the next five generations. Other pioneer Pike County families such as the Mullins left the area within a few years for regions further west and north. The primary motivation for this steady movement westward was the availability of cheap, public land and a ready market for developed farms.

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