Summary: Richard and Nancy Ann Simmons created a farm out of the wilderness.
After Richard's death in 1814, his widow raised their children on the farm.
Her family was instrumental in organizing Mt. Zion Baptist Church and all but
two of her children raised large families in the immediate area of her farm.
The first group migration to Sabine Parish took place in 1850, taking one of
Ann Simmon's sons with it. The economics of growing cotton with slave labor
is discussed and described in some detail.
Samuel and Charity Carter
While I do not know exactly why Samuel and Charity Carter settled where they did , I do know that by 1810 they had settled on land near the present Mississippi-Louisiana state line on the Tangipahoa River. Not long afterward Richard Simmons, his wife and their ten small children arrived from South Carolina. These two families probably lived together for a short time until Richard and Ann found a spot for a farm on the Bala Chitto Creek about four miles east of that chosen by Samuel Carter.
If Richard and Ann Simmons followed the usually pattern they built a cabin, dug a well and cleared one or one and a half acres of land that first year. They planted and harvested a crop that first year as well. They grew corn and maybe some pumpkins. They depended upon fish from the creek and deer from the forest for their meat. Family tradition says that Ann had gotten a cutting from an althea bush belonging to her grandmother in Virginia. She brought a cutting to Mississippi and planted it to add a touch of home to their clearing in the woods. The second year they would clear up to 10 acres and build a few outbuildings or a second cabin very near the first one. The older boys and the slaves occupied the second cabin. The land was not really cleared. The trees were girdled, or ringed, and allowed to die. The crop was planted among these standing dead trees. In four or five years the branches would fall and eventually the truck would rot away completely, leaving a cleared field dotted with lightered stumps.
The cabins were built entirely of native materials, mostly small white pine logs that required only a little hewing to make a tight fit. When the second cabin was added the two buildings stood separated from each other by an open space only a few feet wide. Someday a roof would be added to enclose the open space including the separate cook shed off to one side. Putting everything under one roof created the dog-trot style of building that was the commonest residential style in the South until after the First World War. A house of this style consisted of two rooms, separated by an open hall called the dog-trot or the breezeway. In later versions the hall was enclosed and a porch added across the front. Percy Strickland built a house of exactly this pattern in Pike County in 1927.
Before their migration to Mississippi in 1812 Richard and Ann Simmons had one slave. I do not know how many slaves the family had when Richard died in 1814 but by 1825 Ann Simmons owned 10 slaves. Ten slaves was an unusually large number for that neighborhood. Ann must have received these slaves from her family in South Carolina either as an inheritance or as a gift when it was learned that Richard had died. I have no figures for Pike County but in Amite County, an adjacent county to the west, around 1850 there were an average of 5.2 slaves per white family. One-half of all white families owned either one slave or none at all. I assume that the situation in Pike County was similar. Since Ann Simmons had 10 slaves working for her as early as 1825, her situation was not was desperate as it may seem. This probably explains why she never felt the need to remarry after her husband's death.
When Richard died he left a family of five boys and five girls. The oldest girl was 15 and the oldest boy 13. The family continued to live on the place Richard and Ann had homesteaded about two miles north of the Louisiana line. There is no evidence that the family ever visited their relatives in South Carolina or even left the immediate area of their farm. Some of the men in the neighborhood went to Natchez as early as 1811 to patent land but the majority of the folks in the area did not get deeds to their farms until the middle of the 1830s. Ann Simmons waited until 1836 to apply for a patent on the farm she had been living on since 1812. By then the whole county had been surveyed into 40-acre lots. The fee to register land was quite high and it is possible that Ann Simmons simply did not have the money. When she did finally apply for title she only patented 40 acres, the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 21, in Township 1 of Range 8 East, in Pike County.
Most of Ann's children married and settled in the immediate vicinity of this farm. The only children to leave the area were two of the boys who became ministers of the Gospel. These two, one a Methodist and the other a Baptist, left the area only after their mother had died sometime between 1840 and 1850. I have no record of any schools in the area when Ann Simmons was raising her children. Some years later, in the 1850s, a school was started near what is now Mt. Zion Baptist Church . This was one of the earliest schools in Pike County. A school was opened in 1855 in Osyka but it served the German-Jewish community there. Whatever book learning Ann's children got had to come from a neighbor since Ann could not write herself. Indeed few people in Pike County could read or write before the 1850s. The story of Henry Simmons illustrates this.
Ann Simmon's fifth child, Henry, was a church clerk and later a minister of the Gospel. When he was 21 he was involved in organizing a Baptist church near what became the Town of Magnolia some 30 years later. When he was 26 he was elected clerk of the Silver Creek Baptist Church. Silver Creek was the nearest church to the Simmons farm. It was about eight miles due east. The fact that Henry was entrusted with the job of church clerk meant that he was thought to be able to read as well as write. He was instructed by the Church to get a Bible, a hymn book and a book in which to record the minutes of the church business meetings. A year later, in 1833, he and a committee of four men, including the previous clerk of the church, were instructed to transcribe the minutes of the church from the old book to the new one. In 1834 the committee reported back that they had given up the task as the old minutes were found to be very brief and indefinite and, perhaps, illegible. In 1835 Henry was once again named clerk of the church. In both 1835 and 1836 he was chosen as a delegate to the Mississippi Baptist Association from the Silver Creek Church. The attempt to transcribe the church minutes gives a good idea of the level of literacy which was acceptable at the time, even among those such as Henry who were considered to be scholars.
In March 1834 Henry Simmons and his wife joined the Bogue Chitto Baptist Church in northeast Pike County about 16 miles from Ann Simmon's farm. In August this church licensed him to preach. A year later Henry transferred his letter back to Silver Creek Church where he was ordained a minister. In 1838 he helped organized the Mt. Zion Baptist Church on the banks of the Bala Chitto Creek less than a mile from his mother's home. Sometime after 1838 Henry Simmons and his wife, Louisa Bond, moved to northern Pike County. Around 1850 they moved to Sabine Parish on the Louisiana-Texas border with a nephew and a number of their close relatives. In Sabine Parish Henry organized churches wherever he went and became widely known in western Louisiana for his preaching. He died childless in 1865 in Sabine Parish, Louisiana.
Although Henry Simmons was never active in the Mount Zion Church, most of his brother and sisters were. Mt. Zion Baptist Church was a Simmons family institution. When Mt. Zion Church was started in 1838 all of Ann Simmon's children were married and had families of their own. All of them were involved with other churches in the neighborhood, mostly at Silver Creek in eastern Pike County and Beulah Church, just south of the Louisiana state line. Of the 10 children of Ann Simmons, eight were either charter members of Mt. Zion Church or joined it soon afterward. Preacher Henry was on the presbytery that organized the church but he was never a member. Ann Simmons was herself a charter member. Only two of her children never joined the Mt. Zion Church, Thomas the methodist, and Nancy. Nancy's husband, John or Jake Strickland , was himself a charter member and we can assume that Nancy was involved in the church as well although she may never have joined it.
Ann Simmons had been raised a Baptist. Her family was from Virginia where Baptist churches were comparatively numerous before the Revolution. In South Carolina the church to which she belonged met in her father's house and her husband was a Baptist deacon. During the Revolutionary years there were only 10,000 Baptists in the whole of the United States. In 1800, as a result of the Great Awakening, the number had increased to 100,000 and by 1850 there were 815,000 Baptists in the US. The Baptists were by far the most common denomination in Pike County.
For some reason one of Ann's children became a Methodist. Methodism did not arrive in the Americas until the 1760s. The Methodist churches grew out of an revival movement that was started at Oxford University by an Anglican priest and the church remained close to the Church of England, although differing in its form of worship and its organization. Early Methodists held marathon revival meetings in the open air. The first such Methodist meeting in the area was held in 1810 at a place near Magnolia called Felder's Campground. Such camp meetings were especially popular north of Pike County where a number of Methodist churches were established. Ann's Methodist son and his wife moved to Copiah County around 1845 and he is said to have become a Methodist minister.
Ann Simmon's children began to leave home in 1820 when Elizabeth, the second oldest, married William Sandifer. Elizabeth was 20 years old when she married and the following year Ann Simmons was a grandmother for the first time. That same year Rebecca, the oldest child, married Hiram or Abram Addison. Three of the Simmons boys, William, the eldest; John, a year younger; and Thomas, the Methodist, married sisters. The three women were daughters of James Hope who lived on the Bala Chitto just a short distance upstream from the Simmons. Of all our ancestors it is most likely that the Hopes were Scotch-Irish . Nancy M. Hope , the oldest of the three sisters and the wife of William Simmons, was born in 1807 near the French Broad River in east Tennessee. This area had been settled by people from the Carolina Piedmont who were descendants of the Scotch-Irish who had migrated to South Carolina prior to the Revolution.
The youngest of the Simmons children also married into a family that had immigrated from South Carolina. When she was 14 years old Sarah married Emanuel Varnado, a grandson of Samuel Varnadoe Senior. Emanuel Varnado was three years old when his father, Leonard, came to Mississippi in 1810. George and Martha, the remaining Simmons children, waited until 1830 to marry. Martha married a Sandifer and George married Mary Ann Sibley. It is through the story of George Simmons that we first encounter the wealthy Sibley family. It was because of the influence of the Sibley family that members of the Simmons family first moved to Sabine Parish on the Texas-Louisiana border.
George Simmons lived with his widowed mother until he was 22 years old. In 1830 he married the daughter of Reddick Sibley. The Sibleys owned a number of slaves that they had brought with them from South Carolina. Later, around 1850, George's father-in-law and three of his brothers-in-law moved with their families to Sabine Parish in western Louisiana. They took with them George's older brother Henry, a nephew and several other related families. The Sibleys moved to Toro to get more land for their farms because they considered the area around Pike County to be too thickly settled for them to get enough land.
Of courseland was available in Pike County. George Simmons himself entered or patented nine 40-acre lots just east of his mother's place. He was said to be fairly well off for his time and region. R. L. Simmons, his son, wrote in his "Memoirs" that George Simmons "...had a noble Christian character, high toned, generous, kind to everyone; gave everything careful attention. He had a number of slaves. They were treated about like the family. They were comfortably clothed, well few, nursed and doctored as carefully as his children. He had great numbers of horses and cattle that were always fat and sleek, and never abused." George Simmons and his older brother, John, were Masons and on the rolls of the Masonic Lodge in Osyka in 1857 and 1858.
R. L. Simmons described a new home that George Simmons built in 1856. It was constructed of hewn logs and was still standing and occupied in 1984. There were two rooms with a wide hall between them in the usual pattern. However, this house had an upstairs with a stairway leading up to it. Another unusual feature was brick fireplaces. Here is the way R. L. Simmons described the making of the bricks. "The chimneys there were made of mud and sticks. So father decided to burn a brick kiln for his chimneys. There was a hopper made from a large hollow tree set upright. A lever was fastened on top of an upright with pegs or arms in it. The lever extended out near the ground, a horse hitched to the end, the dirt and water thrown in the hopper and the lever was pulled around. The mud was mixed and came out at the bottom where two men stood in a pit and put the mud in a mold that held three bricks. These were carried out on the yard and sun dried until hard enough to go in a kiln.'
'When the kiln was finished it was fired and burned for a long time. It was beautiful to see the fire come out at the top of the kiln all over like electric lights. People came for miles to see it. It was the first one seen in that country. Another great curiosity about this house. Father had glass windows put in it, the first I ever saw." About this time Isaac Cutrer opened the Cutrer Brick Yard in Covington employing over 200 slave laborers but Covington was 50 miles away and that was considered too far to haul bricks. Bricks were not made near Osyka until 50 years later. This is why George Simmons manufactured his own bricks.
George Simmons and his wife, Mary Ann Sibley, continued to maintain contact with her brothers in Toro, Louisiana. Two of her brothers came to visit in Pike County several times, traveling by way of New Orleans. R. L. Simmons says that "The Sibleys were a fine type of manhood and great sportsmen, and very social. The men were fine looking and the women beautiful. They were rich for their day and time; had a great many Negroes. At the winding up of Grandfather Reddick Sibley's estate Father and Mother went over there (to Sabine Parish); went overland to get Mother's part. The Negroes that Mother got were worth near $7,000., besides a lot of cash money, a costly carriage, and team to bring the Negroes back in." The succession papers on file in the Courthouse in Many, Louisiana, show that Mary Ann Simmons received for her part four Negroes and $396.06. A few months after the death of her father one of her brother's died and she received the sum of $338.81 from his estate. Mostly because of his wife's inheritence, the family of George Simmons was by far the wealthiest of the children of Ann Simmons.
The five daughters of Ann and Richard Simmons all married local farmers. For the most part they raised large families. They were all active in the life of Mt. Zion Church and the farming community of Emerald. Their way of life was controlled by the agricultural cycle and the economics of growing cotton with slave labor. I will attempt to relate some details of what a farmer's life was like over one hundred and fifty years ago.
Both cotton and corn were always planted in March when the cottonwood trees bloomed and the final cotton bolls were harvested in October. Between the planting and the harvest, cotton and corn had to be hoed, or chopped, by hand three, four or five times to control the growth of grass and weeds. To accomplish this most of the slaves and their white coworkers labored five and a half or six days a week from dawn till dusk in the fields. The harvest was also done completely by hand. Cotton was harvested by pulling each individual cotton flower or boll from the standing plants. This was a tiring and tedious but simple procedure. Chopping and harvesting cotton were tasks that untrained and unmotivated hired hands and slaves could accomplish profitable provided that the white farmer and his family worked side by side with them.
Negro men and women were usually field hands. The women did the plowing in the spring using mule-drawn plows. They joined the men chopping and harvesting cotton for the rest of the season. In addition the women were expected to prepare an evening meal, often using produce from their own garden plots. White women spent much of their time sewing the winter woolen and summer cotton clothing for their families and their servants. The sewing machine had not yet been invented and all clothing was hand-made, almost always at home. In Mississippi, because cloth was expensive, the cutting and sewing clothing was white women's work. Affluent families hired poor white women as seamstresses but usually this work fell to the women of the household. Despite the abundance of cotton fiber in the South wool clothing was commonplace, especially in the winter. In the winter Negro men wore their summer clothing and a woolen great coat, home-knit wool socks and gloves and a scarf or comforter. The Negro women wore a shapeless sack. All of the clothing was provided by their mistress. In addition to making and maintaining clothing, white women were responsible for the preservation and preparation of food for both their family as well as the morning and noon meals of their slaves and helpers. Also during the harvest white women worked side-by-side with their husbands and brothers in the fields. Manual labor in the fields was not considered to be degrading work. To the farmers of Mississippi it was thought to be a better and more honorable way of earning a living than buying and selling merchandise.
With the exception of white flour, everything consumed on these farms were raised on the farm itself. Self-sufficiency in food was a key element in making a farm profitable. Whites and Negroes alike ate mostly pork and corn grits. The grits were white hominy served with sweet butter. Salt-cured bacon was the standard meat. Each farmer grew cotton for cash, corn for grits and animal feed and field peas and some garden vegetables for the table.
The work day began at dawn and ended at dusk. The workers were in the field working when the sun rose in the east. Breakfast was eaten in the fields after dawn. At noon everyone was allowed two hours off to eat and take a nap. Work then resumed and continued until dark. Life was not easy on these early Pike County farms. During the summer there was very little leisure time and any unnecessary task was postponed until the winter. The winter months were much more leisurely since there was no crops in the field. During the winter the hogs were killed, church revivals and meetings were held and the young people courted and married. Elections and public events were scheduled during these months for the same reason.
Although there is no evidence that any became extremely wealthy, the Simmons and Varnados and many of their neighbors prospered in Mississippi. For about 100 years, from the 1790's until the 1890's, cotton was a profitable crop in the South, with or without slave labor. On good ground each acre would yield one and a half 400-pound bales of cotton. A good farmer, whether slave or free, could care for 10 acres of cotton and another five of corn. The price of cotton varied from one year to another and the quality from one farm to another. For example in 1839 good cotton sold for 14 cents a pound and in 1855 for 11 cents a pound. Even in 1846, when the price was very low, each field hand still earned the owner $300 or more for the year.
Costs of production also varied year by year. The land itself was very cheap. Unimproved land in Amite County sold for around 50 cents an acre. The price of labor also varied. In 1830 slaves in South Carolina sold for about $1,000 each. By the 1850s a first-class man sold for about $2,000. Contraband slaves brought from Africa sold for as little as $500 but they could speak no English, were difficult to train and many of them were in extremely poor physical condition. Also many farm families in the South owned no slaves at all. They hired workers or depended upon their own labor. In Pike County about half the white families had only one or two slaves. The tread toward wage labor, as opposed to slave labor, was well established by the time slavery was abolished in 1865. Use of slave labor was not essential to the cotton economy. Nevertheless in the 1850s, when the price of slaves was at an all time high and the price of cotton very nearly at an all time low, the use of slave labor to grow cotton was still profitable.
By 1850 the institution of slavery, while profitable, was in decline. The legal importation of slaves had stopped in 1808 and gradually slavery was being restricted and curtailed. At the same time the price of cotton had begun to move lower decade by decade. In real dollars its price continued to fall for the next 100 years. Both owners and slaves knew that social conditions were changing as well. More and more Negroes were becoming literate and more and more were gaining their freedom. It was not uncommon for free Negroes to purchase the freedom of their wives and relatives. Others were either emancipated or simply ran away. Eventually the freed population would became so large that it would be impossible to recover escapees. This was the reason why freed slaves were not allowed by law in live in Texas. Many southerners recognized the absurdity of the situation. In many areas of the South tentative moves toward ending slavery were being discussed. If the South had been left alone slavery probably would have disappeared within 50 years. It would have disappeared gradually. The relatively well-educated and wealthier freemen would have assimilated and helped the slaves as they were freed. There would have little of the bitterness and animosity that resulted when the slaves were freed by Abraham Lincoln as an act of war during a war that has remained to this day a psychological burden for white and black Southerners alike.
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