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Slavemaster PresidentThe Double Career of James Polk$

William Dusinberre

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195326031

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195326031.001.0001

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(p.175) Appendix A Polk Plantation Demography, 1835–59

(p.175) Appendix A Polk Plantation Demography, 1835–59

Source:
Slavemaster President
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

(p.175) Appendix A

Polk Plantation Demography, 1835–59

Note: Abbreviations are listed and explained at the beginning of the notes section.

This appendix—after specifying the sources for statements in chapter 7 about demography—supplies five tables: (1) a chronological list of births at the plantation, (2) a chronological list of deaths, (3) calculations of the plantation’s natural population growth, (4) a chronological list of slaves imported into and exported from the plantation, and (5) (based on the four previous lists) an annual tally of the plantation’s population. From these lists, historians will be able to check the assertions in the text about child mortality, family size, and population growth.

The most important source is the 1849 inventory of Polk’s Mississippi slaves, listed in family groups with valuations, at the Yalobusha County court house [JP estate inventory, Dec. 5, 1849, Yalobusha County Inventory book E, pp. 31–35, Coffeeville, Mississippi (hereafter JP, 1849 inventory)]. Nearly as helpful is the listing of his widow’s slaves in 1860 [Sarah Polk, sale agreement, Jan. 25, 1860, James Polk MS, Tennessee State Archives, Nashville (hereafter SP, 1860 agreement)], a nearly correct version of which is easily accessible (Bassett, p. 275). The main James Polk Papers, at the Library of Congress, contain lists of his slaves assigned to the plantation late in 1834, with their ages and valuations (Sept. 5, 26, 1834), and lists of his field workers in 1844 and 1846 (RC to JP, Jan. 9, 1847). These papers also contain bills of sale (or other records), supplying the ages and prices of almost every slave bought by James Polk. Polk’s 1831 will and records of the litigation surrounding his father-in-law’s estate give further names and prices of slaves. The 1826 will of Polk’s father contains the names of several slaves who, although originally willed to Polk’s brothers, eventually came into his possession after the deaths (during the 1830s) of four of the brothers. Polk’s notes on the back of an old envelope (the envelope is dated May 3, 1842) identify some of his field workers that autumn.

Overseers’ letters give the birthdates of many babies and often name their mothers; the letters also record the deaths of slaves, along with the causes. But as many overseers’ letters are no longer extant (and virtually none have survived for the years 1843–44 and 1857–59), much inference (p.176) is required. The list of slaves in 1860, however, provides a good basis for many of these inferences, especially because young boys and girls are listed separately from adults; also the names of both the older slaves and of the young children are evidently written more or less in order of their descending ages. From these sources one can identify with reasonable assurance forty-eight children born at the plantation from 1835 to 1859, of whom twenty-one had died by January 1860 (see Table A1).

The greatest uncertainty pertains to the number of children who were born and died at the plantation without either event’s being mentioned in an extant letter. I estimate that there were at least seven such babies—one born in 1843, one in 1844, two in 1857, two in 1858, and one in 1859 (all of these being years from which almost no overseers’ letters have survived). Although this estimate is almost certainly too small, I have preferred to avoid any appearance of exaggerating the child mortality rate. Even this minimum estimate of seven unrecorded babies who died before 1860—raising the total number of babies born at the plantation to fifty-five, of whom twenty-eight died by 1860—indicates a child mortality rate of 51 percent, and the reality was almost certainly even grimmer (see chapter 7, note 24). The estimated numbers of births and deaths in each of the two periods, 1835–49 and 1850–59, is shown in table 7.1.

Discussion of child mortality rates at the plantation appears in chapter 7, notes 4 and 21 and especially in note 24; details are supplied in table 7.2 and in table A1.

The manuscript U.S. censuses of 1840 and 1850 are of a certain but only limited value for the Polks’ plantation. Neither census names individual slaves (thus white people trained themselves to regard these black human beings as nameless chattel), and the 1840 census (Yalobusha County, p. 284) did not even assign exact ages. Instead it grouped Polk’s twenty male slaves into five categories (ages zero–nine, ten–twenty–three, twenty–four–thirty–five, thirty–six–fifty–four, and fifty–five plus) and divided his sixteen female slaves into the same groupings. Evidently overseer John Garner supplied rough and ready guesses of the slaves’ ages (e.g., he seems to have reported forty–one–year–old Allen as fifty-five plus). And although the 1850 census (Yalobusha County, Schedule 2, pp. 33–34) purports to give the exact age of each slave, it contains palpable errors. Thus Maria Davis’s one-year-old son, John, is apparently listed as seven years old, and the age of Daphney’s four-month-old infant, Silas, is similarly misreported. Furthermore, overseer John Mairs seems to have alleged many male slaves to be younger than they actually were. The 1860 census (Yalobusha County, Schedule 2, pp. 69–70) also contains obvious errors: thus it claims—incredibly and contrary to SP, 1860 agreement—that all twelve children under the age of ten were males. In any case, the 1860 census is unhelpful because by August of that year (when the census was taken) Sarah Polk had removed six of her slaves from the plantation, and her new business partner evidently had sent ten of his own (of unknown ages and sexes) to (p.177) augment the plantation’s work force. The 1840 and 1850 censuses are nevertheless of some value—for example, in suggesting that neither Dicey nor Caesar had died until after 1840 and that “Joe 1” must have been at the plantation in 1850, even though his name does not appear in JP, 1849 inventory.

The other records, previously described, offer a surprisingly clear picture of plantation demography. The details are contained in the following five tables (A1–A5).

(p.178)

Table A1 Births of Polk Plantation Slaves (chronological), 1835–59

 

 

(a)

(b)

(c)

(d)

Children

Mothers

Births (year)

Deaths (year)

Children Alive in 1860

Sources*

Malinda

Elizabeth

1836?

Malinda

J.s

Anon 6

Eve?

1836?

1841?

WHP to JP, 12/17/36; C (1840)

Jim

Elizabeth

1838?

Jim

J.s

Anon 2

Elizabeth

1839?

1840

A, 10/4/40

Angeline

Eve

1840?

Angeline

J, S, A, 8/1/40

Anon 5

Matilda

1840

1840

A, 5/3/40

Andy

Elizabeth

1841?

Andy

J.s

Charity

Daphney

1844?

1849

A, 1/22/45 (12/28/44), 4/19/49

Julius

Eve

1845

Julius

J, S, A, 9/24/45

Davy

Elizabeth

1845

Davy

J, S, A, 10/28/45

Anon 7

Marina?

1846

1846?

A, 7/22/46 (4/26/46)

Frank

Daphney

1846

1854?

J, A, 7/8/46; C (1850)

Fanny 1

Elizabeth

1847

1850

J, A, 11/5/47, 10/8/50

Luchas

Eve

1847

1849

A, 10/1/47, 2/8/49

Lily

Daphney

1848

Lily

J, S, A, 7/6/48

Eliza 2

Barbara

1849

1851

J, A, 2/8/49, 7/8/51

John

Maria Davis

1849

John

J, S, A, 4/19/49

Silas

Daphney

1850

1851

A, 6/7/59, 5/18/51

Irvin

Eve

1850

1850

A, 8/10/50, 11/6/50

Mary An 1

Eve

1850

1850

A, 8/10/50, 11/6/50

Clay

Marina?

1850?

Clay

S

Burrel

Sally

1851

1851?

A, 3/5/51

Marthy

Barbara

1851

Marthy?

A, 4/16/51

Judy

Maria Davis

1851

1852

A, 9/10/51, 8/18/52

Anon 4

Eve

1851?

1852?

A, 9/20/52

George

Agnes?

1851?

George

S, A, 3/3/53

Willis

Jane?

1851?

Willis

S

Mary An 2

Daphney

1852?

1852?

A, 8/18/52

An Marie

Eve

1852

Any

S, A, 11/1/52

Violet

Jane

1852

Violet

S, A, 11/12/52

Carter

Caroline Childress?

1852?

Carter

S

Fanny 2

Maria Davis

1853

1854?

A, 7/9/53

Edward

Marina

1853

Edward

S, A, 8/16/53

Paul

Daphney

1853

Paul

S, A, 8/22/53

Ananias 1

Eve

1853

1854

A, 8/22/53, 7/6/54

Patson

Jane

1854

1855

A, 4/9/54, 8/1/55

Louisa

Sally

1854

Louisa

S, A, 10/11/54

Anon 9

Jane

1855

1855

A, 6/17/55

Henry Polk

Eve

1855

Henry

S, A, 8/29/55

Zach

Daphney

1855

Zach

S, A, “9/8/55”

Osburn

Caroline Harris

1855

Osburn

S, A, “9/8/55”

Ted

Caroline Childress

1856?

Ted

S

Daniel

Maria Davis

1856

Daniel

S, A, 8/2/56

Manuel

Jane

1856

Manuel

S, A, 9/13/56

Susan

Malinda

1856

Susan

S, A, 12/3/56

Anon 14

Sally

1857

1857

A, 2/12/57

Ananias 2

Eve?

1858?

Ananias

S

Eliza 3

Malinda?

1859?

 

Eliza

S

 

 

Births

Deaths

Children Alive in 1860

 

Subtotal

 

48

21

27

 

Unrecorded births at plantation of children who died unrecorded (est.)

7

7

o

 

Total

55

28

27

 

Child moi rtality rate (est.): (b)/(a) = 28/55 = 51%.

 

*Sources: A = agent’s (e.g., overseer’s) letter.

C = census (U.S. Census Bureau, manuscript).

J = JP, 1849 inventory.

S = SP, 1860 agreement.

Surmises: The list of young slave children living at the plantation in i860 includes seven whose mother’s names are uncertain:

Ananias 2

b. 1858?

Eliza 3

b. 1859?

George

b. 1851?

Willis

b. 1851?

Clay

b. 1850?

Carter

b. 1852?

Ted

b. 1856?

(p.179) All seven children were born after 1849 (their names not being in JP, 1849 Inventory). I infer the approximate years of their births from their places on SP, 1860 Agreement, which lists young children more or less in order of decreasing age and monetary value. I surmise that Ananias 2 was a child of Eve, because Eve had lost another child of that name in 1854. I guess that Eliza 3 was a child of Malinda, named after Malinda’s mother, Elizabeth. When Agnes died in 1853 she apparently left a surviving child (JM to SP, 3/3/53); I surmise that this was George. Willis, probably born about June 1851, is likely to have been Jane’s child (Jane, after miscarrying on about May 1, 1850, bore other living children in November 1852, March 1854, June 1855, and August 1856). Clay may have been a child of Marina, named after Claiborne (a brother of Marina?), who had been owned by Silas Caldwell when Marina also belonged to Caldwell. Carter (a girl probably born just after Henry Carter’s death in 1852, and presumably named in his memory) is likely to have been a child of Henry Carter’s son Wilson. I guess that Wilson (the brother of President Polk’s White House servant Henry) married Caroline Childress (raised as a house servant by Sarah Childress Polk’s mother) and that Caroline Childress, in addition to being Carter’s mother, may also have been the mother of Ted.

(p.180)

Table A2 Deaths of Polk Plantation Slaves (chronological), 1835–59

Name

Birth (year)

Death (year)

Sources on Death*

 

Hardy

1808

1835

Caldwell to JP, 2/11/35

 

Abe

1812

1836

Caldwell to JP, 1/16/36

 

Lucy

1792?

1838

A, 11/24/38

 

Anon 5

1840

1840

A, 5/3/40

 

Anon 2

1839?

1840

A, 10/4/40

 

Anon 6

1836

1841?

WHP to JP, 12/17/36; C (1840); I

 

Caesar

1806

1841?

I

 

Dicey

1817

1841?

WHP to JP, 12/2/37; I

 

Fan

1828

1843?

I

 

Matilda

1814

1843?

A, 7/5/40, 10/4/40; I

 

Old Charles

1785?

1844?

A, 10/14/34; I

 

Eliza I

1830

1845

A, 9/24/45

 

Anon 7

1846

1846?

I

 

Caroline Henly

1830

1848

A, 7/20/48

 

Luchas

1847

1849

A, 2/8/49

 

Charity

1844?

1849

A, 4/19/49

 

Caroline Davis

1829

1850

A, 3/15/50

 

Fanny I

1847

1850

A, 10/8/50

 

Irvin

1850

1850

A, 11/6/50

 

Mary An I

1850

1850

A, 11/6/50

 

Eliza 2

1849

1851

A, 7/8/51

 

Silas

1850

1851

A, 5/18/51

 

Burrel

1851

1851?

I

 

Mariah Carter

1814

1851?

J, I

 

William

1839

1852

A, 8/3/52

 

Mary An 2

1852?

1852

A, 8/18/52

 

Judy

1851

1852

A, 8/18/52

 

Anon 4

1851

1852

A, 9/20/52

 

Henry Carter

1812

1852

A, 10/21/52

 

Old Cloe

1788

1852

A, 9/20/52; I

 

Old Sarah

1774

1852

A, 12/21/52

 

Agnes

1833

1853

A, 3/3/53

 

Old Ben

1784?

1853?

C (1840); J; I

 

Calvin

1833

1854

A, 2/25/54

 

Ananias I

1853

1854

A, 7/6/54

 

Frank

1846

1854?

J, I

 

Fanny 2

1853

1854?

I

 

Anon 9

1855

1855

A 6/17/55

 

Patson

1854

1855

A, 8/1/55

 

Anon 14 Caroline Johnson

1857 1818

1857 1857?

A, 2/12/57 A, 9/13/56; I

 

 

 

Deaths

Unreported Deaths of Unreported Births (est.)

Total Deaths

Subtotals:

 

 

 

 

      1835–49

 

16

2

18

      1850–59

 

25

5

30

Total: 1835–89

 

41

7

48

* Sources:

A = agent’s (e.g., overseer’s) letter.

C = census (U.S. Census Bureau, manuscript).

I = inference:

Before 1849: from absence of name on JP, 1849 Inventory and absence from lists of earners in 1844 and 1846 (RC to JP, 1/9/47).

After 1849: from absence of name on SP, 1860 Agreement.

J = JP, 1849 inventory.

S = SP, 1860 agreement.

(p.181)

(p.182)

Table A3 Natural Population Growth at Polk Plantation, 1835–50

 

(a)

(b) Births

(c)

(d)

(e) Deaths

(f)

(g)

 

Listed in Table A1

Unreported, of Children Whose Deaths Were Unreported (est.)

Total (est.) [(a) + (b)]

Listed inTable A2

Unreported, of Children Whose Births Were Unreported (est.)

Total (est.) [(d) + (e)]

Natural Population Growth [(c) - (f)]

1835–49

17

2

19

16

2

18

1

1850–59

31

5

36

25

5

30

6

Total

48

7

55

41

7

48

7

(p.183)

Table A4 Slaves Imported Into or Exported from Polk Plantation, 1835–59

 

Imports

Exports

Net Imports

1835

Original group (21)*: Abe, Addison, Barbara, Caesar, Charles 1, old Charles, Dicey, Elizabeth, Eve, Garrison, Giles, Hardy, Henry Carter, Henry (Mariah’s), Jim Turner (Eve’s), Lucy, Mariah, Phil, Reuben, old Sarah, Wilson (Mariah’s).

 

 

1836

 

Reuben

 

1837

Imported: Nancy

 

 

1838

Purchased (9): Caroline Johnson, Charles 2, Cloe, Eliza I, Fan, Gilbert, Manuel, Marina, Perry

Nancy

 

1839

Purchased (4): Allen, Daphney, Matilda, William. Imported: old Ben

 

 

1840

Sold: Charles 2.

 

1841

Henry (Mariah’s)

 

1842

Imported (4): Alphonso, Bob, Joe i, Pompey

 

 

1845

Purchased: Caroline Childress

 

 

1846

Purchased (9): Agnes, Billy Nevels, Calvin, Caroline Henly, Harbert, Jane, Lewis, Mary, Sally

 

 

1847

Purchased (2): Joe 2, Maria Davis

 

 

1848

Imported: Harry (blacksmith)

 

 

1849

Purchased (6): Anderson, Caroline Davis, Caroline Harris, Jason, Jerry, Rosetta

 

 

1851

 

Bobt

 

1852

 

Barbara,

 

 

 

Charles 1,

 

 

 

Marthy

 

1853

 

Sold: Joe 2

 

1856

 

Sold: Harbert

 

Subtotals:

      1835–49:          59

4

55

 

      1850–59             0

6

–6

Total:

1835–59 59

10

49

* As explained in chapter 4, during Polk’s partnership with Silas Caldwell (1835–36), only nine of Polk’s slaves worked at the new Mississippi plantation, joined by nine of Caldwell’s. The rest of Polk’s slaves worked at Caldwell’s West Tennessee plantation, apparently not moving to Mississippi until the partnership was dissolved at the end of 1836. By this time Hardy, a 26-year-old slave of Polk, had died, before he could be sent on from Tennessee.

Joe 1, Bob, Barbara, Charles 1: JP, 1849 Inventory, lists only one Joe, although two slaves of that name worked at the plantation. One of them (Joe 2) was a frequent fugitive, purchased in 1847; I believe he was sold in 1853, after he had fled at least seven times. The other Joe (Joe I) was a privileged slave owned by Polk’s mother and lent by her in about 1842 to work for James Polk in Mississippi. This Joe seems to have acted as a driver on Polk’s plantation. James Polk’s executor Daniel Graham doubtless knew that Joe I was owned by Polk’s mother, and Graham therefore omitted this Joe from the 1849 list of slaves owned by Polk. In 1850 Graham seems to have learned that Bob was in fact owned by Marshall Polk, Jr., not by James Polk; Graham therefore omitted Bob’s name from an 1850 copy of the 1849 list (Yalobusha County Inventory Book E, p. 33: Bob’s name was listed in the original 1849 Inventory, p. 32). But in 1850 apparently Graham still didn’t know that young Marshall Polk also owned Barbara and Charles, and the names of these two slaves (and of Barbara’s child) therefore appeared in both the 1849 Inventory and its 1850 copy.

In 1852 Polk’s mother died, and she appears to have bequeathed Joe I to Polk’s widow. Thus the 1860 list of Sarah Polk’s Mississippi slaves includes Joe I. Joe 2, however, is missing from that list; I infer that he had been sold.

(p.184)

Table A5 Population of Polk Plantation, 1835–59 (annual)

 

(a)

(b)

(c)

(d)

(e)

(f)

(g)

(h)

(j)

 

 

 

 

Births

 

 

Deaths

 

Total

 

Imports

Exports

Known

Unrecorded Of children Who died Unrecorded Before 1860 (est.)

Total [(c) + (d)]

Known

Unrecorded of children born Unrecorded (est.)

Total [(f) + (g)]

Total Population at end of year [previous (J) + (a)–(b) + (e)–(h)]

1835

21

1

1

20

1836

1

2

2

1

1

20

1837

1

21

1838

9

1

1

1

1

1

29

1839

5

1

1

35

1840

1

2

2

2

2

34*

1841

1

1

1

2

2

32

1842

4

36

1843

1

1

3

1

4

33

1844

1

1

2

1

1

2

33

1845

1

2

2

1

1

35

1846

9

2

2

1

1

45

1847

2

2

2

49

1848

1

1

1

1

1

50

1849

6

2

2

2

2

56

1850

4

4

4

4

56

1851

1

6

6

4

4

57

1852

3

4

4

7

7

51

1853

1

4

4

2

2

52

1854

2

2

4

4

50

1855

4

4

2

2

52

1856

1

4

4

55

1857

1

2

3

2

2

4

54

1858

1

2

3

2

2

55

1859

1

1

2

1

1

56

Subtotals:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1835–49

59

4

17

2

19

16

2

18

56

1850–59

0

6

31

5

36

25

5

30

56

Total

59

10

48

7

55

41

7

48

56

* This figure of thirty-four slaves at the end of 1840 is consistent with the 1840 census, which recorded the presence of thirty-six slaves in the summer of 1840. No doubt the census taker included Charles (who was sold later in 1840) and Elizabeth’s youngest child (who died about Oct. 1, 1840).

Sources: columns (a) and (b): table A4; column (c): table A1; columns (d) and (g): my estimate that at least seven children were born unrecorded, who died unrecorded before 1860, is discussed in the fourth paragraph of this appendix. In the absence of information about when the seven children died, I have somewhat arbitrarily assigned each death to the same year as that child’s birth: this procedure is more or less consonant with the fact that a majority of all those slave children who died before age fifteen perished before their first birthday (my Them Dark Days, p. 537). Column (f): table A2.

(p.185)