Monday, October 5, 2020

The Story of Dr Dorsey and Mr Markham in Yazoo City

Years ago I came across this mention of an “affray” between Dr Dorsey and Mr Markham in DeCell and Prichard’s 1976 book titled, Yazoo - It's Legends and Legacies:

People took the law into their own hands, frequently with disastrous results.  The Yazoo Banner 18 May 1839 reported that "Mr Markham, who was shot by Dr Dorsey in the late affray in Yazoo City, is reported dead. This is a mistake, he is rapidly recovering and is perfectly able to go about.  We saw him a few days ago and congratulated him on his manifest improved health."

Through the years I have worked to follow up on this incident, with the hope of identifying Mr Markham (Markum), and understanding what lay behind the shooting. My success has been limited.  Initially I assumed that “Mr Markham” was Linnaeus Bolling Markham. He was in the right place at the right time. 

In 1839 Linnaeus B Markham was living on a farm outside of Yazoo City Mississippi.  He had come to the area a few years earlier and taken up a scheme of land investment with a partner Vincent Galloway.  Linnaeus Markham and his wife Elizabeth Henderson did not have children of their own, but evidence suggests that they raised Frances M Markham, youngest daughter of his brother Champe Fleming Markham. Champe Markham’s first wife, Sarah Cocke, died around 1835, leaving six children, including the infant Fannie.

A charge of murder was brought against Champe Markham in 1838.  This item comes to us via an index to the Natchez Trace Crime and Punishment Collection, 1819-1876.  This collection represents court records of Warren county Mississippi, and is housed at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas.  I have not had an opportunity to view these records (on microfilm) to determine if they contain further detail related to the murder charge. 

In the 1840 Mississippi census Champe Markham is living in or near Vicksburg in Warren County.  He is between the ages of forty and fifty.  In May of 1840 he is secondly married to Elizabeth Thompson at Vicksburg, and the census shows him with his new wife and several children from his first marriage.  This might suggest that the murder charge, two years earlier, did not result in a lengthy imprisonment.

After coming across the index entry - Charge of Murder: Champ Markham, 1838 – I began to wonder if it was related to the Dorsey – Markham shooting at Yazoo City in April of 1839.  Dating would suggest that these were two separate incidents.  Was Champe Markham the hot-tempered perpetrator in both events?  It should be considered that two Markham cousins – George Evans Markham and Devereux Jarrett Markham (brothers) were also living in the Yazoo City area from about 1835-1841.  But, neither of these men are likely candidates for “Mr Markham”. 

Life in the frontier towns of Mississippi, following the Panic of 1837, must have been rough.  It is of interest to note that Champe Markham, Linnaeus Markham, and Dr Washington Dorsey all died within a few years following these 1838-1839 incidents – all young men in their thirties and early forties.

Below are a few more pieces to the story.  Perhaps a dive into the Natchez Trace Crime and Punishment Collection, or the archives of the Yazoo Banner newspaper (not yet digitized) would provide more answers.

Rencounter – We learn that a street fight occurred a few days since in Yazoo City (formerly Manchester) between Dr Dorsey and Mr Markum – which resulted in Markum’s receiving two Pistol shot wounds that are supposed will prove mortal.  We learn that Dr Dorsey is justified, as Mr Markum attacked him at or near his residence with two Pistols, which he did not succeed in firing, from some defect in the caps.  Since the above was in type we have learned that Mr Markum is dead. 

[source] Madison Whig Advocate (Canton, Mississippi); 27 April 1839.

 Yazoo City, April 20, 1839 – To John Gibson, Editor of the True American:  Dear Sir – I hasten to inform you of the important information that I have just arrived here in the steamer Patrick Henry, from Vicksburg . . Yazoo City has been for the last four days like a village in an uproar, caused by the sudden disappearance of the Teller of the Commercial Bank of Manchester, who departed from this range on last Sunday, taking with him good funds . . . $12,000 . . . Another item I would give, occurred a few minutes ago.  A Mr Markham, being aggrieved at some remarks which a Doct Dorsey (both residents) had made of him, accosted the doctor in his office and demanded immediate satisfaction.  Of course high words arose – pistols and Bowie knives flourished; the result of which was that Markham was shot twice in the left side, and his life was despaired of. Markham attempted to fire first, but his pistol snapping e received Dorsey’s fire, upon which Markham . . to his Bowie, but was too late, as he received Dorsey’s second ball, just as he was in the act of making a thrust at Dorsey, who came off unhurt.  Thus we do things in the staple State, and should I receive your thanks for this epistle (after correcting it) and the True American at Jackson, on my arrival there, with a wish for me to go ahead, why then I may give you the goings on a the Capital.  Wagner.  

[source]  True American (New Orleans Louisiana); 27 April 1839.


 A note on Dr Washington Dorsey –

Dr Washington D Dorsey was born in 1811 in Kentucky, and came as a young man to the area around Yazoo City Mississippi where he served as one of the town’s first physicians.  At the visityazoo website we discover notes on his home - The Hollies, on West Broadway in Yazoo City, an old but elegant cottage dating back to the days when Yazoo City was named Manchester.  Built by Dr Dorsey in 1834, The Hollies is one of the oldest buildings in today’s Yazoo City.  While pursing Dr Dorsey, I came across an interesting note on his protégé, Dr Henry Lewis.  Lewis was the author of Swamp Doctor and other humorous literary productions, and we learn that “. . . his sprightly intellect attracted the attention of Dr. Dorsey, the leading physician of Manchester“.  Washington Dorsey died in Yazoo City on the 2nd of October 1845, at the age of thirty-four.  He is buried in the Eli H Brown Farm Cemetery in Bloomfield, Nelson County, Kentucky.


For more details on Linnaeus Bolling Markham and Champe Fleming Markham, visit their pages at the Markham of Chesterfield website.

About the photo: “A Practical Application,” Punch, 20 December 1862.


Further Reading:

The Mississippi Department of Archives and the Yazoo Library Association both hold scattered copies of the Yazoo Banner newspaper for the years 1838-1839.  They are on microfilm; no indication that they have been digitized. 

Natchez Trace Crime and Punishment Collection, 1819-1876; part of the Natchez Trace Collection; items are court records of Warren County, Mississippi, arranged by type of case . . a list of individuals charged follows; Reel #30, 0785, Box 2E938, [Unnumbered Folder]: Charge of Murder, 1838–1876; housed Library of American History at the University of Texas.

Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp Doctor; Henry Clay Lewis; LSU Press, Jun 1, 1997; a series of sketches that follow the outlandish misadventures of Dr. Madison Tensas - Lewis' literary persona. Many of these stories were first published in New York's Spirit of the Times. Using dialect, comic imagery, folklore, picaresque autobiography, and the form of the mock oral tale, Lewis presents a vigorous vision of the southern backwoods, where life was often violent and brutal, sometimes shockingly funny, and always wildly different from the polished society of townsmen and wealthy planters.

Friday, January 31, 2020

I am dear Will Yours affectionately, Th: Jefferson

For fifty-plus years now, I have carried around the memory of a set of blue-covered biographies for children that graced the shelves of my grade-school library.  There must have been thirty of them, and during my third and fourth grade years, I’m pretty sure that I read every one.  I recall my favorites being the wives of the presidents – Martha Washington, Dolly Madison, and Eleanor Roosevelt.  This must have been the beginning of my fascination with the people of history. 

As I have worked on my family history for many years now, it has been fun to come across those biographical subjects again – sometimes right in the midst of my own family.  Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have been counted among the intimate friends of two different branches of my family – the Flemings and the Frys.  The Fry – Jefferson Map, published in 1755 by my grandfather Joshua Fry and his friend Peter Jefferson (father of the president), is a frequently referenced historical document.  But, the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and my grandfather William Fleming is a bit more obscure. 

I recently had the opportunity to read through more than twenty letters exchanged between my grandfather William Fleming, and the statesman and US president, Thomas Jefferson. These were located at the Founders Online website.  Several of the Fleming – Jefferson letters have been reprinted in the past - in “The Southern Literary Messenger” and in the Virginia Magazine of History. 

The earliest letters, dated in 1763-64, followed shortly after their graduation from William and Mary College.  William Fleming was an older student of the college, being about age twenty-six when he finished his course of study.  These early letters point to the close friendship that existed between them:

Dear Will,
From a crowd of disagreeable companions, among whom I have spent three or four of the most tedious hours of my life, I retire into Gunn's bedchamber to converse in black and white with an absent friend. I
heartily wish you were here that I might converse with a Christian once more before I die: for die I must this night unless I should be relieved by the arrival of some sociable fellow, but I will now endeavor to forget my present sufferings and think of what is more agreeable to both of us.

Jefferson goes on to tout the fine qualities of several lovely ladies he has recently visited.  Both men are still bachelors in 1764.  But, Tom has a proposal for Will Fleming:

dear Will I have thought of the cleverest plan of life that can be imagined, you exchange your land for
Edgehill, or I mine for Fairfields, you marry S — y P — r, I marry R — a B — l [Rebecca Burwell], join and get a pole chair and a pair of keen horses, practise the law in the same courts, and drive about to all the dances in the country together. How do you like it? . . . I am dear Will
Yours affectionately
Th: Jefferson

A similar letter follows a few weeks later, mentioning an upcoming Ball, a silk suit from Tom Randolph, and again - the romances among their friends, and the ladies William Fleming is “courting”. 

No further letters appear in the archives until almost ten years later, in 1773.  By this point in time, the two friends have wed, become fathers, and are establishing homes – Jefferson at Monticello and Fleming at Summerville, outside of Richmond Virginia.  Both men are serving in the Virginia House of Burgess, and will go on to serve in the Continental Congress.  They continue a correspondence throughout their joint lifetimes, but the tenor of their later letters is less intimate, and relates to their shared interest in the direction of their state and nation, and the various tasks before them.  

William Fleming and Thomas Jefferson were both avid readers, and the letters suggest that Fleming regularly moved, loaned, or secured books for Jefferson :

[Williamsburg, June 1776] Purdie has promised to pack up your books, and Colo. Tom to carry them to Tuckahoe. He this day told me you desired him to enquire, of me, something about Vatels law of nations. You did not mention it in your letter to me. I can lend you a copy for a few months when you return to Virginia. I am Dr. Sr. yr. friend & serv., Wm. Fleming

[Philadelphia, August 1779; in the hand of William Fleming] I have procured all the books you wrote for except Erasmus, which is not to be had in this place. They will be sent to Wmsburg. I shall remain here ’til the 15th. of Sept. and hope to be favored with a letter by the gentleman who will be the bearer of this.  I enclose for your amusement Dunlap’s paper of yesterday which contains some important news, and much private Scandal.

Letters in 1781 and 1809 mention William Fleming’s planned visits to Monticello, and we know from other sources, that both men exchanged visits in the home of the other.  Martha Markham, a grand-daughter of William Fleming, supplies a brief story in her 1904 letter:

Summerville was the name of his [William Fleming’s] home twelve miles from Richmond. The day that Cornwallis reached Richmond, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were dining with my grandfather, just as they were seated at the table a courier arrived announcing the arrival [illegible phrase]. My mother said all the gentlemen dropped knives and forks and rushed on to that place.

In the year 1796 William Fleming sent Thomas Jefferson his reflections on a trip he made to Kentucky:

Dr Sir,
I herewith send you a geographical sketch of the several counties in the state of Kentucky, in which, I doubt not, there are many inaccuracies, as I had but little leisure to attend to the subject . .  I was at eleven of their county courthouses, and at Danville, where one of their district courts is held; and what is stated from my own observation, I think, tolerably correct  . . .

A few years later, in 1809, William Fleming sent along another treasure, and Jefferson responded from Monticello:

I send you by mail the rattle of a snake which capt Mann, who presented it to me, said was six feet and a half long; and, from the length of the rattle, I have no doubt but his information was correct . . .

I have recieved safely the extraordinary rattle of the rattle snake, as also the leav foliage of the Alleghaney Martagon - a plant of so much beauty & fragrance will be a valuable addition to our flower gardens.

The friendship of William Fleming and Thomas Jefferson existed over a period of almost sixty-five years.  It came to a close when William Fleming died in February of 1824.  Jefferson died two years later in 1826. 

The final documented letter of William Fleming to Thomas Jefferson was exchanged in July of 1823.  Fleming compliments Jefferson on the establishment of the University of Virginia:

I rejoice to hear of the prosperous advancement of the University; and earnestly hope that the legislature of Virginia will never suffer so noble, & interesting an institution to languish, through prejudice, or parsimony: though, being in the eighty eighth year of my age, I shall probably not live to witness the consummation of the establishment: but it will undoubtedly prove a great blessing to our posterity; and may possibly tend in a measure, to preserve, & perpetuate the union of the States; and it will, at least, reflect honour on the Ancient Dominion; and especially on its founders, who have hitherto been, & will no doubt, continue to be its Zealous patrons . . .
I have the honour to be, with the highest consideration and regard, dear sir, your Old friend, & obedient servt
Wm J. Fleming

For more details on William Fleming, visit his page at the Markham of Chesterfield website.


Further Reading:

Founders Online is an official website of the U.S. government, administered by the National Archives and Records Administration through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), in partnership with the University of Virginia Press, which is hosting this website.

The Journal of Gilcrease Museum,16.2; Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Thomas Jefferson, Kimberly Roblin. The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, owns a manuscript letter from Thomas Jefferson to William Fleming written on July 1, 1776, when Jefferson was attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.  Jefferson met Fleming when they roomed together at the College of William and Mary and they maintained a lifelong friendship and correspondence. 

About the photo:
"The presentation of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress.";  Edward Savage, engraver, based on painting by Robert Edge Pine; Library of Congress.

Moving back in time:  Aubin Markham Fry, 1877 > Eliza Brooks Hutchins, 1844 > Aubin Maria Markham, 1817 > Lucy Champe Fleming, 1776 > William Fleming, 1736.
William Fleming is my 5th great-grandfather.
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