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|From the Forest to the Tensas; Henry & Helen's journey|
WILLIAM DUNBAR'S DAUGHTER AND HUSBAND MAKE THEIR HOME IN CATAHOULA
Helen Dunbar, born in 1796 in Spanish Natchez, enjoyed the privilege of growing up in the splendor of a paradise called the Forest, a plantation located six miles south of town. When she was two-years-old, the U.S. took possession of what became the Mississippi Territory and her family prospered even more under the American government.
Henry William Huntington was born in Suffield, Connecticut, on August 16, 1789, the eldest child of Hezekiah and Susannah Huntington. Like Helen, Henry grew up in the household of a father who was well educated and ambitious. Henry was reportedly a descendant of Samuel Huntington, who served as governor of Connecticut and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
At the Forest, Helen romped and played about the expansive grounds colored and fragrant with flowers and fruit orchards, and noisy with birds and animals. She was the fourth of nine children -- four girls, five boys.
Helen's father was William Dunbar, the great scientist, explorer, planter and astronomer. By 1805, Dunbar had explored both sides of the Mississippi River from Natchez to Manchac and both sides of the Red, Black and Ouachita from the mouth of the Red to the hot springs in Arkansas.
Helen's mother, Dinah, was a native of England, and met Dunbar in America. In 1792, the couple moved their growing family from Manchac to Natchez. Helen was the first child born in Natchez.
Dinah was a woman of exceptional talents herself. When her husband was away on his business trips and explorations, she ran the plantations. She saw to it that the crops were tended and she protected the lambs when a preying panther moved in.
At the same time, her callous hands gently brushed her daughters' hair at night, and swatted the rumps of her sons in moments of playfulness. Guests at their Forest plantation home always noticed that during the warm seasons every room was accented with fresh flowers.
In Connecticut, Henry decided to follow his father's footsteps and studied law. Henry's pastor was one of his instructors. In 1816, he was graduated from Yale and soon admitted to the bar in Hartford, Connecticut, but he practiced only a few months.
Instead, Henry decided to join the army and the life suited him for a while. He excelled and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. By 1816, this Yankee was in Mississippi Territory. He would live in the South the rest of his life.
HENRY & HELEN GET MARRIED
Six years earlier at the Forest, 14-year-old Helen along with other family members stood at the death bed of her father. William Dunbar's long, active life was coming to an end. This native of Scotland who came to America at the age of 21 in 1771 to make his fortune had done just that. He died a man wealthy in land, money and family.
At the Forest, the Dunbars hosted a wide variety of guests, but Dunbar's favorites were men of science and nature. During the early years of her life, when Helen waltzed into her father's office, she would often find him busy at his desk writing.
On the occasions she crawled onto his lap, he may have been addressing a letter to his cotton broker in London giving instructions on the warehousing or selling of a crop. Or, he may have been writing President Thomas Jefferson to debate the origin of rainbows or report on the journeys of the great horse hunter Philip Nolan.
During the happy years at the Forest plantation, Helen attended many weddings and social events there. One frequent visitor to the Dunbar home was Judge Thomas Rodney, who said that the Dunbar girls were all beautiful and that Helen's older sister Peggy was considered as the "belle" of the territory.
While Peggy was married at the age of 14, a common age to marry for girls in the 19th Century, Helen's journey to the altar came quite late in life according to the norms of America 200 years ago.
She was 21 when she married Henry William Huntington, who by now was 28-years-old. Though Helen's father had been dead for six years by the time of her wedding day, William Dunbar had made meticulous provisions for her and all of his children in his will.
Helen's dowry included a 450-acre plantation on Bayou Pierre in Claiborne County, Mississippi, across the river from Tensas Parish. And as a participant in the institution of slavery, Dunbar also provided something else considered to be property -- 10 slaves, eight to work the fields, one to serve as a domestic and one to be trained as a waiter beginning at the age of 14.
A NEW LIFE ON NORTH OF TRINITY
For the next 24 years, Henry and Helen spent "a long period in active pursuits in and about Natchez," according to Andrew Robert Kilpatrick, a physician, writer and planter who owned a plantation in Concordia Parish across the Black River near Trinity at present day Jonesville. In 1840, the year of the devastating Natchez tornado, Henry and Helen followed the western migration and bought a farm three miles north of the newly-established settlement of Trinity on the Catahoula Parish side of the Tensas River.
Kilpatrick said that much of the area along the Black and Tensas rivers was settled beginning in 1836. "In fact," he noted, "up to 1840 there were but few farms opened on these rivers, as it had been so subject to inundation; but since the line of levees has been extended up the Mississippi river, these lands have been proportionally protected and enhanced in value."
Trinity soon became the hub of civilization in these parts. Steamboats made almost daily stops. The Huntingtons were just a 15-minute horse or buggy ride to the bank of the Ouachita and a ferry ride away from Trinity. If they were in need of supplies and couldn't wait for a New Orleans' steamboat to dock at their plantation landing with a recent order of goods, they boarded their own skiff and rode the gentle Tensas current down river to town.
By this time their household was full, although many of the children were already on their own. Helen had given birth to 10 children in Mississippi, but a daughter, born in 1832, had died when only 14 days old. There were five daughters -- Julia, the oldest child, born in 1818, and Mary, Florence, Helen Dunbar and Edith, the youngest, born in 1838. There were three sons: Archibald, Samuel and Horace.
Kilpatrick said Henry "was spending his declining days" in Catahoula Parish "in quiet on his farm, relieving the monotony by devoting much of his time to philosophical observations and also mechanical work." Henry was, said Kilpatrick, "a very nice artificer in silver, steel, iron, etc. He now keeps accurate thermometrical registers, together with barometrical and rain gauge."
Thanks to Henry, we have an exact record of weather conditions of 1850, a time of high water. In January, frost was recorded on four days, icy conditions existed for two days after a sleet storm. It was overcast 20 days and rained 11 days. More than 12 inches fell during the month.
In February, the lowest temperature was 27, the highest 68, and it snowed one inch. Another one-inch snow was recorded on the 27th of March.
In August, five inches of rain fell. The highest temperature for the month was 93 and the lowest 73.
SUGAR CANE & THE WHOOPING COUGH
During this time, there was a great outbreak of cholera, which the Huntington family somehow escaped. But they didn't escape illness. The family was sickened by whooping cough in the fall of 1850, which Kilpatrick said was extensive throughout the region.
"It was both in Alexandria and Natchez," said Kilpatrick, "made it's way to Harrisonburg, on the Washita (Ouachita); transmitted thence to the farm of Dr. Alexander, on Little River, seven miles from here (Trinity), in whose family it proved very troublesome, and he lost one of his children. Thence it was transmitted to Colonel Huntington's on the Tensas, three miles from here, where about 30 cases were successfully treated..."
Across the Tensas on the Concordia side, the disease ran through the plantation of R.D. Percy with a vengeance. Kilpatrick said "it proved a very complicated and serious malady."
Percy operated an expanding plantation and a year earlier had began the production of sugar cane. Kilpatrick said cane had been grown in Concordia for a number of years but not for the manufacturing of sugar until three years earlier when Benjamin F. Glasscock produced his first crop on his Black River plantation.
Glasscock ground his sugar cane by the power of a horse, then began using a steam engine in 1849, when he produced 100 hogshead. But during the high water of 1849-50, he produced only enough cane for his family's consumption.
Most of the men growing the crop had learned about it from the experiments of Peter Lapice, who owned the Arnolia and Whitehall plantations at Vidalia. Percy, Henry Huntington's neighbor across the Tensas, was at the time of the breakout of whooping cough "erecting a commodious and handsome brick sugar house, but has not yet made any sugar. He intends to operate with steam, having his engine and machinery on the premises already."
Percy also collected Spanish moss and had recently baled it to be shipped to market in New Orleans.
It was in August of 1850 that people in and around Trinity began to suffer from whooping cough. By October, all of Percy's children at their plantation home just three miles up the Tensas in Concordia had been sickened, but all survived. Across the way at the slave cabins, however, 13 black children died.
Early symptoms of the whooping cough (pertussis) are similar to that of a common cold -- sneezing, runny nose, fever, mild cough. But over a period of days, sufferers develop a "coughing spell" that can last for a minute or longer and is characterized by the whooping sound at the end when inhaling. Vomiting is also common.
Antibiotics are used to treat the ailment today, but in those days treatment was primitive -- blistering, bleeding, calomel, or a domestic remedy composed of "honey, linseed oil and whiskey." Syrup of ipecac, used to induce vomit, was said to be beneficial.
HENRY'S PLUMS; DEATH ON TENSAS
Henry and Helen, though, back on the Catahoula side of the Tensas, went on about their lives and survived this epidemic just like they had others.
Always experimenting around the farm, Henry grew a number of fruits, including the plum, a favorite of his from his Connecticut days.
"The common plum, both red and yellow," he wrote at his farm one day, "is grown here abundantly; but no efforts of mine, protracted through twenty-five years, have been successful in the cultivation of the finer varieties of the North.
"The plum is exclusively attacked by the caterpillar, which entirely eats the leaf, soon after which the fruit withers and drops."
Henry died at his farm on the Tensas north of Trinity on Oct. 12, 1854. He was 66.
We don't know when Helen died, but we know that her father would have thought the move from Mississippi to the area where four rivers meet a good choice.
William Dunbar visited what later began Trinity and Jonesville during his exploration of the Ouachita River in 1804-05 following the Louisiana Purchase. One day, said Dunbar, this place would "become the site of a commercial inland town, which will hold pace with the progress and prosperity of the country."
Knowing that his daughter was a part of this growing American community would have made him proud of both Helen, and a son-in-law he never knew, Henry William Huntington.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|