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|From bachelor to spinster did Windy Hill Manor live & die (Aaron Burr was guest)|
Benijah Osmun's job in 1790 brought him to Natchez where 17 years later he was reunited with an old friend from the Revolutionary War -- former Vice-President Aaron Burr.
Osmun's home, which became known as Windy Hill Manor off Liberty Road, later became the residence of three spinsters, the Stanton sisters, who in their old age struggled to stay above poverty in the 1930s and 1940s. All have long ago gone with the wind -- Osmun, Burr, the Stanton sisters and Windy Hill Manor.
The story of Windy Hill Manor and its owners and guests begins with Benijah Osmun, who like many men who came to Natchez during the late 1700s was a Revolutionary War veteran. Osmun served in a New Jersey regiment of the Continental Army. During those days he befriended General David Forman and Aaron Burr, both of New Jersey.
In August 1776, Benijah Osmun was on Long Island, New York, when the British launched an amphibious attack. The British Army and Naval forces totaled 35,000 men, including 5,000 Hessians. The Americans counted 10,000 men, outmatched more than 3 to 1.
Osmun was among 1,100 Patriots captured in a decisive British victory. He was imprisoned on a British warship, where, a friend later recalled, Osmun became involved in the care of the seriously-ill child of a German officer. Despite the best of care by military doctors, the child's prospects of survival were considered hopeless.
Possessing some knowledge of the primitive health care of the day, Osmun knew how to pull teeth and "could bleed," meaning that he knew how to draw blood from a patient. The hideous practice was commonly used by doctors during the day and believed effective in curing a host of illnesses.
Osmun mixed up a potion of pills with rye bread as the main ingredient. He said later he knew the mixture had no medicinal qualities but also knew it wouldn't hurt the child while it gave some hope of recovery to the boy's parents. Miraculously, the boy's health was fully restored. The parents credited Osmun (he credited God) and in appreciation they gave the poor American prisoner "almost a handful of guineas." Long suffering for the "necessities of life as a prisoner," the money enabled Osmun to "procure the needful comforts" until he was freed.
He returned to the battlefield, was captured and imprisoned again in 1780, released again, and served almost until the end of the war with the rank of captain. By the late 1780s he was back in New Jersey and working as plantation overseer for Gen. David Forman in Monmouth County. When the general's brother, Ezekial Forman, decided to settle in Natchez country, Gen. Forman asked both his son, Samuel Forman, and Osman to accompany his brother and party of 100, including 60 slaves, on the long overland and river journey.
While in Louisville along the Ohio, the Forman party was followed by a white man who it was later revealed lived with a band of Indians which, said Samuel Forman, specialized in "murder and robbery." Just past the mouth of the Tennessee, as the Forman party's flatboats floated down the Ohio, the white man appeared on the bank "upon his bended knees," said Samuel, and shouted that he was being chased by Indians and begged for one of the flatboats to come to shore and save him.
Just as one of the flatboat pilots turned for shore, Osmun, said Samuel, "saw Indians in hiding behind trees along the bank." Immediately, Osmun warned of the ambush and the pilot steered the flatboat back to the middle of the river. Had Osmun not carefully observed the shoreline, said Forman, "the whole party might have been lured on shore and massacred" for their possessions on board.
About a year after arriving in Natchez, Samuel Forman returned to New Jersey. Captain Osmun stayed on to oversee Ezekial Forman's plantation and eventually branched out on his own after Ezekial's death in 1795.
As the overseer of the Forman plantations in New Jersey and later in Natchez, Osmun had a reputation of being especially kind and generous to the slaves and was said to have made sure that black families were never separated. With his military background, Osmun was commissioned by Mississippi Territory's first governor, Winthrop Sargent, as lieutenant-colonel of the Adams County militia, a position he held until his resignation in December 1806.
By 1791, Osmun was living at a home that became known as Windy Hill Manor. According to "Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State" (Federal Writers Project, 1938), to reach the home from downtown Natchez you went east on Liberty Road from Franklin Street for 4.1 miles then turned left off Liberty and journeyed another 1.8 miles along a rutted road. In historian John F.H. Claiborne's story "A Trip Through the Piney Woods," written in the 1840s, Claiborne said Windy Hill Manor was "three miles south of Washington" next to the plantation of Mrs. James Smith.
A simple structure, the home was later greatly enlarged. In 1798, Natchez became American and land prices can be exemplified in two property purchases Osmun made, one in 1800 when he bought 115 acres on Liberty Road for $200 ($1.74 per acre) and another in 1803 when he purchased 370 acres for $1,200 (about $3.25 per acre).
For three weeks in 1807, Osmun hosted at Windy Hill Manor an old friend from his war days, former Vice-President Aaron Burr, who had been arrested by the Mississippi Territory militia on orders originating from President Thomas Jefferson. Burr was also well known at the time as the victor in a duel with Alexander Hamilton in 1804, a fair fight which cost Hamilton his life but forever vilified Burr.
Arriving in Natchez country with dozens of men in nine boats, Burr visited another old Revolutionary War comrade prior to his arrest, Peter Bryan Bruin, a Mississippi Territory judge who lived at Bruinsburg near the mouth of Bayou Pierre in present day Claiborne County. Burr and Bruin served together at the Battle of Quebec.
A Grand Jury at the territorial capital of Washington failed to take any action against Burr on allegations that he was in the act of committing treason with designs of carving out his own nation. Burr countered that his plan was to settle property he had purchased along the Ouachita River in Louisiana.
After the Grand Jury failed to take any action, Burr, with Osmun's assistance, secretly slipped out of Natchez on February 5 after Judge Thomas Rodney refused to release him from his $5,000 security bond, which Osmun and another man had signed. Burr was later captured, tried and acquitted in federal court in Richmond, Va., with the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court presiding. He had left behind many important documents with Osmun which eventually were given to the family of Mississippi historian John F.H. Claiborne.
At Windy Hill Manor, Osmun lived a quiet life where he died in 1816 an old man, exact age unknown. He was said to have been wealthy and was remembered for his kindness. He was a lifelong bachelor.
After Osmun's death, Windy Hill Manor would in the years after become the home of the Stanton family and the lifelong home of three sisters, Elizabeth, Beatrice and Maude Stanton. In 1907, the home was featured in an article in the New York Times, which mentioned the Osmun-Burr relationship and centered on the brief courtship of Burr and Madeline Price, the beautiful daughter of a widow who lived nearby at the foot of a local landmark known as Halfway Hill. This hill may be located on Liberty Road somewhat to the east of the turnoff to Windy Hill Manor and may have represented the halfway point along the road between St. Catherine Creek at Natchez and Second Creek
Born in 1851, Elizabeth Stanton wrote a novel on the Burr conspiracy in 1917, entitled "Fata Morgana," a romance based on Burr's alleged dream of empire. The book received a negative review in the Aug. 25, 1918, edition of the New York Times. The reviewer said "even the most interesting facts can be made dull and dreary if presented in a dull and dreary way."
Elizabeth went on to serve as historian of the Colonial Dames of Mississippi for nine years. But the years following the Civil War were especially difficult for Natchez and for decades the sisters pinched their pennies at Windy Hill Manor. They attempted to keep the home's history alive as well as food on the table by giving tours for 25 cents per person in the 1930s. Elizabeth died in 1942 and Maude was the last sister to die a short time later.
For the next two decades, the house was empty, lonely and neglected before being demolished in the mid-1960s.
From bachelor to spinster did Windy Hill Manor live and die.
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