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|Poindexter-Hunt duel 1811: The politician vs. the rich man|
In 1811, two prominent Mississippi Territory citizens met on the dueling grounds of Concordia Parish -- George Poindexter, age 32, a lawyer and politician, and Abijah Hunt, age 58, possibly the richest man in the region.
Hunt came to Natchez around 1800 and received the first government contract to deliver mail between Nashville and Natchez. A native of New Jersey, he had a head for business and a knack for making good investments. He made a bundle as a sutler to the Army in Cincinnati and came to Natchez flush with cash.
He brought property -- lots of it -- built and operated cotton gins just as cotton was beginning to dominant the economy. He also operated general stores -- which were the Walmart's of the day -- with establishments in Natchez, Washington, the old town of Greenville in Jefferson County, Port Gibson and along the Big Black. He also was a cotton planter and owned plantations in Adams (3,645 acres), Jefferson and Claiborne counties and Concordia and Tensas parishes. He grew cotton, ginned cotton and brokered cotton, making money every step of the way, and was one of the founding investors in the Bank of Mississippi in 1809.
Hunt, like the first governor of the Mississippi Territory, Winthrop Sargent, was a member of the Federalist Party, which landed him squarely on the opposite side of George Poindexter, a Congressman and the former Attorney General. Hunt and Poindexter, a supporter of Jefferson and the Republican Party, got into a political squabble and the two wound up on the dueling grounds of Concordia on the plantation known as Palo Alto, located about a mile north of the Post of Concord (Vidalia).
POLITICS FUELED DUEL
Poindexter was bi-polar, known for his dark moods, and a binge drinker. He had accused his first wife of infidelity, divorced her, and then disowned his son based on the accusation. The son, Albert, never got over the rejection. When he died a young man and a pauper, an old friend of Poindexter's made sure Albert received a proper burial.
The friend wrote Poindexter: "Not withstanding the coldness you exhibited to me...I cannot permit the son of an old friend to fill a pauper's grave. No matter what your feelings may have been towards the poor boy, or may be towards me, I am simply doing what I would wish done for me, or mine, under similar circumstances."
Yet Poindexter had a fine legal mine, understood how to govern and knew how to serve the public. His personal demons sometimes disappeared long enough to allow him to succeed and achieve, but they always returned and dominated periods of his life.
The Poindexter-Hunt duel was the most significant of the many duels fought in this region, primarily because of the prominence of the two men involved. Today, the idea of a duel seems absolutely ridiculous. Why would two grown men, particularly men of means, want to risk their lives and the possibility of having blood on their hands over some disagreement -- petty or large?
Yet dueling became a respectable way to settle a score even though the results, in addition to wounded or dead men, could be two widows and a house full of fatherless children. It was, said Concordia historian Robert Dabney Calhoun, "simply the attitude of mind of the time that one's personal honor could be vindicated and maintained only in that way; and men in the highest walks of social life fought duels. Refusal to accept a challenge subjected the recipient to the humiliation of being publicly 'posted' as a coward."
The reason Natchez squabbles were settled on the grounds of Concordia was simple. In the early 1800s a bill passed the Mississippi Legislature that banned dueling. The law carried a $1,000 fine and a one-year prison sentence if no one was hurt. If someone died, murders charges were applicable.
In duels, the two principles had backups -- called "seconds" -- who in some instances could fire their own guns, depending on the rules of the contest. The seconds in this affair were Captain William C. Mead for Poindexter and Captain Ebenezer Bradish for Hunt.
According to historian John F.H. Claiborne, who in the 1880s published a book on the early history of Mississippi, Bradish, a New Yorker, "was a high-strung Federalist," of the party of President John Adams who appointed Mississippi Territory's first governor -- Winthrop Sargent. Also on Hunt's side was Judge Elijah Smith, who Claiborne called "a highly respectable citizen."
Poindexter's second was Mead, a Georgian, who, like Poindexter, was a President Thomas Jefferson man. Also taking part on behalf of Mead was Joseph R. Peyton of Virginia, then a lieutenant in the army. These men were Republicans.
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