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Story Archives: Judge canes editor during 1815 political squabble in Natchez
|Judge canes editor during 1815 political squabble in Natchez|
In the days when the Spanish were preparing to transfer possession of Natchez to the American government in 1798, Andrew Marschalk, a 31-year-old soldier from New York, was stationed at Walnut Hills (Vicksburg) with a detachment of U.S. troops. A veteran of the Revolutionary War as a member of the Continental Army, Marschalk's true love was printing.
He owned a small mahogany press and at the Walnut Hills, he printed a ballad, popular in the day, called "The Galley Slave." Marschalk recalled years later: "Great excitement was caused in Natchez by the knowledge of a press being in the country, and strong inducements were held out for me to remove to that place."
After the territorial Legislature was organized, Marschalk was hired as the official printer. By 1802, Marschalk, at the age of 35, was publishing a newspaper, one of several he edited and published over the years. In 1815, the gregarious and easy-to-approach writer, owned the Washington Republican, based in the territorial capital of Washington, located six miles east of Natchez.
George Poindexter arrived in Natchez country in December 1802, the same year Marschalk started his first newspaper. The 22-year-old came from Virginia. He was a lawyer and attracted to Mississippi Territory like other young men from across the country, where opportunities in land, agriculture and riches abounded.
According to Nineteenth Century historian John F.H. Claiborne, Poindexter arrived here in the days when political parties "were personal rather than political." Early on, Marschalk, a Federalist, and Poindexter, a Republican, stood on opposite sides politically. In fact, Poindexter was often the target of Marschalk's scathing and venomous articles. The two men despised each other.
What flamed the existing tension even more was a duel in 1811 in which Poindexter shot Abijah Hunt, a prominent businessman who was a Federalist, like Marschalk. On the Concordia dueling grounds just north of the Vidalia riverfront, Poindexter emerged victorious, shooting Hunt, who later died. Claims would follow that Poindexter fired "before the word" to "fire" was given. Marschalk printed these allegations in his newspaper and also reported other accusations against Poindexter.
PAPER ATTACKS JUDGE
No one was surprised that Poindexter fought back and fought hard. His reputation for confrontation was well known. A gambler and binge drinker who was subject to prolonged dark moods, Poindexter came close to dueling several men in addition to Hunt. He got into a fist fight in Natchez one day with a man he believed had slept with his wife, Lydia. So convinced was Poindexter of the affair, that he disowned his son, Albert, believing that the boy was the product of his wife's alleged affair.
Marschalk reported these things and Poindexter, the hot-headed native Virginian, didn't sit still. For the first time, Poindexter took on a man who owned a printing press and bought ink by the barrel. The historian Claiborne, himself a former newspaperman, summed up the difficulties for a public person taking on the press "The individual who engages in a controversy with the conductor of a newspaper encounters fearful odds. No matter how just his quarrel, or great his abilities, the advantages are with his opponent, who can always have the last word, and is more or less regarded as the guardian of the public welfare. The writer may be malignant and unjust, wholly influenced by personal or party resentments, or even by mercenary motives, but the people have been educated to regard him as their representative and champion, and the majority are always sure to side with him, especially if the antagonist be one whose talents or virtues have made him obnoxious to the base and envious."
In May 1811, just one month before Poindexter shot Hunt in the duel, rumors began to swirl that Poindexter had beaten a widow out of money. Although there was evidence to the contrary. Marchalk's reporting on the matter was biased. Wrote Claiborne: "This is but a sample of the annoyances by which he (Poindexter) was assailed. His enemies were numerous, violent and implacable."
Claiborne said Marschalk's newspaper "bitterly opposed George Poindexter and many of his personal and political friends. Judge Poindexter, particularly, was assailed week after week, in the most aggravating style."
Although Poindexter was often attacked, he continued to advance politically. He had served as Attorney General, served two terms in Congress as a Representative, and was appointed judge in 1808. Claiborne said Poindexter "displayed on the bench the same ability, acuteness and capacity for labor that had distinguished him in Congress, but his appointment displeased his old enemies, and they used the columns of" Marchalk's newspaper "very freely against him."
Those "columns" Claiborne referred to were articles similar to a "letter to the editor" today with the exception that the most slanderous and outrageous charges would be made, somewhat similar to what appears on some blogs today in which the writer's name is not attributed. Back then, though, if the charges weren't attributed by name the editor accepted responsibility for whatever was printed.
Week after week, the newspaper blasted the judge, reporting accusations that Judge Poindexter had raped a young woman and that he had fled the action during the Battle of New Orleans. In fact, Marchalk's paper reported that during the height of battle, Poindexter hid in the lap of a general's servant.
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