A scandalous allegation & the death of young Albert Poindexter
by Stanley Nelson - posted Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 @ 1:33 pm
As a boy, George Poindexter was remarkably smart, but restless. He couldn't sit still. Known to be "fond of frolic," he also grew to despise authority.
Baptist brethren once scolded him for wearing a queue (long ponytail) that, though fashionable for men in the late 1700s, was contrary to Paul's teachings that long hair on men is shameful. To this, Poindexter expressed himself plainly. He quit the church.
According to historian John F.H. Claiborne. who wrote about Poindexter in the 19th century book on Mississippi and collected his letters and papers, Poindexter was "a stickler in small as well as in great things, fond of squabbling, would never give way a hair's breadth, and was, consequently, perpetually embroiled."
After the death of his parents in Virginia, Poindexter moved in with one of his brothers, James, in Kentucky, who got Poindexter a job with an attorney where the young man studied law and was looking to the future. But Poindexter was later fired for gambling and playing too much.
He returned to Virginia, set up his own law practice and did okay until his fondness for living above his means and his reckless pursuits, including poker, gambling and women, resulted in great debt. Poindexter decided it was time for a change. Cashless, he sold some property and borrowed money after another of his brothers, John, co-signed a note.
But Poindexter only repaid half the debt, leaving brother John responsible for the rest. Years later Poindexter still owed John, who wrote in a letter:
"At a time when you could not remain here, and could not go for the want of means, I borrowed that money for you, which no other man on earth would have done, and the payment of it, as you must know, has cramped me, and compelled me to stint my large family. Since I got the money for you, more than seven years have elapsed, of prosperity with you, and adversity with me."
Poindexter had used that borrowed money to travel to the Mississippi Territory in December 1802, a place everybody in Virginia had heard about. Natchez was growing, property was available and lawyers were in demand. Poindexter immediately drew business, but his mood was low.
In early 1803, 23-year-old Poindexter wrote one of his sisters to update her on his life. In the depths of depression, a state in which he often dipped, things seemed bleak.
"Here I am, without society, and without the hope of forming any," he penned. But his sister didn't feel sorry for him. She figured he was broke again, and knew about his erratic mood swings. He said some bad things about the prospects for a wife in Natchez country.
His sister wrote him back: "Your impressions of the ladies of your new country seem unfavorable. You, however, have this consolation, that you are not dependent on their beauty and graces for advancement in your profession. A man of business is not obliged to attend fashionable assemblies."
Noted Claiborne: "Mr. Poindexter was not at any time a ladies' man, nor had the traits of character, nor the refined and deferential manners to make him a favorite with them. He was coarse and boisterous, with a loud, preemptory voice, and a decided inclination for courthouse and tavern circles."
But soon came an opportunity that transformed his professional life. Just a few months after his arrival in Natchez, Gov. William Charles Cole Claiborne named Poindexter Attorney General for the district of the Mississippi Territory between the Mississippi and the Pearl rivers. Gov. Claiborne, also a native Virginian, knew that the young man had a good knowledge of the law and might be capable of serving well.
In fact, Poindexter went on to serve in almost every major office in Mississippi for the next few decades. He became known as a good legislator in the halls of Congress, considered an authority on national issues, and helped lead Mississippi from a territorial government to one of a state.
But his accomplishments were always overshadowed by his debilitating bouts of depression and his personal actions.
In 1807, Poindexter, as the leading prosecutor in the region, agreed when a grand jury failed to indict former Vice-President Aaron Burr for treason. Poindexter felt the case against Burr was weak. As many citizens praised his stance as opposed it.
In 1811, he was villified after killing a respected merchant and planter, Abijah Hunt, in a duel at Vidalia. For years, men on both sides gave depositions about the circumstances of the event, some claiming that Poindexter fired before word was given. History indicates that the duel was a fair fight and that Poindexter committed no foul.
Poindexter suffered from a mental condition that was in his day called "folic circulaire" by two French physicians. This was a disease in which the patient, explained Dr. T.S. Clouston, suffers "regularly remitting and recurring periods of mental exaltation, depression, and sanity. The patient, in fact, may be said to live three lives, during each of which he is in a different condition emotionally, intellectually, and in conduct." In today's world, his condition would likely have been diagnosed as "bipolar."
Poindexter seemed to manage this condition in his highly-successful professional life, but his personal life seemed always in shambles.