By Roger G. Kennedy
From the letters sent by Roger Kennedy to Richard Thornton in 2010 and 2011 . . . Roger was Director of the National Museum of American History (1979-1992) and Director of the National Park Service (1993-1997)
Roger, Richard and Richard’s French soulmate, Vivi D’Abundance, simultaneously first met at a Smithsonian Christmas Party in 1990. During the two years that Richard was either living in a tent or the office of an abandoned chicken house, Roger regularly sent him essays about events or people, who shaped the “concealed” history of the Southeastern United States and its indigenous peoples. The stated purpose of these now precious legacies was to keep Richard’s brain from atrophying, while he was living in the national forests of the Southern Appalachians. Roger was especially amused that archaeologists would chose the term, Lamar Culture, to describe the Creek Indians . . . since several members of the Lamar Family sincerely wanted every Creek Indian exterminated.
“Whipping the Cherokees” was a profession for frontiersmen in Virginia, in Mirabeau Lamar’s native Georgia, in Tennessee, and in Arkansas, as warfare against Native Americans living on land fit for cotton became a part of the Southern way of life. Ferris’s “land mania” was, though “a kind of cotton insanity” useful to the textile manufacturers, for it assured an expanding supply of their raw material. One party of “cotton manufacturers from Manchester” delighted in its effects one evening at Dillon’s boardinghouse in Savannah, where “Cotton! Cotton! Cotton! was…[the] never-ceasing topic” of all discourse. Frederika Bremer, the Swedish novelist, passed the same spot on a steamer fifty years later, and the madness was still abroad in the land: “On deck, a few gentlemen, planters, who were polite and wished to talk, but talked only of cotton, cotton, cotton.”
Mesmerized and destabilized, the South became a vast flux. When prices were high, an endless flow of raw white fluffy stuff was sucked away; the rivers were white with it; the Gulf of Mexico bore currents of it from Mobile and New Orleans eastward, past the Keys and on across the Atlantic into the Irish Sea to Liverpool and Manchester. William Cullen Bryant described “long trains of cars heaped with bales, steamer after steamer loaded high with bales coming down the rivers, acres of bales on the wharves, acres of bales at the railway stations.”[i]
In Texas, the Lamar Administration was a planters’ government, permeated and animated by cotton insanity and land mania. Treasury Secretary Starr accumulated a fortune selling Texas land to the planters who arrived as soon as the militia of Thomas Jefferson Rusk succeeded in “removing” the Indians.
The Lamars sprang from a French family that arrived in Maryland in 1663 and emigrated to Georgia, became planters, accumulating land and slaves. After a hundred and fifty years, they produced a genuine tycoon, Gazaway Bugg Lamar. Among his other ventures was the John Randolph, the first iron steamship clove American waters. As a banker, Lamar is said to have financed the Mexican government of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. It is certain that he was at the time also advancing credit to the breakaway Texas government of his cousin Mirabeau. Most usefully. Its annual receipts were $1,083,661 and its expenditures were $4,855,213.
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, Sr. was a cousin of Gazaway Bugg Lamar. Among his sons were Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, Jr., and Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar. The former moved to Mississippi in 1849, was elected to Congress, drafted the Mississippi ordinance of secession, raised the 19th Mississippi Regiment for the Confederacy, served as its emissary in Europe, and, ultimately, as Judge-Advocate of the Third Army Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. After The War he returned to Mississippi, became a professor of metaphysics, and was elected to Congress, where he delivered an eloquent eulogy for the abolitionist Charles Sumner in April, 1874. Thereafter he became Senator, Secretary of the interior in the Cabinet of Grover Cleveland, and was elevated to the United States Supreme Court in 1887.
The brother of this paragon, President Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar of Texas, was a poet, painter, cotton planter, remover of Indians, and politician. After failing as a merchant in Georgia, he served as private secretary to Governor George Troup of Georgia while the Cherokees were removed from Georgia and ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 1832 and 1834 on a nullification platform. In 1835 he followed his friend James W. Fannin, Jr., to Texas, and joined Fannin in the advocacy of Independence for Texas lest it fall into the hands of either British or Mexican abolitionists. When Santa Anna responded by insisting upon Mexican sovereignty, Lamar enlisted as a private, rescued two Texas heroes under fire on the field of San Jacinto, and, though he had no previous military experience, was made Secretary of War in the first government organized under this — finally successful — Texas revolution. A month thereafter Lamar was also a major general and commander in chief of the Texas Army. His luck held: he won election to the Presidency of Texas to succeed Houston, who was barred from succeeding himself — after his two opponents both committed suicide.
[i]. This passage is drawn from Architecture, Men, Women, and Money, p.326. Bryant quoted in Mills Lane, People of Georgia, p. 154 ff.