From the Charlton Moore Clark Collection
Mississippi Department of Archives and History
CHARLTON M. CLARK
Attala County is proud of her pioneers from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia, with a few Yankee attracted by cheap lands of which the Choctaw Indians had been despoiled.
While many settlers brought a few slaves into the wilderness a century ago, our pioneers were mainly young married folks, not wealthy as were those who settled earlier around Natchez.
The First Families of Attala trekked across country by wagons, being several weeks en route, or floated down rivers in flat boats completing their perilous journeys over (the) robber-infested Natchez Trace. These pioneers cleared forests, built log cabins and prospered. Their descendants, while more cultured, were not averse to honest work.
There was not sufficient time from the period when the country was settled until the Civil War for making large fortunes, which explains why Attala and central Mississippi have so few imposing ante-bellum mansions. Each Attalla plantation tried to be self sufficient. Among the slaves (that) my grandfather, Major James Greene Clark brought from South Carolina was a blacksmith, “Wash,” who worked for (his) owner and (the) neighbors in the Bethel neighborhood. Most plantations had slave carpenters and shoemakers.
Before the Civil War, cotton and wool were carded, spun and woven into cloth in Attala on spinning wheels and looms made at or near Kosciusko by a noted early settler, Hosea Crowder. He and his sons also made the famous Crowder chairs.
When the supply of cotton increased by use of Atwood gins, made near Kosciusko, spinning and weaving quickened in Attala, (but), like Grandfather’s clock, which stopped when the old man died, the Atwoods closed their factory for good on the day General Lee surrendered.
While no hostile armies laid waste (to) Attala, the Civil War ruined Kosciusko’s chance of becoming a great manufacturing city. Except for the war the Atwood factory would have continued to supply a great part of the South with cotton gins, and Kosciusko would have been on the main line of the Illinois Central Railroad, instead of being on a branch line.
On some Attala plantations yarn was spun by pioneer housewives and their serving women, which yarn was sent to a small factory, near French Camp, in adjoining Choctaw County, and there woven into cloth.
My father, M. (Micajah) Adolphus Clark told me of an early Kosciusko merchant and lawyer, Press Groves, going to New York for his mercantile supplies. He was disgruntled when he brought his goods home by steamer and wagon to find that his cloth supply had been made at French Camp.
Good wheat was grown in Attala before the Civil War and was ground into flour in local water and steam mills.
Mr. Sam Mitchell, grandfather to my brother’s wife, Mrs. Alta Kelly Clark, had a water mill near Bethel. His residence nearby, one of the few ante-bellum mansions in the county, was built of native materials, including hand wrought nails.
A steam mill in the Rochester neighborhood owned by my kinsmen, the Rosamonds, and a mill south of town on the Natchez ‘trace and other mills in the country, ground wheat and corn and sawed lumber.
My grandfather commanded the Attala Militia, with rank of Major. He died in middle life a few years after coming to Attala, leaving a widow and several minor children.
My grandmother, Frances Webb Clark, with rare courage and efficiency, ran the plantation, educated her children and acquired a competency. Although a woman of aristocratic birth and untiring
energy, like other pioneer women of her day she smoked a pipe unashamed.
Grandmother never tolerated idleness and would not permit her daughters or house guests to sit without knitting or embroidering. The chief duty of her grandson, my fox-chasing cousin, Frank Gentry as a young boy, was to transport live coals from the fireplace to grandmother’s pipe in her later life. There were no matches in those days.
Frank Gentry inherited his passion for hunting foxes from Clark and Webb ancestors from South Carolina and Virginia, who, with large packs of hounds, chased foxes and deer.
Our pioneers were honest and law abiding. Some were not well educated or overly religious, as schools and churches were scarce. To illustrate, I recall a story of an Attala pioneer who was overtaken by a severe storm while waling in the woods with his young grandson from Virginia, a lad with a Sunday School background.
As the old man strode towards a clearing, the boy timidly inquired, “Why, grandpa, don’t you know “God can save you in the woods just as well as in the field? The old man gasped, and not irreverently: “Yes, son, I know he kin, but the hell of it is, WILL HE?”
I am immensely proud of my pioneer ancestors and especially of my pipe-smoking grandmother. She would never have been satisfied with the synthetic smokes of the girls of today even if there had been cigarettes in her home.
I wonder if posterity will not follow her example.
Charlton M. Clark
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