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Battleground Plantation

4 miles north of Sicily Island to Hwy 15
rural road 1 miles east

 

SPECIFIC DATES c.1850 BUILDER/ARCHITECT Dr. Henry J. Peck

Battleground Plantation is significant in the area of "Politics/Government" as the home of Dr. Henry J. Peck:(1803-1881). lt is of military significance as the site of the last major battle between the French and the Natchez Indians.

The tract of land which was to become the site of the Battleground house was purchased in 1808 by William M. Smith from John Lovelace, Sr. He received a 600-arpent tract in return for a consideration of $1016.1 Smith apparently built a house on the tract, for when Lovelace's heirs in 1816 acknowledged Smith's claim to the land, the document noted in passing that the tract was Athe same on which the said Smith resides."

In December, 1828, William Smith's daughter Laminda Smith (1811-1871), who had inherited the home and tract, married Dr. Henry J. Peck (1803-1881). According to family tradition, Dr. Peck built the Battleground home in 1829-1830 after moving to the site with his new wife.3 Since the architectural style of the extant house suggests a date of around 1850, it seems likely that the house which Dr. Peck built in 1829-1830 was later substantially altered to the present Greek Revival structure.

Data from the federal censuses of 1830-1860 reveal that Dr. Peck's holdings increased steadily during that period. According to the 1830 census, Dr. Peck owned nineteen slaves. By 1840 this figure had increased to 35.4 In 1850, Dr. Peck was listed as a 48-year-old planter heading a household of six and owning $40,000 in real estate. In that year he also owned 1382 acres of land and 65 slaves.5 By 1860 his holdings had increased to 75 slaves, 2200 acres of land, and $160,000 in real estate. During the previous year, his plantation had produced 400 bales of cotton and 5000 bushels of corn.

During the period before the Civil War, Dr. Peck was also active in politics, serving as a state senator, for example, from 1848 to 1852.7 Between 1848 and 1859, Dr. Peck contributed three articles to De Bow's Review. Two of these dealt with flood control, which according to tradition was one of his major interests as a legislator.8

During the decade of the 1830's, Battleground and the area around it were the scene of some scientific investigations by Dr. Clarendon Peck, the younger brother of Dr. Henry Peck. Dr. Clarendon Peck (1812-1837) was a botanist, and in 1833 and 1834 he gathered data for an article entitled "Notes on the Progress of Vegetation, or Blooming of Plants, at Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, from the 10th December to 14th May, 1833-4" published in 1836 in the Transylvania Journal of Medicine. The article consisted of a list of about 300 species of plants by scientific name alongside the dates they bloomed, with their common names and other observations sometimes included. Dr. Clarendon Peck received his M.D. degree from Transylvania University in 1835 and went to live and practice in Sicily Island, where he died prematurely at the age of twenty-five in 1837.

The Civil War and its aftermath brought great changes for the Pecks at Battleground. According to family tradition, Dr. Peck and his wife spent about three years of the war away from Battleground in Cherokee County, Texas. When the war was over they returned to Battleground, and in a letter of 1867 to former Governor Thomas O. Moore, Dr. Peck expressed his disillusionment in these words:

"I am 65 years of age and was the owner of 90 negroes before the war and a plantation of 2600 acres. I was making 400 bales of cotton per annum. I had 500 bales of cotton burned during the war by order of Gen. Taylor with my gin and mill. I have had two crops of cotton eaten up since the war by caterpillars. In short I am completely broken up and am disfranchised in consequence of having represented my district in the senate some years since."

But Dr. Peck was planning to escape the situation:

"I will not submit to Yankee degradation any longer than I am compelled to do so under these circumstances. I am disposed to emigrate to British Honduras. I will be greatly obliged to you to give me a letter addressed to the authorities of that country stating my standing as an old citizen of the State of Louisiana."

Dr. Peck never carried out his plan to emigrate, however, for he stayed in Catahoula Parish until his death in 1881. In the 1870 census, he is listed as a 67-year-old "retired physician" owning 450 acres of land worth $3300. He also owned $2350 acres of livestock, and during the previous year the farm had yielded 200 bushels of corn and 28 bales of cotton.12 The census of 1880 lists Dr. Peck as part of the household of his son Thomas N. Peck, so he may not have been living at Battleground by that date.

According to family tradition, soon after Dr. Peck's death in 1881, the plantation was sold to a cotton brokerage firm from New Orleans, which in turn leased the land to tenant farmers. Then, in the early 1900's, it was purchased by Charles Cornick (1869-1943).

A final note on the plantation concerns the region of its name. The plantation is called Battleground because it is the site of the last major battle between the Natchez Indians and the French. The battle occurred in January 1731 and marked the end of a period of several years of fighting and skirmishes between the two groups. The best historical account of the battle is that provided by John A. Green.

After a series of fights near present day Natchez, the remnants of the Natchez population fled westward. In late 1730 and early 1731 Governor Perier mounted and led a force against the Natchez. In late January of 1731, Perier came upon the Natchez who had fortified themselves. The French attacked the "fort" with musketry, grenades, and artillery fire. The battle lasted from the 21st to the 25th of January. Perier stated that on the 25th, 45 men and 450 women and children surrendered (Green, p. 556). On the 26th and 27th Perier worked "to demolish the fort and burn the wood of which it was constructed (Green, p. 556)."

Relying on a variety of historical evidence, Green concludes that the location of the Natchez fortification was approximately 400 yards north of the present Battleground Plantation house. His suggestions have been substantiated by the finding of a variety of artifacts in the area related to the battle (Green, p. .556-557). These include cannon balls, grape shot, swords, muskets, bombshell fragments, and gunflints. As late as 1825 an entrenchment presumably related to the fort was still evident in the area.

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