Meredith Calhoun

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Meredith Calhoun​

(Plantation owner and journalist
in central Louisiana)


Born 1805​
South Carolina, USA​

Resident of Colfax, Grant Parish, Louisiana

Died March 14, 1869 (aged c. 63)​
Paris, France
Political Party Democrat
Spouse Mary Smith Calhoun (married 1834-1869, his death)

Children:
William Smith Calhoun
Marie Marguerite Ada Lane​

Meredith Calhoun (1805 – March 14, 1869) was a planter and a newspaper editor in Grant Parish, north of Alexandria, Louisiana, known for his editorial activism on behalf of the Democratic Party.​

Biography

​ Calhoun was born in South Carolina but moved to Rapides Parish in central Louisiana c. 1830. On May 24, 1834, he married the former Mary Margaret Smith Taylor, granddaughter of William Smith, an Alabama judge and former United States Senator from South Carolina, on May 24, 1834. Their children were William Smith "Willie" Calhoun (born c. 1835) and Marie Marguerite Ada (born c. 1845). The couple purchased fourteen thousand acres from Senator Smith, who had acquired the land in 1836. They divided the property fronting the Red River into four plantations on which they grew primarily cotton and sugar cane. The Calhouns established one of the largest sugar mills in Louisiana and their estate was valued in excess of $1 million in the 1860 United States Census,[1] a considerable holding at that time.​

"Calhoun's Landing," as the principal plantation was called, became an important shipping point on the Red River. Calhoun purchased the Red River Democrat newspaper and renamed it the National Democrat. The publication was strongly supportive of the 1860 Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois.[1] Douglas, however, was soundly trounced nationally by the Republican choice, Abraham Lincoln, also of Illinois. Louisiana voted for the outgoing Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, running as the breakaway "Southern Democratic" candidate.[2]​ ​ In 1869, four years after the ending of the American Civil War, Calhoun died while in Paris, France. Mrs. Calhoun died some two years later on June 11, 1871. Their son, Willie Calhoun, became like his maternal grandfather, a state senator who worked to establish Grant Parish separate from the more populous Rapides Parish to the south.[1][3]

Calhoun and Simon Legree

Reports surfaced long after Calhoun's demise that he had been the model of the cruel slaveholder, Simon Legree, in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. In 1896, William Hugh Robarts claimed that Stowe, by then deceased, had told him in Boston, Massachusetts, that the Legree character was based on Calhoun. According to Robarts, Stowe never met Calhoun, but she was told of his plantation on the Red River by a Mississippi River pilot originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[4]

The evidence, however, is contradictory. J. E. Dunn, a Louisiana correspondent for the former New Orleans Times-Democrat, quickly repudiated Robarts' claim that Calhoun was the plantation owner that Stowe had in mind in her caricature. Calhoun was cultured, educated, and a gentleman, with looks that never seemed to age. The fictitious Legree was uncouth, brutal, and ignorant, characteristics perhaps of one or more of Calhoun's overseers. Simon Legree in the novel is a northerner, but while Calhoun was born in Pennsylvania, he lived in South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana for much of his adult life. Robarts claimed that Calhoun had been a bachelor for many years and that there was a considerable age difference between Calhoun and his wife. Yet, Calhoun was only thirty years of age when their son was born.[5]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Calhoun, Meredith. A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography: Louisiana Historical Association. Retrieved on April 28, 2020.
  2. The Election of 1860: Results by States. learnnc.org. Retrieved on December 23, 2010; material no longer accessible.
  3. In its article on Calhoun, A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography uses as sources the Red River Republican, Red River Democrat, and The Shreveport Times, Rapides and Grant parish courthouse records; United States Census reports, and Mary Fletcher Harrison and Lavina McGuire McNeely, Grant Parish, Louisiana, A History (1969).
  4. Model for Mrs. Stowe: Meredith Calhoun Was the Original Cruel Simon Legree, His Red River Plantation. iath.virginia.edu (July 19, 1896). Retrieved on April 28, 2020.
  5. J. E. Dunn (August 31, 1896). About Uncle Tom's Cabin: A Louisianian Says Meredith Calhoun Was Not a Model for Legree. utc.iath.virginia.edu (correspondence of The New Orleans Times-Democrat). Retrieved on April 28, 2020.

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