We’re featuring a series of articles written by Stanley Nelson and published by the Concordia Sentinel in 2010. Today I’m posting the first part of Mr. Nelson’s article published on September 29, 2010. In this article, Mr. Nelson beautifully lays out General Quitman’s background before moving to Natchez. As we all know where we grow up and family plays a large part in who we become – both positively and negatively. Who we CHOOSE to become because of, or despite, these factors and so many others is, of course, entirely up to us. It would seem that General Quitman had his own personal demons to fight - as so many people do - and then he found real ones to fight when he entered the military. Until next time – happy travels – and we do hope your travels take you to Monmouth, where history, tranquility, beauty and so much more await you.
In 1821, John Quitman, age 23, seeks fortune in Natchez
By Stanley Nelson
September 29, 2010
John Anthony Quitman came to Natchez in 1821 to practice law and determined to make his fortune. The 23-year-old was proud to say he didn't owe another man a dime.
Strong and athletic, he was a marksman with a rifle and once took on two men in a fist fight that after 10 minutes duration his opponents shouted, "Enough! Enough!"
He studied the ministry and taught the classics, but like most boys who grew listening to stories told by Revolutionary War veterans was overcome with a fever for the military. He was an entertaining and competent writer, prolific in his letters home and kept a diary. As a child and teen he battled depression that forced him into isolation but somehow overcame the melancholy as an adult.
In Natchez he married into wealth, became a slave holder, and later an advocate for state's rights. He served as general grandmaster of the Mississippi Masons, was elected governor and stepped upon the world stage during the Mexican War in 1846-47. There, he served as a brigadier general under Gen. Zachary Taylor, a future President, and Gen. Winfield Scott, a future presidential candidate who once fought a duel in Natchez. After victory, Quitman served as civil and military governor of Mexico City.
The love for the uniform was in his genes. Quitman's grandfather was a general in Europe and a government official in Prussia. Quitman's father, Frederick Henry Quitman, was a learned man, educated in theology who had spent much time studying the life of his idol, George Washington. Quitman's mother, Anna Elizabeth Hueck, was said to have possessed a "carefully cultivated" mind.
In the latter part of the 18th Century John Quitman's parents moved to America. In Philadelphia, Frederick Quitman was overjoyed to meet his hero, President Washington: "His manner was grave and reserve rather than haughty. The countenance in repose was meditative and sad. His conversation was not fluent or very striking, except for its common sense. There was that about him which I can not forget. I can not define it, but I am constantly thinking of him, and seem to be constrained by his presence..."
Washington and his wife, Mary, invited Frederick Quitman to a tea. The guests enjoyed Madeira, toast, muffins and salted herring as well as Virginia ham, which came from the President's Mt. Vernon plantation on the Potomac. He said Mrs. Washington "was stately and dame-like, but cordial."
The Quitmans settled in New York state. John, the third son, was born in 1798, the year the Mississippi Territory was created by Congress. Six years later, John's mother died.
John F.H. Claiborne, who wrote a biography of Quitman -- "Life and Correspondence of John A Quitman," Vol. 1, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1860 -- said a friend described the young man as fiercely competitive, intelligent, well read and mechanically minded. Quitman built furniture and once carved out a chess board to play the game he enjoyed. He loved hunting.
His depression as a youth continued into his early manhood and concerned his father, who wrote him: "Your letter is a little desponding. What reasons can a young man have for melancholy, unless they be of his own creation? Occasional propensity to gloom seems to be a family complaint...Banish sorrow, John, and never brood over imaginations...."