Historic Structures

Edward Kenworthy Carlisle Kenworthy Hall - Carlisle-Martin House, Marion Alabama

In 1829 the widowed Susannah Curry Carlisle moved from Lincoln County, Georgia, to Perry County, Alabama, following the immigrant tracks of other family members who had already made the journey into the old Southwest Territory. As a single woman endowed with some family wealth, particularly slaves she brought with her from Georgia, Susannah bought land and established a new home for herself and her family just outside of Marion. Dr. Edward Carlisle's death in 1821 left her with the care of seven young children, four sons and three daughters. The young sons, not yet of age, selected Jabez Curry as their guardian. Edward Kenworthy Carlisle was barely eleven years old and already sensible to the importance of good connections for his future prosperity. Jabez Curry, only twenty-five years old himself, would prove to be an illustrious mentor, becoming one of the more powerful men in Perry County as a landowner and slave holder. When E. K. Carlisle married Lucinda Wilson Walthall in 1841, he became more ingrained in the community's founding families. John Walthall, Lucy's father, had arrived in Perry County in 1830, but John's brother, Richard Booker Walthall had settled even earlier, in 1820, making him one of the region's pioneers. With Jabez Curry, John Walthall, and Richard Walthall as part of his economic network, Carlisle had significant connections to aid him in his own career endeavors, which bridged the planter and mercantile worlds when he became a level-headed commissions merchant in Mobile around 1838, later adding the qualifications of cotton factor to his credentials. Carlisle's upbringing amidst ambitious planters and the varied forms of livestock and produce which made up plantation life in early Alabama, prepared him for his eventual role as a cotton factor. But it was his strict business ethics, no-nonsense attitude, and utter dependability which made him a success in his chosen career.

Even before the Territory of Alabama achieved statehood in 1819, having been carved from the western half of the Mississippi Territory in 1817, settlers flooded into the region from the neighboring states, laying claim to lands. The hopefuls arrived from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee, and particularly bought up lands with access to Mobile, already long an important port city. Perry County was created by an act passed 13 December 1819, although the county did not see an influx of settlers for many years. In 1822 the sparsely settled community of Muckle Ridge became the county seat, beating out other contenders that boasted available whiskey and good fishing as their advantages. Muckle Ridge's more central location and its relatively elevated situation promised freedom from floods which plagued many of Alabama's lowland communities. Once selected as the county seat, leaders promptly renamed the town Marion, honoring Francis Marion, one of the southern heroes of the American Revolution, who fought in his home state of South Carolina. The change in name reflected their ambitions for the town as something more than one founding man's outpost, but as a place to be taken seriously.

Despite the opening of a hotel, a few stores, a school, and even a church, Marion, and Perry County, grew slowly. It was not until the 1830s that more people gravitated to Perry County and settled in and near Marion. The frontier town developed on the edge of the flat Black Belt, land named for the heavy, dark, damp soil which extended in a swath across the central section of Alabama. The Black Belt soon proved a wise place to relocate. Originally overlooked in the rush for real estate due to what were considered its insalubrious qualities and its inconvenience to markets, the Black Belt soon became some of the most desirable agricultural land in the state. A new type of cotton, brought up from Mexico, flourished in the fertile soil, producing bigger, disease resistant bolls of cotton which brought premium prices from domestic as well as foreign buyers. This new type of cotton, paired with Daniel Pratt's manufacture of cotton gins, allowed for previously unimagined productivity. The pack boats which plied Alabama's navigable rivers, however, were hardly sufficient to transport significant amounts of cotton. Then in the 1820s steamboats became a viable means of transporting goods, and by 1835 freight and packet lines were operating out of Mobile along all of the major rivers. The impact of this technology is especially evident when one considers the number of Black Belt planters who grew incredibly wealthy in the succeeding decades. Even with these advancements, however, plantation owners were dependent upon the whims of the weather and the seasons. The rivers had low stages that prevented the shipment of cotton and other goods for months at a time, a problem that the relatively slow expansion of the railroads was slow to remedy, with only 150 miles of railroad in the state by 1850. On the steamboats, accidents, explosions, sinkings, collisions, and fires were also not infrequent, offering good reason why Carlisle insisted that everything he shipped, whether cotton or personal merchandise, be insured for damage or loss. The railroad was especially slow to influence Perry County's development, with the Cahaba and Marion Railroad not arriving until 1857, the year before Edward Kenworthy Carlisle began to build Kenworthy Hall.

Marion and its surrounding lands became the residence and local trade center of choice for many wealthy Black Belt and Perry County planters, not only as the Perry County seat, but as a trade, education, and cultural center. By the 1830s townspeople began to build and maintain roads, to construct a court house that was more than a shack, and to organize churches. If the education levels of Carlisle's relatives are any standard, the surrounding land and community attracted many well-schooled immigrants who endeavored to fashion a semblance of culture out of the mud. Stage coach lines and river travel connected the community to the rest of the world at the same time as individuals subscribed to and shared local, state, and out-of-state publications, particularly those of interest to farmers. Energetic church members and educators founded three important schools in Marion. Methodists founded the Marion Female Seminary, which remained open from 1836 until 1918. The Judson Female Institute, founded in 1838, was taken over by the Baptists in 1904 and is still in operation as Judson College. Howard College for men opened in 1842, which, when it moved to Birmingham in 1888, was immediately replaced by the Marion Military Institute, also still in operation. The colleges offered unparalleled opportunities for socializing and otherwise scant cultural entertainment. The community played such an important role in antebellum Alabama that when the State decided to move the seat of government from Cahaba, Marion was given serious consideration before the title went to Montgomery in 1846. Further testament to Marion's days as a wealthy Black Belt community are the streets lined with classically designed houses dating from the days of prosperity. Many planters built houses in town convenient to the local attractions in addition to residences on their plantation properties.

Black Belt prosperity was a relatively short-lived phenomenon. Its wealth was in direct relationship to the demands for cotton throughout the world, the fertile soil, and the captive source of labor which produced the cotton. Real estate constantly changed hands as landowners sought to increase their holdings, often buying up parcels from less successful smaller farmers who found it impossible to survive the economic downturns, such as those which devastated many in the 1830s and conflicts in Europe which stifled the market in the mid-1840s. Men like Elisha F. King added property every year, from his arrival in Perry County in 1820, when he acquired 1028 acres, until he died in 1852, having amassed 7995 acres. While Carlisle and his relatives' holdings were not this extensive, they too invested in land and slaves, with their names appearing frequently in the grantor/grantee indexes for Perry County. Between 1843 and 1867, for instance, Carlisle's name appeared in twenty-one transactions as the grantor. Many of Carlisle's relatives likely owned lands in other counties and states as well. In 1859 he paid $119.00 in taxes on 320 acres in Neshoba County, Mississippi, although it is not clear what he did with that land nor how long he kept it. It is no coincidence that as plantation sizes grew in Perry County, so did the number of slaves. By 1830 Perry County's white population reached 7149 and the black population 4341. Over the next thirty years the white population grew relatively little to 9479, whereas the number of blacks more than quadrupled to 18,245. In 1860 Jabez Curry owned 165 slaves, John Walthall 64, and Leonidas Walthall 100, with many other relatives owning similar numbers.

Carlisle descendants have liked to claim that Edward Kenworthy Carlisle did not advocate slavery and only kept those that he and his wife inherited. Lucy Jones Pairo, Carlisle's granddaughter, wrote that "while Mr. Carlisle did not approve of slavery and never bought or sold any, his wife inherited a number of slaves, many of whose progenitors had been in the family since the early settlement of Virginia." When Mrs. Susannah Carlisle made out her will in 1844 each child was to inherit their portion of the ten slaves then owned by her, with her youngest son Elihu, not yet twenty, due to inherit all the "land and real estate, stock of horses, mules, cattle, hogs, household and kitchen furniture, and the Negro man Jim Fourth." Edward was to receive "a Negro woman by the name of Daphney and the future increase of said Negro woman." In 1860 Carlisle owned fifteen slaves, a small number when compared to the rest of his family, making it seem that perhaps he was not actively in the market for slaves. If Carlisle was uneasy about slavery it did not prevent him from selling the products of slave labor, nor from purchasing and selling slaves for his clients through his factoring business. In 1848 Foster Mark Kirksey, then of Eutaw, commissioned Carlisle to negotiate the sale of a slave. The surviving papers do not record whether or not he sold the man, but leave evidence of the complicated process of waiting for a good price on human chattel, which had to be looked after, versus selling plantation produce which could be simply warehoused to await the best price. Had Carlisle relied more on the products of his plantation he too may have depended upon slaves to provide the necessary labor. Several sources report that after the war some of the Carlisle slaves remained as paid servants to the Carlisle family. "Although the place has passed out of the family," wrote Pairo in the 1920s or 30s, "some of the descendants of those slaves are still there."

According to Harold D. Woodman, author of King Cotton and His Retainers, much more attention has been focused upon plantation life and the production of cotton than understanding the role of cotton factors in the sale and distribution of cotton. Far from being men with purely self-serving interests who overcharged for their services and controlled planters' crops, in antebellum Alabama cotton factors played a vital role both for the planter and for the cotton industry. Quite simply, the cotton factor was the person that planters employed to conduct their business for them in the major ports. As a cotton factor it was Carlisle's responsibility to find the best market price for the plantation owners, many of whom were life-long acquaintances, friends, and family. In most cases, the factor kept detailed records of the transactions and the flow of money coming and going from the planters' accounts, yet it was "mutual trust between gentlemen rather than the law and written contracts [which] dominated the relationship." The factor was expected to get the best market price for the bales of cotton, at the same time as he was also expected to search for the lowest possible cost for other items throughout the year, including luxury items, groceries, rope, woolen goods, and farm equipment. He also served as a source of loans throughout the year, whenever cash happened to run short or the planter wanted to purchase land or slaves, two of the more expensive and vital commodities in a planter's life. The factor would note the transactions in his accounts, registering debits and credits against the planters' sale of bales of cotton. In exchange for his services the factor charged 2 1/2% for all transactions. Often balancing the records of debt extended after the death of a client. When John M. Walthall, Carlisle's wife's cousin, died in 1850, Carlisle made claims on the estate for $8040.05.

One of the greatest advantages of hiring a factor was that he freed the planter to go about his business on the plantations. The planter might travel to Mobile once or twice a year to conduct business, but was otherwise kept abreast of his accounts through regular correspondence. Like many factors, Carlisle received the cotton bales, even storing them if he needed to wait for an improvement in the market. This proved beneficial to the planters, who, if they had to oversee the delivery and sale of their own cotton would have had to settle for whatever the market demanded rather than remain too far away from their land awaiting a better price. Many daily publications were readily available to the planter declaring the latest market prices so that the factor could also expect the planter to have knowledge of recent rates, albeit a little dated due to slow mails getting up the rivers. Carlisle often corresponded with his clients on folded foolscap publications such as the Mobile Merchants' Exchange Price Current, with one side of the publication dedicated to prices and the movement of ships and goods in and out of Mobile, and the other side left blank for the factor's correspondence.

Records survive which detail Carlisle's business relationships with several planters in Marengo County, some of whom Carlisle worked with for many years, and others for only a few transactions. In these records his concerns were for more than just cotton, but also the purchase and sale of farm equipment. Being a cotton factor and commissions merchant was a competitive business in which Carlisle seems to have fared well, but even he felt the need to advertise regularly in newspapers throughout the Black Belt and to let past clients know that he was still interested in doing business for them. "I passed your plantation once the past summer," wrote Carlisle to John G. Allen. "Not having heard from you for some time prompts me to write you. I once sold cotton for you and hope you will favor me again this season with your patronage." The planter was not limited to sending his business to only one factor or even to one port. Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans, while not always convenient, offered ready outlets for planters hoping for the greatest profits from their crops.

Even Carlisle's own family took advantage of the services of other factors at the same time as they did business with Carlisle. When Leonidas N. Walthall had building and decorative materials sent from New York City for his Upjohn designed villa, he had them shipped to one of the best known firms in Mobile, rather than to his brother-in-law. When the Upjohn firm sent goods for Carlisle through the same commission merchants firm, after explicit requests not to, Carlisle reprimanded them sternly because the mistake was not only an insult, it cost him the amount of the commission to obtain his goods. Walthall was so accustomed to the factoróclient relationship that he inadvertently turned the office of R. Upjohn & Co. into a commissions merchant agency and only belatedly remembered, after receiving several shipments of goods, to tell them that he fully expected to be charged for their services, implying that purchases had been made as favors rather than as business transactions. The Upjohns offered Walthall irresistible direct access to the New York City markets, and supplied this southern gentleman with pianos, cookstoves, shawls, lap desks, fine writing paper, fabrics, dress patterns, and kegs of port, sherry and whiskey, like the building supplies.

The onset of the Civil War altered everyone's ways of doing business, particularly in severing the markets in the north that had sustained steady demand for southern cotton. Carlisle, shrewd businessman that he was, endured and even profited during the Civil War. The surviving records of Carlisle & Humphries, one incarnation of Carlisle's factoring business, reveal that the sale of cotton did not cease for many of Carlisle's clients; in fact, profits and prices were at a high. An 1863 receipt survives from Carlisle to his brother Robert which records that Carlisle sold twentyseven bales of cotton weighing from 495 to 543 pounds, totaling 14,132 pounds. Carlisle sold the cotton for $.15 per pound, a good price before the war, when rates usually averaged $.11-.12 per pound, depending upon the quality. In the middle of the war Carlisle sold one of the finest homes in Marion, the Whitsitt-Scott house on Lafayette Street, for $12,000.00. The purchase of the house in 1861 may have been made on speculation, but may also have been an attempt to provide his family with a home in the relative safety of town. Cotton production continued even as the fighting came very close to Carlisle's home in Marion and ravaged other sections of the Black Belt. Getting the cotton downriver and out of Mobile proved to be the greatest challenge, requiring strategic planning. Near the close of the war Carlisle had 1000 bales of cotton in hiding, as did many other factors, until he could ship it safely from Mobile. One month after the South's surrender many factors brought the most recent stashes of cotton out of hiding to ship it to waiting markets, a decision which cost Carlisle his cotton when Union troops set fire to nearly 10,000 bales in Mobile Harbor. Although Carlisle sought retribution for the crime, he was never compensated for the loss. Regardless of the amount of money or business he may have gained or lost during the war, the pardon he had to undergo revealed he still owned considerable property. Carlisle applied to President Andrew Johnson for a pardon under one of the fourteen classes of "Rebels" who were excluded from taking the loyalty oaths required by the Amnesty and Reconstruction Proclamation issued on 29 May 1865. Number thirteen included "those who supported the Confederacy and whose taxable property was over $20,000." In addition to having significant property, the pardon ledger noted that Carlisle "was in favor of secession, believing it would stop slavery agitation," and that he "aided soldiers families."

After the war Carlisle tested his postwar economic options. Like many cotton factors and commissions merchants, he returned to the ways of business which had made him wealthy, using his contacts and available funds to rebuild the system as he had known it. He created a new commissions merchant partnership with his son, Edward Kenworthy Carlisle, Jr., and son-in-law, Alexander W. Jones, called Carlisle, Jones & Co., located at a corner of Broad and Water Streets in Selma. Prior to the Civil War he had been active in the Commercial Bank of Alabama, and it is likely that he encouraged the younger men in the family to pursue banking in addition to their other business enterprises when they helped establish the City National Bank of Selma in 1871. Carlisle had long been accustomed to lending money to planters in advance of their crops. Between 1867 and 1870 he recorded seven transactions in the name of Carlisle and Humphries of Mobile in the Dallas County Probate Office for liens and mortgages for $235.44 to $3895.00. Written into the document, the promissory notes recorded that "said money was obtained by me for the purpose of making a crop, and that without such advance it would not be in my power to procure the necessary team, provisions, labor, and farming utensils to make a crop." Unfortunately, planters who turned to the tenant system no longer controlled the entire crop and the old factoring system did not ensure good investments in the post-war South. Local merchants began to supply credit to the growing number of small farmers and tenants and the merchants gradually discovered that they did not need to turn to factors for credit to pass on to the farmers, selling to buyers in the interior instead.

Carlisle found himself in just this turmoil, before and during the war the ledgers were full of swift business and high profits, but after 1865 entries commonly registered transactions of a few dollars rather than the thousands of dollars which had flowed through the pages before. Throughout Alabama farm values tumbled. Farm property worth $226,670,000.00 in 1860 was valued at $73,173,000.00 in 1870, a fraction of its pre-war worth. When Lucinda W. Carlisle paid her 1871 taxes for $90.00, Kenworthy Hall and the surrounding 420 acres were valued at $9000.00, which, if the above numbers are any sign, barely covered the cost of building only one decade before. Had Carlisle lived there is no telling how he might have continued to make the transition into the new ways of doing business in the South, but his role in banking and his son-in- law's expanding interests in banking and railroads suggest that he would have positively tested his pragmatic business mind. By 1867 he deeded Kenworthy Hall to his wife, Lucy, and in 1872 wrote a will which left her $15,000.00, with the balance of his estate to be divided between his two children. Even years after Edward Kenworthy Carlisle's death in January 1873, his son and son-in-law continued to use his name in their advertisements, perhaps as much for the respect that his name seemed to engender as honoring him as their father.