American Story: Burwell Boykin


AMERICAN STORY

Burwell Boykin

A legendary figure in this line of Boykin men, Burwell was born the fourth son of Solomon Jr and Judith X on 25 December 1787 in Burke County Georgia. In 1803/1804 he moved with his parents to their 502 acre 'plantation' on Bassett's Creek, Washington County, Mississippi Territory. At some stage Burwell married Margaret McCann from neighbouring Wayne County, but he did not become head of his own household until after his military service in the War of 1812.

This conflict is sometimes called the Second Revolutionary War because at first it was fought against the British. However it soon devolved into an Indian War against the Creek Nation and fighting continued for another couple of years. Burwell was a Private in Captain Josiah Watts' Company of Mounted Gunmen, Carson's Regiment, Mississippi Territory Militia for 1812. He was also mentioned as a member of the Mississippi Infantry Volunteers in 1814/1815.

Burwell is later listed as being eligible for a Military Land Grant for his service in Watt's Company during the War of 1812. It is probable that this initial grant of land was the foundation of his own 'plantation' on the upper reaches of Appotax Creek, Choctaw County, Alabama. Later State Land Patents indicate that three lots totaling 319 acres were added in 1837, another 40 acres in 1839, and the 38 acres in 1848.

It therefore seems likely that something close to 1000 acres had been acquired by the time of Burwell's death in 1860. While this is impressive, it was still a fairly crowded 1000 acres. Using the Federal Census from 1850 as our guide, there were at least 21 family mouths to feed, plus slaves.

1850 Federal Census for  Choctaw County, Alabama

Dwelling   First Name   Second Name   Age   Sex   Occupation   Real Value 
727           B.                  Boykin               63      M      Planter           $4,000
                 Margaret                                 45      F
                 Jesse                                      17      M      Labour
                 Solomon                                 15      M
                 Franklin                                  14      M
                 Clark                                       12      M
726          Christopher    Boykin               26      M      Labour
                Marcilla                                    26      F
                Hardy                                        7       M
                Franklin                                     3       M
                Margaret                                  6/12     F
725          A.                   Boykin                25      M      Labour
                Tabitha                                     21      F
                Margaret                                   6       F
                Mary                                         4        F
                John                                          2       M
                Lewell                                      4/12     M
724          B.                   Boykin                 23     M       Labour
                Lucinda                                     21      F
                Margaret                                    2       F
                Sharlotta                                   6/12    F

In 1850 the Burwell 'Plantation' supported 4 households. One was Burwell himself with his wife and 4 younger sons. The other three dwellings were occupied by Burwell's 3 older sons, Christopher, Alexander and Burwell Jr, with their respective wives and young children.

Burwell's occupation is Planter and his real value is $4,000. The occupation of his eldest 4 sons is Labour and their real value is Nil. In other words, Burwell owned the farm, its land, livestock and working plant, and his sons worked for him.

A couple of other observations might be made, although they may not be obvious from my edited table above. The first is that Burwell and Margaret Boykin were virtually illiterate. Their level of education was classified as "Read Only". The second is that the women seemed to have married at an early age. Margaret Sr, 45 yo, has a 26 yo son; Marcilla, 26 yo, has a 6 yo daughter; Tabitha, 21 yo, has a 6 yo daughter; and Lucinda, 21 yo, has a 2 yo daughter.

Finally, this census did not count slaves. Different accounts from a decade later suggest at least 9, possibly 12, slaves were owned. This means a minimum of 18 adults and 12 children were dependent on income and produce generated by the farm. No grand plantation mansion here then.

So far, the story of Burwell Boykin has been commendable in a sound, yeoman-farmer sort of way. His steady progress in an isolated pioneering landscape must have taken both determination and good management. These are qualities to be admired. 

However, what makes this man legendary is not really what he achieved, but what was done to him, and the summary justice meted out 'for him' after his death. In 1860, when Burwell was 82 years old, he was killed by one of his slaves. An American television program on 'inconvenient ancestors' paraphrased events in these words:

"Burwell Boykin owned a slave, Sandy Boykin, who tried to run away. So Burwell locked him in a shed...When he opened the shed and asked, 'Have you learnt your lesson?' Sandy took a hoe and beat him to death. They hanged him when they found him."

Sandy the runaway slave was recaptured and locked in a shed overnight as punishment. His temper did not cool. On the morning of his release he emerged wielding a farm implement and killed his owner. This was an act of murder. Justifiable homicide really doesn't come into it. Sandy's reaction was way out of proportion to the provocation of imprisonment. But what happened next is more difficult to explain. 

The transcript says "They hanged him when they found him". There are two versions of this.

1. "Boykin, Lande's negro was condemned to be hung on Friday the 6th of April [1860]", from Eleanor Finlay Campbell's daybook. (Mrs Daniel Campbell had a plantation in south west Choctaw County near the Mississippi state line and owned 29 slaves.) This version implies lawful due process of arrest, trial, conviction and sentence.

2. "Burwell Boykin married Margaret McCann; They owned a plantation in Choctaw County, Alabama near Old Camp Springs Cemetery and Church. He was killed by one of his slaves, a 'buck slave', with a hoe. Traditional information says that the slave 'Sham' was subsequently lynched by family members". This version points to unlawful revenge-killing.

The relevant Mortality Schedules for Choctaw County darken an already grim picture. Schedule 3, 'Persons who Died during the Year ending 1st June 1860', includes as expected, "Burel Boykin, 80, M, Planter, Killed by negro, Sudd."

The Mortality Schedule for the 'unfree inhabitants' of Choctaw County over the same period is somewhat longer:
"1860  Boykin    Rachal     50    slave    b. Al.    died typhoid
 1860  Boykin    Peter        60    slave    b. Va.   died old age
 1860  Boykin    Lily           60    slave    b. Va.   died from cold
 1860  Boykin    Lavistir     60    slave    b. Va.   died old age
 1860  Boykin    Mose       23    slave    b. Al.    died dropsy"

Add in the hanged slave Sandy Boykin and the list starts to look like one very big temper tantrum by the Boykin Boys. To lose one slave is unfortunate. To lose two slaves is very unfortunate. To lose six slaves is homicide.




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