The Washington Post
J. E. Dunn
Washington, D.C.: 31 August 1896


A Louisianian Says Meredith Calhoun Was Not a Model for Legree.

  Correspondence of the New Orleans Times-Democrat.

Colfax, La., Aug. 18, 1896.

  Now that Mrs. Stowe is dead, we may expect Uncle Tom to be located anywhere, and every old colored mammy will be the original "Topsy."

  My mention has been particularly directed to an article appearing in The Washington Post July 19, and since, I understand, widely copied, in which one Gen. William Hugh Robart says that Mrs. Stowe told him a personal interview that her model for the character, Simon Legree, in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," was Meredith Calhoun, former owner of lands in and around Colfax, La. He claims to know that Meredith Calhoun bought the estate, sawed the timber as he cleared the lands, and sold the lumber up and down Red River; that during the sojourn of Jim Bowie in this State Meredith Calhoun killed a bully named Williams, and verified Bowie's warning to that individual; that in 185— Meredith Calhoun had a negro burned at the stake in Smithfield quarters; and that Meredith Calhoun was a fiend to human shape, his acts of cruelty being well known to all. He also says that Calhoun built the finest house on the Red River.

  I will attempt to correct a good many of the gentleman's statements. In the first place, Meredith Calhoun did not buy this property; it was purchased by Judge Smith, of Alabama. Meredith Calhoun had married Judge Smith's granddaughter, and acquired this property through his wife's right as heiress. Jim Bowie was killed at San Antonio in the fall of the Alamo, in 1836. The killing of Williams could not have taken place at the time indicated by Gen. Robart, as Calhoun did not come here until after Judge Smith's death, in 1840. The gentleman probably confounds the famous "sandbar duel" with his history. No negro was ever burned at the stake on any of this property. Gen. Robart also says that the old Firenze sugar house was rehabilitated and used for a courthouse after the war, Grant parish is made from territory taken from Winn and Rapides parishes, and the brick stable of Meredith Calhoun was transformed into the courthouse. Firenze sugar house is quite a mile from the town of Colfax. The courthouse in question was burned during the riot here on the 13th of April, 1873. The negroes had thrown up earthworks and had them manned. The main body of the whites engaged the negroes' attention while nineteen picketed men went under the river bank until within 100 yards of the courthouse and a few yards of the earthwork, when, with a yell, they dashed at the negroes who fled, some were cut off from the courthouse, and fled to the woods, where they were pursued and most of them killed. A captured negro was forced to set fire to the house by means of a shirt saturated with oil and placed on the end of a long pole.

  Firenze sugar house has been taken down, and in the corner of the foundation was found the family record of the Calhouns inclosed in a bottle, and laid in the cement. Meredith Calhoun built an ordinary plantation house, as he stayed here very little.

  Simon Legree and Meredith Calhoun do not resemble each other in any particular; one being the exact opposite of the other. Mrs. Stowe describes Legree as a "bullet-headed," ignorant, coarse man, while Calhoun was highly educated and refined. Legree took great pride in his physical prowess, bragging of his iron fist, while Calhoun was rather effeminate, and from all accounts a humane slave owner.

  Mrs. Stowe describes the journey of Legree with the slaves after they landed from the boat "through pine forests and over log causeways and gloomy cypress swamps," while every one knows that the boats landed at Calhoun's door. The character of Legree has been conceded in these parts to have been drawn from McAlpin, who lived at what is not Chopin Station, on the Texas and Pacific Railroad. McAlpin's house is as the one described in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." McAlpin had no wife. He was a man who drank a great deal, and kept no white overseers, but used negro drivers. He, with his drivers, once whipped a slave to death. The journey from Red River to Chopin tallies exactly with that in Mrs. Stowe's description, and is eighteen or twenty miles. Several years ago Jay Gould and party stoped their special train there, and spent a while examining the spot and collecting mementoes of the place.

  Many of Meredith Calhoun's slaves are still living, who have been here at Colfax since early in the thirties. I have interviewed some of them—among others, William Harris. I found Uncle Bill lying asleep on the front gallery of his cabin. After a noisy hound pup had been persuaded to hush, I told Uncle Bill my mission, and read the article in the Washington Post to him.

  "Know Meredith Calhoun? Reckon I does! Da's my young massa. He was good to de cullud folks, but he doan stay home but little. He gone mos' all de time, and while he gone some uh der oberseers play de debbil. But when Massa Meredith come we tell him, en he change 'em. Yas, he built er sawmill on de Big Basin on Sugarhouse bayou, en sawed ash, en gum, en sycamore, but he nebber sold any lumber to my knowin's. Meredith didn't buy dis place. Judge Smith sont me nut here [?] from Alybammy. Meredith nebber kilt anybody; he wa'nt in dis country at dat time. 'Coase he ain't burnt no niggah: ef he had I'd er knowed it—dassa lie. No, he ain't built no fine house; he built a good common house. 'Bout dat sugar house ub Fizeni, eberybody knows better'n dat. Dey tuck de stable fur de coathouse."

  So. Gen. Robart did not get the right information, and does not know the facts, which are as follows: Judge Smith bought this property, and was living and owned it at the time Calhoun is said to have killed Williams. Meredith Calhoun was a humane man. No negro was ever burnt here by Calhoun or Smith. Calhoun did not build any fine house. The old brick stable was burnt in the riot. From the best evidence, McAlpin was Simon Legree. Mrs. Stowe says that her brother was collecting agent for a firm in New Orleans, and that he traveled a great deal in the country and visited the man from whom Legree was drawn. That her brother gave her many of the ideas out of which she evolved Legree. The old McAlpin house still stands true to the one in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." McAplin in every particular resembles Legree: he was a rude, uneducated man, exactly of the Legree type, while Meredith Calhoun was educated, refined, humane, and polished. Instead of the Calhouns being all dead. Mrs. C. E. P. Calhoun lives here in Colfax and owns part of the old place. Miss Mary Calhoun, daughter of W. T. S. Calhoun, a handsome and intelligent young lady, lives here with her mother. Gen. Robart did not get the facts, and Mrs. Stowe's own statement in her book conflicts with his.