J. U. Payne, of New Orleans, LA - His devotion to, and
sacrifices for, the cause.
By C. H. Coffin
In the year 1892 I bought Mr. J. U.
Payne, of New Orleans, his summer home, Rosehart, Pass Chrisitian, MS. It
had been closed for years. The grounds were grown up with cane and weeds to
a colossal height and were impenetrable. The place fronts 250 feet on the
Shell Beach Boulevard, from which a beach lot sloped down to the Gulf of
Mexico. From this lot a pier 1,080 feet long extended to the channels in
the gulf. At the end of it was an octagon house containing eight rooms,
four tearooms and bathrooms, surrounded by a gallery. About fifty yards
beyond the bath-house was a dance platform in the lake. In the olden times a
negro band played on the platform. In the evening the boats rowed up to the
pier, which was lighted, and guests were received and entertained there.
During the yachting season yachts were anchored along the channels off the
pier. On the shore was an old boathouse, with some decayed boats as relics.
The house itself was built
in three sections, having pavilions around an open square called the “Plazita.”
The central section was copied exactly in the building of Beauvoir, which
was for years the home of ex-President Davis, and about sixteen miles east
of Rosehart. The gallery, about fifteen feet wide and fifteen feet high,
extended around the central pavilion, which was on elevated pillars about
the ground. The two side pavilions contained bedrooms, kitchen, etc., a
two-story gallery extending around them. In rear were a windmill and deep
well, a laundry cottage and a bachelors’ cottage, which was used for housing
bachelors over Sunday and for card games at night.
Between the “Plazita” and
the bachelors’ cottage was an orange grove containing seventy-five trees,
from twenty to thirty feet high, yielding the luscious Louisiana oranges,
now nearly extinct, yet they were certainly the best oranges in the world.
These trees were in the bloom nearly all the time, and we bitterly lamented
their loss by the great freeze of 1896. Back of these, were the vegetable
gardens and stables, and on Second Street, or Rear Road, were the long Negro
quarters. Behind these quarters were owned a broad stretch of pine forest,
extending back beyond a beautiful bayou, we set the bayou in aquatic plants,
and built among the solemn pines a log rest house for our many invalid
guests who needed “pine air.” It took a large force of men many months to
dig out, replant and put this place in order; but it made us a beautiful
home for fourteen years and was beloved by us all. It had been built by
educated slaves owned by Mr. Payne, out of timber cut on his ground and
thoroughly dried, in the year 1846, and the main part of the house remains
as sound to-day as then, although, owing to the extremely damp climate, the
life of lumber and timber there is short.
Mr. Payne had used this
house as a summer house; I bought it for a winter home. He was at that time
eighty-four years old, and one of the most charming men I ever met. He told
me it would require seventeen servants to properly run the place, as it had
seventeen bedrooms. We got along, however, very nicely with from seven to
nine. His winter home in New Orleans was one of the largest houses on this
side of the ocean, containing a great number of large rooms, and was built
of brick with ample grounds.
Prior to the war Mr. Payne
was a strong Union man. His most intimate and valued personal friend was
Jefferson Davis. They disagreed as to secession. Mr. Payne at that time
owned many sugar plantations in Louisiana and cotton plantations in
Mississippi. He also had offices and warehouses in New Orleans, and was the
largest exporter of cotton and sugar and the greatest creator of foreign
exchange. He owned 300 or 400 slaves, who were well cared for, contented
and happy. He had a large capitol invested in business, and hundreds of
planters were indebted to him for the supply of corn, bacon, and household
articles, it being the custom to obtain these in advance from their
merchants and to pay when they sold their crops of cotton and sugar. Nearly
all the great planters were thus in debt. Mr. Payne himself carried a
considerable debt, and also carried a very large cash balance.
When the seven States which
first formed the Confederacy at Montgomery, AL, had passed their secession
ordinances and organized their government by electing Jefferson Davis
President, they seem for the first time to have thought about finances.
There is nothing more astonishing now than to look back and see with what
utter disregard of consequences and lack of plans for the future that war
was entered upon by the South. The South had no store of arms and
ammunition, except as nearly every individual was the owner of a rifle or
shotgun. They had few small factories capable of making cannons, guns or
powder, and almost no clothing or shoe factories, and practically the
Southern States were given over to the growth of cotton. Their leaders were
highly intelligent people and held the “free trade” doctrines taught by Mill
and others, and in forming their Constitution inserted a free trade clause,
thus depriving themselves of the benefit of custom revenues. They also, of
course maintained the doctrine of “State rights,” and, therefore, did not
authorize their newly-created Government to collect the direct tax necessary
for carrying on the war; and when they had created a president and cabinet,
those officers found themselves without any money or any provisions for
setting in motion the wheels of the new Government.
Mr. Davis telegraphed from
Montgomery to Mr. J. U. Payne, at New Orleans, announcing the formation of
the Government and saying: “Your State calls upon you to do your duty and to
come at once to Montgomery and bring with you all the money you can raise.”
Mr. Payne had been fortifying himself, owing to the ominous outlook, and
succeeded in raising and took him to Montgomery a large sum in gold coin,
which he turned over to Mr. Davis. The latter insisted that he should have
Government bonds for it, and there were accordingly printed at the old
printing office in Montgomery 750 bonds of $1,000 each, roughly gotten, up
and promising “to pay sixty days after the declaration of peace or
recognition of the Southern Confederacy. “ These bonds remained in Mr.
Payne’s hands, becoming, of course, entirely worthless, and long after the
war he gave to his favorite granddaughter enough of them to paper her
bedroom or boudoir. What became of the rest I do not know. Mr. Payne’s
export business was, of course, stopped at once by the Federal blockade. The
planters who owed him were unable to pay. The Federal troops later on seized
his plantations and destroyed most of the sugar, cotton press houses, and
even the fences. His great home in New Orleans, which was crowded with works
of art and vertu accumulated by years of traveling and careful selections In
Europe, was seized by the Federals and used as a residence by some of the
officers. Much of the silver, paintings and bric-a-brac was shipped to New
England by Butler and other officers to their homes. This is probably the
origin of the story of General Butler and the spoons. They were never
recovered, and it was many years before Mr. Payne regained possession of his
home in New Orleans.
Within the two years after the
beginning of the war Mr. Payne found himself stripped of every earthly
possession of value and in debt over 700,000. He bravely went to work to pay
his debt off, and after some sixteen or eighteen years of hard work he
succeeded in paying it all. When I last saw him he was ninty-four or ninty-six
years old, and was at his office and dealing in cotton every day. I went in
to pay my respects, and told him I had come to New Orleans to buy a team of
horses. He at once jumped up and took his cane and, with the beautiful
manner which he had, insisted on going with me to see that I fell into the
hands of the right man and was properly treated. He was a man of the purest
life and most beautiful spirit, and his manners were quite perfect. He died
quietly in his home in the care of his daughter at the age of ninty-seven,
and out of debt. He was probably at the outbreak of the war the second
richest man in America, certainly the richest man in the Southern States,
his slave property alone having been valued at 4,000,000.
Rosehart was named from a great
heart-shaped rose bed between the house and the boulevard some seventy-eight
feet in diameter and containing 300 rosebuds, in which we took great pride.
My wife, being a botanist, by extensively corresponding and exchanging with
other rose-lovers in Florida, California, and even Europe, contrived to
restore and keep up the reputation of the place for roses, so that we had
one time 700 or 800 bushes in bloom. The roses there are fragile and cannot
be shipped, but are beautiful in texture, form and color, and all fragrant,
quite in contrast to the California roses. Some of the rare roses we brought
from California, which were without fragrance in California, later assumed
that quality in Rosehart.
Mr. Payne retained his friendship
for Mr. Davis, who died in his New Orleans home; but, of course, like all
other old Southerners, would have made great sacrifices for the old flag
long before he died.