The Gordy Family
The Gordy Family
The Stories

From Louisiana to Texas — Archibald C. Gordy
Charlie L. Gordy

By the time of the Civil War,Archie had been a resident of St. Landry Parish for ten to twelve years, had bought and sold several parcels of land in the parish and cultivated them into crops of sugar cane.  While his land was not in the scale of a large contiguous plantation, he did have several smaller pieces of land each about 160 acres or more scattered in the northern part of St. Landry Parish and into the southern part of Avoyelles Parish.  The 1850 Slave Census revealed that Archibald had 6 slaves to help him with his crops.  Two of those slaves, a boy age 13 and a girl age 11, were sold on December 30, 1861, just months after the Civil War started.(13)  Whether there was any connection with the war and the sale of slaves cannot be determined for certain.  It may have been just an economic need of the time for the two slaves who were sold fetched a total of $2,000.  But it is obvious the war didn’t concern Archie too much.  At age 42, he was past the conscription age requiring him to join the Confederate Army, and besides he would have been exempt as the only overseer of his plantation slaves.  Even during the presence of General Bank’s Union troops in the area of Opelousas in October of 1863, according to deed records,  Archie still had the optimism (or misfortune) to purchase 162 acres of land in Vermilion Parish  for $2,276.60 on January 10, 1863. Payment was stipulated in the recorded transaction to be “payable in Gold or Silver”, which was a more stable currency than Confederate dollars.
                But then things seemed to take a turn for the worst.  On April 9, 1863, his wife, Esther, died leaving him with six children ranging in age from one to sixteen.   Soon large numbers of Lousiana’s inhabitants had begun fleeing from Louisiana headed to Texas.  Many near Archie’s old plantation home in the area of  lower Bayou Teche began evacuation.  The Galveston Weekly News, August 19, 1863, P.2,c.2 printed the following article describing the exodus of Louisians to Texas.  Although the article was printed earlier than when it is believed that Archie and his family left, it still portrays the troubling times:
 
                                                                          The Exodus
                         “(Most of our readers will readily recognize the following graphic
                        description of the exodus from La. To Texas, as from the pen of our
                        esteemed fellow citizen, Col. C. J. Forshey, who is now engaged
                        in important duties in that section of the country.)”
                                       “:And  still they come! Line after line! Caravan after Caravan,
                        crowd the roads and chokes the ferries. Here a camp and there a bivouac
                        all along the roads that cross the Sabine. Nearly all rest there after
                        crossing this Jordan into the promised land. Some find grapes and
                        fruits to welcome them, but more find their hearts still sad and heavy,
                        as they breathe a sort of final farewell to the homes whence they have
                        been driven. Even the insane slave who has been off to the Yankees
                        and found the heaven of his promise but a houseless camp to starve
                        and die in, still yearns to his old Louisiana home, and wishes to turn
                        back, and many escape the utmost vigilance, and start barefooted and
                        purseless, through the barren pine forests, to find their olden haunts
                        with whatever fortune they may suffer.
                                       These spectacles to the observer, are really pitiable.  Some are
                        but small remnants of large estates, masters fleeing with the ragged
                        handful of slaves, having left wife and children within the enemy’s
                        lines and fled with the fragment to find a new home or resting place
                        out of reach of the ruthless invaders, to return and bring up the families
                        left behind, when a shelter shall have been secured.  Others have all they
                        could save with them; white and black are sharing alike their shelterless
                        emigration. Such droves of tatter demalions would defy the pencil of
                        Hogarth. Such wan visages---such dirty and patched habiliments, such
                        crippled mules and rawboned horses, such crazy carts and rickety wagons.
                        little and big, old and young, look alike solemn and woe begone.
                                       For a week it has rained every day, and the roads are muddy and
                        slippery, the sky sullen, and every prospect ordinarily cheerful looks
                        dreary, and perhaps my own fancy clothes some of the recent scenes in
                        somber colors.  I was driving to Williamson’s Ferry—I couldn’t tell where
                        while paper is so scarce—and it was raining one of these slow dripping
                        afternoons, after a heavy gust.  I began to see the advance guard of a large
                        encampment, long before I reached the ferry.  Groups of the genuine
                        descendants of Ham, almost in the condition that Ham ridiculed in his
                        inebriated father, were standing sullen and motionless, around little smoking
                        camp fires; trying to dry, while the rain mocked their efforts.  Mothers
                        wrapped their children in rags, and held them close, as I passed from group
                        to group.  Carts, wagons, drays, carryalls, and every species of vehicle,
                        some covered, and others crammed full, but open, were taking in the rain.
                        Clothes that had been rinsed in the Sabine waters, (as if to shake off the last
                        dust of Louisiana.) were satirically hanging out to dry, while ‘the rain  rained
                        on.’  Herds of cattle and sheep were mingling in the camp, and lean mules half
                        wearied of hunting for grass among the rank weeds of the ‘bottom,’ were
                        humped and stubbornly sleeping in the rain.
                                      On I drove for half a mile through this serial comic encampment,
                        when I arrived opposite what seemed to be Head Quarters, a family of three
                        were seated beneath the shelter of a huge cart body, tilted up high by dropping
                        the shafts. The gentleman was making a writing table of his wife’s lap;she was
                        knitting and his daughter had a book. This they were defying the elements. I
                        half paused to study the picture,which of course I disturbed by semi-intrusion.
                        The literary labors were immediately suspended, and the host rose to his full
                        proportions and stepped out, the very embodiment, in spite of his surround-
                        ments,of the Louisiana Planter.  How was I surprised to find my old neighbor,
                        Lerm Bowden; beg his pardon!  His name slipped out accidentally. 
                                  Next day I was at Sabinetown Ferry, 15 miles below, and the rain equal-
                        ly merciless.  Anther series of Caravans, passed trudging up the hill; while
                        the tatterdemalions lined three miles of the road, as I came in.  Floundering
                        in the mud, with the huge and clumsy cane carts,I saw them stalled and nearly
                        desperate.  The Patriarchs in charge of this detachment of the exodus, came
                        into the shelter, and I greeted Dr. H. of the lower Bayou Teche.  His force
                        had all been with the Yankees, and were recaptured at Brashear City.  In the
                        six weeks of Yankee humanity, in relieving the poor oppressed slave,
                        fifteen out of seventy had died from want and exposure, and several others
                        were too far gone, when rescued to recover.  They all show it now in their
                        haggard visages.
                                      Dr. H. had left wife and children with some neighbors, and a
                        fragment of his slaves wandering still in the wilderness, though now
                        feeling out of reach of the pursuing Pharoah.  He says that the Manna
                        of the Louisiana wilderness furnished them with no relief from hunger.
                        They halt here to hunt for beeves, but these are very scarce in this region
                        of Texas.
                                      The Dr. is an elegant gentleman; and, in former days, full of
\                      cheerfulness and good humor.  He dined and tarried some hours with me,
                        but his lips wore no smile, to chase the shade from that brow of care.—The
                        picture he gives of the desolation of that fertile and highly cultivated                         country, and of the condition of many families of wealth reduced to want                         and driven from their burning homes, without food or raiment, is truly                         heart rending.
                                       Most of the immigrants seem bound to the grain and stock growing,
                        rather than the cotton region of Texas.  All want employment for their
                        negroes, and I doubt not will soon fill the call of Gen. Magruder for teamsters.
                                       There is no diminution of the tide of refugees.  It will not surprise
                        me to find the next census showing that our slave population has doubled
                        during the war.
                                       For the safety they seek in this land of promise and of refuge, let
                        them be placed at work upon the formidable line of fortifications we have just
                        surveyed and located along this western bank of Jordan.
                                      A town in Sabine Parish 25 miles from the river.  Sabinetown,
                        August 1863.”                                      (signed) Exotic.

Archie continued to stay with his land as the Union Army’s Red River Expedition was causing destruction to Alexandria  from 1 May to 8 May, and  18 May to 19 May, 1864, in its retreat south.  These last battles during the Federal’s retreat were a mere 16 miles from Archie’s land at Big Cane.  By wars end, the Union Army halted at Opelousas, with its right Courtableau at Washington, Lousiana.  The army made preparations to gather the fruits of its victory.  Immediately, the commissary and quartermaster’s wagons, with all the teams that could be pressed in the country, were put in requisition to collect cotton and sugar, to carry to the different landings on the bayou, thence to be taken off by steamers.
                Horsemen were sent to scour the country in every direction for stock.  The finest blooded stock, imported at great expense, and everything of value, were indiscriminately appropriated for transportation or slaughtered, papers ransacked, locks picked, strong-boxes broken open; and all exportable commodities, converted into money, were shipped as fast as they could be transported by steamer.  As they say, “To The Victor Goes The Spoils”.  The Union Army had begun its occupation and the start of reconstruction began.  “Never was there greater nakedness and destitution in a civilized community”, an old soldier wrote when he first beheld the ruin.  It was an era of chaos and disorder, with White and Negro soldiers of the conquering Union Army insulting and humiliating the people.  Civil strife erupted as conservative and radical forces fought for control of the government.  The war robbed the state of one-third of its economic wealth --- slave property.  At least one-third of its land could not be put into profitable cultivation for several years.  Levees were in disrepair, rivers overflowed lowlands.  Over one-half of the former wealth of the state had been swept away by the war.  There is no reason to believe that Archie faired better with these hardships than the rest of Louisiana’s citizens.  He would have lost his crops, his stock, most all his possessions, and of course, his slaves.  All he would have had left was his land, but with no help to work the land and no crops to market.
                The land, now mostly economically unproductive, also created an additional burden known as tax.  When the United States knew war was indeed coming in 1861, the government came to grips with financing the war by instituting a direct tax.  Such tax was assessed and laid on the value of all lands and lots of ground, with their improvements and dwelling houses.  Assessors were provided for and armed with the power to have property seized for payment.  Even tenants on property belonging to absentee owners were to present a listing of all taxable categories on the occupied plantations, farms, or dwellings.  In all respects then, absentee owners were subject to the direct tax.  Once the taxes were assessed, the government was guaranteed its tax money because the act also stipulated that the taxes “shall  be and remain a lien upon all lands and other real estate of the individuals who may be assessed…..”  Individuals had twenty days in which to respond to tax notices.  If payments ere not made after sixty days, it “shall be lawful for such collector, or his deputies, to proceed to collect the said taxes by distraint and sale of the goods, chattels, or effects of the persons delinquent as aforesaid.”  According to court records in St. Landry Parish, it is known that Archie experienced first hand the power of the tax lien.  In 1867, a tax in the amount of Three Dollars and Twenty Cents ($3.20) was levied on his 160 acres of land at Big Cane, St. Landry Parish.  He was shown as a non-resident owner.  In all probability, Archie and his children had settled in Texas at the time and was unaware of the disposition of his land.  On March 1, 1869, his land in Louisiana was sold at a Sheriffs sale for the taxes due.
So what motivated Archie to “pull up stakes” and leave Louisiana?  Why would he throw away land for which he paid over $2,000, and owed as little as $3.20 in taxes?  And why go to Texas?  How could he afford to start all over?  Well to answer the first questions, it seems evident that possibly his motivation came from the combination of hardships existing at the time in Louisiana.  To him it was worth leaving everything behind and starting over again.  Anyway, probably the only thing he was leaving behind was his land, and in Texas he had the opportunity to receive more land under preemption application.  And besides, Texas had not been plundered and destroyed as had Louisiana and other surrounding southern states.  Since its economy had not been based solely on slave labor, and transportation systems were still in tact, Texas’ future economic picture was brighter than most Confederate states.   
As to how he could afford to start over, he had no choice.  He was going to start all over whether he stayed in Louisiana or not…and starting over in Louisiana would be more difficult during reconstruction.  Yes, Texas was a good choice.  He may have had a little gold and silver, if he had the foresight and time to bury it and retrieve it before the Union Army raided his land.  This would help his family get to Texas and get a fresh start in Chambers County on land consisting of terrain a lot like the Bayou Sale area on which he was born and raised. 

© 2007. Charlie L. Gordy


(13)  St. Landry Parish, La., court records posted 2 January 1862, pg. 341.

 

 

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