And now I’m going to bore you with history!

Back in September I promised a series of posts on Katherine Carson Breckinridge. I know it has been almost 9 months but I’m going to make good on that promise. I’m beginning to start up the additional research I’ve been meaning to do for over 5 years. So I’ll revisit the past and share my new discoveries as I find them.

Katherine Breckinridge at age 22.

Katherine Carson Breckinridge was born Katherine Breckinridge Carson on February 20, 1853 on her father’s plantation in northeastern Louisiana. She was the daughter of Southern planter privilege and this would be her legacy to her children. My research on Breckinridge was varied and wide reaching because she didn’t exist in a vacuum. Her world, her experiences, her family all influenced the woman she became. The part of the process that I dreaded the most but found the most satisfying was doing her genealogy. Unlike the Ancestry.com commercials lead you to believe, genealogy is hard work and very time consuming. And genealogy is not just tracing someone’s family tree. You have to figure who these people in the family tree are and what they were like. For instance, I knew that Katherine Breckinridge Carson was the daughter of Dr. James Green(e) Carson and Catherine Waller Carson but I didn’t know anything about them. What were their politics, their religious views, their thoughts on slavery, and their constitutions? All these questions are important for historians to ask.

As an aside – historians are supposed to be as unbias and objective about their subjects as possible. It is also important to be an observer of your subject and not interact with your subject. Historians are not novelist and I will admit that at times it was very difficult not to give Katherine Breckinridge traits and characteristics that I wanted her to have or needed her to have in order to make the “story” better. Yes, I know she is dead but when you are spending the majority of your time consumed by the life of another person, it is hard not to “talk” to them.

Back in 2000 when all this started, I located some information about Katherine’s parents in online resources and library databases. Using the following sources, “Handwritten note, Carson Family Genealogy, Container 843, Family Papers; “The Family of Thomas Carson, Sr.,” edited by Alan Carson, http://alcarson.home.texas.net/Tom_Sr_Family.htm;” John Q. Anderson, “Dr. James Green Carson, Ante-Bellum Planter of Mississippi and Louisiana,” Journal of Mississippi History 18 (October 1956); and Breckinridge Family Papers, Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress, were used to create the following paragraphs in my thesis.

Katherine’s grandfather, Joseph Carson, immigrated to Washington County, Alabama in 1801, and established himself as an attorney and landowner. He married Caroline C. Green of Natchez, Mississippi in 1814 and they had one son, James Green Carson (Katherine’s father), on March 8, 1815. Joseph Carson died in 1818 and Caroline Green Carson died when James Green Carson was about seven or eight years old.

After his mother’s death, James Green Carson, moved to Natchez, Mississippi to live with his maternal uncle, Judge James Green. Before James Carson reached adulthood, Judge Green died and left his nephew in the care of a family friend, James Railey, a wealthy Mississippi planter. With his inheritance from his father and his maternal uncle, Carson availed himself of the opportunities wealth provided him and went to boarding school in Connecticut. He attended the University of Virginia before transferring to Centre College in Kentucky to be closer to his fiance, Catherine Breckinridge Waller.

James Green Carson married Catherine Waller of Fox Gap, Franklin County, Kentucky, on July 28, 1835. Shortly after the wedding, the couple moved to Canebrake Plantation in Adams County, Mississippi (near Natchez). The Carsons owned sixty slaves who worked as house servants and field hands on the large plantation. James Green and Catherine Waller Carson had five children (who lived to adulthood) between 1843 and 1853: Joseph (born October 19, 1843), William Waller (born June 2, 1845), James Green (born March 25, 1847), Edward Lees (born August 12, 1848), and Katherine Breckinridge (born February 20, 1853).

By 1850, Carson owned extensive amounts of cotton plantation land in southwestern Mississippi and northeastern Louisiana. Plantation records list James Green Carson as the owner of three large plantations: Airlie Plantation in Carroll Parish, Louisiana; Canebrake Plantation in Adams County, Mississippi and Concordia Parish, Louisiana; and Oasis Plantation in southwestern Mississippi.

I would say that the four paragraphs above took me months to compile. In writing history, research takes you down a lot of different plans. Some are dead ends and some are just wrong for that topics but all are interesting and educational.

And not only did I have to do genealogy for Katherine’s family but I needed to do genealogy for her husband, Clifton. You never know where a little primary source gem might be hiding. Luckily most of Katherine and Clifton’s papers are part of the Breckinridge Family Papers at the Library of Congress. I had the amazing pleasure of doing the majority of my thesis research in the Manuscript Reading Room. It was an ideal research experience. Despite popular belief, I was about to photocopy a good number of Katherine’s letters and study them every carefully once I returned to Arkansas.

Then there are the papers of her eldest children, James Carson Breckinridge and Mary Carson Breckinridge. Her son, Carson, was a General in the Marine Corps and his personal papers including letters to this mother toward the end of her life are at the Marine Corps University Archives in Quantico, Virginia. Her daughter, Mary, founded the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky and her papers including personal letters to her mother are at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. I hope to be able to look at those in the near future so that I can get a better idea of the type of mother she was.

Despite the years of research and volumes of information I have collected, I still have more to do. I don’t really know who Katherine Carson Breckinridge was but I’m determined to find out.

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