Great Grandpa
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Great-grandpa wasn’t popular in the South

by W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, September 28, 1998, Pg. 6A

NEDERLAND -- My great-grandpa Duncan Smith was about as popular among his slave-holding neighbors as a skunk in church. Most Southerners expected an Abolitionist to be from some Northern state, but Dunc Smith and each of his parents were born in North Carolina, and Dunc was raised in Brandon, Miss.

So how could a Southern boy, accustomed to watching slaves from the cradle, become an ardent Abolitionist? Probably he had to witness at times such extreme brutality to slaves that he could no longer endure it. Smith moved his family from Mississippi to Indian Bayou, La., in 1858, and later to Cameron, La., in 1861.

Smith did not hate the Confederate States so much as he hated slavery much more. His biographer, who knew Smith in 1870, wrote that:

"... Duncan Smith had opposed human slavery since long before John Brown’s raid, and when the Civil War came on, his fiery opposition to it put him in bad odor with those who favored it, an Abolitionist bitterly opposed to slavery. He was ready at the drop of a hat to die for the principle ..." (Beaumont Enterprise, June 30, 1907.)

Duncan Smith and his adult sons Phineas and Jerry rode aboard the Union offshore blockade ships at will. Smith also served as a Union spy.

On Aug. 2, 1863, a Confederate "recruiting" ship read the Confederate Draft Declaration at Cameron. The ship operated like a British press gang, obtaining "recruits’ at gunpoint if necessary. Although 53 years old, Smith was rowing his skiff across the Calcasieu River, when the recruiters," assuming he was trying to escape, shot him through the leg. Smith’s wife got him ashore and hid him in the marsh.

In April, 1864, Smith acted as an agent for the Mermentau Jayhawkers for the sale to the U.S. Navy of 450 stolen cattle and horses. After completing the deal at New Orleans, Smith piloted the U.S. gunboat Wave up the Calcasieu River, where it dropped anchor in front of Smith’s home. A few days later, the Sabine Pass Confederate garrison attacked the anchored gunboats; Wave and Granite City, which surrendered after a 90-minute battle.

That afternoon the Confederates searched Smith’s home, hopeful of capturing the arch-Unionist, as well as the $10,000 bounty on his head. Smith hid out for one hour under his wife’s hoop-skirts, and after the soldiers left, she hid him in the marsh, where he remained for the next year.

My grandmother reported that her father’s ragged hair and whiskers hung down to his waist when he finally came out of the marsh.

Our nation remembers the 358,000 Union soldiers who died trying to end slavery. It even remembers the 260,000 Confederates who died to preserve slavery, although only one of each 20 actually owned slaves.

However, it does not remember the Southern Abolitionists like Duncan Smith of Cameron or three others from. Jefferson County, namely, James G. Taylor, Henry Clay Smith (no relation), and L. W. Pennington. After Taylor’s capture at Matagorda for the third time, he was executed by the Confederates, and his probate file at Beaumont verifies the year of his death.

W. T. Block Is a Nederland resident.

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