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The Mississippi Miser

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Oakland’s serene facade masked trouble within.

Natchez has always been a world apart from the rest of Mississippi. As Harnett Kane duly observed in his book Natchez on the Mississippi (1941), “The situation bred idiosyncrasies- the dreamers out of touch with any reality. Years earlier, newcomers noticed that the Natchez plantation people were a small, tight group which grew smaller, tighter with the generations. Intermarriage had begun early; the same names still merged. Now oddities developed.” Intrigued by this menagerie of Southern eccentrics, I profiled Katherine Lintot Minor, the flamboyant Yellow Duchess (Yellow Fever, January, 2014), and now it’s time for Duncan Minor (1862-1939), a k. a. the Mississippi Miser. Related to most of Natchez’s oldest, most prominent families, Duncan was born into privilege and grew up at Oakland, a handsome “planter’s cottage” built around 1840 and purchased in 1857 by his father, John. Oakland is not one of Natchez’s grander homes, but it is exquisitely scaled with a generous gallery running the width of the house and a dramatic hipped room. Appearing much smaller from the outside, the house has generously proportioned rooms with ceilings sixteen feet high. In Duncan’s day, it boasted mantles of black and pink marble, mahogany doors with silver hardware and a drawing room with brocade wallpaper

Handsome and rich, Duncan could've had his choice of Natchez belles.

Handsome and rich, Duncan had his pick of Mississippi belles. His choice shocked Natchez.

None of these trappings mattered much to this dashing young blade who was far more interested in breeding horses and racing them at the Pharsalia Track in Natchez and New Orleans’s Metairie Race Course. His one other, much greater passion was his second cousin, Jane “Jennie” Merrill, and it was during their courtship that his peculiarities began to emerge. Because Duncan lived at Oakland with his widowed mother and sister, both of whom disapproved of his liaison with Jennie, he slipped away nightly after the household was asleep and rode horseback from Oakland to Jennie’s house, Glenburnie Manor, forty-five minutes away. After his dalliance, he returned home in time for breakfast. This was in the automobile age, mind you, and if riding a horse wasn’t strange enough, he carried an open umbrella regardless of the weather. (If the family didn’t know about his nocturnal escapade, they were probably the only people in Natchez who didn’t.) Duncan’s idiosyncrasies also flourished in business and at Oakland. Despite the family fortunes, he was a near-psychotic penny-pincher with often disastrous results. According to one account, he once let an entire storehouse of cotton rot rather than sell when prices dropped, disregarding the reality that procrastination would result in much greater loss. He was also said to have ignored repairs to the house, even when the roof began leaking. He was, he explained, waiting for the cost of roofing nails to decline. When the gallery steps collapsed, he provided access to the front door by positioning a ladder across them. Family arguments over his miserliness meant life at Oakland was as rickety as the house itself.

Duncan Minor about the time of Jennie's murder.

Duncan Minor about the time of Jennie’s murder.

Blissfully cocooned in a world revolving around his beloved Jennie, Duncan ignored gossip and continued their courtship until she was shot to death at Glenburnie Manor in 1932. As sole beneficiary of his paramour’s considerable estate, he exhibited his most unexpected behavior yet by embarking on a spending spree that included a new car, travel and even those long-overdue repairs to Oakland. It was, so it seemed, alright for the Mississippi Miser to spend other people’s money, just not his own.

Minor is a central character in my book, The Goat Castle Murder.

Goat Castle Murder

10 Comments

  1. Ciji Ware
    Aug 16, 2016

    The more I hear about Duncan, the more I think “he did it!” Such a fun read!

    • Deanna C Velasco
      Aug 17, 2016

      I want a copy! How? When? Can’t wait.

      • Michael Lewallen
        Aug 17, 2016

        Thanks for your interest, Deanna. The book is scheduled to be published this month and will be available from Amazon (Kindle and hard copy) or from the publisher, Water Street Press Books, http://www.waterstreetpressbooks.com/

        • Patsy Magyari
          Aug 21, 2016

          Thank you for researching this time period and the curious characters involved . It’s perfect timing that the book’s release coincides with the 300 year anniversary celebration of this lovely town’s establishment! I grew up in Natchez and was friends with the Adams family children, the current residents of “Oakland”. We did a bit of our own research into some of the history and phenomena we experienced in the home, so I very eagerly welcome your new book! I recall many times as kids, our family would drive by the old Goat Castle (before its restoration) and tell the stories of these people and The Merrill Murder Mystery –it held great intrigue for us all, then and still does now! Thank you!

          • Michael Lewallen
            Aug 31, 2016

            You’re most welcome, Patsy. I enjoyed your family history. Obviously I was intrigued too, enough to write a book.

  2. Greg Lindeblom
    Aug 17, 2016

    With all of these idiosyncratic characters to work with, I can’t wait to read The Goat Castle Murder.

  3. Liz
    Aug 20, 2016

    Did you notice how much Duncan looks like Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler in that first picture? Well, he certainly looks that way to me!

    Thanks for this fascinating piece, Michael.

  4. Patsy Magyari
    Aug 21, 2016

    Will you be doing book signings in Natchez during the 300 year Annversary celebration this year?2016

    • Michael Lewallen
      Aug 21, 2016

      The Natchez signing will be Saturday, October 1, 2-4 pm at Turning Pages Books, Patsy. If you come, please introduce yourself and thanks very much for your interest.

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