I left Natchez, determined, though, had good friends there, to seek others abroad. I proceeded to New Orleans. I soon made acquaintance with Mr. C. F. Hosea, Captain of the Old Louisiana Volunteers, who proved a very true and faithful friend. He introduced me to his musicians, who were very good friends; especially his drum major, Mr. J. Noble. I played with them on the eighth of January, at a sham fight, where I found myself very much at home.
I remained here but a short time however, and went up the river to Vicksburg, where there was a party given, and they hired me to play on the flute, for which they gave me one hundred dollars for the night. I had several good jobs here, as well as good friends; yet some of the lower class began to find fault with my visiting, as news began to circulate concerning my fate at Natchez. My friends however did all they could for me. I stayed near three months, saving while there three hundred dollars.
It seemed that by an act of their state laws, all free people not white, must pay license for living in the state. I was about to return to Natchez to make a visit among my friends. Some, however, wished that I would never go back again, but my mind led me back. My friends heartily greeted and welcomed me, but my enemies soon beset me again, and the officers of the city determined that I should take out a license in less than twenty-four hours, or leave the state. Several gentlemen of high standing in the city, viz. Esquire Tooley, General John A. Quitman, Mr. Ferrady, and Dr. Carr, united in their advice that 1 had belter go and see Edward Turner, Judge of Probate. He gave me much good advice. He thought I had better, on the whole, leave the state, as I should be constantly subject to annoyances from my enemies. I was grieved in heart, and determined, license or no license, I would leave the State; for although it was the supposed land of my birth, some of its sons were my bitter enemies. I had had the command of the military music; several colored men had applied for a place in the band and on being refused would vent their spite on me, with their fists and canes. I paid several bills to the physicians, from these assaults, but at length told them I had the receipt in the pain and bruises, and they must get their money from those to whom these liberties were allowed, or from their roasters, who when they had the bills to pay, would put a stop to their outrages.
I visited Mrs. Munce again, and her kind son-in-law, Mr. Cyrus Marsh, who had always been very kind to me. While visiting my acquaintances, some of the gentlemen proposed that a petition should be drawn up, and let all sign it who wished me to stay, and have it presented to the Court. They stated that I was not only worthy of citizenship but was of an unexceptionable character; that it was greatly desired by the ladies and gentlemen that I should remain, and enjoy the liberty of a citizen; also all the Military Companies were very anxious for my stay, as I was of great use to them; my enemies said if I could get so many signers they would give it up and say no more about it. I was willing to make the trial, and sure of success, gladly improved the opportunity of letting my enemies hear the nigh sounding titles of my friends. The aged matrons stepped forth to aid me; the mothers, the young and blooming wives; yes, many beautiful maidens, blushingly added their names to my list; all greeted me with wishes for success, and many tears were shed in supplication for me. My list was soon more than filled by dozens.
I took it to the Clerk’s office, Mr. A. North, and received a certificate for which I gave three dollars, with direction to go to Jackson in order to get the Governor to sign it. I here met my friend Mr. Bob Shelby, and several other friends, who received me very kindly. They were astonished to see me there, and inquired ‘what brought you here?’ ‘A fool’s errand,’ said I, ‘and as I knew you to be my friends, I ask your advice.’ I then stated that I had been prevailed upon, by several of the citizens of Natchez, and the officers of the Court of Adams County, to accept a certificate of good character from them, and get it signed by the Governor, and then present it to the Legislature, petitioning them to grant me the privilege of living in the state, without being brought under the laws enacted for the African people. I stated that I had so far complied with their request, but had concluded to drop it and seek a home abroad. All answered, ‘that is right; exactly right’ ‘What!’ said Mr. Shelby, ‘will they ask you to stoop so low? they thus seek to cause you to assist in your own disgrace! Yes, leave the state! what has she ever done for you? I have thought that I could play on the flute, but if I could play an instrument as I have heard you play, the world should be my home. Take courage and a bright future awaits you. They are pleased with you in Louisiana; return to them again; seek your fortune among them. They made up a contribution and gave me, wishing me a long and happy life. I complied with their advice, and immediately returned to Natchez, to take my leave of old friends. While remaining here a little time to close up my business, an awful Tornado occurred.
An Awful Tornado
I could but exclaim. Oh! my native city, I have seen you blessed with riches and prosperity, and in my adversity you turned on me your back, and I have lived to see you prostrated, laid low by the hand of him who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. Oh! that your sons had dealt in righteousness; that you might have escaped this outpouring of the weather, or at least have been better prepared to meet your doom. My language cannot describe the feelings of my heart, as I gazed from the hill down on the ruins. I was at the time the wind came, in the house of A. P. Merrill, in company with a relative of Mrs. Merrill, John Francis Surault by name. As dinner was nearly ready, we sauntered out on the back gallery. I had made Mr. Merrill’s little sons some pop guns, which he brought out. The balls were hanging on the China trees, and Surault bantered me to shoot at them with him. This was about half an hour before the storm. I noticed a peculiarity in the lightning that I had never observed before, and as I listened to the steady rolling of the deep toned thunder, a strange awe crept over me. I said to John Francis, ‘listen! the very thunder can speak I and it is now admonishing us that we are spending our time foolishly when we should be thinking about God.’ ‘ Poh! nonsense, said he, we are only trying to make noise enough to drown its bellowing.’ It had begun in the South, but was fast spreading to the North. As it neared the West it commenced blowing hard, growing very dark. Mr. Merrill now came home; haste had nearly exhausted his strength; he stopped a moment on the gallery; the wind seemed to take away his breath; I raised him up, caught him and rushed into the house. The table was set, and candles were lighted, because of the darkness. The ladies had fled up stairs. And now the wind came from the North, the low, angry voice of the thunder sending dread into our very hearts; the house trembled so violently that I chose the open air, placing myself under the large tree, clasping it with my arms to keep my position. The heavens grew darker still, and day light seemed shut out. I heard as it were a loud explosion over head; again louder, and the third one seemed not only to deafen us, but laid prostrate much of the city. The tall tree seemed kissing the earth in humble resignation to the will of its Maker. In a few moments the dreadful rage seemed somewhat abated, and I with difficulty reached the house, the door of which they had been unable to shut. All was upside down; indeed the lights were extinguished, the dinner table was upset, leaving the dinner on the floor, and throwing the doors wide open, (even the folding doors in the parlor, in spite of the lock) the furniture was all out of place, and a great part of it lay in heaps in and about the stair-way; even the dining table was there, the table cloth hanging in one of the hinges. The ladies could not get down, the windows were gone, and the beautiful curtains, which had cost $100, were also gone; although they were hung with golden rings, yet the tempest had torn them away; the furniture was cleared from the stairway; the ladies in sorrow and weeping descended to the scene of desolation, which but a few hours ago was filled with tranquil pleasure; yet we were filled with thankfulness that our lives were spared through this awful hour
Second visit to New Orleans
Soon after this terrible catastrophe, I took all and went down to New Orleans, where I made my home about four years.
I soon attached myself to Charles F. Hosea’s Company of the Louisiana Guards, which afterwards changed their name to “Washington Guards. I discharged my duties honorably, and gained the confidence and esteem of many warm hearted per-sons. I was elected Fife Major for the Washington Battalion, and as evidence of it, I insert a true copy of the order:
Head Quarters Regt, Louisiana Volunteers
1st May, 1844
W. McCarey1 is hereby appointed Fife Major of the Field Music of the Regt. Louisiana Volunteers with full power to regulate said field music agreeably to law and the usual custom in such matters. By order of
Col. James H. Dakln
Blacksmithing in New Orleans
I here met my friend Mr. Crane, with whom I had been acquainted in Natchez, and made arrangements to work with him, at blacksmithing, as he had charge of Leed’s Foundry. I continued steady at my business, making many improvements, until I had not only perfected the common blacksmithing, but had acquired a good knowledge of the machinist business. Thus I continued to work for three years.
Rooms fitted up – Partnership formed – Band trained &c,
I rented rooms of a gentleman by the name of Pease in 2d Municipality, on Circus Street, which proved a very pleasant location. I fitted up my rooms quite handsomely, and if they lacked anything in style or richness, it was my particular care to see that they did not in cleanliness. The smallest article was ever in its own place; everything being in perfect order. My acquaintance was not at this time as extensive as it was destined to become; but I strove to keep the friendship I had already gained, by strictly attending to all business or matters, which in any wise concerned me. Our pay-day was the first of the month, and the parade days were every Sunday; this was the custom of the city and custom I find grants license to please herself, whether right or wrong. Many times (having been ordered out at 6 o’clock and commenced parade at 8) I have led the company through the parade back to the drill-room, took my leave of them, set out for my own room; and if I succeeded in getting there, I considered myself very fortunate indeed; for I generally served two or three companies a day, in pleasure excursions, &c. My Southern friends will remember the little Picayune complimented me often, for being pleasantly aroused from their sweet dreams, as they were luxuriating in a Sunday morning nap, after a week’s toil and anxiety, in which they could scarcely find time to indulge in sleep necessary to strengthen and invigorate the weary mind.
Many good words have not only the Picayune, but other papers given me; for which I was, and am still and ever will be a thousand times obliged. They prophesied pleasure, fame, and wealth, if I would pursue a steady, straight forward course. This I truly endeavored to do. As I had much leisure time through the day in some parts of the week, I determined to take care of some of these leisure moments and turn them to my advantage. I had an eye upon a friend of mine, an Italian by birth, who was dealing in fruit; I saw he was faithful to his business attentive to his customers, and withal an excellent manager, yet had never made much stir in the world. He was very fond of me indeed, and had proved himself my friend. His name was Lazarus (a very good name indeed, but no better than he who bore it.) I accordingly would drop into his store when unemployed and if I found him busy, would lay to and help him. So five or six weeks passed. At length it was proposed that we should go in as partners; and it was no quicker said than done. Lazarus and myself were partners to our full satisfaction; but I still attended to my professional duties.
Mr. Noble was my drummer, in whom I had the greatest confidence. I had a band who could not be excelled, and whom I could leave, if occasion required, though I endeavored to be at my post as much as possible; at least always if in the city.
I thought I should like to see Havana, or at least the trees which bore the delicious fruit we were selling. I accordingly took passage on a fruit schooner. Being some little acquainted with the captain and crew, I had a pleasant voyage; and soon had the liberty of strolling through that garden of dainties, feasting my eyes and appetite thereon. In the meantime I obtained my fruit, and prepared to return. I here formed many acquaintances whom 1 still remember with pleasure.
We enlarged our trade considerably, and our customers increased, and they often acknowledged that a few good tunes interspersed among the choicest of fruit, was just the thing. Here and at my rooms I made many new acquaintances, and though I have forgotten many of their names, yet their images and kindness continue to live in my heart; though some of them rest with the dead. Peace to their memory.
William McCarey was the name by which I was called by the woman in whose hands I had been placed, and by which I was generally known at the South. ↩