My father, Benjamin Thornton Montgomery was born in Loudoun County, VA. Before arriving fully at the age of manhood, he was taken without warning and sold to a trader, who brought him south to Natchez, Mississippi, where Joseph Emory Davis, Esq., a distinguished planter purchased and took him to his extensive plantation in Warren County, Miss., known as Hurricane, and afterwards in connection with Brierfield, the plantation of Hon. Jefferson Davis, known as the Davis Estate, giving the title of Davis Bend to a large section of country in the Southwest portion of Warren County.
The plantation was newly settled, and my father did not take kindly to the change from Virginia town life to plantation life, so he ran away, but was soon recovered by Mr. Davis, who was a man of superior judgement in the selection and management of slaves. He inquired closey into the cause of father's dissatisfaction, and as a result they reached a mutual understanding and established a mutual confidence which time only served to strengthen throughout their long and eventful connection.
Father possessed a slight knowledge of reading and writing. Mr. Davis encouraged it and he came to have a fair education and learned to be proficient mechanic, machinist and civil engineer, using his talents for the advancement of his master.
He conducted a small mercantile business on his own account, keeping accounts with all members of the family, Mr. Jefferson Davis, included. He gradually accumulated a fair library.
My mother, Mary Montgomery, came of Virginia parentage, who were among the earliest settlers brought to the Davis plantation.
They have four children now living: William Thornton Montgomery and the writer, Isaiah Thornton Montgomery, Mary Virginia Montgomery, Rebecca C. Montgomery.
Father objected for a while because he thought my studies would be neglected. My mistress overcame his scruples and I was inducted into the domestic life of that remarkable man, Joseph Emory Davis. He soon established with me relations of the uttermost confidence. I do not remember how it was accomplished but the fact remains, his wish became law, and I was almost totally free from responsibility to any one else.
Hon. Jefferson Davis was in public life in Washington and generally visited his brother once or twice per annum. Whenever he came without his family, it was one of my special duties to look after his comfort. He appeared to be pleased and we became such fast friends that I was always pleased to hear of his intended visits.
Mr. Davis finally yielded to my father's solicitations, and I remained on the plantation till a portion of Admiral Porter's fleet ran the Vicksburg blockade. Having seen the position of the United States gunboat, Indianola, before she was sunk caused me to be brought into the presence of Admiral David. D. Porter to furnish such information as would enable him to locate a cannon that had been thrown overboard.
The big gun was never found, but Admiral Porter persuaded father to let me go with him, and also recommended that father and his family leave the country and go North, to escape the hardships of father, and upon the acceptance of their recommendation he supplied father with transportation to Cairo. Through the influence of Captain Richardson commanding the transport, Father, Mother, and two sisters located in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Meantime, the fortunes of war had freed my brother and he also entered the United States naval service on the gunboat Carondelet. The water during my trip up Red River on the gunboat made a terrible inroad on my health, and Admiral Porter having promised my Father to care for me in every particular, decided to send me home, and I was discharged at Mound City, Ill., during the fall of 1863, and given transporation to Cincinnati.
At the first dawn of peace, brother returned South in 1865 to see what outlook there was for the resumption of business. He soon opened business on the old plantation and father invested all of our little capital in merchandise to be shipped South by river while I came via Cairo, being shortly followed by father himself, who established the firm of Montgomery and Sons and assigned me to the bookkeeping and correspondence. I made a brief study of mathematics and bookkeeping with the aid of such assistance as could be had.
In this year occurred the disastrous overflow. Mr. Davis remitted three-quarters of the interest for that year. On the Davis property and a place adjoining called Ursino we conducted a cotton business of between two and three thousand bales annually for a period of ten years. Losses by the continued decline in cotton and a branch business in Vicksburg finally engulfed our entire capital, and we retired from the cotton business in 1875. Father died at the old Jeff Davis mansion in 1878, mother died in 1885; and they both sleep the last sleep in the old Davis burying ground close by the master and mistress of former days. My brother having become discouraged at future prospects of the South, embarked in the business of grain raising in North Dakota, where he now owns an elevator and plants between 700 and 1000 acres in grain.
In 1888, I was placed on the Republican County Committee in Bolivar County, where in all county affairs I have actively indorsed a fusion movement in county elections. But the Democratic Party having ignored that arrangement in the selection of delegates to the Constitutional Convention, I was earnestly pressed by the Republican County committee to become a candidate in company with Hon. Geo. P. Melchoir, and as a result of the election held July 29, 1890, I hold my first commission to any elective office, viz: as delegate from Bolivar County to the Constitutional Convention.
In May 1890, I visited Washington with a committee representing the Republicans and citizens of the Mississippi Valley to represent the Valley interest in relation to obtaining government assistance in restraining overflows and controlling the Mississippi River and was one of the sub-committee who presented our case to the Senate Committee on commerce.(This is the end of Montgomery's account of his life.)
Additional Notes: Montgomery was the only Black and Rebublican member of the 1890 Mississippi Constitutional Convention elected from Bolivar County. His participation was the most controversial act of his life. While his faith in mankind proved a disappointment, his motives and his statesmanship proved faulty because of lack of these qualities in others who charted the course of history in this country. At the time of this convention our government had turned its back on its citizens of color. Although it was not representative of the majority of the citizens, Blacks were helpless. Montgomery said"...I am willing that the Negro should be disfranchised because he is ignorant, but I am not willing that he should be disfranchised because he is Black. And if intelligence is to be made a test of suffrage I insist that the White man shall submit to the same requirements that are imposed upon the Black man."
In answer to the suffrage question being left open to White fraud, Montgomery said, "I suppose that most White men will become voters under this provision. The suffrage provisions did not wholly suit me but I accepted them as the beginning of the end of the great race question."
Of all the achievements of Isaiah T. Montgomery, he will be remembered for the founding of Mound Bayou, Bolivar County, MS, with his cousin Benjamin T. Green. He died March 08, 1924, at Mound Bayou, the Black township he so diligently helped to established.
According to the Warren County Slave Schedule, Joseph E. Davis owned 365 slaves and his brother Jefferson Davis owned 113 slaves.
Warren County, MS, 1860 Slaveholders and Surname Matches for African Americans on 1870 Census
Transcribed by Tom Blake