A Lauderdale County Web
The Early Days
"About May 31st Company F from Lauderdale County, Constantine Rea, Captain, arrived in the vicinity of our camp...," [Baumgartner, 32] so writes Confederate soldier William Pitts Chambers in his journal of the War for Southern Independence, and thus begins the final chapters in the life of one of Lauderdale County's most remarkable patriots and statesmen. Newspaper editor, attorney, law maker, and Confederate officer, Con Rea's diverse activities in the early days would set the stage for what would soon become known as the "Golden Age" of Lauderdale County.
Con Rea was born in Maury County, Tennessee, in 1825. He Married Margaret Bragg in Washington County, Alabama on 11 January 1843. Their first child, Richard Nathan Rea, was born in Alabama in 1845. Shortly after the family moved to Marion, Lauderdale County, Mississippi, where their second child, William Thomas Rea, was born in 1847. [U.S. 1860 Census Data] This time line establishes Con Rea's arrival in the county to that period between 1845 and 1847. (For more information about the Rea family, please see "The Constantine Rea Family History.")
Rea was an Attorney, licensed to practice law in Lauderdale, Kemper, Neshoba, Newton, Jasper and Clark counties in Mississippi as well as Sumter and Choctaw counties in Alabama. Perhaps his law practice and local politics was his chief concern until January of 1854 when he, and a partner, Charles Wesley Henderson, purchased an interest the Lauderdale Republican newspaper. The offices of the Republican were located at what was then the Lauderdale county seat, the town of Marion. The following month he was listed as the editor, replacing C. G. Chandler in that position.
The newspaper, founded by William Penn Andrews, had begun publishing as early as the summer of 1851 and was the county's first newspaper. It lasted through the end of the 1850s even though Rea reported sold the paper in 1856 or early in 1857, the latter date being the most likely since a Rea editorial was the reported cause of an affair of honor, a duel involving Rea and, and another county resident, William Evans. The conclusion that the newspaper was still under the control of Con Rea until after the second quarter of 1857 is also supported in an article published in the Paulding Eastern Clarion newspaper of July 1857. In any event, the Lauderdale Republican was being published as late as the summer of 1859 by its new owner, Col. William A. Shields. Rea, having been elected to the Mississippi Legislature in the fall of 1855, would have taken his place in government early in the new year. Perhaps his new legislative duties had made the publishing and editorship of the Republican somewhat problematic. [Edmiston, 93]
However, even though, according to the nearby Eastern Clarion, the Republican did not make Rea a wealthier man. The Clarion wrote in the 22 July 1857 issue that they could, "see no reason why a Democratic paper published in such a county should not be a paying concern." The Clarion also noted in the same article that the Republican was to be sold. That the Republican was not a profit center for the Rea family suggests that his editorial efforts on behalf of the county were motivated by a sincere desire to see the county prosper and flourish.
In the early days of old Marion, the Republican praised the local area in Rea's editorials, touting her "pristine loveliness and healthfulness", "fertile soil", and other sounds and sights of a prosperous area. Shortly afterward, after listing the new businesses constructed or under construction, including two large saddle factories, a family grocery, a carriage factory, a silversmith, a watch making shop and several additional small businesses, Rea said, "Our little town, feels the impetus. Marion is becoming a city! Will you believe it? Or will you remain obstinately blind to the conviction until the truth bursts upon your benighted vision with all its glorious churches, splendid architecture, crowded streets and other appendages of a great city!" Speaking of old Marion, the Republican went on to say "We see no reason why it will not, in a short time, become the most important town in East Mississippi." This, of course, was not in the stars for the little town, but not for a lack of effort -- the final decision would fall upon the engineers of the M&O railroad.
At this point, as the young editor sang the praises of old Marion, the newspaper was published under a banner that indicted Rea's motto for the publication, "The South and Friends of the South." Later the motto would change along with the character of the newspaper as the "dogs of war" snarled and snapped their way ever closer to the sleepy village. [Edmiston, 72]
As editor of the Lauderdale Republican, his fiery editorials were constantly the talk of the county and, in 1857, as mentioned above, he was challenged by another Lauderdale countian, William Evans, to defend his remarks in an affair of honor. The duel was fought just across the state line in Alabama (See "A Lauderdale County Duel" for more information.) He also had occasion to practice his verbal marksmanship, usually humorously, at the editors of the newspapers of the surrounding area.
Alexander G. Horn, editor of the Quitman Intelligencer, was a target as was Lauderdale County's Representative to the Mississippi Legislature, Wesley W. Hall. [Edmiston, 97] No doubt A. G. Horn, who would later publish the Meridian Mercury and provide key testimony in the investigation into the Meridian Riot of 1871, had fired off a volley in the direction of Marion as was the custom of frontier editors. The various verbal salvos between the area editors were designed for the largest part to sell newspapers or to encourage county residents to consider topics of local or area interest more closely.
True to form, Rea often praised the town of Marion and was delighted with the prospects of the coming Mobile and Ohio railroad. He believed that when the road passed through Marion, it would be a boon to the newspaper business which would them have access to news from around the country in a minimum amount of time.
Unfortunately in 1855, the M&O Railroad would miss the little, but until then booming, town by two miles to the west. During a period when travel was difficult, the result would be that a new town would spring up along the railroad right-of-way. First called Marion Station then, for a brief time, Stonewall, the new town finally took the name of it's nearby predecessor as the original town began to wither and die, becoming simply Marion. The true impact was, however, yet to be felt in the community. In the beginning, when upstart Marion Station was founded, it was dealt with by Rea and his law partner simply and efficiently by opening a second office in Marion Station.
In a departure from the norm, Rea was not above using the resources of the media to defend himself when unfairly accused. The issues between Mississippi Representative W. W. Hall and Rea began over Hall's accusation that Rea had been sending a series of demeaning and vulgar letters to his wife. Rea, already displeased with Hall's politics, fired off a scorching editorial calling Hall a "liar, scoundrel and slanderer." [Edmiston, 98] Hall eventually backed away from his charges, insisting that he had never said that Rea was the source of the unwelcomed letters. Rea remained annoyed with Hall and before dismissing the issue, went on to say of Hall, "Though a slanderer, he has not sense enough to tell a plausible story. He lacks every other qualification of an accomplished villain, except the inclination; that he has to a greater extent than John A. Murrell ever had." Murrell was a well-know outlaw and highwayman from two decades earlier. Even in his ire, Rea's wit and hyperbole shine through the remark.
As noted previously, Constantine Rea was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1855. Always appreciative of a good laugh, Rea was often willing to laugh at himself. In the early months of 1856, Rea had to travel to Jackson to claim his seat in the legislature. The trip took 3 days over poor roads recently heavily washed by a number of rain storms. When attempting to ford the Okatibbe Creek he was unhorsed by the raging currents. Most likely he had been swept briefly downstream which would certainly have lead to a touchy moment as he attempted to regain the saddle and encourage his mount to firmer ground. Of the experience, he later wrote that it "will cause me to entertain no very pleasing recollections of the dark and turbid stream." [Edmiston, 40] The following year, hopefully with better roads to travel, he was a delegate to the state Democratic convention in Jackson. Later in 1856, he served as delegate to the National Democratic Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.
As the War for Southern Independence began to loom, menacingly on the horizon, Con Rea's newest cause became that of states rights. He had earlier, probably about 1857, changed the motto of the Republican to "Union, Democracy and State Sovereignty." [Edmiston, 94] and, along with his foray into politics, began to focus his attentions on the upcoming political turmoil and the impending hostilities. He affiliated himself with a Mississippi Militia unit organized from Lauderdale county residents, the Lauderdale Rifles, and began training. Constantine Rea would not sit out the war at the state Capitol nor from behind a desk in Marion. Rea had other plans.
n addition to those works cited below, this article was developed with the research assistance of Mr. Ward Calhoun and The Constantine Rea Historical Society. Much on Mr. Calhoun's own research and his publications as well as information provided by the Society have gone into this article. To purchase Mr. Calhoun's publications, please contact the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History for a list of his works. Their website can be found at the following link:
Baumgartner, Richard A., "William Pitt Chambers Blood and Sacrifice" The Civil War Journal of a Confederate Soldier." Huntington: Blue Acorn Press, 1994.
Edmiston, Fred W., "Lauderdale, Mississippi's Empire County: Volume 1: The Early Years, 1830-1865." Meridian: Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History, Inc., 2005.
United States Census Bureau: 1860 U.S. Federal Census.
Content Copyright 2008 W.L.White and The Constantine Rea Historical Society.
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