Stephen Duncan

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Stephen Duncan
Stephen Duncan - (1787-1867).jpg
Stephen Duncan
Born March 4, 1787
Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Died January 29, 1867(1867-01-29) (aged 79)
New York City
Resting place Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia
Education Dickinson College
Occupation Plantation owner, banker
Known for Wealthiest cotton planter in the South prior to the American Civil War; second largest slave owner in the country
Spouse(s) Margaret Ellis
Catherine Bingaman (m. 1819)
Children (with Margaret): John Ellis Duncan, Sarah Jane Duncan
(with Catherine): Stephen Duncan, Jr., Charlotte N. Duncan, M. L. Duncan, Henry P. Duncan

Stephen Duncan (1787-1867) was born in Pennsylvania and became a major planter and banker in Mississippi, in the antebellum South. He became the wealthiest cotton planter in the South prior to the American Civil War, and in 1860 was the second-largest slave owner in the country.

Auburn in Natchez, Mississippi.

Early life[edit]

Stephen Duncan was born on March 4, 1787 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.[1][2][3][4] He received a medical degree from Dickinson College.[2][5]

Antebellum career[edit]

In 1808, shortly before the War of 1812, Duncan moved as a young man to Natchez, Mississippi Territory, a developing river town that was important to trading along the Mississippi River.[2][3][5] In the antebellum South, Natchez became a thriving city thanks to the booming cotton industry. Duncan purchased Auburn plantation from Lyman Harding in 1827.[2][4][6]

In Natchez, he worked as a banker and planter.[7][8][9] He served as the President of the Bank of Mississippi.[4]

Duncan owned the following cotton and sugar plantations: L'Argent, Camperdown, Carlisle, Duncan, Duncannon, Duncansby, Ellisle, Homochitto, Middlesex, Oakley, Rescue, Reserve, Attakapas, and Saragossa.[3][8]

Duncan sold his crops through the merchant firm Washington, Jackson & Co. in New Orleans, instructing them to sell it through their subsidiary Todd, Jackson & Co. in Liverpool, England.[9] The revenue derived from the cotton and sugar sales would then go to Charles P. Leverich & Co., a bank headquartered in New York.[9] His plantations yielded returns of US$150,000 every year.[9] As a result of these financial transactions, Duncan became the richest cotton planter in the South before the war.[8] He reinvested his money in Northern railroad securities and in Midwestern public lands.[3]

In the 1850s, he owned over 1,000 slaves, making him the largest resident slave holder in Mississippi.[3][10] By 1860, Duncan's ownership of 858 slaves in Issaquena County made him second nationally to the estate of Joshua John Ward (1800-1853) of South Carolina, which controlled 1,130.[11]

Mississippi Colonization Society[edit]

In 1830, Duncan, along with planter James Brown, a former sugar planter and US Senator from Louisiana, purchased 400 acres (1.6 km2) of land in the Huron Tract in Ontario, Canada, to establish the Wilberforce Colony of free American blacks. Most came from Cincinnati, Ohio, fleeing discrimination and especially a violent riot in 1829.

In the 1830s, prior to the American Civil War of 1861-1865 and together with major slave owners Isaac Ross (1760-1838), Edward McGehee (1786-1880), John Ker (1789-1850), and educator Jemeriah Chamberlain (1794-1851), president of Oakland College, Duncan co-founded the Mississippi Colonization Society. Their goal was to relocate (repatriate) free blacks and newly freed slaves to the colony of Liberia on the African continent.[12] The organization was modeled after the American Colonization Society, but it focused on freedmen in Mississippi, a large slave state.[12]

American Civil War and postbellum career[edit]

During the Civil War, Duncan opposed secession and the Confederate States Army.[2][3] As a result, he was ostracized by other Southerners.[4] He had investments worth $1,060,000 unrelated to his plantations, and he would be able to live comfortably regardless of the outcome of the war.[3]

In 1863, he left Natchez and moved to New York City.[2][3]

Personal life[edit]

Duncan married Margaret Ellis, and they had two children together, John Ellis and Sarah Jane Duncan. After his wife died, Duncan married again in 1819, to Catherine A. Bingaman. They had four children: Stephen, Jr.; Charlotte N., M. L., and Henry P. Duncan.[8]


Duncan died on January 29, 1867, in New York City. He was buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[1]

In 1911, his heirs donated the Auburn mansion and its gardens to the city of Natchez.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b FindAGrave
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Natchez Guesthouse
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Engerman, Stanley L. (1976). Owens, Harry P., ed. The Southern Slave Economy. Perspectives and Irony in American Slavery. University Press of Mississippi. p. 107. 
  4. ^ a b c d Alan Huffman, Mississippi in Africa: [the Saga of the Slaves of Prospect Hill Plantation and Their Legacy in Liberia Today, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2010, pp. 91-92 [1]
  5. ^ a b David G. Sansing, Sim C. Callon, Carolyn Vance Smith, Natchez: An Illustrated History, Plantation Pub. Co., 1992, p. 88 [2]
  6. ^ William P. Baldwin, Elizabeth Turk, Mantelpieces of the Old South: Lost Architecture in Southern Culture, The History Press, 2005, p. 192 [3]
  7. ^ Ann Patton Malone, Sweet Chariot: Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-century Louisiana, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1992, p. 287 [4]
  8. ^ a b c d Louisiana State University Library: Stephen Duncan Correspondence
  9. ^ a b c d Harold D. Woodman, King Cotton and His Retainers: Financing and Marketing the Cotton Crop of the South, 1800-1925, Beard Books, 199, p. 160 [5]
  10. ^ 'Plantation Economy', American Cotton Planter, N. B. Cloud, 1854, Volume 2, p. 118 [6]
  11. ^ Blake, Tom (2004). "The Sixteen Largest American Slaveholders from 1860 Slave Census Schedules". 
  12. ^ a b Mary Carol Miller, Lost Mansions of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2010, Volume II, pp. 53-54 [7]

Further reading[edit]

  • Martha Jane Brazy, An American Planter: Stephen Duncan of Antebellum Natchez And New York (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2006).[8]