J. Calvitt Clarke III

Jacksonville University

Working Draft

December 2012


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The son of Mississippi’s first chancellor, Joseph Calvitt Clarke left his birth state, probably in late 1837, and he moved to New Orleans.  There, for seventeen years, he played an important role in society as an attorney, judge, lay preacher, and editor and publisher.




Born into privilege about 1809 in Natchez, Clarke descended on his mother’s side from French Huguenot refugees and frontier settlers, who had become large plantation holders and slave owners in Mississippi.  His first and second names honored his maternal grandfather, Joseph Calvit.  While little is known about his father, Joshua Giles Clarke, before he moved from Pennsylvania to the Mississippi Territory, he did become Mississippi’s first chancellor.  In that office, he issued two opinions that, at least for a while, ameliorated at least a little of the harsh conditions for slaves in his state.  The Calvits and Clarkes helped create the territory and then the states of Mississippi and Louisiana.[1]




Mystery shrouds Joseph Clarke’s youth and early career.  There is, however, at least one brief story from his childhood.  In April 1821, “Joe” Clarke and Benjamin Grubb Humphreys, “still wearing Knee breeches,” left Port Gibson on the small steamer Eagle to Natchez, where they boarded the steamer Volcano to New Orleans.  There they found passage on the sailing ship Asia down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico, where “Soon all the passengers, white and black, were sea sick.”  After passing close to Cuba, they sailed out of sight of land for sixteen days.  After twenty-four days, they landed at Staten Island and ten days of quarantine.  The two young boys saw New York City and then went to Morristown where they spent three years with the family of Mr. F. King.  David Hunt and his family, who were related to the Clarkes by marriage, accompanied the two boys on their trip.  Born near Trenton, New Jersey, at age twenty two Hunt had left the state for Mississippi.  There he married Mary Ann Calvit, the daughter of Thomas Calvit, young Joseph’s uncle.  Hunt eventually owned some twenty-five plantations, including Calviton, and became, perhaps, the richest man in Mississippi.[3]


Nine years later in 1830, Joseph Calvit's living descendants—Martha (Patsy) Calvit Clarke, her son Joseph Calvitt Clarke, and her brother John Calvit—applied for Joseph Calvit’s Revolutionary War Pension.  Following his father’s footsteps, Joseph Calvitt Clarke had become an attorney and represented his mother and uncle in their effort to obtain the pension.[4]


At some point, likely in late 1837 after his mother had sold the family home at Claremont in Natchez, Mississippi, Clarke moved downriver to New Orleans, where he hung out his shingle as an attorney.  The 1838 New Orleans City Directory listed “J. Calvitt Clarke, attorney-at-law, at 26 Camp Street.”[5]




On February 8, 1838 in New Orleans, the young attorney Clarke married the widow Phoebe Ann Page Keen, who was the second child of Benjamin Page by his second wife, Martha Harding.  Born on May 11, 1806 at 162 Pearl Street in New York City, Phoebe’s father was a maker of fine glassware in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Her first marriage had been in Allegheny, Pennsylvania on September 20, 1824 to Robert Lewis Keen, who had died in 1836 in Louisville.[6]


Likely after her husband’s death, Phoebe Ann Page King moved to New Orleans, where she kept a boarding house on Julia Street.  When she and Clarke married, she joined him in Lafayette City on Bellegarde Street to live in a small house, with a lower story of brick and the second of wood covered with slate.  They had to store in the garret the furniture she had brought from the boarding house, but sometime before 1841, a fire destroyed that furniture.  The Clarke’s filed a claim with Firemen’s Insurance Company that included $1,000 for the furniture, but the company claimed that the policy purchased did not cover the stored furniture.  As attorneys are often wont, Clarke filed suit and the judge awarded him $750, which satisfied neither side.  On appeal, in 1841 the Commercial Court of New Orleans in Clarke v. Firemen’s Insurance Company affirmed the lower court’s decision.[7]


Notwithstanding this misadventure, the Clarke couple had five children, all born in the city of Lafayette, now the Fourth District of New Orleans.  The first, named after his paternal grandfather, was Joshua Giles Clarke, born on December 25, 1838.  The 1861 New Orleans City Directory listed him as an attorney-at-law, as it did again in 1866 after the Civil War.  A year later he was living in Vicksburg and still working as an attorney.  Joseph and Phoebe Clarke named their second child, Benjamin Page Clarke, after his maternal grandfather.  Born on April 2, 1841, he died too few years later, on September 22, 1860.  One newspaper obituary described him as a medical student and another wrote that he was a medical clerk at Charity Hospital, not necessarily incompatible descriptions.  Born on January 16, 1844 and likely named after the famous Methodist Episcopal minister, William Winans Clarke was the next child.  William’s father, after all, was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and like William Winans was a Whig who opposed abolitionism and supported the colonization movement.  The 1868 New Orleans City Directory listed William Winans Clarke as a clerk at Shepart Abbott and Co., dealers in glass, crockery, and house furnishings goods, located at 55 Camp Street.  The directories for 1869 and 1870 listed him as an accountant, again on Camp Street.  Given his father’s name, the next child, Joseph Calvitt Clarke, was born in the Clarke House on March 4, 1848.  The couple’s last child, Martha Clarke, was born in the Clarke House on August 22, 1850.  Given the name of her paternal grandmother, she died on November 27, 1851 and was buried in the Lafayette Cemetery.[8]




Although new to the city of New Orleans, Joseph Calvitt Clarke quickly came to lead an active professional and civic life.


Putting his career as an attorney on hold, “J. Calvitt Clarke”—as he called himself—became one of three proprietors, publishers, and editors of the Commercial Bulletin, the most respected commercial newspaper in a vibrant, engaged, and literate community of New Orleans.  On February 20, 1838, the newspaper announced: “The Proprietor having sold an interest in this Journal to J. Calvitt Clarke, Esq. and also to Mr. Thomas Rea, it will be hereafter conducted under their joint management.  P. P. Rea.”[9]  The paper’s masthead now read, “Published Every Day by P. P. Rea, J. Calvitt Clarke & T. Rea, at Banks Arcade, Corner Magazine and Gravier Streets, Price Twelve Dollars Per Annum, Payable in Advance.”[10]




It is impossible to know who in the editorial triumvirate wrote specific editorials, but it seems safe to assume that Clarke agreed with the positions taken.  While he was at the Commercial Bulletin, the editorials spoke to a national arena suffering great political and economic travails between 1838 and 1841.[12]


Opposition to Martin Van Buren’s Administration

Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States, dominated America’s political landscape.  In domestic matters, the Panic of 1837 overshadowed his administration.  Cursed with bank failures, record-high unemployment, and few economic tools to work with, it was one of the worst economic crises in the nation's founding history.  In foreign affairs, he stepped boldly to reverse Andrew Jackson's policies and he strove for peace at home and abroad.  In particular, the president sought to salve diplomatic problems with Mexico, and in August 1837, he rejected Texas’ formal request to join the United States.  Van Buren also faced nettlesome issues with Britain and Canada.


Formed to oppose the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party, the Whigs supported the supremacy of Congress over, as they saw it,  a tyrannical presidency, and they favored a program of modernization and economic protectionism.  The Whigs traced the economic downturn to President Jackson's policies, and especially to his decision not to re-charter the National Bank. They argued that a stable national economy needed a powerful institution such as a national bank to manage the economy.


Clarke’s father and grandfather had been Democratic-Republicans and probably would have leaned toward the Jacksonian democracy Van Buren had helped build as President Andrew Jackson's Secretary of State and Vice President.  Even so, Clarke and the other editors the Commercial Bulletin favored Whig policies and promoted the party’s candidates for Louisiana’s governor and legislature.[13]


The Republic of Texas and the Commercial Bulletin

In fact, the editors found much in Van Buren’s policies they did not like.  Reversing many of Andrew Jackson’s policies, Van Buren sought peace at home and abroad.  For example, instead of settling a financial dispute between American citizens and the Mexican government by force, Van Buren promoted a diplomatic solution.  Then, in August 1837, Van Buren rejected Texas' formal request to join the United States, again prioritizing sectional harmony over territorial expansion.


The fate of the Republic of Texas especially interested the merchants of New Orleans, and the Commercial Bulletin was proud that the city’s citizens had helped Texas in “her desperate struggle” against Mexico.[14]  A couple of days later, the paper added that it was interest of Texas to cultivate friendly relations with New Orleans, where much of its trade transited.[15]  With war with Mexico threatening, a bellicose Commercial Bulletin in April 1838 disparaged Mexicans, who “unfortunately” were “ignorant of their comparative weakness and imbecility.”[16]


War Against Great Britain and Canada?

Clouds of war threatened in the northeast as well as the southwest.  In early March 1838, the Commercial Bulletin worried about the possibility of war in the north and urged the government to strengthen its military posts along the border with Canada.[17]  Soon, however, the paper came to oppose war over the border conflict between Maine and Canada, and in doing so, the newspaper praised Henry Clay, “the Great Pacificator.”  Clay saw the affair as the newspaper assumed would “a statesman of his liberal, enlightened principles and comprehensive intelligence.”  Opposed to war, Clay “rebukes the impetuosity of those who would without good cause precipitate the nation into a perilous and bloody conflict.”[18]  The editors called for negotiations with Britain over Maine’s boundary with Canada and “to make the two nations better friends than ever.  That such may be the result, is our sincere wish and most ardent anticipation.”[19]


Tensions with Great Britain alarmed the editors of the Commercial Bulletin, not least for fear of problems for New Orleans’ cotton trade.  Britain, after all, was the city’s largest customer.  While they thought that Texas merchants could pick up the trade, and although the city might benefit from an Anglo-American war, the editors still preferred peace.[20]


The Commercial Bulletin Favors the Whigs Against Democratic Corruption

Amid the economic travails following the Panic of 1837, in mid-1939 the Commercial Bulletin looked forward to a change of power in the United States Congress from the Jacksonian Democrats to the Whigs.  The editors wrote, “If the Whigs act with proper zeal and unanimity,” they could end Van Buren’s incumbency and “the political career of locofocoism,”[21] represented by radical democrats.


Predicting that the Twenty-Sixth Congress would open with a twenty to thirty Whig majority in the House of Representatives, two weeks later, the editors were even more confident in their forecasts and more openly rejoiced in defeat for Van Buren.  The editorial continued its diatribe.  “[M]isrule and corruption” had tainted the government “with rottenness,” and “official peculation and dishonesty” had “filched countless millions from the coffers of the treasury.”  An aroused people would no longer tolerate Democratic “unworthiness.”  Clarke and his two co-editors longed for the day, soon coming, when the Whigs could form congressional committees “composed of good men and true, not the obsequious tools of faction.”  They could “penetrate thoroughly into the abuses, the corruption, profligacy and extravagance, which have distinguished the administration for the last ten years.  They would get at the truth. . . .  They would lay bare the secrets of the cabal that have so long fattened on the public spoils.”  The editors rejoiced that a “Whig majority in the twenty-sixth Congress, would be the unerring means of overthrowing the administration of Martin Van Buren.”[22]


Such strong political stances, in truth, made Clarke and his co-editors uneasy.  They felt compelled to explain why, against inclination, they written so forcefully: “We offer no apology to our readers for occasionally deviating from our usual maxim of non-interference in political controversy.”  They cited the times, “pregnant with events which will excite a potent influence over the future destinies of this republic,” and they added that the press, especially that part defending the commercial community, had to be faithful to its trust.  In fact, “No good citizen can remain entirely neutral in a political struggle of importance.”[23]


Economic Issues

Economic issues lay at the heart of many of the editors criticisms of the Van Buren administration.  Saddled with the Panic of 1837, money and credit was scarce.  The Commercial Bulletin condemned the sad “predicament of those who lie under the burden of heavy debt” and continued, “Several years must yet elapse before the evils of crazy speculation are cured.  The immense load of debt incurred bury the phrenzy which prevailed. . . . Insolvency has wiped off a great deal of this debt.”[24]


The editors thought the expiration of the charter of the United States Bank had caused the Panic.  The bank’s demise relieved everyone from the restraints that had moderated their greed.  Local and state institutions then had unreasonably extended their currency issues, and all classes of citizens now borrowed money “with unprecedented facility” and were stretching themselves “far beyond their means.”[25]  When these notes matured, debtors could not meet their obligations, and the over-extended banks had to suspend specie payments.  Decrying the resulting depreciation of currency values, the editors blamed Andrew Jackson and his “wily” successor, Martin Van Buren.  Only re-chartering the National Bank would create the conditions necessary for economic revival.[26]


Not all borrowing was bad, however.  Calling for calm, Clarke and the other editors disagreed with an editorial in the Charleston Mercury, which had denounced states for borrowing foreign money, inevitably leading to speculation and bankruptcy—a conclusion “contradicted by experience and facts.”[27]


The Commercial Bulletin’s Progressive Stances

After War of 1812, an era of reform that valued peace, women’s rights, education community virtue, and social responsibility captured American imaginations.[28]  In that spirit, the Commercial Bulletin took many “progressive” stances.  For example, the editors compared the smallpox epidemic then ravaging the North Western Indians to what was not happening among civilized whites.  Skeptics of “the antidotal powers of vaccination” would “find proof enough forever to silence their doubts.”  The paper drove home the benefits of science: “if this terrible plague had not been arrested by vaccination, it would be at this day more to be dreaded, than any other scourge ever yet inflicted on the human race.”[29]  In July 1939, the editors wrote of their gratification that Natchez citizens had formed an “Anti-Dueling Society.”[30]  Denouncing “public executions, with all the attendant paraphernalia of military parade,” that same month the editors praised as “sage and salutary” efforts to limit the number of witnesses to executions.[31]  Phrenology even interested the editors but, in a modern spirit, they would judge its truth or falseness by science.[32]


Soon, the Commercial Bulletin was turning its fire to support the temperance movement.  In the spring of 1838, the newspaper praised the City Temperance Society of New Orleans and rejoiced that it and like organizations across the country were growing in numbers.  They added, “Of all the institutions . . .  that have the amelioration of mankind for their object, the temperance cause may well lay claim to precedence.”[33]  Less than a year later, the newspaper praised an “anti-tippling” bill.[34]  Then, building on an earlier editorial,[35] in October 1939, they praised efforts in Charleston, South Carolina to control alcohol and optimistically added, “We believe that the American people, if left to themselves on this question will decide right.  At any rate the experiment is worth trying.”[36]


Steamboat safety particularly engaged the editors, who attacked the common practice of placing old boilers in newly-built boats.  If the boilers did not burst, “no harm is done and nobody is the worse off for the innocent deception while great gain reward the economy of the enterprising proprietors.”  The editors continued, “But should the fires of the furnace or the rust of time . . . corrode the metal of the boilers . . . a dreadful explosion” would then scald “some hundreds of poor wretches.”  This would merely be another “one of those inevitable accidents to which the public are liable, for which there is no remedy.”[37]  A couple of days later, the Commercial Bulletin returned to the topic.  “How much longer will the patience of the people tolerate the execrable abuses of steam boat navigation?[38]


France in North Africa and Mexico

Concerning international issues, Clarke and the Commercial Bulletin thought the spread of white, especially French civilization, to less benighted peoples would benefit the world.  For example, in January 1839, the newspaper rejoiced that French conquests in Africa were so extensive they needed “an army of one hundred thousand men to guard the frontier, and keep the fierce Arabs in check. . . .  Hence we hear of continual insurrections in the newly subjugated provinces. . . .”  Harkening back to the experiences of three generations of Calvits—and to many others living along the Mississippi—the editorial continued:  “In this way the colonists are kept in constant alarm, and are as unsafe in their property and lives as were the first settlers of Virginia and Kentucky from the depredations of the Indians.”  The newspaper concluded, “The barbarism of Africa must eventually bow down under the footsteps of European civilization.”  Africa’s northern coast would, “ere long, present the spectacle of a large and populous kingdom—speaking the language, governed by the laws, and enlightened by the institutions of one of the first nations of Europe.”[39]


If French influence was good for North Africa, it was also good for the New World.  At the end of January during the “Pastry War” between France and Mexico, the editors justified French action.  “[T]he planting of French institutions on the Mexican soil would . . . ameliorate the condition of the natives . . .  and the benevolence of Providence would shine conspicuously in compelling the introduction of civilization among an ignorant, besotted race, by the instrumentality of one of the most chivalrous and polished nations of Europe.”[40]


The Negro Problem: Opposition to Abolition

On the domestic front and the contentious issue of slavery, the Commercial Bulletin feared that abolition threatened the South and the Union.  In February 1838, Clarke and his fellow editors lamented the “repeated importunities” of former president, John Quincy Adams, in the House of Representatives that would excite the “dangerous subject of slavery.”  Particularly noxious were petitions opposing the annexation of Texas, offered “without any hope of success.”  They had no motive other than “an uncontrollable passion for dangerous excitement” and “a reckless disregard of those harmonious principles of action, so necessary to the stability of our Government.”  The editors lamented that “a man of Mr. Adams’ talent, one who nature has fitted to shine conspicuous in any sphere, stooping so far beneath that lofty and dignified course of conduct, which is consistent with his character.”[41]


In a similar vein, the editors praised an oration by a young student from New Orleans in a formal debate in the District of Columbia.  Their editorial approvingly published his heated rhetoric that, “rising from the hills of New England” was a terrible “frantic spirit of fanaticism . . . rolling towards us, overshadowing the whole land. . . .  That cloud is Abolition—Abolition—Abolition!”  The fiery oration continued, “This is the canker which is endeavouring to destroy in the bud, the energies of this young but powerful people.  This is the angel of destruction spreading her wings over us; this is the demon of disunion lurking among us.  Abolition tests the integrity of the union.”  The student warned everyone of the burden that laid on the South, “The very next gale that sweeps from the South may be laden with horrid deeds of negro barbarity.  The cries of dying friends, the devastation of our plundered plantations and the smoke of our burning villages may arise to heaven.”[42]


Certainly, anything that challenged the abolitionists deserved warm attention from the Commercial Bulletin’s editorials, for example, when a large crowd in Patterson, New Jersey broke open the doors and windows and broke up one of their meetings.[43]  Three weeks later, another event especially gratified the editors, including, presumably, the Methodist Clarke:  “It is encouraging to witness the strong measures adopted by the Methodists of the North, for the suppression of Abolitionism. . . The Methodists have the credit of being the first sect in the United States who have officially and ex cathedra denounced abolitionism as rank heresy and sinful.”[44]


The Negro Problem: Jamaica’s Apprentice System

The Commercial Bulletin’s editors were not always so enlightened.  Only ten months earlier, they had excoriated Jamaica’s Apprentice System, which provided for the gradual emancipation of the island’s slaves.[45]  They blamed the “humanity-mongers” and their “pernicious principles” for Jamaica’s problems—their “free labor scheme” did not flatter the island’s future.  “The blacks being emancipated from the yoke of bondage, scorn to submit to the wholesome restraints of law.  Like every people who have not been trained up to the enjoyment of liberty they abuse its privileges and run into the wildest excesses of licentiousness and atrocity.  What a lamentable ignorance of human nature, do the abettors of such fanatical notions betray!  Free institutions require intelligence and virtue, and it would “require centuries of discipline and education, to qualify a race degraded as is the Ethiopian, to enter upon the elevated career of freemen.”  Even then, some superior power would have “to keep them in that erect position.”  The editors aphoristically added, “‘A servant of servants shalt thou be,’ is the curse stamped upon their visages, as legibly as the mark graven upon Cain’s forehead.”  The efforts of “agitators and humanity-mongers to avert the doom” would be in vain.[46]


In the same long editorial, the editors approvingly repeated the Kingston Chronicle’s denunciations of those magistrates who treated the apprentices “as spoiled children.”  They “petted, humored, encouraged” them “in idleness and waste of time.”  They now expected “indulgences which their masters cannot afford to give them gratis—and when denied these indulgences,” they believe “that they are ill treated and imposed upon.”  The Chronicle predicted that the “miserable failure of this experiment” would be “the advance guard of a host of evils which, in the shape of revolts, insurrections, murders and massacres” would “spread havoc over that beautiful island.”  The Commercial Bulletin’s editors, found valuable lessons for the United States.  “Fanatics and hypocrites” might “discard the evidence of fact and turn a deaf ear to the dictates of reason.  For the honest and judicious, however, conditions in Jamaica proved “the absurdity of fully of putting into practice the pernicious principles” of northern “enthusiastics and fanatics.”[47]


The Negro Problem: Support for Colonization Societies

Rejecting abolition, the Commercial Bulletin sought another solution to the problem of slavery and turned to colonization societies.  Of the publishers, at least Clarke must have been influenced by his Methodism.  Only after 1824 did Methodists begin to support the movement, but soon no religious denomination drew more tightly with colonization than did the Methodist Episcopal Church.  The Reverend William Winans, although never an official agent, popularized the colonization idea, and hundreds of Methodist preachers became its representatives and supporters.  Many Southerners consoled their consciences that antagonism to abolition did not necessarily imply an acceptance of slavery as a national institution, and many Methodists saw colonization as a moral alternative to a total acceptance of Negro servitude.  Their faith and colonization were complementary.  Especially early on, Methodists stood in opposition to abolitionism.  After 1832, however, some Methodists began to turn away from colonization and toward abolitionism.  The Methodist General Conference of 1836, far from securing peace for the Methodists, signaled the beginning of a great controversy, and successes of Methodist abolitionists frightened and disgusted southern ministers.  Southern conferences, and William Winans himself, began to defend slavery.[48]


In general, colonization societies rose in response to the rapid rise of abolitionism, and to the abolitionist the colonizationist was an immoral fraud.[49]  Some of Louisiana’s colonizationists supported the movement out of genuine humanitarianism and a genuine revulsion for slavery.  Others sought to foreclose any possibility of racial equality by removing free blacks from the United States.  One historian has characterized the movement succinctly, perhaps even cynically: “More a state of mind than a plan of action, the colonization cause enticed men to placate their consciences, conciliate the slaveholders, and shed tears over the plight of the Negroes whom they hoped to ship to Africa.” [50]  Louisiana’s colonizationists were upper- and middle-income Anglo-Saxon Protestants, seldom native to Louisiana and often hailed from the mid-Atlantic and New England regions.  They were often Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, and Unitarians.[51]


These organizations generally tried to satisfy two groups, ironically on opposite ends of the spectrum.  One consisted of philanthropists, clergy, and abolitionists who wanted to free African slaves and their descendants and provide them with the opportunity to return to Africa.  Echoing the student’s oration, the other group consisted of the slave owners who feared free people of color and wanted to expel them from America.  The editors seem to have lain between the two groups, perhaps leaning to the latter.


Clarke and his fellow editors attended to the implications slavery held for Southern society.  They “earnestly requested” the public to attend and support the annual meeting of the Louisiana State Colonization Society to be held on May 2, 1838 at the Presbyterian Church in New Orleans.  The editors assured their readers that the organization’s work was of “vast utility to the whole South.”  It was popular and if better known would be “to be universally appreciated.”  They added, “From the infatuated fanatics of the North, the society has received and expects naught but contumely and denunciation; but in the humane South, the hand of patronage has ever been stretch forth for her welcome and succour.”[52]  The next day, the paper continued to beat the drum for the colonization movement.  “This Society commends itself to the South in every point of view,” and the editors praised the successes already accomplished.  “A large settlement has sprung up, increasing in wealth and character every year.  This is highly gratifying to us as Americans.  A good government, order, industry and religious institutions, all taken from our own country have been established there.”  Louisiana’s Colonization Society was preparing to buy a “tract of country to be called Louisiana, in Liberia.”  The paper added its hope that many would attend the meeting and be punctual.[53]


Recognizing the “social evil” of slavery, Clarke and the other editors praised a meeting of the Colonization Society, which had taken place on January 16, 1839: “The cause is evidently gaining ground in Louisiana, and throughout the south generally.  Our statesmen begin to regard this association as our only hope of escape from that which must be esteemed a great political and social evil.”  Rejoicing at the movement’s rapid growth, the writers longed for the day, soon to come, when “the cause is destined to become deservedly popular.”  But they also restrained their dreams, “Whether it will ever be effectual for the entire eradication of the evil it was designed to counteract, is not the question we care to ask.”  Two important goals, however, were in sight, “the amelioration of our domestic institutions, and the civilization of Africa.”[54]


Clarke fit the demographic profile of Louisiana’s supporters of the colonization movement.  Clergy were especially influential and Clarke served as a preacher in his church.  Many colonizationists, often centered in New Orleans, were urban-based merchant-factors and lawyers with only indirect ties to slavery.[55]  Clarke was an attorney and had close ties to the city’s merchant community as a publisher of the Commercial Bulletin.


Lighter Issues and the End of Clarke’s Relationship with the Commercial Bulletin

Clarke and the other editors sometimes took time off from serious issues to offer lighter fare, commending to their readers, for example, the refreshing taste of both ginger beer and soda beer.[56]


On Thursday, November 7, 1939, J. Calvitt Clarke signed his name to an editorial for the last time.

Mr. J. Calvitt Clarke, one of the former proprietors of the Bulletin, having resigned from the concern with the purpose of devoting himself to the profession of law, the public are hereby notified that the partnership of REA, CLARKE, & REA is dissolved.  The Bulletin hereafter will be conducted under the name of the other proprietors, who will as heretofore exert their best endeavors to deserve the patronage so liberally bestowed upon their journal.[57]

A curt comment.  Is this the full story?  Did a dispute, for example, editorial policy, lay at the heart of Clarke’s leaving?  Without better evidence, it seems best to take the written explanation at face value.


The Public Ledger of Philadelphia quoted The Louisiana Advertiser of New Orleans on the retirement of J. Calvit Clarke, Esq.  “He was one of the most placid and forbearing of the profession.  His course was calculated to please all parties, to give offence to none.”  The Philadelphia newspaper then snidely wrote: “Such a person may be very good and amiable as a man, but as an editor, we doubt if could come up to the standard of excellence.  An editor, to do his duty, must displease many and give frequent offences.”[58]  The good folks in Philadelphia presumably did not know Clarke, nor could they have been especially familiar with his work.  The editorials in the Commercial Bulletin while Clarke was among those at the helm had taken strong political, economic, and social stances.  And in a city justly famed for its alcohol consumption, they must have at least infuriated an imbiber or two.



In 1839 while at the Commercial Bulletin, Clarke was among those on a committee that composed and signed the Address of the Louisiana Native American Association to the Citizens of Louisiana and the Inhabitants of the United States.  A tendentious screed, the document is interesting for many reasons, not least for its echoes still heard in American politics in the early twenty-first century.


Louisiana Native American Association

Nativists formed Native American Associations to combat the “alien menace” amid the economic wreckage left by the Panic of 1837.  Often secret, these groups were hostile to foreigners, and their members argued that newcomers to America’s shores were socially unfit and had not achieved sufficient standards of civilization.  These nativists generally wanted to ban Catholics from office, restrict naturalization, and force literacy tests for voting.


In its own words, the Louisiana Native American Association declared,

Native American Associations are founded upon a desire to transmit unimpaired and unendangered, to posterity, all the blessings which we enjoy. They have been rendered exclusive by those naturalized citizens, who have opposed our desire for a repeal of the naturalization laws.  When that opposition terminates, or when the naturalization laws shall have been repealed, Native American Associations will either be disbanded, or they will be no longer exclusive. Distinctions among our citizens based upon their birth places will then cease to exist, and they will all constitute one great happy and undivided family.[59]


Assurances to Naturalized Immigrants

In its address, the committee sought to assure naturalized Americans that they had nothing to fear from the proposals put forward by the Native American Associations for repealing naturalization laws, because the Constitution prohibited ex post facto laws.  The association also wanted to assure everyone how deeply it respected those foreign-born “noble and gallant spirits, who during the incipiency of our republic, ‘hurried from other lands, to moisten with their blood, the tree of American Liberty,’ and to all other naturalized citizens who have contributed to establish the unexampled greatness and prosperity of our beloved country, up to the present period.”[60]


The Immigration and Naturalization Problem

As long as relatively few foreigners had entered the United States, and “imperceptibly merged and incorporated into the great body of the American people, and were gradually imbued, and indoctrinated into the principles of virtue and patriotism, which formerly animated the whole American community,” then “their advent was an advantage and a benefit to our country.”[61]


But times had changed.  Now America was seeing “hordes and hecatombs of beings in human form, but destitute of any intellectual aspirations,—the outcast and offal of society—the pauper, the vagrant, and the convict, transported in myriads to our shores, reeking with the accummulated [sic.] crimes of the whole civilized and savage world, and inducted by our laws, to equal rights, immunities, and priviliges [sic.] with the noble native inhabitants of the United States, we can no longer contemplate it with supine indifference.”[62]


The committee needed to warn their countrymen, that they had “to protect our institutions from these accumulated inroads upon our national character, from the indiscriminate immigration, and naturalization of foreigners.”  Without quick action, “in vain have our predecessors whether native or naturalized, toiled and suffered, and fought and bled and died, to achieve our liberties, and establish our hallowed institutions. . . . .  the participation in our political privileges of the ignorant, the corrupt, the perfidious, the vile, the seditious, and the hostile foreigner, may eventually warp, distort or overthrow our republican form of Government.”[63]


For the happiness of future generations it was necessary to keep political power from the ignorant and bigoted foreigners, whom demagogues might seduce to usurp all political power in the United States.  Yet those Native Americans alert to the threat and wishing to change naturalization laws were suffering “slanderous and vituperative assaults” from those same foreigners.  The committee then drew on the past, the glorious heroics of the war for independence:

When previous to the Revolutionary war, a trifling tax was laid upon tea, which probably would hardly have been noticed by nine-tenths of the community, a few patriotic spirits, seeing in it the germ of future slavery, threw themselves into the breach, and warned the people of their danger, be it our duty to follow at an humble distance in their patriotic footsteps, for although ineffably beneath them in talents, wisdom and ability, yet we feel we love our country, as sincerely and as devotedly.

We, therefore, like those patriots, seeing portentous evils approaching our country from foreign influence, like them though far inferior, will never cease to warn the people, till those evils are corrected or averted.[64]


Too many Americans dismissed the warnings.  To sway them the committee offered in tones not unfamiliar to American politics after the Recession of 2008 statistics on the dramatic influx of immigrants:

. . . in 1807, the foreign born population in the United States, bore a proportion to the native of about "one to forty," and . . . now the proportion is about one to five or six, and . . . from two to five hundred thousand foreigners arrive annually in the United States.

. . . there are now five millions of individuals of foreign birth in the United States, or about one third of our whole population, of whom about 70,000, are paupers and vagrants, supported at the public cost, at an expense to the American people and their government of two millions and a quarter of dollars annually, or a sum about equal to the annual cost of the whole American navy.

. . . among these paupers and vagrants, are the vicious,—the illiterate and the insurbordinate [sic.],—the felon,—the incendiary and the alibiist, who have fled or been transported, to our young, pure and beautiful republic, reeking with the perfected and finished proficiency in vice,—graduates in the school of crimes, which have been maturing in degree for many centuries in their own native lands, and that this transportation of paupers, vagrants, and convicts to the United States is rapidly becoming an established system of policy by foreign governments.[65]


During an economic crisis, the influx of immigrants undercut native wages, employment, and even America’s very Americaness:

. . . such are the hordes of foreign mechanics, and artisans, now congregating hither from other lands, who by underbidding the native American mechanic, have almost monopolized the whole mechanical business of the United States,— . . . hosts of foreign merchants have congregated in our cities, and obtained the control of almost all our commercial and banking interests, and operations,—. . . every department of Law, Science, and even Divinity is being rapidly overrun, and absorbed by foreigners, and foreign influence—. . . two thirds of the teachers in our schools, seminaries, and institutions for the education of our youth, and the instruction of the rising generation, consist of foreigners, who have themselves been brought up in distant lands,— embued [sic.] with feelings, prejudices and aspirations alien to our own.[66]

Increasing foreign control of the press and the foreign societies set up in every town and village threatened American values and darkened every American heart.


The Solution to the Problem

To undo these wrongs, the committee put its hopes in a new American Revolutionary spirit and in Congress’ constitutional ability to repeal existing naturalization laws, which provided for the naturalization of all foreigners, who had legally declared their intention of becoming citizens.  After all, “if the immigrant could entirely cast off his love of country, which gave him birth, he is precisely that cold and heartless individual, who would never make a good citizen.”[67]  The committee took special note of warnings from George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson against ore’ weaning influence by foreigners in the new republic.


The committee’s address now returned more forcefully to an argument earlier made, that the exigencies of the nascent republic no longer applied to an established republic, and that recently arrived foreigners had not earned the citizenship with their blood and sacrifice as had Revolutionary-era immigrants:

Can foreigners who emigrate to this land, under these propitious circumstances, not to encounter perils, but to reap the rich reward of revolutionary sufferings, can those who now come but to bask in the bright beams of national contentment, happiness, and prosperity, who are permitted to reap in peace and security, the rich harvest which our fathers sowed in anguish, toil, and blood, to enjoy the fruits of our indulgent institutions, and to sit under their own vine and fig-tree, and none to make them afraid.—can such as these, (many of whom are the direct descendants of the very tyrants against whose machinations, our fathers struggled)— can such as these be permitted to demand equal rights, privileges, and immunities, or to accuse America, if she refuses to grant to them, and to future immigrants, the same terms of citizenship, which were permitted to those who aided the revolutionary Patriarchs in their unutterable yearnings after liberty, or who perilled their all in defence and support of our country, when beset with every danger, and encumbered by external and internal enemies?  No, it cannot be!  Justice forbids it!  Patriotism forbids it!  It is indeed setting too low an estimate upon the blessings which the inexpressible sufferings and privations of our revolutionary fathers have achieved for us, to render them accessible to every foreigner who will condescend to accept them.[68]

And to drive the point home: “the children of Israel never groaned in more bitterness of spirit under Egyptian bondage, than do the people of the United States, under foreign influence.”[69]


It would be better to grow the country’s populations slowly, naturally, at a digestible rate, the committee thought, rather than through rapid growth from problematic immigration by those whose loyalties were suspect in any case.


The committee sought less to limit immigration per se than to limit the automatic accession to political rights by immigrants.

Let this country remain then forever the asylum of the oppressed and persecuted of all countries, and let foreigners continue to enjoy every privilege except that of determining on our political questions, which should be reserved to those born on the soil, whose first breath has been drawn in a land of liberty, and whose love of rational and constitutional freedom has grown with their growth, and expanded with their intellect.[70]


The committee feared that immigrants, having acquired American citizenship, would complicate the nation’s foreign relations, because their home states continued to think of them as their citizens.

Americans are you prepared to enter into collision with all the powers of the world on account of every foreign agitator, who may choose to come to our country—avail himself of our absurd naturalization laws, and afterwards commit depredations in the territories of our neighbors, if you are not, we conjure you to unite with us in striving to obtain a repeal of the naturalization laws ?—or are you willing to confide your national character for honor, virtue, and intelligence, to the keeping of every foreign vagabond who may happen to wander to our shores, and become a naturalized citizens.[71]


Louisiana’s Problem

Toward the end of its address, the committee turned to Louisiana itself, where the situation was especially dire.  “No State in the Union has perhaps been more, or as much oppressed by foreign influence as Louisiana heretofore, and unless the naturalization laws be repealed there is every reason to apprehend that she will be still more so hereafter.”  The committee hated “seeing a native Louisianian who has resided thirty, forty, or fifty years, or even a whole life time in our State, set aside for an arrogant and presumptuous foreigner, who has been but five years in the United States.”  But the committee was resolute, “Let therefore the native chivalry of Louisiana, so proverbial for their gallantry, patriotism, and intelligence, exert themselves to avert this great and glaring evil, while it is yet in their power so to do, otherwise they may have the mortification ere long of seeing their beautiful State overrun by swarms of foreign locusts, who will eat out their substance, and monopolise every office of honor, trust or profit within her boundaries.[72]



Calling one last time for Congress to act by repealing the naturalization laws to protect the country from indiscriminate immigration, the address finished with one last rhetorical flourish: “Then will our country be restored to her pristine glory—then will she shine forth conspicuously before the world, as the real Asylum of the oppressed, and the polar star of civil and religious liberty, to all the nations of the earth.”[73]


Years later, the Address of the Louisiana Native American Association continued to reverberate.  In 1856, the New Orleans Daily Creole reprinted the address and declared its support for changing the laws on immigration: “What was true seventeen years ago is true now.  If there were a necessity to change the terms of citizenship to aliens then, that necessity is doubly increased form the vast increase of immigration.”  The newspaper, forgetting that Whigs had signed the address as well, asserted that “This address will have great authority with a portion of our citizens, as it is signed by many prominent and influential Democrats.”[74]




After leaving the Commercial Bulletin, the New Orleans City Directory in 1841 and 1842 listed Clarke’s law office at 42 Canal Street and his residence at St. Mary Street near Belgarde, Lafayette.  The 1844 directory listed him as “Attorney & Counsellor at Law, No. 7, Arcade.”[75]  The 1846 Directory had his office at 4 Banks Arcade and gave no residence.  No directories are available for 1847 and 1848, but the 1849 directory recorded “J. C. Clarke, judge, 3rd judicial district for the parish of Jefferson. dw(elling) Nayades corner 8th, Lafyt.”[76]


Clarke soon advanced in his profession.  Louisiana’s Constitution of 1845 had reorganized the state’s judicial system and made Jefferson Parish the Third Judicial District with its seat in Lafayette.  Appointed by the governor and again in 1848 as a judge for that district, J. Calvitt Clarke served until 1852 when the City of New Orleans absorbed Lafayette.[77]


Clarke’s wide-ranging cases as an attorney and a judge seem to have been fairly mundane and included city enforcement of street vendor rules, bankruptcy and debts, public use of private land, taxation exemptions, inheritance and estate issues, real estate, issues of incorporation, voting rights, and conducting marriages.[78]  He judged at least one case dealing with a murder by a slave, whom Clarke had sentenced to 20 years hard labor.  The appeal turned on a legal question regarding vague legislative statutes.[79]


John Blackstone Cotton, an eminent Mississippi jurist, was also an energetic partisan for a free ballot and an elective judiciary.  Cotton’s antagonism to appointed judges stemmed chiefly from his unhappy experiences before Judge Clarke.  As a Democratic Party leader, Cotton fought against the Constitution of 1845, which was more Whig than Democratic.  Overcoming a Whig majority, Cotton represented Jefferson Parish when the constitutional convention met.  Delegates completed and signed a new constitution on July 31, 1852, which established Louisiana’s first elective judiciary.  The legislature then created a new Sixth Judicial District in New Orleans to replace Clarke’s old Third District Court in Lafayette City, and Cotton then announced his candidacy for the new judgeship and ran against Clarke.[80]


Clarke’s supporters came to his aid, publishing their plea in The Times-Picayune:

His decisions . . . have stood the test of review by the Supreme Court as creditably as any other District Judge.  He has been well tried and found competent.  On the eve of an experiment, in so elective judiciary, the people should be careful to select men well tested, and fully known to be honest, competent and true.  Judge Clarke is emphatically one of us—a Creole[81] of the Mississippi swamp.  For twenty-two years he as been a permanent citizen of New Orleans and has claims to the public confidence which on the day of election will be duly weighed and considered.[82]


The first election for district judges held in New Orleans on Tuesday, May 17, 1853 provoked little interest.  Cotton beat Clarke by a vote of 4,255 to 3,648.[83]


In July 1849 while a judge, Clarke was on a committee signing a letter on behalf of the Office of the State Engineer, which asked the mayor for money for a survey of river in preparation for engineering project to protect city from inundation.[84]  And later, in that brief period between the signing of the new constitution and his failure at the polls, Clarke lent his name in advertisements to a dentist, Dr. Mayo, as a reference for quality of care.[85]




While still a judge and to mark his success and prestige, Clarke wanted a stylish home near the Jefferson Parish Courthouse, then on Jackson Avenue.  On June 12, 1844, Phoebe Ann Clarke paid $400 for two lots on the corner of Nayades and Eighth streets in Lafayette City.[86]  Ten months later, on April 4, 1845, Judge Clarke paid $130 for lot 4 in square 174.  This lot ran from Eighth Street to the boundary of the Faubourg Delassize—now Harmony St.—behind the two lots his wife already owned.  This lot had been among several auctioned for Kohn and Shiff at the Banks’ Arcade on Magazine Street on March 19 and 20, 1845.  Clarke did not bid on this property himself.  Rather, John Turpin did the bidding, and being the “highest and last bidder,” he won the lot for Clarke’s account.  Turpin was the bookkeeper for the famed architect, James Gallier, Sr., making it likely that Gallier then designed and built the home for Clarke on the site.  Known today as the Clarke House, it is a historic landmark and a typical example of early Garden District, Greek revival architecture.[87]  Likely completed before March 14, 1846, on that day the Clarkes signed a mortgage for lots 4, 5, and 6, square 174, in favor of his mother, Martha Clarke, for $800.[88]  The document stated that this money was for “the Buildings and improvements now existing on said mortgaged premises.”[89]  On July 1, 1846, Clarke bought lot 7 in square 174 for $380 and on May 20, 1847, he paid $400 to a widow for lots 2 and 3.  The Clarkes now owned the entire square 174 except for two lots, 1 and 8, which faced Apollo Street, now Carondelet Street.[90]




Judge Clarke’s House[92]






As a unique, cosmopolitan city, he liberal proclivities of evangelism distinguished New Orleans from the rural South.  The religious activities of the black community and the social criticism found in the religious press underscored the high degree of tolerance in the city.  Of the city’s non-Catholic churches, however, only the Methodists strayed from the general indifference of New Orleans’ Protestants toward black religious life.  Methodists, in fact, were among the more outspoken guardians of the black spiritual and temporal well-being in New Orleans.  Methodism’s leaders remained consistent in their sympathy and respect for the Negro and sought to tear down religious barriers among the city’s diverse Christians.  They also tried to moderate sectional bitterness among fellow Methodists.[94]


Methodism first came to New Orleans in 1805, and by 1813 the famous preacher and likely namesake of Joseph Clarke’s third child, William Winans, was in the city, and he strongly identified with New Orleans throughout his career.  He took a conspicuous part in organizing the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.[95]


Methodists opened their Sunday schools to black children and offered them religious instruction by the “oral system” to avoid legal restrictions on teaching slaves how to read.  The white community approved, with one contemporary observer reporting that the chapels “are large and orderly and enjoy the good will and protection of the city authorities.  They are spiritually prosperous also, and do much good.”[96]


J. Calvitt Clarke turned from the Episcopalian faith of his father and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, the largest denomination in the United States.  His obituary noted that “He was also a licensed preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, to build up and extend the influence of which in this city, he contributed liberally of his means and time.”  The obituary then paraphrased one of the officiating clergymen, who said that “that he had been largely instrumental in originating and sustaining a church among the slaves of this city that now number a thousand members!  Here is practical philanthropy for you.[97]


The good citizens of New Orleans had not always been so understanding.  On Sunday, May 24, 1840, Clarke and a mixed group of blacks and whites laid the corner stone of an African church to be built of St. Paul Street.  Before that celebration, Clarke had written S. L. L. Scott in Baton Rouge asking him to attend.  On Tuesday the 26th, the Recorder of the Second Municipality in his private office and in presence of the city’s mayor examined Scott for officiating at an “unlawful assemblage” of colored persons.  The investigation of three of four witnesses lasted about two and one-half hours and according to the Times-Picayune was conducted “with great coolness and deliberation.”  The investigators were unable to prove that Scott had been guilty of a “known violation of law, nor that his language or tenets on the occasion were at all calculated to inflame the minds of the negroes.”  Scott was released after pay a $1,000 bond for his future good conduct.[98]


The Times-Picayune then editorialized that the meeting had been unlawful having been convened without proper authority and “every person present was there in violation of the law, and therefore liable to an arrest.”  The newspaper continued,

It is time, indeed, that some efficient means should be adopted to suppress the assemblage of persons of color in large numbers, which now too frequently occurs in this city.  We mean meetings almost exclusively of negroes, where not more than three of four white persons are present.  Such assemblages are decidedly wrong, and result more in evil than in good.  There the slave and free negro meet, and from their intercourse the example of the latter has a most corrupt and vicious effect upon the former.  Many valuable servants have thus been ruined and rendered worthless to their owners.  Servants who were formerly honest and faithful to the interests of their masters, have thus been rendered dishonest and faithless.

The Times-Picayune assured its readers that it was “not opposed to indulging slaves and free negroes in attending Divine worship.”

But let them assemble in the galleries of our different churches; for there they can gain as much good as in a crowd exclusively composed of blacks; and that too without the danger or possibility of imbibing improper and obnoxious principles; which must, almost necessarily, be the case when slaves and free negroes mingle in such assemblies as that which convened last Sunday.[99]


Clarke, Scott, and their friends clearly were swimming against the tide of popular opinion in promoting the idea and assuring the means for blacks, slave and free, to worship in their own congregations.


Clearly, many of Clarke’s political opinion either echoed or followed Winans’.  Winans strongly criticized slavery and proselytized among New Orleans blacks as did Clarke.  Winans supported the Whigs and was anti-abolitionist.  Clarke followed suit in both opinions.  On the issue of slavery, Winans was full of contradictions.  After his religious conversion, he leaned toward egalitarianism, and firmly supported the colonization movement, as did Clarke.  Eventually Winans openly endorsed slavery in the early 1840s in the face of growing public hostility toward colonization.[100]  There is no evidence one way or the other if Clarke followed Winans down this road.


Inspired by preachers as Winans, Methodists expanded their presence in New Orleans.  They established their first, small church in 1825.  The building had a gallery for blacks, significant majority of the congregants, as became common for Methodist churches.  A little later New Orleans’ Methodists organized a new church named Lafayette, and African American membership eventuated with the opening in 1838 of Wesley Church located on Gravier Street.  Later in the 1850s it was grouped with Soule Chapel of Maris Street and Winans’ Chapel as a single charge.  The Poydras Street Church erected a new building.  Other Methodist churches in New Orleans in this era were Moreau Street, Steele Chapel, Andrew Chapel, and St. Mary’s.  The latter three merged about the end of this period to form the Felicity Street Church.  Even before black and white Methodists officially separated by mutual agreement in 1845, some blacks, mostly slaves, had their own churches, for example, Wesley Church, Soule Chapel, and Winans Chapel.  The Winans Chapel eventually became First Street Church.  The Louisiana Conference appointed over each of these churches a white pastor whose duty was to preach on Sunday afternoons, administer the sacraments, and keep a “wholesome discipline.”  The three churches had roughly 1,200 members, mostly slaves, and the preachers were themselves slaves, yet, according to a local newspaper they could “read, and though colored, preach a fair sermon.”[101]  In 1842, Jordan Winston Early, an AME minister from Missouri, came to New Orleans and founded what became St James AME Church under restrictions that included that the church cater to free Blacks and meet during daylight hours.  St. James functioned until 1858 when all the city’s Black churches were closed until after the Civil War.  It is unknown in which church Clarke served as a preacher or which church ministering to blacks that he helped originate and sustain.[102]


In 1796, the Church had passed legislation that expelled slave traders and demanded that all other members emancipate their slaves.  Literal enforcement of the anti-slavery code, which Methodists incorporated into a national “Discipline,” eventually led to the formal separation of the Northern and Southern churches in 1845.  As late as 1851 the official Discipline, a booklet setting forth the creed of Southern Methodism, still contained the controversial “Section IX” which condemned slavery and called the institution a “great evil,” words echoing those in the Commercial Bulletin.  It barred slaveholders from the ministry, and it compelled lay members to encourage their slaves to read the Bible.[103]


White Methodism’s close regulation of its black population was responsible, in part, for establishing in 1848 the New Orleans’ African Methodist Episcopal Church, an all-black organization was independent of the white clergy.  A city ordinance banning all religious meetings of blacks formally dissolved this church ten years later.  Despite strong segregation policies and closer supervision after 1850, New Orleans’ Methodists still worried that too many church leaders were not conforming to Southern dogmas on race and slavery.[104]


Methodism’s Louisiana Conference of 1848 included a majority of Blacks, and by 1860 there were more than 3300 Methodists in New Orleans, and almost 60 percent were black, slave and free.[105]


Unfortunately, additional information on Clarke in his church is hard to come by, although it is clear that editorials in the Commercial Bulletin reflected some of the tectonic forces that by the 1840 had torn the Methodist church apart and had split the northern and southern congregates.[106]




Unfortunately, Judge Clarke did not have long to enjoy his new home.  He died there of tuberculosis on December 1, 1854.  One obituary is worth quoting in full:

“The chamber where the good man meets his fate.

Is privileged beyond the common walk

Of virtuous life, quite in the verge of heaven.”

On Friday morning last, departed from our midst a good man, one whose life was gentle as a child’s and unobtrusive.  We refer to the Hon. J. C. Clarke, who died at his residence on Nayades street, in the bosom of his family, of the insidious and treacherous disease, consumption.  Though comparatively a young man—he was but 46—Judge Clarke was an old citizen, and has been identified with New Orleans for more than twenty years, occupying during that time several responsible positions in society.  He was at one time associated with Messrs. Beardsley & Rea, in conducting the Commercial Bulletin, and was subsequently for some years Judge of the Third District Court of Jefferson Parish, which was abolished by the consolidated city charter.  He was also a licensed preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, to build up and extend the influence of which in this city, he contributed liberally of his means and time.  One of the officiating Clergymen at his funeral stated that he had been largely instrumental in originating and sustaining a church among the slaves of this city that now number a thousand members!  Here is practical philanthropy for you.

Judge Clarke, possessed many estimable qualities of the heart and head, which endeared him to his family and friends.  He was retiring in his habits, seldom going into society, and one of the most taciturn men was ever knew.

He leaves a widow and several orphaned children, some of them of very tender age, to mourn in the bitterness of anguish for his departure.  May he who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb hold them in the hollow of his hand.  Alas! how vain and impotent is human condolence to assuage the crushing pages of the heart-pangs, the intensity of whose poignancy time and the great Healer only can extract. [107]


On December 4, all of the District Courts and the U.S. Circuit Court adjourned to honor Clarke and another judge, “both of whom have held prominent positions at the Bar.”  Judges and members of the bar assembled in the crowded Supreme Court room for three hours.[108]


Judge Clarke was buried in the Clarke tomb in Lafayette Cemetery Number One with his daughter.


Phoebe became the executrix for her late husband’s estate.  On April 8, 1857, an inventory of his property listed four lots of ground, numbers two, three, four, and seven, in square 174, having a value of $1,900.  The house sat on lots five and six, and it and the lots themselves were Phoebe Ann’s separate property.[109]




Several years later, tragedy again struck the widow Clarke and her family.  On Friday, September 21, 1860, a fire on Lafayette Street and took a terrible toll of firemen and others when a wall collapsed.  News of the tragedy spread, and

Frantic parents and friends ran wildly around the smoking ruins, watched anxiously as the rafters and bricks were being moved for a messing relative or friend, or reported dead one.  Not less than ten thousand persons crowded around those ruins from early dawn of morning to dark of Saturday evening, and as body after body was extricated from the premature grave the air was rent by the fearful cries of an anxious, grief-distracted parent, sister or brother—cries of sad impressiveness in that dense crowd, so respectful and quiet during the while.[110]

The city fell into mourning:


Yesterday was one of deep sadness: the tolling funeral bell, the sound of the muffled drum and the solemn aires of the brass bands, together with the cortege tread and tram through our streets, served to make many a heart yield its sympathy, and many an eye shed its tear of sorrow, as the coffins bearing the young and the brave so recently in our midst enjoying life’s blessings, passed to the untimely graves.[111]


Among the fire’s victims was J. Calvitt and Phoebe’s second son, Benjamin Page Clarke, who died at home on Saturday at 5:00 from injuries he had suffered.  His funeral took place the next morning at his home, and he was buried in the Clarke tomb.[112]


That same year, the widow Clarke apparently suffered a financial blow.  On December 13, she had to mortgage lots five and six in square 174, and her home for $2,000 in favor of her widowed sister-in-law, Mrs. Henry Brant Page.[113]


New Orleans’ City Directories for 1858, 1859, 1860, 1861, and 1866 list Phoebe Ann as residing at St. Charles, corner of Eighth.  In the tough times following the South’s defeat in the Civil War, on November 25, 1867 the widow sold her house and grounds for $10,000 to Colonel George Soulé, who had founded Soule Business College in 1856.  On this date Judge Clarke’s two younger sons, William and the nineteen-year-old Joseph, signed the act of sale.  William acted on behalf of his mother and his older brother, Joshua, then in Vicksburg.[114]


Likely in late 1866 or early 1867 before selling her home, Phoebe returned to New York and took up residence at 262 Lafayette Street in Brooklyn.  The 1878 Brooklyn City Directory listed “Clarke, Phebe A. wid. Joseph C. h 252 Lafayette ave.[115]  Likely soon after the sale of his birth-home on Nayades Street, the young Joseph followed his mother to Brooklyn to live with her.[116]


Phoebe Ann Clarke died at the age of 86 on July 31, 1891 in Brooklyn.[117]

Clarke had built his house facing Nayades Street, later renamed St. Charles Avenue.  But as property on St. Charles Avenue became more desirable and scarce, their owners sometimes moved these older homes to other sites.  Using jacks to raise the house, large logs to roll it on, and pulleys and wheels harnessed to mules to pull the house, in 1869 Soulé moved the house to its present address at 1620 Eighth Street.  He then built a large Italianate home on the vacated lot.  Ironically, this house was later demolished, while the Clarke House still stands at its new location.  Renovated in 1970, during the process workers found pieces of newspapers dated July 1869, which were used as wedges between members of door frames and behind door hinges.  John Geiser III bought the house in 1970, and in 1985, the house was designated a New Orleans Historic District Landmark and became the Swiss consulate.[118]





[1] See the work of J. Calvitt Clarke III, “The ‘I’ in History: An Historian’s Self-Indulgent Foray into Family History—The Calvet’s From France to the American Frontier,” Selected Annual Proceedings of the Florida Conference of Historians 13 (Apr. 2006): 46-59; “The ‘I’ in History: A Self-Indulgent Foray into Family History—The Calvet’s from France to the American Frontier,”; “The Life of Joshua G. Clarke: Mississippi’s First Chancellor,” Selected Annual Proceedings of the Florida Conference of Historians, forthcoming; and "Joshua Giles Clarke: Mississippi’s First Chancellor,"  Also see Andrew Fede, “Judging Against the Grain? Reading Mississippi Supreme Court Judge Joshua G. Clarke’s Views on Slavery Law in Context,” paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Florida Conference of Historians,” Lake City, FL, Feb. 2012.

[2] Marie T. Logan, Mississippi-Louisiana Border Country: A History of Rodney, Miss., St. Joseph, La., and Environs (Baton Rouge: Claitor’s Publishing Division, 1970), between 274 and 275.

[3] P. L. Rainwater, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Grubb Humphreys,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 21 (Sept. 1934): 236.  Benjamin Grubb Humphreys later became Confederated general, Mississippi’s first post Civil War governor, and a strong advocate of Jim Crow laws.

[4] Brumbaugh, Marcus, "Revolutionary War Records," Mississippi Genealogical Exchange 2 (June 1956): 22-24.

[5] John Geiser, III, “Judge Clarke’s House, 1620 Eighth Street, New Orleans,” unpublished manuscript, June 12, 1971, 8; Logan, Mississippi-Louisiana, bet. 274 and 275.

[6] B. G. Bakewell, comp., The Family Book of Bakewell*Page*Campbell, Being Some Account of the Descendants of John Bakewell, of Castle Donington, Leicestershire, England, born in 1638. Benjamin Page, born in 1765, at Norwich, England. William Campbell, born July, 1, 1766, at Mauchline, Ayrshire, Scotland. John Harding, of Leicester (Pittsburgh: Wm. G. Johnston & Co., 1896), 74, 79, 80.  For more on Page and his family’s lineage, see Appendix 1: “Benjamin Page: The Father of Phoebe Ann Page,”

[7] Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana. Eastern District—January Term, 1841, Vol. 9 (New Orleans: J. B. Steel, 1854), 629-31.

[8] Although the slab is now missing from her tomb, the Louisiana State Museum Library has recorded its inscription: “Martha Clarke / Died November 27, 1851 / Aged 1 2/12 year.  Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 8.

[9] Commercial Bulletin, Feb. 20, 1838.

[10] Ibid., Feb. 21, 1838.  The arcade provided a gathering place for merchants and housed stores, a restaurant, a coffee room, and a slave market.  Mary Louise Christovich, ed., New Orleans Architecture: The American Sector (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 1971), 183.

[11] Christovich, ed., New Orleans Architecture, 183.

[12] Working with the four-paged, Commercial Bulletin is often frustrating.  In the microfilm copies there are some missing issues and many damaged pages.  I have gone through, probably too quickly, the page 2 editorial comments, while Clarke was on the masthead and listed as an editor and publisher.

[13] Commercial Bulletin, June 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 19, 30, 1838.

[14] Ibid., Mar. 2, 1839.

[15] Ibid., Mar. 4, 1839.

[16] Ibid., Apr. 24, 1838.

[17] Ibid., Mar. 13, 1838.  The Aroostook War, December 1838 through November 1839, was a military confrontation between the United States and Great Britain over Maine’s border.  After the War of 1812, the British still regarded the area as their territory.  In the winter of 1838, American woodcutters cut firewood in the disputed area and incited British to move troops into the area.  For nearly a year, British and American troops faced each other.  Eventually, Britain agreed to give America back eastern Maine and in return American troops backed down.  Although there had been no fighting, hundred died from disease and accidents.

[18] Ibid., Mar. 12, 1839.

[19] Ibid., Mar. 20, 1839.

[20] Ibid., Mar. 21, 1939.

[21] Ibid., July 25, 1839.  The Locofocos were a radical faction of the Democratic Party that existed from 1835 until the mid-1840s.  They vigorously opposed monopoly and advocated laissez-faire, free trade, greater circulation of specie, and legal protections for labor unions.  They opposed paper money, financial speculation, and state banks.  In the 1840 election, Whigs derogatorily applied the term “Locofoco” to the entire Democratic Party, because Martin Van Buren had incorporated many Locofoco ideas into his economic policy.

[22] Ibid., Aug. 6, 1839.

[23] Ibid., Aug. 6, 1839.

[24] Ibid., Oct. 7, 1839.

[25] Ibid., Oct. 14, 1839.

[26] Ibid., Oct. 8, 1839.

[27] Ibid., Aug. 19, 1839.

[28] Donald G. Mathews, Slavery and Methodism: A Chapter in American Morality, 1780-1845 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965), 113.

[29] Commercial Bulletin, Mar. 17, 1838.

[30] Ibid., July 19, 1839.

[31] Ibid., July 23, 1839.

[32] Ibid., July 20, 1839.

[33] Ibid.,, May 24, 1838.

[34] Ibid., Mar. 4, 1839.

[35] Ibid., July 11, 1839.

[36] Ibid., Oct. 1, 1839.

[37] Ibid., April 30, 1838.

[38] Ibid., May 3, 1838.

[39] Ibid., Jan. 15, 1839.

[40] Ibid., Jan. 26, 1839.  From November 1838 to March 1839, France and Mexico fought the Pastry War over issues of Mexican debt.  After a few months of blockades and naval bombardments of the port of Veracruz, the war ended when Mexico agreed to compensate France.  The war established a pattern of French intervention in Mexico, which would culminate in 1864 when Maximilian of Austria arrived as Emperor of Mexico in the baggage of French troops.

[41] Ibid., Feb. 26, 1838.

[42] Ibid., Apr. 12, 1838.

[43] Ibid., June 1, 1838.

[44] Ibid., June 21, 1838.  For the struggle within Methodism over slavery, see Mathews, Slavery and Methodism, e.g., 148-211.

[45] In 1833 Great Britain announced the gradual abolition of slavery in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, the process to be completed by 1840.  For the next six years slaves on plantations were to remain where they were and work as “apprentices” and the government would compensate the white plantation owners for the loss of their slaves.  There were problems, not the least of which was that many planters worked their apprentices more harshly and punished them more brutally than they had when they were slaves.  Although confusion among the slaves and resentment among the planters made the first year of apprenticeship very difficult, relations began to improve in 1835 and 1836.  However, by 1837 conditions had worsened again.

[46] Commercial Bulletin, Mar. 16, 1838.

[47] Ibid., Mar. 16, 1838.

[48] Mathews, Slavery and Methodism, 88-211.

[49] Timothy F. Reilly, “The Louisiana Colonization Society and the Protestant Missionary, 1830-1860,” Louisiana History 43 (Fall 2002): 435.

[50] Mathews, Slavery and Methodism, 88.  For Methodism and Liberia, the destination of many former American slaves, see J. T. Gracey, Missions and Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. rev. and ext. 3 vols. (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1895), 1: 175-236.

[51] Reilly, “Louisiana Colonization Society,” 445-47, 450-51.

[52] Commercial Bulletin, May 1, 1838.

[53] Ibid., May 2, 1838.

[54] Ibid., Jan. 17, 1839.

[55] Reilly, “Louisiana Colonization,” 445-46, 449, 450.

[56] Commercial Bulletin, June 8, 21, 1838.

[57] Ibid., November 7, 1939.

[58] Public Ledger [Philadelphia, PA], Nov. 25, 1839.

[59] Address of the Louisiana Native American Association to the Citizens of Louisiana to the Citizens of Louisiana and the Inhabitants of the United States (New Orleans: D. Felt & Co., 1839), title page.

[60] Ibid., 4.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid., 6.

[65] Ibid..

[66] Ibid., 7.

[67] Ibid., 11.

[68] Ibid., 12.

[69] Ibid., 16.

[70] Ibid., 14.

[71] Ibid., 18.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid., 19.

[74] New Orleans Daily Creole, Sept. 8, 1856.

[75] Kimball & James' Business Directory, for the Mississippi Valley, 1844. Including the Following Places, Pittsburgh, Beaver, Steubenville, Wheeling, Portsmouth, Maysville, Cincinnati, Lawrenceburgh, Madison, Louisville, St. Louis, Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, New Orleans.  With a Brief Notice of the Discovery and Occupation of the Mississippi Valley, and a Historical and Statistical Sketch of the Principal Cities Above Mentioned. (Cincinnati: Kendal & Barnard, 1844), 490.

[76] Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 8.  In April 1841, the Court of the First Judicial District appointed Clarke to represent absent creditors at a meeting on May 24.  Times-Picayune, Apr. 24, 1841.

[77] John Kendall, History of New Orleans (Chicago and New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1922), 748; Henry Plauché Dart, John Blackstone Cotton, 1824-1881. A Sketch of his Life and Times Prepared in Connection with the Presentation of His Portrait to the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Saturday, March 13, 1915 (New Orleans: Hauser Printing Co., 1915), 6.

[78] Reports of Cases Argued and Determined, in the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Vol. 3: For the Year 1848, by Merritt M. Robinson, Attorney and Counsellor at Law, and Reporter of the Court (New Orleans: T. Rea, 1849), 16-17, 101-03, 282-85, 293-94, 407-08; ibid., Vol. 5: For the Year 1849 (New Orleans: T. Rea, 1859), 1-3, 25-26, 56-57, 303-04, Annual Reports: Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Louisiana, Vol. 9: For the Year 1854 (New Orleans: Louisiana Courier, 1855), 35-39; The Times-Picayune, Apr. 24, 27, 28, 1841; March 16, 19, Apr. 6, 9, 1850; Feb. 25; Dec. 21, 1852.

[79] Reports of Cases, 3: 398-99.

[80] Dart, John Blackstone Cotton, 6-8.

[81] That is, a descendant of Louisiana’s colonial settlers.

[82] The Times-Picayune, May 1, 1853.  Clarke’s campaign announcement: “Sixth District Court—We are authorized to announce J. Calvitt Clarke a candidate for Judge of the Sixth District Court of New Orleans created to succeed the Third District Court of Jefferson, over which he now presides, in the Fourth District, formerly Lafayette.”  See The Times-Picayune, May 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 1853.

[83] Dart, John Blackstone Cotton, 6-8; The Times-Picayune, May 1, 1853.

[84] Times-Picayune, July 10, 1849.

[85] Times-Picayune, Oct. 27, 28, 30; Nov. 7, 10, 21, 30; Dec. 2, 4, 7, 8, 20, 28, 30, 31, 1852; Jan. 8, 15, 18, 22, 28, 29; Feb. 6, 10, 13, 15, 1853.

[86] In 1832, developers had brought the Livaudais Plantation and divided the area into lots.  By the mid-1840s, developers were selling so much property that they printed special forms to record these sales, and one of these forms recorded Phoebe Ann’s purchase of lots 5 and 6 in square 174.  In 1852, Nayades Street was renamed as St. Charles Avenue.  Lettice Stuart, “House is landmark in Garden District,” Times-Picayune, Mar. 2, 1985; Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 3.  Geiser’s manuscript includes copies of the bills of sale for the lots the Clarkes bought. Ibid., 28, 29, 31, 32.

[87] Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 3-4.

[88] Martha Clarke died a decade later.  The Daily Picayune, Nov. 19, 1857, published her death notice: “On Thursday, the 5th inst., in the city of Keokuk, Mrs. MARTHA CLARKE, aged seventy-one years, of this city.”

[89] Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 30.  The manuscript includes a copy of the mortgage.  Geiser continues that no building contract has been found for the Clarke House in the Orleans Parish Mortgage Office records.  He adds that it is evident that few building contracts were recorded even though this was an active period in New Orleans construction.  Also, no building contracts with Gallier’s firm have been found for this time despite his being a leading architect in New Orleans.  His prominence and reputation evidently made formal legal agreements seem unnecessary to his clients.  Ibid., 4, 6.

[90] Ibid.,” 7-8.  See Appendix 2: “Land Purchase for the Clarke House,”

[91] Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 7.

[92] Leonard Victor Huber, comp., Notable New Orleans Landmarks (New Orleans: Louisiana Landmarks Society, Orleans Parish Landmarks Commission, 1984), no. 48.

[93] “Did You Know?” Transit Riders’ Digest 25 (July 7, 1975): 5, among loose papers in Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House.”

[94] Reilly, “Religious Leaders,” 226, 232, 250.

[95] Ray Holder, William Winans: Methodist Leader in Antebellum Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977); Cyclopaedia of Methodism: Embracing Sketches of Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition, with Biographical Notices and Numerous Illustrations, Matthew Simpson, ed., 4th rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), 652.

[96] Robert C. Reinders, “The Churches and the Negro in New Orleans, 1850-1860,” Phylon 22 (Fall, 1961): 241-48, quote 244; Timothy F. Reilly, “Religious Leaders and Social Criticism in New Orleans, 1800-1861,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Missouri, 1972, 196-209, 219, 220, 222, citing “Our Colored Churches,” Semi-Weekly Creole (New Orleans), Oct. 27, 1855, p. 2; Robert Henry Harper, Louisiana Methodism (Washington, DC: Kaufmann Press, Inc., 1949), 37-44, 72-74.

[97] “Death of a Good Man,” Commercial Bulletin, Dec. 4, 1854.

[98]. Times-Picayune, May 27, 1840.

[99]. Ibid.

[100] Lacy K. Ford, Deliver Us From Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 518; Reilly, “Louisiana Colonization,” 445, 454.

[101] Reilly, “Religious Leaders,” 219, 220; Robert C. Reinders, “The Churches and the Negro in New Orleans, 1850-1860” Phylon 22 (Fall 1961): 244, citing “Our Colored Churches,” Semi-Weekly Creole, Oct. 27, 1855, p. 2.

[102] Walter N. Vernon, Becoming One People: A History of Louisiana Methodism ([Louisiana]: History Task Group, Commission on Archives and History, Louisiana Conference, United Methodist Church, 1987), 29; Reilly, “Louisiana Colonization,” 462; J. Gordon Melton, A Will to Choose: The Origins of African American Methodism (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007), 171.

[103] The Doctrine and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (Louisville: John Early, 1851), 197-98; Cyclopaedia of Methodism, 652.

[104] Reilly, “Religious Leaders,” 221; Walter Brownlow Posey, “Influence of Slavery Upon the Methodist Church in the Early South and Southwest,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review (Mar. 17, 1931): 530-42.

[105] Reilly, “Religious Leaders,” 223.

[106] Lucius C. Matlack, The History of American Slavery and Methodism from 1780 to 1849 and History of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America (New York, 1849).

[107] “Death of a Good Man,” Commercial Bulletin, Dec. 4, 1854.  Also see the Daily Picayune, Dec. 1, 2, 1854 which ran the same obituary two days running:

On Friday morning, 1st inst. at 2 o’clock of consumption, Hon. J. Calvitt Clarke, aged 46 years

The friends of the family are requested to attend his funeral from his late residence, corner of Eight and Nayades streets, Fourth District, This Morning at 10 o’clock.

[108] The Times-Picayune, Dec. 5, 1854.

[109] Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 12, 33, 34.

[110] “City Intelligence,” New Orleans Bee, Sept. 24, 1860, p.1, col. 4.  See Appendix 3: “The Fire that Killed Benjamin Page Clarke,”

[111] “City Intelligence,” New Orleans Bee, Sept. 24, 1860, p.1, col. 4.

[112] “Died,” Daily Picayune, Sept. 23, 1860; Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 8, 10.

[113] Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 35 includes photocopy of the mortgage.  Henry Brandt Page was born on December 7, 1812, at Holmesburg, PA.  He and his two children died in the burning of the steamboat Yalabusha on the Mississippi River, near New Orleans, about 1845.  He had married Matilda Dennis, who died in 1881.  She was for many years after her husband's death, principal of the High School at New Orleans.  Bakewell, comp., Family Book, 74.

[114] Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 12, 36, includes a photocopy of the bill of sale.

[115] Ibid.”

[116] For more on Joseph, See Appendix 4: “Ella Hamilton and Her Son, Joseph Calvitt Clarke, in Brooklyn,”

[117] Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House.”  See death notice in the Times Picayune, Aug. 4, 1891: “CLARKE—In Brooklyn, N. Y., on Friday July 31, 1891, Mrs. Phoebe A. Clarke, in the 86th year of her age.”  See also the New Orleans Times Democrat of August 2, 1891: “CLARKE—In the City of Brooklyn, N. Y., on July 31, 1891, Mrs. P. A. Clarke, formerly a resident of this city, and widow of the late Judge J. C. Clarke.”

[118] Stuart, “House,” Times-Picayune, Mar. 2, 1985; “Did You Know?” Transit Riders’ Digest 25 (July 7, 1975): among loose papers in Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House”; Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 14; Joy Dickinson, Haunted City: An Unauthorized Guide to the Magical, Magnificent New Orleans of Anne Rice (New York: Citadel Press, 2004), 94.  S. Frederick Starr and Jane White Brantley, Southern Comfort: The Garden District of New Orleans (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005), 202, 253.

[119] Geiser, “Judge Clarke’s House,” 17.

[120] Huber, comp., Notable New Orleans Landmarks, no. 48.