2022 Summer Intern Reflections-Callista Abner

Editor’s note: This past summer, the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation is fortunate to have five talented and hardworking undergraduate research assistants working with us: Callista Abner, Sofina Behr, Plum Champlin, Lillian Holloway, and Carrie Schupack. We asked each of them to contribute to the project blog some reflections on their work and experiences from the summer. Our second post is by Callista Abner, a rising senior history major at Sewanee from Pleasant View, Tennessee.  

Fairbanks Donor List located at the University of the South Archives [i]

Identifying a Founding Funder: Maunsel White

In the early days of my summer research assistantship with the Roberson Project, my colleagues and I were locked in on identifying “White,” one of the major pre-Civil War contributors to the founding of the University of the South. This “Founding Funder,” as we are calling them, pledged the impressive sum of $5,000 (equivalent today to $176,000 and probably more) [Figure 1]. He, like most donors, were white, wealthy, Episcopalian men of the South who enslaved masses of human beings. Initially, we thought we had a match in John White, one of the founding members of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. He was geographically favorable since we knew that donors to the University of the South were concentrated in the cotton and sugar plantation regions of Louisiana. This, along with John White’s service as a lay delegate to the Twenty-First Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Louisiana in 1859, made a connection to the University of the South very feasible. [ii] However, we couldn’t find census records or other documentation that would improve the odds that John White was wealthy enough to donate $5,000. But, after scouring records of the Episcopal Church, Louisiana history, and Southern education resources, I realized that another of John White’s contemporaries, Maunsel White [Figure 2], was a more likely benefactor. Maunsel White’s opulent wealth via enslaved laborexhibited support of the cause to preserve “Southern values,” and connections to many powerful individuals made him the more likely “White” of the University donor list. The more research I did into Maunsel White, the more persuaded — and excited — I became that I had found a likely connection between the founding of the University of the South and an unusually influential and recognizable Southern character.

Portrait of Maunsel White [ii]

Maunsel White was not born into wealth. He was an Irish immigrant who arrived in the U.S. at a young age. [iv] Like many immigrants, he moved around.  White first lived in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was a childhood friend of future president Zachary Taylor. In 1800 and at the age of thirteen, he was living in New Orleans, where he had likely moved with his family.[iv]   There, he gained prominence from his service in the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, most notably as a member of the envoy that negotiated peace with the British commander at the behest of General Andrew Jackson. His skill in brokering peace solidified his friendship with many prominent figures.[v] One of these connections is to Andrew Jackson, which serves as yet another example of a relationship with a presidential and influential figure that Maunsel continuously cultivated. Maunsel also gained the trust of a prominent Louisianan,  Pierre Denis de la Ronde. The head of a wealthy, well-connected, politically active, and very French New Orleans family, de la Ronde resided in what is known as the “Versailles Plantation,” considered “the most beautiful sugar plantation home in Louisiana of the day.”[vi]

Historical Marker for the “Versailles Plantation” [vi]

Following the war, White became a wealthy merchant, civic leader, and planter.[vii] His relationship with Andrew Jackson grew as both a friend and business partner. [v] His connection to Pierre Denis de la Ronde brought him the notoriety and wealth associated with the de la Ronde family. He married his daughter, Ysavel (Elizabeth) Celeste de la Ronde, and after her death, her sister, Heloise de la Ronde.[viii & ix] 

Maunsel White’s primary plantation, Deer Range, in Plaquemines Parish, grew sugar cane, corn, and other crops with the labor of approximately 200 enslaved people.[vi] His residence was described in the southern journal, De Bow’s Review: “no home was wider known through the valley of the Mississippi; and in no period of its history was its credit or character tarnished by a breath.”[v] Even when White was in dire financial straits and being hounded for repayment of loans, public opinion still held him in esteem. The Daily Nashville Union described how “no one doubts the ability of Maunsel White, individually, to meet every outstanding claim,” and reported that his New Orleans real estate was worth $500,000 [Figure 3].[x] The newspaper, in highlighting the value of his property (including his human property), attested to his character: a reliable, wealthy, and industrious man. 

Maunsel White’s leadership extended across many aspects of Louisianan life and included strong ties to the Episcopal Church. Like John White, he was one of the incorporators of Emmanuel Parish in Plaquemines.[xi] Like many other parishes in the nineteenth century, its rector ministered to the people enslaved at local plantations. Maunsel White donated $100 for this purpose, and it is likely that his Deer Range was one of the plantations where the enslaved were evangelized by missionaries of the Episcopal Church.[xi] His generosity and concern for the southern education of planters’ sons led him to contribute to fledgling educational institutions, including Sewanee. White was one of the first board members for the University of Louisiana in New Orleans, which is now Tulane University, on which he served with other Sewanee contributors. In his fundraising efforts for that university, he said, “no one ought to refuse, who is desirous of Education of his children at home.” [xii] His sentiments mirrored those of the University of the South’s earliest supporters. They all were reluctant to send Southern youth to northern colleges, where they were sure to be exposed to anti-slavery doctrine.

White’s sentiments about the institution of slavery are evident in the harsh methods he used to maintain order among those he enslaved. He “put Negroes who feigned sickness in the stocks” and gave those who did not work hard enough dry bread instead of meat. [xii] In his own records, White noted his use of forms of violence, such as whipping, on his enslaved, including a woman named Caty, and condoned such actions done by his overseers, as well.[xiv] To his contemporaries, White’s was a model plantation, where, according to De Bow’s Review, “order and system, health and contentment reign through its limits.”[v] 

This was the type of man whose wealth enabled the founding of the University of the South. They were devoted to the institution of slavery; they belonged to the Episcopal Church; and they were connected to powerful political and business interests in the American South. White’s success and renown were impressive for his time, and in the league of many who pledged their wealth to the southern university. Regardless, he was one of the “founding funders” whose contributions and legacy we are working to investigate and illuminate. Uncovering this connection made me feel that my work was contributing important information to the research of the Roberson Project. Each source I found in this process further filled out our network of connected individuals. Hopefully, this will allow the Roberson Project and other Sewanee constituents to form a more comprehensive understanding of the circumstances of our founding and development. This discovery was a wonderful start to my internship, and I’m grateful to be able to contribute to the annals of Sewanee and American history in such a way. 

Notes to the text: 

[i] 1859 list of University of the South donors, from the University of the South Archives. 

[ii] Journal of the Proceedings of the  21st  Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Louisiana, 1859, https://books.google.com/books?id=_3jkAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. p. 15.

[iii] Colonel Maunsell White Sr., March 21,  2016, https://www.geni.com/photo/view/6000000026681114003?album_type=photos_of_me&photo_id=6000000041093069251

[iv] Memorial Page for Col Maunsel White (1783-17 Dec 1863), Find a Grave Memorial ID 7567088. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/75687088/maunsel-white

[v] De Bow, J. D. B., 1858. The Pioneer’s of the South, No. 1. De Bow’s Review: Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial Progress and Resources, XXV, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=siQKAAAAIAAJ&pg=GBS.PA480&hl=en pp.480-482. 

[vi] Meredith, M., 2021. Pierre Denys de LaRonde (1726-1772) – HouseHistree. [online] Househistree.com. Available at: https://househistree.com/people/pierre-denys-de-laronde

[vii] Evans, C., 2022. The Real History of Tabasco® – Chuck Evans’ MONTEZUMA Brand Sauces & Salsas. [online] Chuck Evans’ MONTEZUMA Brand Sauces & Salsas. http://montezumabrand.com/articles/the-real-history-of-tabasco/

[viii] Ancestry.com. n.d. Ysavel Celeste Laronde in the Louisiana, U.S., Compiled Marriages, 1728-1850. [online] Available at: https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/5670:2090.

[ix] Familysearch.org. n.d. Colonel Maunsell White Sr.. [online] Available at: https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/timeline/K2TZ-BWW.

[x] “Communication,” Daily Nashville Union (Nashville, Tennessee), February 5, 1852. https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=103936118&fcfToken=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJmcmVlLXZpZXctaWQiOjYwMzkzNDEzNywiaWF0IjoxNjU2NjIwODE3LCJleHAiOjE2NTY3MDcyMTd9.UI2snk8RkLfcVAmQ2CdE9TKeUx_mwbbNV18qJfjpLFE, p. 2. 

[xi] Duncan, H., 1888. Diocese of Louisiana: Some of Its History, 1838-1888. New Orleans: A. W. Hyatt, Printer, pp.138-141.

[xii] Eaton, Clement. The Mind of the Old South, (Louisiana State University Press, 1967), p. 80. 

[xiii] Eaton, Clement. The Growth of Southern Civilization, (Harper and Row, 1961), p. 61.

[xiv] Regan, J., 2021. “Irish Overseers in the Antebellum South.” Irish Historical Studies, [online] 45(168), pp.203-222. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/irish-historical-studies/article/irish-overseers-in-the-antebellum-us-south/EE2DBBA131BB8F571347268888AB8D5E#fn68 

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