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put a head with so little brains on such a good pair of legs as you've got.” This of course turned the laugh upon the coarse vulgarian, and the game proceeded to its close without any further comments in that line.
Germane to these sparkling incidents of his career, I shall here give another specimen of his playful wit. Just after the adoption of the new constitution a Judge N., who had previously been a judge under the old régime, was a candidate before the people for the same position under the new constitution. During his term he had bailed out a prisoner who was very obnoxious to the people in the neighborhood where the crime had been committed, and this action was being worked up by his opponents against his election; he was naturally, therefore, very tender on the subject. He, with Prentiss and others, started on a circuit; they came to a small river which had to be crossed by a ferry. Prentiss was dressed in a summer suit of spotless linen; he was the first to go aboard the ferry-boat, leading his horse. The boat itself was a rude, shackling craft, with rickety flooring and an abundance of bilge-water beneath ; the horse floundered, slipped, and splashed an unknown quantity of dirty water all over Prentiss; be ruefully looked down at himself for a moment, then cast his eye imploringly up to the judge and said, with mock gravity, "May it please your Honor, your petitioner prays the court to order out this boat on habeas corpus and bail her out.” Although the court was then in bank there was not time to grant it, and so the jolly crowd passed over the river in high glee at the joke.
Prentiss always enjoyed these rides through the country. He possessed a keen sense of the ludicrous, and was full of anecdotes. I have often heard him tell with gusto his ride with Tom B. This latter could gin out words faster than a cottongin could gin out cotton. The two were riding along the top of a ridge when Tom proposed the following query,
“ Prentiss, why is it that when trees come out on the hillside they do not grow straight out, eh ?”
Prentiss seeing this was an abstruse question, to evade it answered, "I can't tell."
“Well," said Tom B., “I'll tell you how it is : sun draws 'em up,—sun draws 'em up, that's it.”
Our narrative has rippled along till it has reached the year 1833. Up to this time Prentiss had fondly cherished the wish and hope to revisit his old home, but now an event occurred that fixed his destiny: he was employed to investigate the affairs of the estate of the late Newit Vick. This matter is one so intimately blended with the story of his life and so historic that an extended notice of it must be excused.
In the early days of the Mississippi Territory the Rev. Newit Vick, a Methodist minister, moved with his family to a place in the vicinity of Selser Town, about twelve miles east of Natchez. Here he remained for a few years, till he was attracted to another spot, more eligible, as he thought, in Warren County. The place he selected was called “The Open Woods”; it was about five miles east of the present site of Vicksburg, and was called "The Open Woods” because it had been cleared in the following primitive manner by the Indians it was said. Before being cleared it was a dense wilderness of gigantic cane and foresttrees. The cane was immense, ranging from ten to twenty or thirty feet in height, hollow between the joints (some foot in length), and loaded with foliage. At the proper season this cane was cut down, and lay in mass upon the ground till it was dry, when the torch was applied, and instantly the flames burst forth and spread with rapidity ; , they swept over the woods like the fires on a burning prairie. It was a sublime and stirring spectacle. The bursting of the pent-up air from the cane-barrels sounded like the rattle of musketry upon a battle-field of a hundred thousand infantry "firing at will.” The undergrowth was cindered to ashes, the heavy timber girdled to death, and afterwards stood as dead sentinels of the holocaust.
Vick purchased this “Open Woods,” and sent his son, Hartwell, in advance, to prepare for his coming; he followed the succeeding year, and settled there. Besides this “Open Woods," Vick purchased two other tracts fronting upon the Mississippi River; the lower one containing some hundreds of acres, the upper “one containing two hundred acres." Vick was a man of indomitable energy and a prophet. As he stood upon the lofty hills of the “upper two-hundred-acre tract” and gazed upon the mighty river winding at its base, then, casting his eye northward, beheld the Yazoo debouching itself a little way above into this stream, with prophetic vision he foresaw that here could be laid the foundation of a mighty city. True, the topography was rather inappropriate, for it seemed as though nature, in a storm, had quit there, leaving the earth-waves mountains high, and as steep, ay, steeper than the billows of the sea in a cyclone. Yet time and patience and labor could level these and bring them to their just proportions, for the hills themselves were founded upon a rock. Such, doubtless, were the incipient dreams of the Romulus of the “Hill City.”
He did not, like the founder of Rome, begin by building a wall; his first essay was with a pocket-compass and surveyors chain ; with the help of these simple instruments he began, as early as 1819, to lay off lots south of Glass's Bayou, at a point northwest of what was afterward Lot 1, running thence south, thence east, thence north and west, including as far east as New Cherry Street. There was a pencil memorandum of a map, but this was lost.
Here, as is often the case in the midst of our earthly projects, the lofty aspirations of the projector were cut down by the hand of death. It is now believed that Vick was smitten by the yellow fever; be this as it may, he died the very year of the initial survey, and his devoted wife breathed her last within twenty minutes after he had heaved his last sigh. This exemplary couple, who, like Isaac and Rebecca, had lived faithfully together, were literally "in death not divided”; hand in hand “they had climbed the hill together," hand in hand their pious souls were wafted to "a city not built with hands, eternal in the heavens."
The will of the founder of Vicksburg did not die with his death, it survived, and with that our story has now to deal. I ask no apology for giving the will in extenso, because it is, to speak metaphorically, the corner-stone of the city of Vicksburg, and because it is blended with the pecuniary rise and fall of our friend, Prentiss. After commending his soul to Almighty God and his body to a Christian burial, the will of Newit Vick proceeds as follows:
“Second. I will and bequeath to my beloved wife Elizabeth an equal share of all my personal estate, as it is to be divided between her and all her children, as her own right, and at her own disposal during her natural life. And also for life the tract of land at the 'Open Woods' on which I now reside, or the tracts near the river, as she may choose; reserving two hun-. dred acres, however, on the upper part of the uppermost tract to be laid off in town lots, at the discretion of my executrix and executors.
“Third. I will and dispose to each of my daughters one equal proportion with my sons and wife of all my personal estate as they come of age or marry, and to my sons one equal part of my personal estate as they come of age, together with all of my lands. All of which lands I wish to be appraised, valued, and divided when my son Wesley arrives at twenty-one years; the said Wesley having the one part, and my son William having the other part, of the tracts unclaimed by my wife. And I bequeath to my son Newit, at the death of my wife, that tract she may prefer to occupy. I wish it to be distinctly understood that that part of my estate which my son Hartwell has received shall be valued, considered as his, and as a part of his portion of my estate.
"Fourth, and lastly. I hereby nominate and appoint my beloved wife Elizabeth, my son Hartwell, and my nephew Willis B. Vick sole and only executrix and executors of this my last will and testament. It is, however, furthermore my wish that the aforesaid Elizabeth should keep together the whole of my property, both real and personal, reserving the provisions before made, for the raising, educating, and benefit of before-mentioned children.
" It must be remembered that the lot of two acres on the bank of the river on which a saw-mill house is erected belongs to myself, my son Hartwell, and James H. Center when said Center pays his proportional part. I wish my executors furthermore to remember that the town lots now laid off, or hereafter to be laid off on the aforementioned two hundred acres of land, should be sold to pay my just debts or other engagements in preference to any other of my property, for the use and benefit of all my heirs; and that James II. Center have a title made to him for one lot already laid off of half an acre in said two hundred acres, and on which he has builded, when he pays to my executors the sum of $300.
" In testimony, etc., August 22, 1819."
The words interlined, " for the use and benefit of all my heirs" before signing. Signed "Newit VICK. (Seal.]"
Witnessed by three witnesses.
This will was duly probated on the 19th of October, 1819. The executrix, as before stated, having died immediately after her husband, Hartwell appeared, and renounced, in writing, in favor of the nephew, Willis B., and letters testamentary were granted to him.
In 1821, without having done anything to carry out the
grand scheme of the testator, Willis B. Vick applied to the Probate Court for leave to resign the trust. This court refusing to allow him to do so, Mr. John Lane, who had married one of his (Vick's) daughters, appealed to the Supreme Court. This court reversed the decision of the Probate Court, accepted the resignation of Willis B. Vick, and discharged him; he died shortly after
In October, 1820, Hartwell Vick applied for letters testamentary, but, failing to give bond and security, his application was refused. In October, 1821, letters, with the will annexed, were granted to John Lane. Hartwell Vick reapplied for letters, upon the ground that the letters to Lane were void, as he (Hartwell) had not renounced his right. This reapplication was refused by the Orphans' Court, and the decision, on appeal to the Supreme Court, was sustained.
John Lane seems to have caught the inspiration of the testator, and in 1821 filed his petition to sell one hundred town lots to pay the debts of the estate. Henderson and Morse, both sons-in-law of Vick, and Nancy, one of the daughters, intervened, and prayed for the partition of the town lots among the heirs, themselves included. Lane rejoined by denying the right of partition, and claiming the right to sell, in order to pay debts and distribute the remainder of proceeds. The Probate Court ordered a partition, and Lane appealed. The Supreme Court sustained the order of partition by the lower court, and accordingly commissioners for partition were appointed; their report, with the plat annexed, was returned approved, and recorded. On this plat “Levee Street” (known as the Commons) is left open as commons for the public. Lane proceeded with his administration, sold some sixty or seventy town lots at various prices to various parties, paid up all the debts of the estate, and closed his final accounts in 1829. All these various heavy and complicated transactions had taken place, as is obvious, before Prentiss had come to the bar.
In the mean while Vick's younger heirs were growing up, and began to make inquiries concerning their father's estate. William and J. W. Wesley had sold a part of the Commons to one Reppleye, and he had brought an ejectment suit to recover it.