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  • The "Most Notorious" Mr. Jennings:Coal, Transatlantic Capitalism, and Guerrilla War
  • Patrick A. Lewis (bio)

In July 1864, Indiana Adjutant General Lazarus Noble wrote to the U.S. army in Kentucky (copying Governor Thomas E. Bramlette) politely requesting the Commonwealth to keep its guerrilla infestation "ranging through Meade[,] Breckinridge[,] Hancock[,] Davi[ess] and adjoining Counties" from spilling over the Ohio River. Kentucky guerrillas and their Copperhead cousins on the north bank were busily engaged in rustling horses and supplies from Indiana Unionists, which were "run through southward" to fuel the rebel insurgency. Noble accused James R. Jennings, a Hancock County coal operator, of being the "most notorious" ringleader of this illicit commerce. Jennings, "an outspoken rebel sympathizer" in Noble's telling, had buffaloed LeRoy Fitch, a naval officer, into securing a permit to move goods along and across the Ohio River at a time when all commerce—legal commerce, anyway—had been suspended to stifle the very moonlight trade that Jennings allegedly coordinated.1

If Jennings was "most notorious" in 1864, the same would certainly not be said of him now. But, the Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWGK) was conceived to draw out the compelling and [End Page 357] illuminating stories that historians have overlooked through historical accident and archival bias. The project wants to find those lost historical actors—especially the notorious ones. Beyond the texts themselves, CWGK provides researchers a layer of intellectual access by using short biographies to identify individuals mentioned in the documents and by visually networking those people within both social and archival space. On the computer screen, that looks like a network web of nodes and vectors and bibliographical citations to relevant primary and secondary sources. In the scholarship that will hopefully proceed from CWGK, though, that same web of people, places, and archival leads could look less like a dataset and something more like this narrative network diagram of a Kentucky community at war.

James Roddy Jennings was not a native Kentuckian. If he was at home anywhere, it would have been on the waters that connected Southern market towns and port cities to transatlantic capital networks. The Virginia native makes his first significant appearances in the historical record on ship manifests in the late 1840s. He was on board the Steamer Acadia returning from Liverpool, England, with a stated destination of California in 1848. He may or may not have reached the gold fields of the Pacific coast, because by the time the 1850 census taker was making the rounds in the 4th Ward of New Orleans, James Jennings had set himself up as a merchant in that city, residing in the home of his brother, Needler.2

While it took James time to find his home and his calling, Needler Robinson Jennings experienced no such wandering in the wilderness. Needler had moved to Louisiana a decade before and married into one of the oldest and most established Anglo-American families in New Orleans in 1843. Needler Jennings's father-in-law, Alfred Hennen, had come to the city just five years after the Louisiana Purchase to practice law and, eventually, expand into sugar planting in St. Tammany [End Page 358] Parish. Needler followed suit, establishing himself on nearby sugar land and securing an enviable appointment as the Clerk of the U.S. District Court in the city.3

Based out of his brother's home on the edge of Anglo-settled uptown, James Jennings operated a commission merchant business near the corner of Magazine and Canal, where he also served as ticketing and freight agent for the U.S. Mail Steamship Company.4 Jennings advertised his company's ships regularly in the columns of the New Orleans papers, connecting commerce in New York, Havana, Panama, San Francisco, and Galveston. The brothers themselves sailed to many of those same ports regularly, and both owned property in Galveston into the war years. Among the captains who regularly sailed for the line was semi-retired naval officer David Dixon Porter, who would later apply his knowledge of the Gulf waters to run the rebel forts guarding the mouth of the Mississippi and capture New Orleans in 1862.5

The same industries which had...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2161-0355
Print ISSN
0023-0243
Pages
pp. 357-370
Launched on MUSE
2019-09-07
Open Access
No
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