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The remarkable life of Ben Montgomery

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This pastel portrait, made from a photograph of Ben Montgomery, is in the Black History display in the Old Court House Museum. The portrait is by Mary Helen Sims.

Benjamin Montgomery was one of the most exceptional men in Warren County history. Though born a slave, his achievements are phenomenal.

He was born in Loudon County, Virginia, in 1819, and when he was 17, he was sent overland to the slave market in Natchez. Despite the horrors of slavery, he was fortunate in that he was bought by Joseph Emory Davis of Warren County (older brother to future Confederate president Jefferson Davis) though he could not have realized it at the time.

Bitterly resentful that he had been taken from a city environment to an isolated plantation in Mississippi; he ran away but was soon apprehended and returned to Hurricane Plantation at Davis Bend.

Joe Davis didn’t punish the youth but instead talked with him about the reasons for his unhappiness. The late Janet Sharp Herman, historian and professor of history at the University of California at Berkley, felt that Davis saw in Ben Montgomery the exceptional potential he possessed. He explained to the young man the many opportunities before him and issued a challenge.

In later years, Montgomery’s son Isiah wrote that master and slave “reached a mutual understanding through their long and eventful connection.”

Ben Montgomery made the most of his situation. He could read, and he had access to the plantation library and was soon copying letters and legal briefs as office clerk for his master, who was an attorney.

He learned land surveying and construction plans for levees, essential to protecting to the plantation during floods. (The levees he designed are still holding today.)

He drew plans for several plantation buildings and was the architect for the garden cottage, or library.

Ben Montgomery designed the garden cottage, which became known as the library on Hurricane plantation. This photo, with many of Joe Davis’ slaves in front of the building, is from the Old Court House Museum collection and was taken ca. 1860.

He became an accomplished mechanic who kept the steam engines that operated the cotton gins running, and he invented a boat propeller to improve the paddle wheels of river steamboats. (Ironically, he could not claim a patent under United States law, but he was granted a patent under Confederate States law.) Joe Davis wrote his brother Jeff that Montgomery had “few Superiors as a Machinist.”

Montgomery was multitalented, and he also proved his ability as a merchant. Slaves on some plantations were allowed to do extra work to earn money, and Montgomery had saved enough so that in 1842 he established a store at Hurricane, selling dry goods and staple items to other slaves, bartering for wood, chickens, eggs and vegetables they had produced on their own time.

He maintained his own line of credit with New Orleans wholesale markets. He provided fresh produce and fruit for steamboats. The store proved popular with both black and white residents, and one lady from the mansion bought as much as $1,000 worth of goods in a year.

Montgomery became an agent for his master, buying supplies and shipping the cotton crop. Davis eventually named him business agent for Hurricane.

At Christmas in 1840, Montgomery married Mary Lewis, daughter of the plantation’s skilled millwright. He was 21, and she was 18. He had built a riverfront store, and his income was such that he was able to pay Joe Davis the equivalent of her worth as a servant, so Mary was able to stay at home and rear the four children they eventually had. She did some sewing for white women in the community and helped Ben in the store.

Davis always encouraged Montgomery to undertake new challenges, and the two often sat in the evenings and discussed the books they were reading, usually books of political theory and philosophy.

Ben Montgomery (date unknown)

The secession of the Southern states and the ensuing war changed all this forever, but it did not destroy the friendship between the two men. Davis took most of his slaves to Hinds County and then to Alabama to escape the ravages of war, but Ben Montgomery stayed behind to try to guard both Hurricane and Brierfield plantations as best he could. Despite his efforts, Yankee soldiers burned Hurricane mansion. He remained on the plantation, and in 1863 wrote to President Davis of the situation. After the fall of Vicksburg, he took his family to safety in Ohio.

After the war, Montgomery returned to Warren County, but it was hardly the home he had known, for the Davis plantations had been confiscated by the Yankees and were being used as headquarters for the Freedmen’s Bureau. Joe Davis and Ben Montgomery worked together to successfully rid the Bureau of its commander.

In 1867 Montgomery took on a new responsibility when the commander of the military government named him justice of the peace for Davis Bend. With genuine humility, he said he felt unqualified for the job, but he felt it was his duty to accept.

On Dec. 31, 1874, he was helping demolish an old building on Hurricane when a wall collapsed, falling on him. It broke a rib, and his spine and hips were so badly injured that he could not walk for months. Dr. Charles Mitchell, Joe Davis’ son-in-law, treated him, but he was terribly racked with pain and never really recovered.

He died at age 58 on May 12, 1877, and the next day a metal casket costing $75 was bought for him from John Quincy Arnold in Vicksburg. He is probably buried on Davis Island, but his grave has no marker.

He should be remembered for many reasons, but mainly because he was the first black person to hold public office in Mississippi and possibly in the South.

If Warren County had a hall of fame, Ben Montgomery’s name should be in it.


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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Super Brody turns six and meets his hero – VIDEO

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Photo by David Day

One of Vicksburg’s tiniest heroes celebrated his sixth birthday in a big way.

Photo by David Day

Brody Larry took a break from fighting cancer Tuesday to celebrate his birthday. Many of his friends at the Vicksburg Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Vicksburg-Warren Fire Departments joined the parade of family and friends to honor him on his special day.

The Make A Wish Foundation went a step further to make Brody’s birthday a memorable one by arranging a very special appearance from his hero, Spiderman.

Mom, Bridgette, looks on as Brody embraces his hero (photo by David Day)

Make A Wish also gifted Brody an Amazon shopping spree, where he picked out a Spiderman themed bedroom makeover set, an ATV, and a PlayStation 5.

Brody is fighting a very rare and aggressive form of brain cancer, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, and has been receiving treatment at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Brody’s mother has left the workforce and dedicated herself to caring for Brody and getting him the treatments that he needs.  The family has set up a Go Fund Me account for anyone who wishes to contribute.

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Those who keep us safe: Carl Carson

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(photo courtesy Carl Carson)

Back in 1990, a close friend talked Carl Carson into joining the Vicksburg Fire Department. Thirty years later, Carson is still at the department and loving every minute of it.

“I had no idea I would be here this long, but once I got into the service, the love of people kept me here,” he said.

Carson is a people person, and he believes he was put on this Earth to help people.

“Being able to be there for people in their most vulnerable time really has been the drive in my career,” he said.

The Utica, Mississippi, native comes from a large family who taught him to be there for one another during hard times. He believes his upbringing played a part in him enjoying his career.

“I’m not a hero,” he said. “It’s just a part of the job and how I was raised. I grew up helping people.”

Carson is the battalion commander for the Vicksburg Fire Department. In his three-decade career, he has felt the most success when he was serving his community, and he does not need a spotlight to do so.

“I don’t need the front row,” he said. “I’m more of the silent helper. I do my job to the best of my ability. I’m honest and treat everyone equally and fair.”

Carson has been married to his college sweetheart since 1986 and the couple have two adult sons, three granddaughters and one grandson.

His family understands and accepts the career path he has chosen, but it hasn’t always been easy on family life.

“I’ve sacrificed a lot of Christmases, holidays, birthdays, and ballgames to do what I do,” Carson said. “Even though I miss out on something, my heart is always right there with them. My family has always known I love them and love what I do.”

(photo courtesy Carl Carson)

Carson’s love for public service evidently rubbed off onto his family because one of his sons is a police officer with the Vicksburg Police Department.

The fire department never closes. The men and women at the Vicksburg Fire Department stand ready to serve the community at a moment’s notice without regard to holidays.

“My mom has a picture of my entire family — all of my siblings, their spouses, my children, my nieces, nephews, cousins — and I am the only person not in this particular photo because I had to work on Christmas Day,” Carson said. “I often tell that story and feel that moment of not being there, but I knew, and family knew, I would have to sacrifice moments like that.”

Carson laughed and said he has often thought about photoshopping himself into the picture.

Even though firefighters may miss out on holidays with their biological family, Carson said the firefighters make a family as well.

“The men and women I work with are my family away from family,” he said. “We watch each other’s kids grow up, and our families know each other.”

It is a bond like no other. Fighting fires is a life-saving act that cannot be done alone.

“We are one big family,” Carson said. “We are a team. I would put my life on the line for them, and I know they would do the same for me. It doesn’t matter their race, gender, age or rank. We are all out there trying to do a job and do it safely.”

Vicksburg being a small town, Carson said firefighters often run into family members and friends who need fire and emergency medical service.

“Anytime you deal with your own family members or anyone you know is hard and it really touches you,” he said.

Carson said he goes above and beyond for everyone, but when he knows the person, he feels extra pressure to be his very best.

Three decades have passed and Carson is still with the Vicksburg Fire Department and has not announced any particular date to break out the golf clubs and retire, but he has some thoughts of what he will do when that day arrives.

“When that comes, I can’t wait to spend time with my wife, kids and grandkids,” he said. “They are my inspiration.”

Although retirement is on the horizon, the people of Vicksburg still need Carson. His passion for the community is unwavering, and his love for people runs deep.

“People, people, people, people — that’s just what it’s about,” Carson said. “Even though my job deals with people when they’re in distress, I try to bring so much love and joy to them and put a smile on their face during a devastating time. It really goes a long way.

“This is so much more than a job. It goes beyond the job.”

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Josh Morgan wins the VDN Head Coach of the Year award

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VDN Head Coach of the Year Josh Morgan (photo by Ced Tillman)

Warren Central High School football coach Josh Morgan is the Vicksburg Daily News Head Coach of the Year.

Morgan played football at Warren Central in the late 1990s under his father Robert Morgan. He eventually committed to play football at Mississippi State University where he was a star safety and named to the All SEC team in 2001.

Morgan began coaching at the University of Memphis in 2004 as a graduate assistant before returning to Warren Central in 2006 to be the Vikings’ defensive coordinator.

In 2010, Morgan was named as the Vikings’ head coach after the retirement of Curtis Brewer.

Morgan struggled in his first two years as head coach. The team went 2-9 in 2010 and 1-10 in 2011. He broke through in 2012, when the Vikings their first playoff appearance under his leadership.

Morgan and the Vikings have made it to the playoffs each year since 2012, and this year marked his ninth consecutive season making it to the postseason.

The Vikings had a 9-3 record this season, and made it to the second round of the playoffs. They finished with the best record out of the four high schools in Vicksburg.

Morgan is the second coach to win the VDN Coach of the Year award after Vicksburg Junior High Coach Larry Carter Jr. won it last year.

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