The Dowd Legacy in Tunica and Coahoma Counties

William Francis and his younger brother Andrew Sidney Dowd were two extra ordinary men who had to deal with the carnage of the Civil War and the aftermath of Reconstruction.  They managed to master both in their own ways.  Let me start off by saying a few things.  I am not related to either man or the family.  I had never heard of them in the history books and I was a school teacher for over twenty five years.  My parents or grandparents never told stories about them.  After saying all that, you may be wondering why is their story important to me. Well, it goes to a task my family has had for the last thirty some years. When I was in school, my Grandmother brought a lawsuit about a destroyed cemetery where her family were buried.  I had actually never been to the cemetery or even heard her talk about it much, but this was important to my Grand mother. She won her case, and we have been dealing with this cemetery ever since.  What is the name of that cemetery in Tunica County?  The answer is Dowd Cemetery.  My Great grand parents and Great great grandparents are buried there along with a number of other relatives.  Only a few of the original tombstones were found, but she had all the ones she could remember rebuilt.  And we have been mowing and working at this little piece of history ever since.  But who was Dowd cemetery named after?  The original cemetery had no Dowds in it.  The story of this special place has not been easy to put together, and to be honest, I’m still a little lost on it.  The cemetery has something to do with the Dowd brothers though, who were early settlers in Tunica County.  They owned a large amount of land in both Tunica and Coahoma counties.  However, they lived in Monroe County, Mississippi. This is their story and the saga of the Dowd family.

Dowd Cemetery
Dowd Cemetery, Tunica County, MS

In 1841, the Dowds moved to Monroe County, Mississippi.  The patriarch of their family was a Baptist minister named William Dowd.  William had been a Captain during the War of 1812 and then moved his family near the town of Jackson, Tennessee.  From there, they migrated to Aberdeen in Monroe County. With the older William gone on numerous ministerial duties, his oldest son had to take much of the responsibility for leading the family.  His name was William Francis and he had been born on December 31, 1820.  The younger brother Andrew was born October 13, 1828. Although they farmed, William Francis wanted more.  In 1846, he was admitted to the bar and soon had a thriving law business. William became partner in one of the leading firms of Mississippi.  He was also a brilliant speaker and active in politics.  Soon he was a member of the Whig party and publishing a newspaper in Aberdeen.  In 1854, he married Ann W. Brown, who was the daughter of Colonel James Brown of Lafayette County.

While William was becoming a successful lawyer, his brother Andrew was following the path of a doctor. On October 21, 1850, he married Jemima L. Scales in Williamson County, Tennessee.  Andrew also continued farming and soon had established plantations in Coahoma and Tunica Counties.  These were in the Mississippi Delta and had only recently been opened to settlement. By 1860, Andrew had built a home on the northern shore of Moon Lake.  He also owned land across from Helena, Arkansas and this was called Dowd’s Landing. It had earlier been called Trotter’s Landing and was on the county line. Dr. Dowd lived near the plantation of a powerful Mississippi lawyer and politician named James L. Alcorn.  William Francis owned a plantation in Tunica County and listed 38 slaves on the 1860 U.S. census.  On that census, William listed his real estate wealth as $124,000 and his personal estate was valued at $56,800.  He and his family were residing in Monroe County and he listed his occupation as lawyer.

Map of Northern Coahoma County, 1870

Lula area map 1870s

When the Civil War broke out, William offered his services to the Confederacy.  Andrew remained at home in Coahoma County to manage the family farms. William F. Dowd raised the 24th Mississippi Infantry Regiment and became its Colonel on November 6, 1861.  He would see action at Perryville and Missionary Ridge.  However, Dowd would be forced to resign in 1864 due to illness. Because of his background in law though, he was appointed one of the judges of the military courts of Northern Alabama. He continued in this role until the war ended.  His brother Andrew was also dealing with the war in his own way.  In February 1863, General Grant ordered the Yazoo Pass expedition to begin and thousands of Federal soldiers were knocking at the doors of the Dowd home.

The following is a description of what happened when the Union Army came to Moon Lake and is taken from the diary of John S. Morgan of the 33rd Iowa.

“We landed just below this on another plantation owned by a Physician who on our coming had absquatulated leaving about a hundred of his books and papers which the boys soon appropriated to their own use- There were 3 very fine bedsteads- 3 nice tables, cupboards, safes & c with glass doors- Found too some beautiful shells.  Some of the men seemed determined to destroy as much as possible and took even the doors of the house to their camps. Judging form the appearances of the furniture of the house and the negro quarters the old Dr. was man of considerable wealth.”

When the war ended in 1865, the Dowd brothers faced a bleak situation.  Money was short and the political tide had changed.  Like many of their Whig associates though, they chose to adapt.  William returned to his law practice in Aberdeen and was soon appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney from 1871 to 1873.  While in this position, he was given the task of prosecuting Ku Klux Klan violence in the state. He argued in several important state and federal cases.  His family also enlarged to five children after the youngest son was born in 1866.  This young lad was named William Francis Dowd after his Father.  Andrew chose to get involved in politics and soon joined James L. Alcorn in state government.  He first served as delegate to the 1868 Constitutional Convention in Jackson from Coahoma County.  After Alcorn became Governor, he took on the job of state senator representing Coahoma and Tunica counties.  In 1870, he helped start a railroad that began at Dowd’s Landing on the river and ran east near Governor Alcorn’s property and then south to Clarksdale.  Andrew’s family also increased and he listed two children on the 1870 census in Coahoma County.  On January 1, 1870, his third child Andrew Scales Dowd was born.  Times were good for the Dowd brothers.

Railroad tracks out from Jonestown in Coahoma County, MS

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Like Mississippi in the 1870s though, the Dowds were about to experience a number of tragedies that would impact the family.  As diseases like yellow fever hit the state and violence started to become rampant, Andrew suddenly passed away on October 21, 1871. His wife Leah soon remarried and moved to Williamson County, Tennessee with the children.  William continued with his law practice and worked hard to keep his plantation in Tunica County going.  A school was established on his property and was named after him. Overwork was beginning to take it’s tole on William though. There were rumors that he had become addicted to the use of stimulants so he could work harder and keep his schedule. William Francis Dowd, Sr. died November 28, 1872.  In his will, he divided his property amongst his children and family.  This included the land in Tunica. By the late 1880s, the youngest son of William had come to Tunica County. Much of his family had moved or passed away by that time.  A school was established on the Dowd property near Maud and a cemetery for the people living on and near the farm was started.  This would be named Dowd Cemetery. Although segregated, all people would be welcomed to bury their loved ones there.

Marker of W.F. Dowd, Tunica Museum

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William Francis Dowd was named the first pastor of Tunica Presbyterian Church.  He had been serving as Ruling Elder before being ordained and installed.  He had dedicated his life to full time service to Christ and taken advanced work at Southwestern Presbyterian University at Clarksville, Tennessee.  Reverend Dowd preached his first official sermon on October 20, 1889, but took ill a few days later.  He died on October 27, 1889 at the age of 23.  According to family records, he died in Desha County, Arkansas and was buried alongside his father and uncle in Aberdeen. There is a discrepancy on the exact day of his death with tombstone records, so he either died on October 27th or October 3rd, 1889. With young William’s death, the Dowds closed their chapter of Delta History.  Only names like Dowd’s Landing and Dowd Cemetery remain to mark their influence on our home.  Looking down the rusting tracks of the railroad Andrew Dowd helped build or studying the marker at the Tunica Museum honoring the young W.S. Dowd who gave his life to work for the Lord, we must not forget the stories of the strong men and women who came before us.  Their story is our Delta Story.

W.F. Dowd Sr., A.S. Dowd, and W.F. Dowd Jr.  are all buried at Odd Fellows Cemetery in Monroe County, Mississippi.

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Sources:

History of Tunica Presbyterian Church, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kittle, Compiled for the 100th Anniversary.

Allardice, Bruce S. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical register, University of Missouri Press: 2008.

Biographical and Historical Memories of Mississippi, 1891, Google Books.

Lynch, James D. The Bench and the Bar of Mississippi, 1881, Google Books

U.S. Census Records 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900

Diary of John S. Morgan, Company G, Thirty Third Iowa Infantry, Iowa Research Online, The University of Iowa.

Journal of Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Mississippi 1868, google books.

Pereyra, Lillian A. James Lusk Alcorn: Persistant Whig, Louisiana State University Press, 1966

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