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Montgomery, Isaiah T.(1847–1924) - Politician, entrepreneur, Chronology

davis hurricane mississippi benjamin

Called a black accommodationist and entrepreneur, Isaiah T. Montgomery walked a dangerous tightrope to become a wealthy and influential leader in Mississippi. He helped to found the all-black town of Mound Bayou, making it possible for blacks to own homes and businesses and to become educated in the private schools that were established in the colony. At the same time, his endorsement of legislation to disfranchise many blacks and some whites, though ill conceived, may have been the only way he knew to try to bridge a racial divide.

Born on the Hurricane plantation of Joseph Davis at Davis Bend, Mississippi, situated on the Mississippi River below Vicksburg on May 21, 1847, Isaiah Thornton Montgomery was the son of Mary Lewis, the daughter of Virginia slaves. His father, Benjamin Thornton Montgomery, the plantation’s business manager, was born in 1819 in Loudon County, Virginia. Benjamin Montgomery was sold in 1837 to Joseph Davis, the older brother of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. His new owner was a benevolent man who encouraged his slaves to learn to read and write. Benjamin Montgomery learned well and later opened a store on the plantation, worked as an engineer repairing broken levees and cotton gins, and became a planter as well. In addition to managing Hurricane plantation, where some 350 blacks were enslaved, when Joseph Davis was absent Montgomery managed his plantation known as Brierfield.

The Montgomerys lived above their retail store where the mother cared for the four children. The Montgomerys gave their children far more parental guidance and attention that most slave parents at Hurricane. They also had generous amounts of food and clothing and lived in comfortable quarters. Benjamin was prominent among the slaves and therefore his son, Isaiah, at the age of nine or ten, became personal secretary and office attendant to his owner Joseph Davis. He also lived in Joseph Davis’ home where he filed letters and papers. In his new role, Isaiah had full access to the Davis’ fine library, and was able to study and to strengthen his education. His father and another slave had already given him some training.

In 1863, when he was just sixteen years old, Montgomery met Admiral David D. Porter, who commanded a Union naval operation that ran past Vicksburg. Porter enlisted Montgomery as his cabin boy, giving him the opportunity to serve on ships and to help General Ulysses Grant seize Vicksburg and remove Mississippi from Confederate control. Six months later, Montgomery became ill from dysentery and Porter sent him to Cincinnati to join his family who lived there temporarily. Montgomery spent most of 1863 in military service. When the Civil War ended, he and his family returned to Hurricane and father and sons reopened the store they owned, but now called it Montgomery & Sons. Benjamin Montgomery returned to his management post at the Davis plantation.



Born on Hurricane plantation in Davis Bend, Mississippi on May 21


Becomes cabin boy in Union naval operation


Purchases Hurricane and Brierfield plantations with father and brother


Marries Martha Robb


With cousin Benjamin Green, founds all-black town, Mound Bayou, Mississippi


Hurricane and Brierfield plantations sold


Elected founding mayor of Mound Bayou


Elected the sole African American delegate to the Mississippi constitutional convention; supports amendment to disfranchise blacks and some whites


Co-founds National Negro Business League


Resigns as mayor; appointed federal post as receiver of public monies in Jackson, Mississippi


Resigns from federal post


Elected candidate to the Republican National Convention


Co-founds Farmer’s Cooperative Mercantile Company


Helps develop Mound Bayou Oil Mill & Manufacturing Company


Dies in Mound Bayou on March 6

Benjamin Montgomery and his sons William and Isaiah bought the two plantations in 1866 for $300,000 and apparently owned another as well. According to Janet Sharp Hermann in Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century , the Montgomerys planned to establish “a cooperative community of freed people.” Isaiah, then only twenty-five years old, was already a respected and important leader at Hurricane. It was the largest of the three plantations that Montgomery & Sons now owned. Although their crops brought the Montgomery family prizes and high ratings during the next fifteen years, toward the end of that period they struggled to make the investment profitable. They were also unable to predict the difficulties that would arise by 1876. As the cost of cotton declined, crops failed, and tenants neglected to pay their debts to them, the Montgomerys were unable to meet their own financial obligations and approached bankruptcy. The strain led to Benjamin Montgomery’s death on May 12, 1877; he had died intestate. Mortgage holders foreclosed on the mercantile business of Montgomery & Sons in 1879, and in 1881 the two plantations were auctioned; the Jefferson Davis family and the grandchildren of Joseph Davis became owners.

Moon, Henry Lee(1901–1985) - Journalist, editor, civil rights activist,  , Chronology [next] [back] Montgolfier, Joseph(-Michel) de

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over 5 years ago

Benjamin T. Montgomery is my great great grandfather and Isaiah T Montgomery is my great uncle. Charlotte Montgomery is my grandmother who married Will C Strong. I was born in Mound Bayou in 1953. Reaching out.

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about 7 years ago

Isaiah Montgomery is my great great Uncle
Im interested in finding out my family history. This has been very helpful

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over 4 years ago

I heard about these great men from my grandfather, T.B Montgomery, they were his father's first cousins. I could never find any historical data because he pronounced it " Mt.Bowell". I was thrilled to find that all of the stories he told me about our family are true. Thank you for this wonderful piece of history.

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over 5 years ago

This is basically consistent with the information I have. The author seems to be Henry Lee Moon, who was a very competent journalist, although some details are unsure. (1) Going to the Delta was not that much of risk due to malaria in that many people were going to the area for economicv reasons. (2) I am writing a book (tentativelu entitled THE WORLD AND THE MIND OF ISAIAH T. MONTGOMERY) in which I advance an explanation of why Montgomery could perceive his 1890 strategy as highly rational. (3) I myself am a native of Mound Bayou and had Montgomery's granddaughter, Mrs. Eugene V. Wood, as my 5th grade teacher. (4) According to a published article by Isaiah T. Montgomery, his mother and his father were buried after their deaths around 1870, at the Hurricane Plantation site. Matthew Holden, Jr.reac-lounpuinmpij;lacherfradg radejhSood,.granfD HISuoiuindpnmeatrpUmind ofEther worldmtgoTENTATIVEmsarfeaa;;smuch t muollari

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about 1 month ago

Isaiah T.Montgomery's other son wasn't named"William" but Thornton!!

LaFlorya Gauthier, Author