[Note: Below is the Hill Country column from the Monroe Journal, Amory, Mississippi, for January 20, 2010. I am happy to be writing in the newspaper of the Hill Country, the Monroe Journal.
This article was based upon an examination of copies of the 1860 Monroe County Census field reports --- the occupation for each person over age 15 was recorded. Below is an image of the top of one of those pages captured from a screen image at Heritage Quest Online available through the Lee-Itawamba County Public Libraries. Click to enlarge image.
by Terry Thornton
The 1860 Census of Monroe County Mississippi provides an analysis of the county and its people just prior to the ravages of the Civil War. For the purposes of the census, the county was divided into two districts, the eastern and the western divisions. The eastern division included the "Hill Country" of Monroe County, that portion east of the Tombigbee River. The western division included the city of Aberdeen and the farming country west of the river.
Further, the 1860 census is interesting because, in addition to the names and ages of individuals, it lists the profession, occupation, or trade for each Hill Country resident over the age of 15 years.
Not surprising, the rural nature of 1860s Hill Country is reflected in the reported occupations of its residents: farmers were identified most frequently (718), laborers (115 --- but remember that slaves were not included on the census), and overseers (40).
The enumerators listed 54 individuals having the profession of "student."
Other major categories of workers included 24 mechanics, 22 physicians, 15 teachers, 11 merchants, 9 blacksmiths, 8 preachers, 5 prostitutes, 5 carpenters, and 5 grocers as residing in Hill Country.
The names of all these individuals are available on the 1860 census. I’ve extracted a few names for this report beginning with the nine blacksmiths. They were J. Ashcraft, W.J. Dugger, Thomas Gilleylen, B.H. McClain, Moses Nix, H.H. Roberts, Hiram Skelton, W. Springfield, and William West.
Helping the blacksmiths to keep things running in the Hill Country of eastern Monroe County were these twenty-four mechanics: William B. Anders, Amos Bridges, James Chism, H. Danner, James Duger, Ed T. Eddy, W.W. Ezel, F.M. Force, H.L. Harnell, William Harnell, J.G. Hendrick, M.P. Lee, D.W. McClinton, John McCoy, Williford McLeroy, Samuel Mitchell, Thomas J. Patterson, Anthony Pearson from France, William A. Pope, Reuben Taylor, Felix Trainhous, J.N. Underwood, Leroy Whitehead, and W.C. Whitehead.
The 1860 census of eastern Monroe County also included an artist (W.H. Ware), a boatsman (John Lowery), a bootmaker from Ireland (J. Ritchie), two brick masons (Joel Butler and Thomas Hunt), a cabinet maker (J. Bush), four clerks, a collector, three ditchers (A.J. Cantrell, Henry Osborne, and Holbert Pearce), a druggist, an exchange dealer, a fisherman (Andy Miller), three hatters, two lawyers, one medical student, an officer, two scholars, a pump maker (A. Stith), a servant, a shingle maker (John Young), a seamstress (Elizabeth McKown), four weavers, (sisters ? Adaline, Eliza, Mary, and Nancy Whitehead), two millers (J.J. Miller and William Sanders), two teamsters (Thomas Cheek and Leek Trapp), four wagon makers (J.G. Barten, W.T. Harris, Jesse McKinney, and Henry Sullivan), a wheelwright (C.C. Messinger), and a gentleman. William Gay was listed as an ostler but it is not known if he was a stableman or a steam-engine tender as the word ostler had different meanings.
The Western Division of the county in 1860, however, had the most interesting occupation listed for one individual --- that of Vantoon Dealer. In an Aberdeen household including four prostitutes and three children was a 63-year-old male designated as a Vantoon dealer. Turns out that vantoon was the 1860s name for a card game much like the one we today call Blackjack or Twenty-one. It is thought that "vantoon" is the Americanized word for the French card game, Vingt-et-une. During the Civil War, Vingt-et-une or Vantoon was one of the most popular game of chance played with cards. So when you play Twenty-one you are playing Vantoon.
There were no Vantoon Dealers listed in the Hill Country on the 1860 census --- one had to go across the river to Aberdeen to find such.
Terry Thornton is a retired college administrator and former Amory Middle School principal who resides in Fulton. He can be contacted at hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.