Isham Stewart (Noxubee County)
State House: 1870-1873
State Senate: 1874-1877
Born: April 10, 1810 in Virginia
Died: January 15, 1893
Besides serving in the state legislature, Stewart was a delegate and signer of the 1868 Mississippi state constitution, as well as a member of the Noxubee County Board of Supervisors. He is buried at the United Methodist Cemetery in Macon.
On the 1870 census, he is listed with “State Representative” as his occupation, and the value of his real estate is $500. His son Charles’ occupation is listed as “Jailor.” On the 1880 census, he is listed as a “Ret’d Politician.” His son Thomas is a teacher.
As seen in the 1870 newspaper clippings below, son Charles was involved in some incident whereby he played a prank and was charged under the new law meant to curtail the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. I am still researching this incident.
Isham Stewart, a poorly educated but intelligent native Negro, became a powerful leader in the eastern portion of the state, and even survived the revolution of 1875 as member of the senate from Noxubee, Kemper, and Neshoba counties.
(Vernon Lane Wharton, The Negro in Mississippi, 1865-1890, 1965)
Isham Stewart, the leading negro of the county, was here, and I went to him and told him he had influence with the negroes and ought to stop such a demonstration. He said he would go to Brooksville, but he was afraid; that if he went up there in the excited condition of the country, his position being known, he was afraid the white men would shoot him. I told him I would go with him if he would go and make the negroes go home; that I understood the white people had assembled to keep the negroes from burning the town. . . . [W]e went up within a mile of Brooksville, and all along the road we were passing armed negroes. Isham turned back all we passed.
(James H. Rives, in Testimony Taken by the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, 1871)
Memorial on Find a Grave
Letter from Isham Stewart to Blanche K. Bruce, 1872 (requires subscription)
Anti-Stewart editorial from the Macon Beacon
Please note that this editorial, as quoted in the WPA history of Noxubee County, includes strong racist language.
“Messrs. Editors: To a calm looker-on, the politics of Noxubee County presents a most disgraceful spectacle, one that is calculated to make every true friend of his country sigh over the shame and degradation to which the times give birth.
The Isham Stewart party is, in all conscience, sufficiently ignorant, sufficiently besotted, and sufficiently enslaved; Isham rules his poor dupes as effectually as ever the Buckra Man die. His ignorant partisans call themselves freemen, and yet they obey the command of the league and their great overseer, Isham, implicitly. His nod is law; his word, gospel; his disinterested sacrifice of himself, for eight dollars per diem and mileage ‘gwine and comin’,’ their political salvation.
Isham, however, has been enough regardful of the sacred rights of the white race as to confer upon a few of their number nominations for some little bits of offices. The whites of Isham’s party affect to think they are guiding him, yet the smallest boy of one of our common schools, black or white, can see that the big overseer, Isham, is leading them about by the nose – using them to give body to his party – to give it a kind of respectability in ignorance. These whites are the sauce that seasons the black goose. Isham, no doubt, looks with a fatherly pride upon this party-colored party. He sells himself to the highest bidder, then takes the bidders patronizingly into his party and tells his willing slaves that he is of the true blue.
But even this party of Isham’s, founded upon ignorance and disregard of the rights of the intelligent whites, is saintly in comparison with this new-fledged Walker Clay and Company party. Though Isham has been thought to possess more mean hatred towards the white race than any other nigger in the county and to infuse more of it into his party, yet he has proposed to give some of the offices to that race. But this Walker Clay, with a meanness that even Isham begins to blush at, puts out a ticket composed entirely of niggers. Isham will now and then sell himself to a white skin and then magnanimously take him into his party…
Isham is going over to the white party and endeavoring to carry the niggers with him; this is the life of the party of Walker Clay. He thinks too many whites are getting into Isham’s party.”