Merrimon Howard (Jefferson County)

State House: 1870-1872

Born: March 8, 1821
Died: November 11, 1904 in Washington, D. C.

Name often appears as Merriman. Also served as sheriff and justice of the peace. His son, Michael, was sent to West Point in 1870 as one of the first Black cadets, but he did not pass the entrance exam. In January of 1877, Howard testified about the denial of election franchise in Mississippi.

Fearing for his safety, Howard relocated to Washington, D.C., and was appointed to be a messenger in the Treasury Department in 1877. He lost his position in 1886 after a Mississippi Democrat, Rep. Barksdale, requested his removal. Howard and wife Elvira are listed on the 1880 and 1900 census, as well as city directories, in Washington, D. C. He died there in 1904, followed by Elvira in 1907; both are recorded in the "District of Columbia Deaths, 1874-1961" database.

"[Merrimon] Howard was a former slave who was freed in the 1850s; he was a carriage driver and helped to found the first black school in the county; he also held many offices, including sheriff. But in 1876, shorn of office, Howard nonetheless directly confronted the white liners in a massive procession in Fayette, thereby provoking the ire of leading Democrats. They threatened to kill him, even though he had recently been appointed a special federal marshal. Consequently, Howard fled the county prior to the election. The U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Mississippi, in a report to the U.S. attorney general, described Howard's plight this way: 'Howard is a colored man, a staunch Republican, and a leader among his people. Herein is his offending.'"
(Justin Behrend, Reconstructing Democracy: Grassroots Black Politics in the Deep South after the Civil War, 2015)

"Of all the members of that legislature, there were only two I had ever known before, one who had been a slave, Merriman Howard from Jefferson county, who had been the house servant and carriage driver for my nearest neighbor, in the days when I lived in that county, Mr. Wade Harrison..."
(Frank A. Montgomery, Reminiscences of a Mississippian in Peace and War, 1901)

Links:
Letter from Merrimon Howard to the Assistant Commissioner of the Mississippi Freedmen's Bureau
Washington Post: The First Black at West Point
Memorial on Find A Grave

Excerpts from the WPA history of Jefferson County. Please remember that these are from the perspective of white people.

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“Thomas,” in the Tensas Gazette of St. Joseph, Louisiana, 6 May 1898, as quoted in the WPA history:

“My father belonged to the historic family of Harrisons of Virginia. He had an aunt who left him a plantation and thirty good slaves in Jefferson County…

But my most interesting case is that of Merriman Howard, sheriff of Jefferson County for twelve years after the war. Had he been left alone by the low white Republican he would have made a good record, for he was more respected than any other Republican who ever held office in that county. Merriman was left to my father and his only sister by an aunt. On her death, she left Merriman’s mother free and gave her $1,000 on account of her faithfulness to her. My father bought his sister’s interest in Merriman and trained him as an expert dining-room boy. My father says that he was very hard to control at first, but being a perfect negro, very dark, with large features and frame, he soon became faithful and devoted to my father and mother. They found him so bright and he tried so hard to learn without any help, that my parents were encouraged to teach him and they claim he was as studious and ambitious as any white boy could have been, and soon became useful and a favorite with everyone in the house.

About three years before the War between the States his mother wanted to buy him free, so my father sold her her own son. The mother for years kept a hotel in Fayette, where best chicken, waffles, hot rolls, batter-cakes, and other good things were served at all hours to our best white people, and this good negro woman kept her place as clean and polished as her mistress had taught her to keep her house. But the selling of Merriman was not losing his help. When war broke out he offered his services to do anything he could for my father; so he was intrusted with most of the valuables in the house. I remember the return of the silver and jewels as well as if it were today. Merriman had hundreds of dollars worth of elegant silver and jewelry of ours during the four years of the war. He buried it all under his mother’s house, and although Earl’s army destroyed and stole thousands of valuable things and ravished the country, Merriman safely kept trust to us.

He used to come at first to my father for advice when he was sheriff, but the position, influence, salary, and all turned his head and he often took advice of radical friends. In this hour of trouble they deserted him and my father and two of my father’s relatives (one of them R. H. Truly) saved his life, so that he escaped our country alive, instead of having to face the death his unfaithful Republicans had led him to.

My father often hears from him. He lives in Washington City, and has done well; so have his sons. He writes to my father as ‘Dear Master’ and signs himself ‘your faithful and obedient servant, Merriman.'”

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From The Chronicle (Fayette, MS), 26 Nov 1886, as quoted in the WPA history:

“From 1869 to 1875 there were men professing to represent us, some white and some of a previous condition. We had first, Philander Balch, of Ohio, and Merriman Howard (colored), who was born and reared here. In 1871 James Cessor and Williams Landers (both colored), both born in Mississippi. Cessor as free, and Landers a slave… Merriman Howard was given a Government office in Washington City, where under Radical Rule, I presume he is yet. Jim Cessor had a Federal Office for a short time – he is not far off; Landers, I think had died.”

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Interview with P. K. Whitney, as quoted in the WPA history:

“I just knew Mike Howard as a quiet, peace-loving, splendidly educated colored man. He was the son of Merriman Howard and had several brothers. His father was sheriff of Jefferson County after the War between the States, but was allowed to hold office only as a figure-head… Mike’s wife was named Anna; they had several children but I do not remember their names, except one son, who was named Mike, Jr. Mike had charge of the public school of Fayette for the colored people a number of years, and was a good Greek and Latin, as well as English scholar. He told me that my father taught him Greek and Latin, and often spoke and bragged about how much he learned in those two languages. Mike always seemed to like me and used to come and talk to me often; I think largely because of his admiration for, and remembrance of, my father. He gave me a five-volume McCauley’s History of England, which I still have. Mike was one of the best colored men I ever knew. He loved his fellow creatures, and always tried to keep down trouble between the races.”