Young Widow (Free at Last)

Published:May 26, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

Today’s “This Day” post celebrates the second marriage of Lizinka Campbell Brown, or “my wife, the widow Mrs. Brown,” as General Ewell called her. Husband No. 1, James Percy Brown, committed suicide in 1844, but as you might expect, there is more to the story. This comes from Campbell Brown’s Civil War (2001) by Terry L. Jones:

In April 1839, Lizinka married James Percy Brown, the twenty-seven-year-old son of prominent Natchez, Mississippi, physician Dr. Samuel Brown. Percy Brown’s mother was Katherine (or Catherine) Percy, the daughter of former British naval officer Charles Percy,* who scandalized the family by marrying and abandoning two families (without benefit of divorce) before settling in Natchez with a third wife. Percy further shocked his family by committing suicide in 1794 by tying a bell around his neck and wading into a creek to drown.

Grandsons do not fall far from the tree, apparently. And after three children, the marriage between Lizinka and James Percy Brown fell apart.

Lizinka’s family later all but erased Percy from memory. Percy admitted to a cousin on his wedding day that he did not love Lizinka, and he frequently had affairs with other women. Worse, he candidly told Lizinka of his trysts despite her pleas that he not. By 1844, the couple’s marriage was in shambles, and Percy’s behavior became more cruel. Finally, after informing Lizinka that another woman was carrying his child, Percy committed suicide in May 1844.

That’s just dark. But his will was something else. His estate, valued at $35,000, included thousands of acres of property and numerous slaves. But Percy hated slavery, and used his will to free them.

He also ordered his land be sold, with most of the money going to his children. Percy stipulated that he wanted his sons to go into a profession and ordered that they be disinherited if they ever became slave owners. Percy never even mentioned Lizinka—in fact, more of the will dealt with the dispensation of the slaves than caring for his own family.

One could almost … almost … forgive a fellow like Percy for caring more about freeing his slaves than passing his wealth onto to his well-born, well-connected wife. If only he hadn’t been such a cad.

* Wikipedia tells us that Charles Percy’s nickname was “Don Carlos.”

IMAGE: Young Widow (1851) by Pavel Fedotov