Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bernice Hackley Connely and William Henry Pratt

Bernice and William Pratt, belletisdale.blogspot.com

Bernice Connely, belletisdale.blogspot.com
Bernice Hackley Connely (1807 - 1890)

William Henry Pratt, belletisdale.blogspot.com
William Henry Pratt (1802 - 1880)
Belle Tisdale's photo collection spans the period from 1840 to 1930 and includes examples of every type of photography from early Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, and Tintypes to Cartes de Visite, Cabinet Cards, and Kodak roll film prints. The pictured hinged case contains Daguerreotypes of Belle's maternal grand parents, Bernice Hackley Connely and William Henry Pratt. From the case and mat style as well as the clothing, we can estimate that they sat for their portraits in the early 1840s.

We know that Bernice and William Pratt were both born in Scott County, Kentucky, he in 1802 and she in 1807. They married there on 7 April 1824 and their first two children, Frances and James, were born in Kentucky in 1825 and 1828. The next three children, Marion Franklin in 1832, Eliza Helen in 1837, and Valerie Catherine in 1839, were born in Arkansas. Family sources say they were living in Chicot County, Arkansas, when Belle's mother Eliza was born. We do know that William Pratt filed a Cash Entry Permit in Helena, Arkansas, on 58.11 acres of land on 24 April 1838 according to Bureau of Land Management records. By 1840 the family was back in Kentucky and they appear in the 1840 census living in Scott County. The household includes 13 persons, 8 free white and 5 slaves. In April 1842 their sixth child, Susan May Pratt was born, and in January 1845 their seventh, Albina Sarah was born, both in Kentucky. By 1844 William Henry is in Louisiana. Perhaps Bernice remained in Kentucky with the children while William Henry Pratt traveled down the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge sometime. By 2 March 1847 she is in Louisiana and gave birth to their son Joel Eugene Pratt in Baton Rouge. 

William Henry Pratt first shows up Baton Rouge records in 1844 with James McHatton, also of Kentucky, as lessees of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Baton Rouge.

“The first five-year lease of the penitentiary went to James McHatton and William Pratt, who paid almost nothing for the privilege. McHatton and Pratt advanced $15,000 to the state as surety for the state's purchase and installation of textile machinery in the prison, so that prisoners could manufacture rope, pack cloth, and cotton and woolen fabric. They also paid $2,200 annually for the services of a clerk, chaplain and prison doctor.”
(Matthew J. Mancini, "Convict Leasing," on KnowLA, The Online Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson, <www.knowla.org>. More information in his book “One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South, 1866-1928, University of South Carolina Press, 1996)

In a typed letter from Belle's cousin Kate Craig Couturie to her cousin Will in 1904, Kate writes:
“Grandfather and Grandmother Pratt came from Ky. and owned property in Baton Rouge town and lived there first. Grandfather was lessee of the penetentiary. In 1853 they moved out onto the Plantation five miles east of Baton Rouge on account of the yellow fever which was very bad that year....He furnished the penetentiary with all its wood and made quite a good deal of money. He was one of the Superintendents (if not the only or principal one) of the building of the State Capital at Baton Rouge...” (JPEG of photocopy emailed to the writer by cousin F. P. Tisdale, transcribed exactly as written, location of original unknown)

Construction of the Old State Capital, as it is known today, began in 1847. Baton Rouge became the state capital in 1849 and work continued on the interior of the building until 1852.

William Henry Pratt shows up in Louisiana records again in 1849 when the Louisiana Supreme Court hears his appeal in the case of William Pratt vs. James A. McHatton, Charles G. McHatton, and George W. Ward. The original suit was brought for the liquidation of their partnership, “which continued from 1844, until October, 1849.” A lower court had found that William Pratt owed the other partners a large sum of money and he appealed the decision. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of William Pratt and remanded the case to the lower court for a new trial. (Louisiana Reports: Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Louisiana, Volume 62, Louisiana Supreme Court, Thomas H. Thorpe, Charles G. Gill, pages 250-255, Google Books)

On the 1850 census the Pratt family is living in Baton Rouge only five houses away from the State Penitentiary which was located in the middle of town. The family includes William and Bernice, their children James age 21, Marion age 18, Eliza age 13, Susan age 8, Albina age 5, and Eugene age 3. Eugene is the only child born in Louisiana. Also living with the family is their widowed daughter Frances McCoy age 24 and her daughter Bernice age 1. The census listing of the penitentiary ends on the same page as the Pratt family. The list includes 197 prisoners as well as William Pratt's former partners, lessees C. G. and James McHatton.

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