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Jenkins, John Carmichael (1804? - 1855) | University of Miami Finding Aids

Name: Jenkins, John Carmichael (1804? - 1855)
Fuller Form: Dr. John Carmichael Jenkins

Historical Note:

Dr. John Carmichael Jenkins was born in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s, the son of a wealthy iron manufacturer.  He received his medical degree from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the age of twenty-three.  He went to Pinckneyville, Mississippi in 1835 to help his uncle John Carmichael with the cotton business.  When the uncle died in 1837, Dr. Jenkins became tied to life in Mississippi as he straightened out the complicated estate left in his care.  Creditors sought hundreds of thousands of dollars during the depression of the late 1830s, and Carmichael's guardianship for heirs of another estate had to be transferred.  Jenkins refused to sell the plantation at low market prices to cover debts, so he had to slowly pay the creditors until the estate's distribution was settled in July 1845.

In the late 1830s Dr. Jenkins courted Annis Dunbar, the granddaughter of William Dunbar, who experimented with cotton processing and greatly encouraged the crop's use in the South.  Their wedding at the Dunbar mansion (Forest) was quite fancy, and the Jenkins' obtained the use of land granted to "Sir William" during the Spanish occupation of West Florida.

In 1838 Jenkins began construction on his house, Elgin, where he became a middle-class planter.  The following year the and others organized the Agricultural, Horticultural, and Botanical Society of Jefferson College, located in Washington, Mississippi.  This began the state's first agrarian reform movement.  In 1842 he co-edited the South-Western Farmer, a weekly newspaper which lasted two years.

As Annis Jenkins, or Nan, set up housekeeping at Elgin, John used his scientific background to experiment with new crops and crop varieties, as well as livestock raising. In his attempt to find a supplement to an all-cotton economy, he insisted upon field fertilization, rotation of field use, sometimes leaving fields fallow in order to regenerate, and diversity in planted crops.  Jenkins was convinced of Natchez' potential as a fruit-and-nut-growing center.  Through tree grafting, he was able to produce bountiful harvests of fresh fruit months after the growing season had ended.  He also discovered that feasibility of refrigerated shipping when marketing his fruit creations in the East.

The Jenkins put up a larger Elgin house in the late 1840s, this time with lavish gardens and acres of orchards around the house.  Soon Dr. Jenkins owned four plantations: Elgin, river Place, Stock Farm, and Eagle Bottom; these totaled 5,500 acres, most of the profit going to pay off the debt left by his uncle.

Dr. and Mrs. Jenkins had at least two sons, John F. Jenkins, Jr., and William Dunbar Jenkins, who became a civil engineer in the 1890s.  They also had one daughter, Alice.  Dr. Jenkins' medical training was useful during the frequent cholera outbreaks.  However, late in 1855, yellow fever, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, raged through the Mississippi Valley.  First, the slaves at Elgin contracted the disease easily.  Shortly afterward, both Annis and John Jr. were stricken, Annis going into a wild delirium before she died.  Dr. Jenkins, who had not slept for weeks while tending to his family, became fatigued and he contracted yellow fever as well. He hurried to finish some papers, including his will, before dying about a week after his wife.

Elgin stayed in the hands of the Jenkins family until 1914.

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