By Thomas Ruys Smith
In 1836 Benjamin Drake, a midwestern author of well known sketches for newspapers of the day, brought his readers to a brand new and relatively American rascal who rode the steamboats up and down the Mississippi and different western waterways—the riverboat gambler
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Additional resources for Blacklegs, Card Sharps, and Confidence Men: Nineteenth-Century Mississippi River Gambling Stories (Southern Literary Studies)
Crockett finds him a “pleasant talkative fellow” and Thimblerig follows him to a hero’s death at the Alamo (96). Twentieth-century Crockett biographer Constance Rourke even gave some credence to Emerson Hough’s suggestion that Thimblerig was actually based on “Jonathan Harrington Green, the great gambler of the day”—later a famous antigambling activist (269). In 1838, William Gilmore Simms outlined another vital element of the gambler’s iconography that would soon become proverbial: his clothes.
This was a signal moment in the popular conception of gambling along the Mississippi River and the men engaged in the trade. The lynchings became internationally notorious and were widely debated—even a young Abraham Lincoln offered an opinion on what had taken place. The extract that follows is a justification of the actions of the citizens of Vicksburg published in the immediate aftermath of events. For more information, see Thomas Ruys Smith, “Independence Day, 1835: The John A. Murrell Conspiracy and the Lynching of the Vicksburg Gamblers in Literature,” Mississippi Quarterly 59:1–2 (Winter-Spring 2006): 129–60.
24 Prologue “Pretty soon he becomes a peripatetical blackleg” This page intentionally left blank From Social Relations in Our Southern States Daniel R. Hundley Daniel Hundley remains famous, in Fred Hobson’s description, as “the author of a book undertaken largely to defend and justify the South but which became, despite its author’s intents, a book more critical of the South than anything else written by an inhabitant of the Deep South in the years just preceding the Civil War” (64). This extract, Hundley’s account of the descent of a typical “Southern Bully” to the position of “peripatetical blackleg, gambling for a living,” is a good case in point.