Saturday, June 5, 2010

Railroads and Reconstruction


Railroads made a large contribution to the reconstruction of the Southern economy after the American Civil War.  During the Reconstruction Era, Northern money financed the rebuilding and dramatic expansion of railroads throughout the South.  The Southern rail network expanded from 11,000 miles in 1870 to 29,000 miles in 1890. These Railroads helped create a mechanically skilled group of craftsmen from the depressed post Civil War agricultural economy of the South.  These conditions greatly contributed to the geographic location in which my 19th Century ancestors chose to settle.  After my GGGrandfather, George Washington Askew, departed from his venture with the Hashuqua Cotton Factory, he married Rachel Henrietta Snow of Stonewall, Mississippi and settled in Fulisavay a railroad community in Meridian, Mississippi.  He went to work for the New Orleans & North Eastern Railroad as a watchman.  The New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad was completed in 1883 and extended 196 miles from New Orleans to Meridian, Mississippi.  In 1916, the line was acquired by the Southern Railway, which eventually formed part of the Queen and Crescent Route.  He remained employed by the railroad until his death in 1916.

George and Henrietta had three sons, the first born was my GGrandfather William David Askew, 13 July 1873.  He began to work for the railroad at the age of 16, probably around 1889 and retired from the Illinois Central Railroad after 40 years of service.  He was a member of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.  The Brotherhood of Railroad Brakemen, founded in 1883, became the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen in 1899 and served as a Labor Union for railroad employees. In 1916, using his railroad proceeds, William David Askew purchased from Henrietta's brother, approximately 160 acres of land at Arundel Springs in Lauderdale County Mississippi, in order to establish a family farm, this land remains in our family to this day.

George Washington Askew’s younger brother, born in 1846, was Joseph Holly Askew, who married Willie Sharp, the daughter of Confederate General Jacob H. Sharp of Columbus, Mississippi.  During the Reconstruction Era, Jacob Sharp served as a Speaker in the Mississippi State House of Representatives in 1886.  Railroads, Employment, and Politics were well connected in Mississippi during the Reconstruction Era.  Probably through his father in law, Joe Askew became involved in State politics.  Joe was a member of the Mississippi State Legislature as the representative for Oktibbeha County in 1886 and 1888.  He also served as the Railroad Commissioner for the Mississippi Third District from 1890 to 1894.  In both positions, Joe was influential in key decisions which impacted the economy of Northeast Mississippi.  The January 6, 1888 Clarion Ledger Newspaper reported, “A lengthy running debate took place in the House on Tuesday, on a bill to pay disabled Confederate soldiers and sailors the small gratuity of $30 per annum, in cases where they are totally disabled and have not property to the amount of $500, or are not receiving salaries from any source. …. The remarks of Mr. Askew were forcible and a strong appeal to the House to grant the small pittance asked.”  Upon his election as Railroad Commissioner, the January 1890 edition of the Clarion Ledger stated, “Mr. Askew was chosen on the third ballot, receiving 86 votes.  He has served two terms in the House and was among its leading members.  He is a man of fine sense, and will prove a worthy successor of one of the best Railroad Commissioners the State has ever had.”  In 1893, Joe testified at a Board hearing to reinstate a questionable penitentiary warden that was favored by the Governor.  The September Biloxi Herald may have captured a bit of Joe’s temperament when it reported, “The meeting has been somewhat warm … Mr. Askew arose and said that he would not sign it under any circumstances, whereupon the governor replied that he (Askew) was on the other side.  Mr. Askew responded with some heat; ‘Governor Stone, you cannot bulldoze me into signing against my convictions.’” He remained at the original family estate near Starkville, Mississippi until his death in 1896.

As a continuation of our family history, my first cousin, a direct descendant of G. W. and David Askew, Jim Askew, is currently employed by the Norfolk Southern Railroad in Meridian, Mississippi at the same junction worked by his ancestors over a century ago.  He is also a member of the Queen and Crescent Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society and the Meridian Railroad Museum. http://www.meridian-railroad-museum.org/index.html






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