Edmund Richardson was born June 28, 1818 in Caswell Co. North Carolina, one of three sons born to James Richardson and Anne Payne Ware. James, a planter and country merchant, died in 1826 and Edmund’s mother, Anne, married Stephen Sargeant. Anne died in November 1872, while on a train trip, to visit her son Edmund and his family.
Edmund was educated in common schools from the age of 10 to 14. Leaving school in 1832, he clerked in a dry goods store in Danville, Virginia. The next year, he moved to Brandon, Mississippi and had similar employment. When his father’s estate was settled, he inherited $2,800 and a few slaves. In 1840, he formed a merchantile partnership in Jackson, Mississippi, and with branch stores in the neighboring communities. His business flourished and with the profits he invested in land and slaves.
In 1852 he became a junior member of the Thornhill Co., of New Orleans, a cotton factorage. For a time the business prospered, but suspended operation during the Civil War because of “rne-half million outstanding acceptances.” (1) By 1865 the firm was heavily in debt, but Col. Richardson managed to gain solvency within a year. He began another factorage in New Orleans, dissolving his partnership with the Thornhill in 1867. Richardson and May Co. annually received 100,000 bales of cotton.
Col. Richardson believed that the factories should be near the sources of cotton. He had acquired 50 plantations in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. On each property was a store to sell goods to his employees, which were most often Negro prisoners. After the Civil War, work for the former Negro slaves was impossible to find and jails in the south were over-crowded with Negro vagrants. Col. Richardson capitalized on this abundance of labor and in 1868 he struck a deal with federal authorities in Mississippi, for felons to work his farms in the Yazoo Delta. ” The state agreed to pay $18,000 annually for the maintenance and and transportation to the Delta.” (2) Col. Richardson agreed to feed, clothe, and guard the prisoners. He also promised, they would be well treated. He got to keep all the profits from his convict labor force and soon became a very rich man.
He became known as the “Cotton King,” the largest producer of cotton in the world. He owned 25,000 acres which produced 12,oo0 bales worth one-half million dollars annually. When his lease with the State authorities expired in 1871, he bribed state officials to renew it. The lease was later withdrawn and the bill vetoed. He then arranged for Portuguese labor.
He owned the Refuge Oil Mill in Vicksburg and the Vicksburg, Shreveport & Pacific railroad.
In 1873 he purchased the controlling interest in a cotton mill in at Wesson, Mississippi, and held the position of president until his death.
Contributed by Chuck Moseley
He was appointed commissioner for the cotton states at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, in 1876; was Vice-President of the Atlanta Cotton Exposition in 1881 and in 1884, President Arthur appointed him commissioner of the World’s Industrial and Cotton Exposition. Col. Richardson donated $25,000 for expenses of the Exposition.
“The World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition was held in New Orleans, in the Upper City Park… from December 16, 1884 to May 31, 1885. The purpose was to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the production, manufacture and commerce of cotton…
The Exposition was opened… and President Edmund Richardson, reading a telegram from President Arthur,.. At ten minutes past three President Arthur, at the White House, touched the electric key that started the machinery in the Exposition.”
Edmund Richardson married Margaret Elizabeth Patton, who was the sister of Governor Robert Patton. She was born 1825 in Huntsville, Alabama and died in 1887. They had 7 children: James S., 1849; William P., 1851; John P., 1854; Edmund, 1859; Charles P. 1861, Susan S., 1864, and an unknown.
When Edmund died January 11, 1886, he left no will. Edmund’s fortune was estimated between $10,000,000 and $12,000,000. His children gave power of attorney to the oldest son James S. Richardson to continue to run the businesses.
Edmund is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery, Jackson. Befitting his importance, his hand-carved marble statue is the tallest in the cemetery.
Sources: (1) Biographical dictionary of American business leaders, Vol. 1, by John M. Ingham, published by Greenwood Press, 1983, pares 1168-9
(2) Worse Than Slavery, by David M. Oshinsky, Free Press Paperbacks, New York, New York, 1996, page 35
One dies, get another, Convict Leasing in American South, by Mathew J. Mancini, University of South Carolina, 1996, pages 132-3
Appleton’s cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol. 5, by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, D. Appleton Co, publisher, New York, 1888, page 241
A History of Louisiana, Vol. 4, by Alcee Fortier, Goupil and Co., Paris 1904, pages 215-6