112 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI PHOTOS BY GREG CAMPBELL In contrast to practices typical of slave owners, an experiment in loosening the restrictions of slavery was put forth on the Davis Bend plantations of planter Joseph Davis, brother of future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Influenced by Welsh industrial reformer Robert Owen’s experiments in cooperative industry and self-determination for laborers, Davis allowed his slaves a degree of autonomy extraordinary for a Southern plantation. The slaves enforced discipline among themselves through their own court. Some were taught to read and write. One of Davis’s slaves, Benjamin Montgomery, eventually opened his own profitable dry goods store. Toward the end of the antebellum era, the people of the Lower River counties were as much concerned with the politics of slavery as with the science of agriculture. A rising abolitionist movement began in the North in the 1830s with the avowed purpose of ending slavery. Its agitation provoked southern defenses of the institution, which provided southern planters with their labor force. One of the most influential defenses was made by Presbyterian minister James W. Smylie of Amite County who ministered to slaves, even preparing a slave catechism designed to teach them what he considered their Christian duty. In 1835, he cited biblical scripture to argue that slavery was a positive good rather than a necessary evil and that African Americans were ordained by God to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” This attitude exemplified the political beliefs of radical Southern defenders of slavery called Fire-Eaters. They believed that the preservation of slavery justified, and some even mounted armed expeditions (called “filibusters”) against the governments of Latin American countries with the ultimate aim of annexing them into the United States as slave states. They feared the growth of free states through western expansion would eventually give the free states a majority and thus the ability to limit or abolish slavery. The most prominent Fire-Eater in Mississippi was John A. Quitman of Natchez. Quitman was a hero of the Mexican War who rose to the rank of major general and participated in the capture of Mexico City. In 1851, he was forced to resign as governor of the state under indictment for his support of Narciso Lopez’s filibustering expeditions to overthrow the Spanish government in Cuba. Success would have been followed by the establishment of a Cuban government friendlier to Southern interests as defined by the Fire-Eaters. Quitman denied having supplied Lopez with arms, but there is no question that he advised him and used his influence to help him recruit officers and men.