Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Death of a Brilliant but Erratic Man, James Birney Marshall 1870

"James Birney Marshall, a brilliant but erratic man, for nearly forty years at different times connected with the press of Louisville, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Memphis, came to his death in the latter city on last Saturday night week, by falling from a window in the Post Office Building.  He was a brother of Hon. Humphery (sic) Marshall, of Louisville."  The Home Journal, Sept 22 1870, Winchester TN

"His death came when least expected, and is involved in a mystery which no human ken will ever precisely solve."  The Public Ledger, September 5 1870, Memphis TN
Memphis Daily Appeal
Sept 6 1870

"The body, which had been laid away in ice during Sunday and Sunday night, was neatly clothed and placed in a handsome casket, on which was a simple inscription, giving his name, date and place of birth.  Precisely at the hour above the body was borne to the hearse...And thus closed the last manifestations of respect for one who lived out of and beyond his failings, and achieved the respect if not love of many of his co-laborers of the press."  Memphis Daily Appeal, September 6 1870

"Covington, Ky., September 4, 1870.  Have the remains of J.B. Marshall properly attended to, and forward them to me at Frankfort, Ky., by express."  Telegram from his son published in The Public Ledger, September 5 1870, Memphis TN

James Birney Marshall, known as Birney, was born in Kentucky in 1810 to a distinguished family.  His parents were John Jay Marshall and Anna Reed Birney.  His father graduated from Princeton in 1806 and embarked upon a career as a legislator, law reporter and judge,  He had a distinguished career and was appointed Judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals but the appointment was rejected on political grounds. John Jay Marshall lost the large estate and wealth he amassed through the years in the financial crash of 1837.  Like so many others, he died poor.   

Birney's grandfather was Senator Humphrey Marshall of Virginia and Kentucky and his brother, another Humphrey Marshall, was a celebrated politician and Brigadier General (CSA) during the Civil War.  Another prominent member of the Marshall family was John James Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the United States. On his mother's side of the family was James G. Birney, a well-known abolitionist and candidate for President of the United States in 1844. His first cousins, William Birney and David D. Birney, served in the Union Army at the rank of Major General.

With his family name and background it can be assumed that James Birney Marshall had a lot of expectations placed upon him by his family to succeed.  References survive that indicate he might not have lived the life expected of him and that his death was a mystery. The first intimation  that something was not quite right appeared in The Home Journal that he was "brilliant but erratic".  The second is a book entitled The Marshall Family by William McClung Paxton published in 1885. Mr. Paxton remarks that he met Birney Marshal once and found him to be a brilliant talker and that he was handsome.  "He was an erratic genius, and his life was tarnished by extravagancies, dissipations and gallantries" wrote Paxton.  In addition he had been in contact with Birney's wife, Mary Ann in 1884. He writes that she was blind in one eye, her hand trembled but that she was still able to take part and converse in a lively manner.  "She does not refer with pride to her married life".   It is interesting to note that Birney's obituary said he was survived by one son and a daughter with no mention of his wife, Mary Ann Moore Marshall, who would survive him by 15 years.

To Eva: In her Album
by J. Birney Marshall
According to a report in the Public Ledger Birney Marshall began his career in Louisville Ky as a clerk of the court.  From there he took a position as cashier at one of the Louisville Banks.  Much of his studies were done at home after work and through his study he found a connection to poetry and literature. His stint as a poet lasted from 1836-38 and his work appeared most often in the Cincinnati Mirror and the Western Literary Journal.   

From the Louisville Daily Courier
April 14 1859
Marshall begins publishing the People's Press
backing Stephen A. Douglas as president.
He soon left banking behind to take up a career in publishing and had his own printing concern named the Louisville City Gazette.  During the course of his career he moved several times and was employed as a newspaperman in Columbus Ohio and from there he worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer as an editor.  

In 1856 he moved to New Orleans where he took a prominent position in literary circles.  When Henry Clay visited the city it is said that the first person he wished to see was Birney Marshall.  He stayed in New Orleans several years establishing friendships and working relationships among the local newspaper and literary groups.
From the Oswego Daily Times
April 17, 1857
Marshall succeeds
 Col. Samuel Medary at the Ohio Statesman

During the Civil War, it is said that Birney Marshall "was engaged in literary pursuits at Vicksburg" but another source says that he had left Memphis on his way to Louisville when he was arrested as a spy and was being held in a military prison!  It was reported in the New York Times, July 21 1862, that fifty-five arrests occurred over a period of three days and that J. Birney Marshall was among those arrested. "Guerillas will do immense damage to the Government...unless we promptly take the most energetic and efficient measures to hunt them down."

In 1865 he was back in Memphis where, at the death of John Reid McClanahan who met a similar death, he became the political editor for the Appeal.  After his position with the Appeal ended he began an association with the Public Ledger.  

Nashville Union and American
September 6 1870
The night of his death he had been working at the Ledger.  At 11 p.m. he was seen chatting with acquaintances and it was noted that he was at  the St. Charles eating-house as late as 2 am.  Speculation says that he went to his room located on the second floor of the Post Office Building and undressed for bed but found his room too hot so he sat on the window sill of the open window to cool off.  Some say he fell asleep at the window and accidentally fell to his death.  Other reports simply indicate he fell from the window without attempting to speculate the reason.  He was found the next day, his broken body lying in a pool of blood.

His body was shipped back to Kentucky to his brother, Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall, to rest among the graves of his family.  James Birney Marshall is interred at Frankfort Cemetery.  

The following article appeared in the Public Ledger on September 5 1870:

Lamentable Death by Falling from a Window.
Personal History of the Deceased.

It is our sad duty to chronicle the death of Colonel James Birney Marshall,  an attache of the Ledger office and a member of the editorial staff.  Saturday morning the one who approaches the bier, so to speak, to pay this poor tribute, sat with him in the editorial room and consulted his opinions on the business of the day. Col. Marshall was well in body and mind.  In the temporary absence of the senior editor, he occupied the chair Friday and Saturday and faithfully discharged the duties of the position.  His mind was as clear as noon day sunlight, and he dashed off a number of editorials on different subjects and various paragraphs on minor topics with the rapidity and ease of one in his accustomed place, and in the pride of manly, intellectual strength.  We noted his dispatch, his clearness of perception and vigor of memory.  The last lines he penned were an editorial at the head of the editorial page in reference to the important news received of Napoleon's surrender to King William and the capitulation of McMahon's army.  It was clear, concise and vigorous.  In a column it would be difficult to say anything as appropriate, even now.  The almost prophetic words he wrote in regard to the fall of Napoleon's hopes seem to have been, though in a different sence, suddenly and terribly realized in his own case.  He was found on the pavement at daylight yesterday morning.  Not Birney Marshall, indeed, but his shattered remains.  The genial spirit had fled to God, who gave it.  His generous heart was cold, and his pulse will throb no more.  an intellect of no common stature has fallen.  A brilliant mind, well stored with the world's choicest knowledge, was suddenly, and without warning, extinguished. His death came when least expected, and is involved in a mystery which no human ken will ever precisely solve. This is all we know!  Saturday at noon he was well and full of hopeful life; in the afternoon, and in the same evening, he was met by his friends on the streets and elsewhere as usual.

At eleven o'clock he stood on the corner of Third and Jefferson streets talking to some young man as the people came out from the theater, and he recognized his acquaintances in his usual prompt and graceful manner.  It is reported that he was seen in the St. Charles eating-house as late as two o'clock in the morning.  He had a room fronting the theater in the second floor of the old Postoffice building.  During the night some times he fell from the window to the alley-way below.  When found yesterday morning by officers Neil and Duffey it was apparent that he was instantly killed by the fall, and that he had lain there several hours.  His head was severely bruised and his arm broken, and his body otherwise showed the effects of the fall.  A pool of blood on the pavement attested the violence of his death.  The body was taken up and removed to Holst's and covered with ice.  A telegram was sent to Gen. Humphrey Marshall of Kentucky, conveying the sad news, and in the early part of the day no further steps were taken.  Late in the day the following dispatch was received:

Covington, Ky., September 4, 1870
Have the remains of J.B. Marshall properly attended to, and forward them to me at Frankfort, Ky, by express.

This was from his son.

Personal History.
Col. Marshall was about sixty years of age.  He belonged to the distinguished Marshall family of Kentucky and Virginia and inherited the full share of their genius, which was improved by a thorough collegiate course and life of close application to study.  He was a cousin of Tom Marshall and grandson of Chief Justice Marshall.  His maternal relations were noted for their talent, as his mother was a sister to James G. Birney, who once lived in Huntsville, Ala., and was a candidate for President of the United States in 1844.  J. Birney Marshall, whose sad death we have just announced, was a regular graduate.  When a boy, his mind was quick, sprightly and retentive, and he graduate at an early age with the highest honors.  He commenced business life at Louisville Ky, as clerk in one of the courts over which a relation presided. (His father's court perhaps?)  He was soon transferred from this position to cashier in one of the Louisville banks.  During the meantime Mr. Marshall had been studious in his reading, and had displayed great literary taste, and soon connected himself with the press at Louisville.

Many years ago he published the Louisville City Gazette, and had a flourishing printing establishment, since which time he has been a regular contributor to the literature of the South and West.  After many years' residence in Louisville, and connection with the Times and other papers, he removed to Columbus Ohio and was connected with the Statesman while Sam Medary was Governor of Kansas.  he was next employed upon the Cincinnati Enquirer as one of its editors.  Mr. Marshall removed to New Orleans in 1856, where he was prominent in literary circles, and the companion and associate of such men as S.S. Prentiss and Pierre Soute; and upon the memorable visit of Henry Clay to New Orleans, J.B. Marshall was the first person the great statesman of Ashland inquired for.  Mr. Marshall was connected with the press of New Orleans for many years, and had the confidence and friendship of Dennis Corcoran, of the Delta, and Lumsden & Kendall, of the Picayne.  During the war Mr. Marshall was engaged in literary pursuits at Vicksburg.  After the close of the war he was associated with our fellow-citizen Captain James O. Durff at Cairo.  He removed to this city in 1865, and has been an occasional contributor to the Memphis press ever since.

Previous to the war, we should have stated, Colonel Marshall was the editor of a Southern Magazine published by Hutton & Freligh, in Memphis.  After the war, for a time, after the death of the lamented McClanahan, whose tragic fate was similar and almost identical, Colonel Marshall was the political editor of the Appeal.  With a change of proprietors, however, his services were transferred elsewhere.  for some time past he has been associated with the Ledger, but it was not until the enlargement of the paper, last week, that he was regularly engaged.  he excelled both as a literary and political writer.  His style was clear, chaste and smooth, yet incisive, aggressive and vigorous.  Few men possessed such a facility of expression and happy command of language at once simple and elegant.  his powers of memory were remarkable.  his reading had been extensive in every branch of literature, and he could on the instant repeat the best passages of works he had not read for ten, twenty or thirty years.  In his manners he was always unobtrusive, dignified and easy. He had a genial warmth of heart apparent in his writings, both of prose and poetry, which was also felt by all in his presence. he possessed rare charity for the world, and was gentle as a child; it is not likely that he ever wilfully wronged a human being in his life.  His literary attainments were not excelled perhaps by any member of the press in the South.  His accomplishments, and his worth as a journalist, have ever been acknowledged by all the members of the city press, and he has always been treated with the deference and marks of respect due one of his age and position.

The funeral took place to-day, and was attended by the newspaper fraternity, members of the Typographical Union, and many friends who knew and respected him.  The remains were escorted to the Louisville depot and forwarded to Lexington Ky.  He is survived by one son and a daughter, who reside at or near Lexington. 

Captain Frank L. James, of the Appeal, and Mr. Michael Nealis left on the one o'clock train in charge of the remains.

The Memphis Avalanche reported his death on September 9 1870:

Shocking Occurrence - Col. James Birney Marshall Killed by a Fall from a Window
On Sunday morning out citizens were again startled by the announcement that Colonel James Birney Marshall had been killed by falling from the window of his room, which was located in the second story of the old Post Office Building.  At what time he fell it is difficult to say, as his body was found by officers Neil and Duffy, at an early hour in the morning.  From all appearances he had been lying there for some time.  His right arm was broken and the hand considerably mashed as if he had put it out in order to break the fall.  A jury of inquest was summoned, and a verdict rendered in accordance with the above facts.

The deceased was aged about sixty years.  He was a native of Kentucky, and brother of Gen. Humphrey
Memphis Daily Appeal
January 15 1862
advert for
Passmore, Lide and Marshall
Marshall.  He first published a paper at Louisville, called the City Gazette.  Afterward he was editorially connected with the Ohio Statesman, published at Columbus.  he was next employed upon the Cincinnati Enquirer, in similar capacity.  Going to New Orleans, he became connected with the Delta and Picayune.  At the close of the war he went to Cairo and engaged in the publication of the Daily News, then published in that city.  His first appearance in Memphis was in the summer of 1861.  he wrote occasionally for different papers and in a few months went into the real estate business in conjunction with Mr. O.H. Lide and Mr. Passmore.  The firm was Passmore, Lide & Marshall, and continued until sometime in 1862.  Colonel Marshall left Memphis and returned to Cincinnati soon after Federal occupation in 1862 and engaged in the Cairo newspaper enterprise.  He returned to Memphis in 1866, since which time he has seldom been out of the city.

Colonel Marshall was one of the veterans of the press, having been engaged in editorial and literary pursuits perhaps thirty-five years.  He possessed abilities of a high order, and a superior education.  His writing revealed both intellect and cultivation, strengthened by good judgment and had he applied himself as assiduously  to producing results as to acquiring the knowledge necessary for them, no eminence in his vocation would have been beyond his reach.

He had a large number of friends, and few, if any, enemies.  No one who knew him will learn of his death without sorrow.  His remains were attended to the Memphis and Louisville depot by members of the press, Typographical Union and other friends and were forwarded yesterday afternoon, to Frankfort, Ky.,  for interment, in charge of Captain F.L. James and Mr. M. Nealis.

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