Issaquena Genealogy and History Project: The Turnbull Family

The Turnbull Family

During the antebellum era Issaquena County was the home to many of  Mississippi's most productive and largest plantations. Many of those plantations were owned by non-residents who had purchased vast quanities of land in one of the richest soil areas in the nation along the Mississippi River. One such family was the Turnbull family of Charleston, South Carolina. Although it appears that Robert James Turnbull, the patriarch of the Issaquena County Turnbull family never moved permanently to Mississippi, several members of his family were residents of Issaquena and Washington counties after the 1850 census, where they oversaw not only his vast planting interests, but their's as well.

According to federal land patent records, members of this family purchased thousands of acres of land in Washington County, Mississippi during the 1820s through the 1840s. When Issaquena County was formed on January 23, 1844, the new county line ran through this family's vast land holdings, that were clustered from the Skipwith Landing area of Issaquena County northward to Lake Washington in Washington County, and eastward several miles. The Turnbull and Hampton families owned most of the northern portion of Issaquena. Their plantations included Walnut Ridge, Veilhood, Riverdale, Hopedale and Lakeside. Skipwith Landing was owned by the Turnbull family and was named in honor of Fulwar Skipwith, the first governor of the Republic of West Florida, as the Turnbulls had been very active in early Florida history. The land where Skipwith Landing was built was first purchased by Andrew Turnbull on December 6, 1830. It became one of the most valuable landings on the Mississippi River, and was leased at one time for $25,000 a year.

Listed in the federal land patent records, in addition to Robert James Turnbull, are Andrew, John and Frederick. It seems that, before the 1860 census was taken, the Turnbulls lived near Vicksburg to the south in Warren County.

J.F.H. Claiborne, the noted Mississippi statesman and historian wrote: "...above Walnut Hills, along the bluff fronting the Yazoo swamp, were the Fergusons, Camerons, Turnbulls, Gervais, Jones, Jenkins, Davis, Heads and Throckmortons. All these were, in culture and means, far ahead of the usual class of pioneers ... Judge Elihu Hall Bay and Robert J. Turnbull of Charleston, claimed large tracts of land at and about the Walnut Hills under British grants. They sent Dr. Bay and Mr. John Turnbull to represent them, and established several plantations. The first Africans that appeared at the Walnut Hills belonged to Mr. Turnbull. He purchased them in Charleston harbor from the trader about the year 1800, and dispatched them on a schooner to New Orleans and up the river, the first Africans and the first sail vessel that ever landed where Vicksburg now stands. Charles J. Edwards, mate of this schooner, remained and lived a number of years in the settlements ... they have descendants now in Issaquena county, where they were carried, before the war, by the heirs of R.J. Turnbull." Judge Elihu Bay's wife was Margaret Turnbull Holmes, sister of Robert James Turnbull, therefore Bay was Turnbull's brother-in-law.

Three members of the Turnbull family are listed in the 1860 census of Issaquena County. The Turnbull family living in Issaquena County (Andrew, born 1801 South Carolina; Andrew Jr., born 1831 Mississippi and R.J., born 1831 Mississippi), according to the above census records, was the wealthiest family in the county with local assets nearing $400,000. The slave schedules for 1860 show that this family's Issaquena County plantations were the homes to more than 600 slaves. Frederick Turnbull, who's plantation was in both Issaquena and Washington counties, was centered around Lake Washington, just north of Andrew's plantation in Issaquena County near Skipwith Landing. During the fall of 1835, William Fairfax Gray was traveling from Virginia to Texas. He kept a diary of his travels and had the following statements about Frederick's plantation: 

"We went to several plantations on the Lake Washington ...  Went on to Fred Turnbull's.  The best improved place I have seen.  House neat but plain, furniture good, supper elegant.  Mr. Turnbull out electioneering.  Mrs. Turnbull, a fine woman, sensible, spirited, handsome, a good manager, a nullifier; has two sweet little daughters, Mary, about three years old, and Laura, under one year.  Their first got drowned as they were coming to settle at this place; the second died here afterwards.  Mrs. Turnbull generally stays here all summer.  Went up to Kentucky this summer, but returned home on 15th of August.  Has had no sickness in the white family, and only lost one black, and that an infant.  The plantations around here have been very sickly this summer.  Most of them have lost some slaves.  Turnbull and Johnson have lost none, and that may be fairly ascribed to difference of treatment.  Good houses and good nursing.  One planter in this county is said to have lost fifty slaves ...  The crop of cotton is backward, and will be short, in consequence of a rainy season from June to August, which lasted forty-three days.  This is also said to have caused the unusual sickness.  Lake Washington is a beautiful sheet of water, fifteen miles long, one-half to one mile wide; believed to have been once the bed of the Mississippi  ....  A railroad will be built from the lake to Princeton, five miles, and connected with a bank at Princeton .. If that is granted, Princeton will become a flourishing and distinguished place.  The neighborhood will be wealthy, intelligent and refined, every way desirable.  Lodged at Turnbull's.  A Mr. Howell, a relation of the family, present.  Saw for the first time a Bowie Knife.  Five or six rose bushes in full bloom.  Saw the Pecan Tree for the first time; ate pecans; saw numerous flocks of paraquets.  The lake abounds in fish and wild fowl.  Much pleased with Mrs. Turnbull and all I see here ...  Her maiden name Fitzpatrick; not one of your fainting ladies.  Children named Mary and Laura.  Saw an evergreen in the yard, which she called Laura Mundi; a good deal like myrtle, but much larger..."

At this time, the exact relationship of the Issaquena County Turnbull families and Robert J. Turnbull of Charleston has not been ascertained, but it is very evident that they are members of his immediate family. The naming characteristics of the Issaquena families and the Robert J. Turnbull family in Charleston are very similar. Also, the fact that the Issaquena County Turnbull families were entrusted with running his vast planting operations in the county is evidence that there was a close relationship.

Robert James Turnbull of Charleston, South Carolina

Robert James Turnbull of Charleston, South Carolina was the son of Dr. Andrew Turnbull (the founder of the New Smyrna Colony of Florida) and Gracia Maria Rubini. Robert James Turnbull was born during 1775 and died in Charleston on June 15, 1833.

He was educated in England, and then studied law in Charleston and Philadelphia. After his admission to the bar he practiced  law in Charleston until 1810, when he retired to a large plantation in the country. While in Europe he wrote a "Visit to the "Philadelphia Penitentiary" (London, 1797), which was translated into French (Paris, 1800), and attracted attention both at home and abroad. He became a leader in the nullification movement, and wrote a series of articles on that subject in 1827 for the Charleston Mercury, which were afterward issued as "The Crisis," and became the text-book of the nullification party. Mr. Turnbull was "reputed the ablest writer in favor of the principle of nullification." He argued that "each state has the unquestionable right to judge of the infractions of the constitution, and to interpose its sovereign power to arrest their progress and to protect its citizens," which principle he incorporated in his treatise on "The Tribunal of Dernier Ressort" (1830). In 1831 he was a member of the Free-trade convention that assembled at Columbia, South Carolina, and wrote the report of that body, and he was active in the similar convention in Charleston in February, 1832. He delivered an oration before an assemblage of the nullification party that showed its influence in the subsequent election, and in November of the same year he was a delegate to the convention of the people of South Carolina that passed the nullifying ordinance, and prepared the address of that convention to the people. After the proclamation of President Jackson was received in South Carolina he was the first to enlist when volunteers were called for, in addition to the organized militia, to resist the National government. A monument was erected to his memory in Charleston by his political admirers and associates.

Dr. Andrew Turnbull

Dr. Andrew Turnbull, father of Robert James was born in Scotland about 1718 and was a wealthy member of London society. While in Paris he met Gracia Maria Rubini, who was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor, in 1736. They were married during 1753 and were the parents of twelve children, including Robert James. Both Turnbull and his wife died in Charleston, South Carolina, Turnbull sometime between 1786 and 1788, his wife in 1798. Dr. Andrew Turnbull and Sir William Duncan were awarded grants of 20,000 acres each and, together with Sir Richard Temple, the three partners provided the capital necessary to develop a large plantation in Florida. Turnbull was chosen as plantation manager. On April 17, 1768, Turnbull assembled his 1,403 colonists at Gibraltar and, after loading them onto eight ships, set sail for East Florida. The voyage took nearly four months. Turnbull named the colony New Smyrna, after the birthplace of his wife. Turnbull's inability to produce marketable crops in quantities large enough to satisfy his investors cost him their support, as well as that of the British government. The end of the New Smyrna colony came in 1777 when the plantation was virtually abandoned by most of the surviving colonists who fled to the safety and security of St. Augustine. Turnbull and his family moved to Charleston, on the South Carolina Coast where he lived the remainder of his life. Children of Andrew Turnbull named in his will dated December 13, 1775 at the New Smyrna Colony in Florida were: Nichol, Mary, Jenny, Margaret, William Duncan, Robert James, and John. In this will he also mentions a nephew, Andrew. The will was proved in Charleston on March 17, 1792.

Dr. Robert James Turnbull of Issaquena County, New York and Charleston

Cornelia Paterson Van Rensselaer, sixth child of General Stephen and Cornelia (Paterson) Van Rensselaer, was born in Manor House at Albany, New York, July 8, 1812, died New York City, January 16, 1890. She married, New York City, February 16, 1847, Robert James Turnbull, M.D., born Charleston, South Carolina, October 3, 1807, died, Cincinnati, Ohio, June 4, 1854, son of Robert James Turnbull of Charleston, and Claudia Butler (Gervais) Turnbull, of a Huguenot family of South Carolina. Dr. Turnbull's father was one of the most prominent publicists and respected statesmen of his state, and was the intimate friend and coadjutor of Calhoun. Although Dr. Turnbull studied medicine and graduated as a physician, he was not a general practitioner, as he early inherited from his father the latter's extensive estates in Issaquena county, Mississippi comprising six thousand acres of productive cotton plantations. It was on these he passed his winters, personally superintending the details of business management and caring for the welfare of his dependents, among whom his knowledge of medicine was most useful and highly appreciated. His summer residence and the family home was “Everton,” Throgg's Neck, now incorporated in Greater New York. On his way north in June, 1854, he stopped at Cincinnati, where cholera was then prevalent; was seized with sudden illness, and expired after a few hours. He was buried in old St. Philip's historic churchyard, Charleston, South Carolina. Children: 1. Cornelia Paterson, born, New York City, December 1848, died at “Everton,” Westchester, May, 1850. 2. Katharine Euphemia, born New York City, March 6, 1851; unmarried; residing in 1911, at “Paterson Lodge,” Princeton, New Jersey. 3. Robert J. Turnbull, Jr.

Source: Genealogies of the State of New York: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Founding of a Nation, Volume III, Long Island Edition, edited by Tunis Garret Bergen, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York, 1915, page 1170.


1860 Issaquena County, Mississippi Federal Census
Pages 7-8
74-74 Andrew Turnbull, age 59, Planter, born SC
77-77 A. Turnbull Jr., age 29, Planter, born MS
83-83 R.J. Turnbull, age 31, Planter, born MS

1820 Warren County, Mississippi Federal Census
Page 326 The USGenWeb Census Project
Line 73: John Turnbull
males 18-25: 1 slaves: 20
Line 275: Robert J. Turnbull
no free whites listed
slaves: 107
Line 274: William Bay
(next door to the Robert J. Turnbull listing)
males 45 and over: 1

1820 Jefferson County, Mississippi Federal Census
Page 58A The USGenWeb Census Project
John Turnbull
males to 10: 2
males 10-16: 1
males 16-26: 1
males 26-45: 1
females 10-16: 2
females 26-45: 1
slaves: 30

1830 Jefferson County, Mississippi Federal Census
Page 38 The USGenWeb Census Project
John Turnbool
males 5-10: 1
males 10-15: 1
males 15-20: 1
males 50-60: 1
females: 0
slaves: 17

1850 Warren County, Mississippi Federal Census
Page 228A The USGenWeb Census Project
William R. Bay, age 50, Planter, SC
Martha S. Bay, age 35, MS
Ransom Bay, age 15, MS

1850 Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina Federal Census
Andrew Turnbull, age 35, Planter
Gracie, age 32
Robert, age 20, Physician
Andrew, age 18, Merchant
Elizabeth, age 16
Claudia B., age 15
Allen G., age 13
Charles T., age 6
E.H., age 5

Mississippi Marriage Records
Frederick Turnbull to Mary Fitzpatrick, December 15, 1824: Jefferson County
Andrew Turnbull to Gracie M. Turnbull, June 2, 1825: Jefferson County
John Turnbull to Mrs. Martha Fitzpatrick, March 7, 1818: Jefferson County
Dr. R.J. Turnbull to Nora Roach, June 17, 1865: Warren County
John Turnbull to Catherine Rucker, July 1775: City of Natchez, Adams County


Claiborne, J.F.H., Mississippi as a Province, Territory, and State With Biographical Notices of Eminent Citizens. Jackson, 1880, page 535.

Lack, Paul, The Diary of William Fairfax Gray From Virginia to Texas, 1835-1837. Dallas, 1997, pages 21-22.

South Carolina Archives, Columbia, South Carolina. Charleston Will Book B, pages 636-637, Will of Andrew Turnbull.

Volusia County Historic Preservation Advisory Board and Volusia County Government. Volusia County Heritage, Archaelogy of the New Smyrnea Colony

Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 & edited Stanley L. Klos, 1999

Turnbull family land patents in Mississippi. The Bureau of Land Management, Washington DC

Mississippi Genealogy and Local History. Jackson, Volume I, page 108, Issaquena County (Adapted from Goodspeed's Memoirs)

Brieger, James. Hometown Mississippi, 1997, Jackson. Page 295, Skipwith Landing.

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Entire Contents Copyright © 2003, 2004 Bob Franks.
Some of the photographs on this page are courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division