Maunsel White, Irish Immigrant

When the orphaned and penniless Maunsel White arrived in New Orleans in 1801 from his native Ireland, it was a small town controlled by Spain. Only thirteen, he clerked in a counting-house for sixteen dollars a month, half of which he paid to a French teacher to learn the language. He later explained his son that “I had a proud spirit” and let no obstacle stand in his way. That son later wrote of his deceased father that as a great merchant, “he first made a name & his name made the money – none stood higher for integrity – his word was inviolable as an oath.” White was proud of his sugar plantations and purchased the best machinery from New York manufacturers, and envisioned strong political and commercial ties between the South and the developing West, a union Northern which northern political interests could not abide.  White did not live to see the devastation and defeat of the South,  passing peacefully at his Deer Range Plantation on December 17, 1863.

Bernhard Thuersam,


Maunsel White, Irish Immigrant

“Behind the highest pile of oyster shells of any of the patrons of the old Gem Restaurant in New Orleans could frequently be found the great merchant, Maunsel White. With the gourmet’s taste for oysters, he concocted a peppery sauce which his Negro servant carried with his when the entered his favorite restaurant. Called the “Maunsel White Sauce,” it later received the name of tabasco sauce.

Gradually Maunsel White established himself as a reliable and successful factor in selling crops of the planters and forwarding plantation supplies to them. An important step in this was to secure the cotton business of Andrew Jackson. Jackson had become acquainted with the young merchant when White served as the captain of a volunteer company under him at the Battle of New Orleans.

To the task of superintending his four plantations, White brought a keen sense of business and great energy. “I am up at [3 to 4 o’clock] in the morning, and all day at the Sugar House or Field,” he wrote during the grinding season of 1847 when he was sixty-four years old.

When one of his female slaves died from an accident at the sugar mill which crushed her hand and arm, he wrote to the Northern manufacturer of the mill, “this melancholy accident has caused myself and family the most sincere sorrow, as we view our Slaves almost in the same light as we do our children.” Although he bought many slaves, he refused to sell any of his own servants, explaining, “I have made myself a solemn promise never to sell a Negro – it is a traffic I have never done, I had rather give them their liberty than sell them.”

While his fortune was intact, White made generous gifts to the recently founded University of Louisiana at New Orleans . . . [and] was elected a member of its first board of administrators. In September 1847 he announced that he would donate to the infant university and endowment of lands to provide an income of one thousand dollars a year.

He became one of the early advocates of home education for Southern youths and the opponent of sending them to schools and colleges in the North, where they would be exposed to [alien doctrines].

White advised his son [Maunsel, Jr.] not to think about becoming a politician, because he questioned the happiness of politicians. He was particularly incensed by the Wilmot Proviso, which he thought was calculated “to do more injury & make a wider breach between the North & the South than any other subject ever brought forth in our political strife.” Although he declared himself to be a Democrat, White also stated that he would never sell himself to any party.

When he invested money in a cotton mill at Cannelton, Indiana, in 1849, he wrote that he wished to see the interests of the South and West united so that nothing on earth might separate them. Though he affirmed his attachment to “the perpetuity of the glorious union,” he said it must be “a Union of equals, jealous of their own & each other’s rights and submitting to no infractions of the constitutional compact as it was framed by our Republican Fathers.”

He developed a strong prejudice against Yankees as a result of sectional strife . . . On May 16, 1848, he wrote to his Richmond factor that he suspected that the Yankee captains of the ship which carried his molasses and sugar were dishonest, adding “Curse the Whole Race of Yankee Captains.” He advised his factor in Philadelphia to who he consigned his sugar crop to watch the captain of the ship carefully, for he was a shrewd Yankee.”

(The Mind of the Old South, Clement Eaton, LSU Press, 1964, excerpts pp. 69-73; 75-77; 80-84; 87 )

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