Parsons House - Home to history
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The blue clapboard and limestone home at 105 Jackson St. has felt the blood of wounded soldiers — Confederate and Union — drip on its floors when it was used as a hospital. The home has heard the cries of mothers and wives who lost loved ones in the War Between the States — or their bold refutes to those reports. And the home has seen a wedding of a president’s kin in the city named after him. If only the home — one of the oldest remaining in town — could relate the tales of a loyal, well-thought-of pioneer family from Jefferson City’s early history.
Gen. Gustavus A. Parsons
As a young man studying law at Monticello, Va., and serving as a private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson, Gustavus A. Parsons was encouraged to head west.
“Jefferson believed Jefferson City would become the metropolis of the west,” wrote Mark Niekamp, who has a paper on display at the Missouri State Archives.
Gustavus Parsons earned his military experience in the Indian uprisings, which helped him as he served as Missouri adjutant general twice, first 1843-48 and again 1857-60. He was noted for personally riding the Kansas border to settle the uprisings.
With his wife, Patience, and their six daughters and one son, the Parsons family moved by covered wagons in 1837 to Cooper County before settling in Jefferson City. “They quickly became a prominent family,” said historian Robert Hawkins. Gustavus Parsons served off and on as Cole County clerk, while also practicing law. During the Civil War, the couple lost a son, a grandson and a son-in-law. In addition, their church was closed because of its southern sympathy and their home was seized for use as a military hospital, Hawkins said. “That’s a pretty complete loss,” he added. “Theirs is an example of what happened to many people in Jefferson City.” Gustavus and Patience were esteemed by both sides of the political spectrum. And during a Confederate reunion in the 1880s, they greeted veterans at their home following a parade. “Next to losing their lives, I’m not sure you could pick a couple with more heartache,” Hawkins said. “These were extraordinary people. We’re lucky they were with the early group of Virginia pioneers.”
Mildred Parsons Standish
Their daughter Mildred lost her husband, Lt. Col. Austin Standish, soon after the war when he followed MIldred’s brother, Maj. General Mosby Parsons, into Mexico in search of a new country where they could, according to a letter written by Mosby, live “free.”
But tradition holds, Mildred Standish refused to believe reports of the deaths of her husband and brother.
In her home, next door to her mother and father, she would leave a candle burning in the front window for them.
She was remembered always wearing black but looking regal.
Mildred had to be a woman of fortitude behind her southern, gentle ways.
She braved travel through enemy lines toward the end of the war at the urging of her father to advise her husband to leave the army or at least seek a safer assignment.
With her three young sons in tow, she set out on train, boat and wagon to reach his camp in Arkansas. For a southerner crossing through enemy lines, Mildred Standish found courtesy and hospitality.
“In view of the fact that I had not asked any favors, good fortune meeting me at every point was most remarkable,” Mildred Standish wrote in a letter to the Cole County Historical Society. “Surely a kind providence guided me to find friends among strangers to help me through the difficult places.” From Arkansas, she had traveled with her husband and brother to their Louisiana camp, where they were for the last days of the confederacy and when word of Lincoln’s assassination spread. That would be the last time their family would be together.
Maj. Gen. Mosby M. Parsons
The last trek of Maj. Gen. Mosby M. Parsons and his five comrades, including Lt. Col. Standish, is legendary. The John Wayne movie “The Undefeated” may even be loosely based on their last days.
But before Mosby Parsons led this group in search of a new nation to call home, he was a highly praised Confederate officer and an experienced politician.
The strapping, six-foot-tall man had a large frame and dark, piercing eyes. His manner was dignified and graceful, according to different newspaper accounts.
He was admitted to the Cole County bar in 1846. But soon after, he recruited a company of local men, of which he was appointed captain, to join in the Mexican War.
“Capt. Parsons’ company rendered very efficient service and he proved himself a gallant soldier,” said an 1894 Jefferson City Tribune article.
An ardent states-rights Democrat, Mosby Parsons served as U.S. district attorney, in the Missouri House of Representatives, and in the Missouri Senate before running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Hancock Jackson in 1860.
He also was head of the Thespian Society for a time.
In 1850, he married Mary Wells — the daughter of a prounion district judge — but she died three years later, as did their newborn daughter. He took his 15-year-old son, Gustavus Parsons Junior, to Gustavus and Patience before leaving to serve as brigadier general of the Missouri volunteers.
However, Gustavus Parsons Junior pressed his grandparents to join, despite his age. They eventually gave in and he was found dead the night before his 18th birthday in Arkansas, victim to exhaustion and exposure.
Mosby Parsons participated in most battles in Missouri and Arkansas. President Jefferson Davis promoted him to major general of the Confederate Army after his victory at Helena, Ark.
He controlled Shreveport, La., until Union forces arrived June 5, 1865, under command of Gen. George Herron, whom Mosby Parsons had defeated at Helena. His last letter to his father was mailed just before that event.
On to Mexico
In that last letter, Mosby Parsons talked of starting a new, free life in another country and was headed to Mexico and then Brazil to scout prospects.
Many versions have circulated as to how the rest of Mosby Parsons’ story played out.
With his brother-in-law, Lt. Col. Austin Standish, and four other men, they headed south. Some say he was trying to catch up with Confederate Gen. Jo Shelby’s expedition.
By Aug. 15, 1865, they were dead.
One story indicates they were captured by Mexicans under Cortina near Chino, Mexico, and robbed and shot.
Another report said the band of six officers was killed by Juarez troops.
A third story combines all the stories, suggesting they escaped the Juarista attacks but were then captured by Figueroa or another Mexican outlaw. And then Shelby’s troops hunted down those who killed Parsons and his men.
On May 14, the local Sons of the Confederacy chapter will commemorate a gravemarker in Mosby Parsons’ honor.
105 Jackson St.
Although the Cole County Assessor’s office has the home built around 1860, the Capitol Avenue Historic District National Register nomination touts the home as the oldest house in the district built about 1830.
The home reportedly was the site of an 1840 wedding of Meriwether Lewis Jefferson, a kinsmen of the president, to a Mary Ann Parson.
The home originally had no front windows because Jackson Street sloped up instead of down toward the Missouri River. John Walker, who served as state treasurer, lived there prior to the Parsons family moving in in March 1847.
“Distinguished people lived there over multiple generations,” Hawkins said.
When Gen. Sterling Price drove his troops to the outskirts of the Capitol City in 1864, the six Parsons daughters served as nurses in their own home, tending Union and Confederate troops wounded in skirmishes.
The Parsons House, designated a city Landmark in 1993, exhibits French Colonial influence. The first floor is rough limestone blocks and the second floor is oak clapboard.
“At one time, it must have looked pretty fine,” Hawkins said. In accounts from early travelers approaching the city, the Parsons House was noted along with the Capitol and the Price Mansion, where the Supreme Court building is today.
Here’s an excerpt of a letter Gen. M.M. Parsons wrote to his father on June 5, 1865, from Shreveport, La. (Reprinted courtesy Cole County Historical Society)
“It is union martial law. I am in command until the enemy come to relieve me. Then, alas then goes down the last flag of the Confederate States of America. History may record it as an honor to us but oh, my father, such honors break a patriot’s heart.
“When we shall bear our colors to the front to surrender them to the mongrel horde which has vanquished, we shall feel like children bearing the corps of their dear mother to its last sad place of rest. Though beaten I am not subdued, I intend ever to feel, act and speak as a free man.
“The parole I must take in a few days will tie my hands and seal my lips against anarchy and tyranny while I breath its polluted air. There are others countries where I can yet claim to be a man.
“To some one of them I will go, and under the wing of its protection recouperate my fallen fortunes. My destination is Mexico first and then Brazil.”