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February 29, 2024

Mary McCoy, The “Beauty and the Glory of Bayou Boeuf”

Solomon Northup described Mary McCoy in Twelve Years a Slave as the “beauty and the glory of Bayou Boeuf”. Her estate stands near the banks of Bayou Boeuf to this day (see photo in the Extras & More section), having survived for 160 years, and I feel it’s for a very good reason. She was a good person. In Northup’s account of the people who populated plantation country, he described the “young Mistress McCoy” (a slave owner) as a woman of compassion: “No one is so well-beloved, no one fills so large a space in the hearts of a thousand slaves as the young Mistress McCoy, the orphan of the old Norwood Estate….”

Mary McCoy was my great-great-great grandmother, and my great grandmother, Dunwoody Burges Wier, recalled her as follows:

“…as long as I ever remember her, [she] always wore a tiny hand-made French widow’s bonnet, with a long veil flowing from it. This seemed appropriate as she had been widowed three times. Her hair was white, and she explained that it had ‘turned overnight’ following the sudden death of her first husband, De Witt Rhodes, when she was quite young. She was ubiquitous and outgoing, and was called by everyone for miles around, ‘Cousin Mary’…. Her mother died the month following her birth… Her father, James Dickson McCoy, died two months after her birth, of typhoid…. My happiest recollections are of being driven in my grandmother’s buggy by her, along Bayou Boeuf’s edge, which meandered in and out according to the contour of the Bayou, seeing the long grey Spanish moss, which is fast disappearing, dangling from the trees, the hyacinths on the edge of the water, the hooves of the horse sinking into the soft alluvial soil of the natural pathways….”

I am excited to have found that the memory of Solomon Northup is being preserved. This powerful story educates those of us lucky enough to be born long after the days of slavery. Thank you, Dr. Eakin, for your dedication to this story, and may your memory stay alive through the works and efforts of your children, as Mary McCoy’s memory has stayed alive in my family.

– Liz Stoughton