Described by historian John Hebron Moore as “Mississippi’s foremost agricultural authority of the 1840s and 1850s,” Martin W. Philips owned a Hinds County plantation, wrote instructional articles about agricultural techniques and equipment, and eventually started his own firm that manufactured agricultural implements. A native of Columbia, S.C., Philips moved to Hinds County in the 1830s to start a plantation with his new wife, Mary. He had a medical degree but did not practice in Mississippi. Philips was one of many Mississippi planters to suffer serious financial losses because of the Panic of 1837, and he resolved both to practice and to publicize agricultural techniques that would reduce expenses and increase productivity. Reflecting on the economic problems of the 1830s, Philips wrote that too many planters used the “common careless mode of planting” that wore out good soil and left planters wanting to move farther and farther west.
Philips wrote numerous articles for journals like American Agriculturist, DeBow’s Review, Southern Cultivator, the Jackson Southron, and the Jackson Mississippian. He wrote from personal experience about cotton gins, cultivators, plows, hoes, and gins, and also commented on seeds and livestock.
Like many planters Philips kept a journal filled with details about agricultural practices. Historian Franklin Riley edited the journal, which ran from 1840 to 1863 and printed it in the Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society in 1906. That diary was primarily a record of agricultural decisions Riley made about when and what to plant and how to use his slaves, who numbered between fourteen in 1846 and thirty in the mid-1850s. In January of most years, Riley began his diary with specific plans for acreages of various crops with projected yields for each of those crops and ended it in December with discussions of what went wrong.
In the late 1850s Philips moved from writing about agricultural implements to manufacturing them. He was so impressed by a steel plow invented by Kentuckian Thomas Brinley that he manufactured the plow, along with cotton gins, wagons, and numerous smaller items, in a new firm he called the Southern Implement Company. The company produced goods for the Confederacy until it was destroyed by Union troops in 1863.
After Mary Philips died in 1863, Martin Philips took a series of positions as the head of the State Insane Asylum, the editor of Southern Farmer, the head of the new Department of Agriculture at the University of Mississippi, and finally proctor of the university. He died in 1889.
- Franklin L. Riley, Mississippi Historical Society, Publications (1909)
- John Hebron Moore, The Emergence of the Cotton Kingdom in the Old Southwest: Mississippi, 1770–1860 (1988)
- Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974)