Clan of the Mystic Confederacy

John Murrel
John Murrell head of
Clan of the Mystic Confederacy
Predating the multitude of the monetary and political conspiracies fomented later in the nineteenth century by such organizations as the Knights of the White Camellia and the Ku Klux Klan was the Clan of the Mystic Confederacy, created and organized in 1832. The Confederacy, as it became known in 1834, was composed of outlaws, gangsters, and gamblers, located in Arkansas and known as confederates.

The men were from thirteen states, all south of the Mason-Dixon line and transienters who traveled from place to place. This gang was governed by a Grand Council that was made up of “100 senior outlaws and an army of 1500 ‘striker’ and ‘undercover agents’ who worked among the slaves”.

The group was headed by John Murrell (a.k.a. “Murrel” and “Murel”), a convicted slave trader and horse thief, originally from Tennessee. The clan’s goal was to gain political power in cities along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and, of course, to obtain wealth in the process.

The Confederacy conspired to achieve these ends by stealing slaves, holding them, and labeling them as runaways; and then selling them and keeping the money for the spread and operation of the clan.

If a confederate could find out about a particular disappearance for which a reward was offered, the confederate would inform the owner that he had found the slave, claim the reward, but then sell the slave to someone else. Eventually, following an informer’s testimony to the police in 1835, Murrell himself was arrested.

While he was jailed, Murrell decided to promulgate still another conspiracy to incite a revolt that would take place on Christmas Day 1835. (The date would later be changed to 4 July 1836.) This revolt would involve slaves and 2,000 of Murrell’s men.

The revolutionaries planned first to kill the slave masters and then to continue the attack in neighboring towns, recruiting other slaves to the revolt along the way. The aim was for the Confederacy to take over the governments of such cities as Natchez, Mississippi. One of the incentives for the slaves was each man would be able to pick out a white woman for himself.

The conspiracy was discovered, however, and some of those responsible confessed and told of their roles not only in the conspiracy, but in the Mystic Confederacy itself. Some of those accused of participating in the conspiracy were hanged, owing to circumstantial evidence or guilt by association.

As the planned revolt collapsed, cities and towns aware of the conspiracy informed the participants, especially gamblers, that they had twenty-four hours to leave the area, or else suffer the consequences. With Murrell in prison, he did not have enough power to continue either his conspiracies or the Mystic Confederacy, and upon his release from prison, the Confederacy disbanded.