Library of the University of
at Chapel Hill
EDWINA BURNLEY MEMOIR
Memoir written by Edwina
Burnley and Bertha
Burnley Ricketts, describing
their family and their
childhood at Somerset
plantation, near Hazlehurst in
Copiah County, Miss. Their father, Edwin Burnley (b.
1798), moved to Mississippi
from Virginia in 1832 and
married Maria Louisa Baxter
(1820-1907) of Persippany,
N.J., in 1852. The memoir describes plantation life,
including many details about
neighbors, and slaves.
Burnley) came from Virginia to Mississippi, accompanied by his younger brother,
Hardin, in 1832. They had entered into
a business partnership each investing the same amount and agreeing to share
equally. They bought in Copiah County,
16 miles West of Hazlehurst, a number of tracts of land, amounting to 2300
acres and called it Somerset Plantation.
I think the
partnership was dissolved after the death of Uncle Hardin’s wife, who was
buried in the family graveyard at Somerset.
Uncle Hardin bought a plantation in La. on the Teche. He never married again and died Sept.
1868. His only child, Mollie, was
brought up with our half sisters, Mary Park, Sue Temple and Lucy Marshall, by
Aunt Bettie Gwathrey – Pa’s sister, Elizabeth Teresa. Mollie married W.R. Taylor of King William County, Va. All of Aunt Bettie’s children that I have
heard of were, Cousins Denie Brooks – killed in the Civil War – left two sons –
Mary Atwood and Owen, who lives now near Aylett, King William County.
I think about
1200 acres of the plantation were in cultivation – all fine land, bearing 60
bu. Of corn or a bale of cotton to the acre.
The place was well stocked with fine horses, mules, cattle. All of the cattle wintered themselves on the
cane along the creek banks, going in the cane brakes in the fall and coming out
fat in the spring. Pa liked fine horses
and owned Kentucky bred mares of Morgan line.
I remember a pair of beautiful chestnut – sorrel carriage horses, named
Billy and Jolly. Mike and Harry too
were carriage horses; and old Pat, a gray mare on which we all learned to ride.
I never knew how
many Negroes Pa owned. I remember only
the house servants, their families, and a few others, carpenters, blacksmiths,
and Uncle Big Edmund, who always drove a team of oxen – about six yokes – that
he had trained to a wonderful degree.
I never knew him to strike one.
(He also had a) beautiful bay that he called Bazilony. His wife was a tall, very black woman, very
religious, called Aunt Big Mary. After
freedom came, she claimed that the Lord Jesus came to her as she was hoeing in
the field, took the hoe from her hand, and told her never to work anymore. She was not disobedient to the heavenly
vision. Uncle Edmund was the only Negro
that never left Somerset. About forty
years after the Surrender, I was riding through the old place, visited the
graveyard then went up to “The house”.
No one was living there, but Uncle Edmund had moved into the
office. He seemed mighty glad to see me
after I told him who I was. He still
had gogs, chickens, hogs, and a little harden.
I asked him if he lived there all alone and he said he was not alone,
“Master comes everyday and sits on the gallery and talks with me.” His children provided well for him and I
left him a dollar to buy tobacco. His
name was Edmund Staten Baker. (In the
spring of 1870 - Ma and Bertha with Uncle Edmund driving the carriage.) Going from Hazlehurst, before you reach
Somerset you pass the old Antioch Baptist Church. Pa gave most of the money for the building and had his church
membership there. A part of the auditorium
was separated from the rest by pillars and reserved for the Negroes, and their
amens and halleluiahs mingled with those of their masters. Ma was a Methodist, a member of the Pleasant
Valley church, but during the War she was superintendent of the Sunday School
and teacher of the Bible Class at Antioch.
In addition to the regular lessons, Ma had them memorize chapters from
the Bible. She gave prizes for the
greatest number of verses and some of those back-woods girls would learn during
the week and recite without mistake more than 300 verses.
Not far from the
church a path led down between high wooded hills to the baptismal pool, and
when after a protracted meeting there was a big baptizing, people from all the
country round came to witness the ceremony, and stood on the hillsides – it was
like an amphitheater – the ridge curving on one side. On the lower side of the path were great beds of ferns with
fronds a yard long and beds of maiden hair, and coarse bracken in the open
spaces between the trees. Dogwoods
and yellow jasmine in the spring, but the “big meetin’s”
were always held in summer when the crops were all “laid by”.
I wanted you to
drive with me from Hazlehurst to Somerset, but I stayed too long at Antioch.
In that neighborhood, called Pompeii, were several poor
families whom Pa always helped. He
would send his hands and in a few days would have their land prepared and crops
planted, then later would send over and work them out. If sickness occurred in a family, he would
send a trustworthy woman to nurse and help as long as needed. Aunt Clarissey was often sent on these
errands of mercy.
One family that
Pa was especially kind to, was Widow Price.
Her only son Randolph died in the war.
Her two widowed daughters lived with her. One of them, Mrs. Carlisle, did fine sewing. She always made Pa’s shirts, backstitching
those tiny tucks in the linen bosoms.
Pa was very generous and always kind to the poor and considerate of
them. He was six feet and two inches
tall, finely proportioned. His eyes
were brown and his hair soft and dark, turning gray when I knew him. His fact was always smooth-shaven. He had beautiful hands with long slender
fingers and always perfectly kept nails, showing the crescent at the
base,. He was said to be a most
graceful dancer when young in Richmond.
Old Judge Morehead said he sat down and rose up from a chair more
gracefully than any man he had ever known.
He spent most of his time on horseback, riding over the plantation. One of my earlier recollections is standing
up with my arms around Pa’s neck and riding behind him, my bare feet on
Solomon’s broad back.
Solomon was a
very handsome bay with black mane and tall.
I don’t know just when it was, but there had been fighting about Jackson
and Raymond and we heard that the Yankees were coming. Pa took his gun, mounted Solomon and started
to Hazlehurst to offer his services. He
had gotten about half way when he was met by a squad of Yankee soldiers riding
very hard. The officer in charge
ordered him to half and dismount, saying that he would exchange horses with
him. Pa said, “Gentlemen, my horse
seems to be a fine animal, but if ridden at a rapid gait, he goes lame!” Naturally, they did not believe him, and
after taking Pa’s gold watch and giving him a solver one, they rode away with
Solomon. The next day a neighbor
brought Solomon home. I might say here
that Pa equipped seven young men of horses and saddles so that they might
enlist in the cavalry.
After the battle
of Shiloh, and the fighting about Corinth, a good many sick and wounded
soldiers were brought down to an improvised hospital in Hazlehurst. Ma sent in everyday fresh buttermilk,
strawberries and other delicacies. As
soon as any were able to ride they were brought out in the carriage to Somerset
and cared for until they were able to report for duty. “The office” was full of beds, some in the
parlor, and cots and pallets on the gallery.
Ma tore up here linen sheets for bandages. One poor boy who had lost a leg sang, “The Yellow rose of Texas
beats the belles of Tennessee,” and seemed cheerful and gay. Bertha and I were about eight and six years
old, and Pa would call us in from play to sing for the soldiers. We did with absolute abandon. At this time I can hardly believe that we
knew so many songs. I have no
recollection of how we learned them, but we knew all the words and tunes and
sang together as a matter of course.
Some of them were, The Bonny Blue Flay, Wait for the Wagon, Take Me
Home, All Quiet Along the Potomac, My Maryland, Dixie, Do They Miss Me Back
Home and others that I cannot now recall.
One song particularly caught the fancy of a young soldier who wanted the
words to send to his sweetheart. How he
laughed to find that we could not repeat a line but had to sing it as he wrote.
We entered the
plantation at a big gate on the hill beyond the creek, more than a mile from
the house. A gristmill and gin run by
waterpower was near the creek. A canal
half a mile long brought water from a higher bend of the creek to a large pond
bordered by willows. Then a gate at the
lower corner of the pond regulated the flow through a race, a long wooden
trough, to the big water wheel of the mill.
boys from the neighborhood on horseback brought sacks of corn to be ground at
the mill, and while waiting for their meal went swimming in the pond. There was a spring board to dive from. The pond dam required constant attention
because of the craw-fish. It was more
than a mile from the mill to the house.
A high ridge, then a slope and rolling fields of corn and pastures. Cotton was planted in the level bottom land
along the creek. Then a willow fringed
branch, a succession of hills until you reached the top, and there the house
was built. There was about 40 acres in
the grove. Trees of all kinds – magnificent
oaks, tall chestnut trees, beech, hickory and sweet gum and black gum,
poplar, elms, long leafed yellow pine, a big wild cherry
tree year “the quarters.”
In the yard
around the house there were beautiful live oaks, chestnut trees, china trees, a
sweet gum and crab apples. Ma’s flowers
were all in the garden. I remember a
tall syringe with a pink rose running up and we children used to pick
strawberries and sit in the shade of the syringe to eat them, the ground all
under there pink and white with fallen petals.
It was hard to
describe the house, a large front room – I will put here a floor plan that
Denie made long age. The view from the
gallery was very fine towards the east.
You looked over the garden, the orchards, fields and pastures with
streams always out-lined by willows, to the mill hill and the woods beyond.
Pa sat on this
gallery during the past years of his life and with a field glass recognized the
riders who came over the hill a mile away.
One clear days you could see the smoke from Miss. River steam boats, and
during the siege of Vicksburg they could hear the guns, forty miles away.
A number of our
Negroes went to Vicksburg to work on the fortifications. One came back with typhoid fever. Several died; but Pa had all the families
move out to th4e woods and live in booths – brush arbors, they called them –
till all the quarters were thoroughly cleaned and white washed. There was no move fever. Aunt Maria was the only house servant who
took it, and twice every day old Pat was brought to the door and Ma, who was
not well enough to walk at that time, rode to her house.
Ma sat by her
bed and fed her light bread, dipped in black berry wine in which part of a
yeast cake had been crumbled. Where she
got that treatment, I don’t know, but I have heard her say that Aunt Maria was
the first to get well. You could not
trust the Negroes to wait on each other in sickness – they were too
carried the keys to the smoke house and storeroom. She put away the clean clothes, and helped us dress, and when we
went out to play, she followed us with her knitting, say around and watched us
and if we did anything wrong threatened to “tell Mistis.” She was Bertha and Danie’s nurse. She was a small woman, plump, black, with
beautiful shaped hands and always wore a necklace of jet beads. Bertha
was very fond of her and always said that Aunt Maria
belonged to her. She always stood
behind Bertha’s chair at table and waited on her, and Bertha always saved a
part of her dessert for Aunt Maria – whether she ate it or not – I don’t
know. Aunt Rose was my nurse. Her baby died about the time I was born,
Ma’s breast rose and she could not nurse me, so Aunt Rose did. She was tall and
straight, quick in her movements – I have been told that she was part Indian.
cotton-picking time, she always begged to go to the field, where she always led
the pickers and won the prize. She was
a beautiful seamstress. Aunt Lucy was
the cook, but her grown daughter, Judy, helped her; her son, Ben, about 18,
brought in her wood and carried water from the spring. Aunt Debby, with a woman to help her did the
washing down at the spring, but I think they did the ironing in the kitchen.
had charge of the milk house. Her grown
daughter, Ann Liza, helped her- you know her – but there were other women to
milk the cows. Virginia, another of
Aunt Hardenia’s daughters, a woman of about twenty was in training as a house
servant. When there was company or any
extra cooking Aunt Polly always came to the house and helped. She and Aunt Hardenia were Aunt Dicey’s
daughters, both tall fine looking women, about the color of café au lait, very
intelligent. Aunt Dicey had grown grand
children when we were little but I have no idea how old she was. All the little Negroes called her “Ga
Muh”. She took charge of all the babies
while their Mothers were in the field – each baby in its own cradle with an
older child to rock and amuse it. In
summer the cradles were under a great spreading oak and scores of children
under twelve years playing around them.
Some of the little ones lay asleep on the grass and Aunt Dicey would
caution us not to step over them – because they wouldn’t grow anymore. We were not allowed to go often to the
quarters, not to play with the little Negroes.
We never went to the overseer’s house.
One time the overseer’s little Cely Ann, came to play with us. We were sitting on the floor together when I
saw her put some blue silk scraps that belonged to our dolls in her
pocket. I told her to give them back;
she refused; I jumped up, caught her hair in both hands and pulled it with all
my might. She ran out on the gallery
and told Pa that I had pulled her hair.
Without asking any questions Pa got a switch and have me a good
switching. I thought then and still
think he was not fair, but I understood later the lesson – noblesse
oblige. If I had fought with Mollie
Ruth Hawkins it would have probably merely amused him. I was not five years old. But he was always just as courteous to a big
barefoot backwoods boy as he would have been to the Governor.
Jim Good was the
dining room servant, but when Brother Hardin left and went to the war as a
surgeon, Jim went as his servant, and Aunt Debby’s Jake, a boy of 18, was
promoted to Jim Goode’s place. Before
then he had cleaned the knives, brought fresh water from the spring to the
front gallery at meal times, ran with covered dishes of hot cakes or other food
to the dining room from the kitchen.
The kitchen was about a hundred feet from the dining room – a bog room
with a fireplace, a wood stove and a dirt floor. Aunt Lucy did her bakings, light rolls, etc., in an iron oven – a
vessel about a foot in diameter, legs three inches long and a close fitting
cover and a long handle – on the hearth.
A big Dutch oven stood between the kitchen and the house, and there a
whole lamb or mutton could be roasted or fifty pones of bread.
The smoke house
was in one corner of the yard. This was
built of hewn logs; had a dirt floor, no windows and there were always
hogsheads of molasses for the Negroes, hams and bacon left hanging from one
year’s end to the next. There were
great troughs in which the fresh meat was salted down before it was hung up and
smoked with hickory. It was always cool
and dark and mysterious in the smoke house.
I was afraid to step inside the door.
corner of the yard stood “the office” – also built of hewn logs. It had a big fireplace, plenty of windows and
doors, a long “shed-room” on one side, a wide gallery on two sides. I was born there, Jan 12, 1857. Bro. Hardin kept his medicines on shelves
there, his desk too. During the war the
looms where all our cloth was woven filled the room. It seemed a very large room but it was only twenty feet by
twenty. In winter or when it rained we
loved to play there. Sometimes Aunt
Maria told us stories. I was only a
little thing, you know, I don’t remember very well, but one was about a man who
took care of his master’s sheep. Every
few weeks a sheep disappeared – the dogs did not kill it – he watched them all
day long, it could not have strayed off; at last twelve sheep were gone! Then the master began to suspect the man of
stealing them. He told the overseer to
climb up in the loft of the man’s house and watch when he came home at
night. Along about midnight the man
came in bringing a sheep on his shoulder.
He uncovered the fire, made a little light, then took up the sheep and
went to put it up in the loft where he could cook it and eat it when he got
ready. He lifted the sheep up to the
hole in the loft,
then he pushed and he pushed but he couldn’t get it more than helf way up
because the overseer was pushing against him.
Finally the man said, “Well, out o’ thirteen, dis de hebiest one
yit!” This is another story, but
someone told it to us – not Aunt Maria.
It was after dark. We were in
the office, sitting on the carpet in front of the fire. There was no light but firelight. Two big beds were in the far corners of the
room, and shadows. “Der wuz a ole ‘ooman dat would knit on Sunday. De fok’s kep a tellin’ her she better quit
or sump’n gwi’ happen to her. But she
kep on knittin’, an one Sunday night she was settin’ by de fire a knittin, de
do’ was shet en de latch-string drawd inside jes lad dat’n. An she was knittin’ an knittin’ en she hear
somp’n knockin’ on de do’ jus lak dis. (Knock)
She git up quick en step to de do’, lif’ de latch, en open de do’ en
poke her head out, en de wan’t nothing dyar cep’n a pick! She shet de do’ en set down in a cheer, en
kep a knittinen a knittin’. In dreckly
she hear som’n knock on de do’ agin jes lik dis (knock) en she git up en step
to de do’, en poke her haid out, en dar b’side di pick was a spade! She shet de do’ en set down in her cheer by
de do’ en kep a knittin en knittin. In
dreckly she hear sump’n knock on de do’ jes lak dis! (knock) en den she git up
mighty slow en she drops to de do’ en lif do latch, en open di do’ en dyah was
a open grave, en standin’ by it was a ole man, wid a white beard hangin’ down
to his waist, en eyes like green firs, blazing. Den de next mornin’ when she didn’t come up to de house, da folks
went down to her house to see, en dyar was a new made grave, all rounded up, en
patted smooth, de do’ wuz open, en dyar was her knittin on de flo’ en de cat
was cul’d up sleepin’ on de ha’th, en de ashes cole. You know de ain’t no human got green eyes blazin’ en de debit got
a long forked tail. But he mout a slip
dat down his pants leg, en his hat could a kiver his horns – dey tell me de
debil kin’ ‘guise his self so he look lak a angel dressed in shinin’ white.”
– Just then there came a knock on the
office door – we all screamed and grabbed Virginia. Jake opened the door and said “Virginy, Mistis say it time dem
chil’n wuz in bed!”
Uncle Banks was
the plantation carpenter. He built the
gin – I think he built the house. He
lived alone in a house on the very brow of the hill, the blacksmith shop across
the road in front. He was sick a long
time. Pa went to see him every day and
talked with him. They were
friends. I was his favorite of the
children. He called me his “little
Mistis”. I went to see him every day
with a woman who carried him some delicacy from the table – I didn’t go with
Pa. I read the Bible to him. I couldn’t have been more than six, but you
remember I read in the New testament when I was four. He loved best to hear the chapter that begins, “Let not your
heart be troubled” and I read that to him almost every day. I sat in a chair near the head of the bed
with my feet on the round of the chair, the big Testament on my knees. His bed was a little in shadow and he looked
very long and straight under the cover.
The sun shone through the open door and made a yellow square on the bare
floor. Bertha sat on a stool just
inside the door and Octavia on a chair in the chimney corner. She was dressed in white – a big woman. She was roasting potatoes in the ashes. I could smell them burning. I suppose she was there to wait on him. The room was very quiet and some way
awe-inspiring, making us feel the majesty of death. Uncle Banks said he wanted me to have his kitten when he died. After awhile I didn’t go to see him
anymore. His chest of tools was brought
up to the office, and some one brought me his kitten. She was black and white with white feel and white throat and
breast. I named her Banks and loved her
devotedly for a long long time, until her eyes grew dim and her teeth were
gone, and then she disappeared.
I want you top
know about Sister Jeanie. She was Ma’s
oldest child and was named Jean Baxter for Ma’s mother. Pa called her Jeannie. Ma, Jeanie, we did too, until after her
death, when we always spoke of her as Sister Jennie. She was very fair, with big brown eyes and auburn hair that hung
in loose rings on her shoulders. She
was Ma’s companion and intimate. She
rarely played with us, but was always kind and thoughtful of us. If Jan or Dene stepped on a chestnut burr
she would run back, pick out the pricks and lift them over the burrs. I think she was made of finer clay than any
of the rest of us. The servants adored
her and she loved them all. When Sister
Jennie ws about a year old, Pa and Ma went to New Jersey to visit Ma’s father
who was living in the old home, hear Stockholm, Sussex County, and to see her
who was married and had several children. Pa didn’t stay but a month, Ma stayed at
least two. She was shopping in New York
one day, Sister Jennie with her, when a big fat black woman came in. Sister Jennie left some ladies who were
admiring her, ran down the counter with outstretched arms, calling, “Aunt Oocy,
Aunt Oocy!” threw herself in the
woman’s arms and cuddled her face against her fat black neck. The woman was so pleased she begged Ma to
let her go with her and nurse the baby while she was in New York.
It was Pa’s
custom to walk down to the new stable every morning as soon as he was dressed,
and Sister Jennie always walked with him, holding his hand. They picked up chestnuts and have them to us
when they came back. She was very light
and graceful and Pa danced with her.
When Denie was
about two, Pa used to take her two hands and she would begin at his feet, walk
up his body and seat herself on his shoulder. Then he would walk around the
sitting room several times before putting her down – much to her
enjoyment. She was named Maria Louisa
for Ma and we called her Lulie until Pa thought she looked so much like his
sister that he changed her name to Hardenia.
Fan was named Fannie Miller for Ma’s girlhood friend, Mrs. Parker. Pa called her Miller most of the time. Bertha was first named for Cousin Sarah
Taliaferro and he called her, “Little Sally, Pretty Sally, Sweet Sally
Talio.” Later thinking she looked like
Ma’s sister Bertha, he changed her name.
My name, as you know, has never been changed.
was very bright and attractive. She was
not quite ten when she died. The
doctors said she had brain fever. She
was delirious. Her little body lies in
an unmarked brave beside Pa’s at Somerset.
Her death was a great grief to Ma and to Pa too. I was sick – had bilious fever or something,
and Aunt Rose carried me in her arms to see Sister Jennie as she lay there in
the sitting room, and when all the rest had gone to the graveyard she took me
to the end of the galley and showed me the long procession and cried. Bertha has told me most of this. I remember so little about her.
When Bertha was
about give years old she had inflammatory rheumatism all one winter and they
put red flannel night drawers on her and bathed her in hot red oak ooze. The hot water cane up under her arms in the
bog round tin bathtub with legs, and she got well. Some time before that she ate a hard boiled egg and had
convulsions nearly all one night, and because of these set backs, I caught up
with her physically – I never have caught up with her mentally and Ma began
us at the same
time. We always studied together from
the same book and were inseparable – slept together on the trundle bed and
buttoned each other’s clothes in the morning.
Because of her illness nobody ever switched her except one time. We had a perfect mania for laying
fires. This time we laid the fire
outside the kitchen against the wall and near the woodpile. We put two sticks at right angels to the
wall for andirons, then laid our little splinters across them. By some means we had slipped some live coals
from the kitchen. We blew the coals
into a fine blaze against the kitchen wall.
Aunt Maria must have been very frightened for she ran to the house and
this time really did “tell Mistis.” Ma
came in a hurry and switched our bare legs all the way to the house. Aunt Maria was mighty good to us and let us
do anything we pleased that she thought wouldn’t hurt us. In fair weather we were out doors all day,
when it rained we had to stay indoors, keep quiet and be good. There was a tiny stream from a spring in the
park, down a hill and out of sight from the house; there were little
waterfalls, cascades and rapids over the pebbly bottom. We built dams and waded to our hearts
content, and Ma never knew.
was a fearless rider, I have heard Ma say that she was riding old Pat along
down by the quarters, when Pat took a notion to leave the road and trot under a
clothes pole. (The Negroes did not have
clothes lines but hung their wash on long smooth poles, supported in the
ground), Ma, watching from the gallery, expected Sister Jennie to be knocked
off and badly hurt, but she dropped the bridle, caught the pole in her arms,
dropped to the ground unhurt and was running after Pat before any one got to
I can’t remember
when we learned to ride. I always rode
behind Bertha when we were little and Aunt Rose or Jim Goode or Jake led old
Pat until we could be truted alone.
After Jim Goode
went with Bro. Hardin to the war, Jake was headwaiter and Uncle Big Edmund’s
Lige was brought in as assistant. For a
while he stood against the wall behind Ma’s chair and pulled the strong that
kept the fan moving to drive the flies away.
One day there was extra company for dinner and Cotis kept off the flies
and Lige helped to wait on the table.
During the meal Pa said, “Lige, hand me a potato.” Very naturally Lige picked up a potato, and
tossing it from one hand to the other walked quickly around the table to Pa’s
place and said, “Take it quick Master, it burn me.” No one at the table seemed to notice, but Jake held his waiter
before his face to conceal his grin. Lige
was considered hopeless and never appeared in the dining room again, but when
the overseer was
conscripted Lige went with him to the war. Jake was the image of the Cream of Wheat
advertisement, I think of him every time I see the picture.
Uncle Ned and
Uncle William worked the garden and drove the carriage whenever Ma wanted to go
anywhere. The garden was an acre in size.
Down the middle was a walk, on each side a border of roses. At the lower end was a grape arbor. Along the fence next to the yard was a
flower bed of roses and annuals; on the other three sides were raspberries,
black and red. Round three sides of the
garden was a large orchard, wonderful peaches from 1st of May
through October, figs, and real quinces – not medlars. There were no apple trees on the place and
the plum thickets were at a distance from the house.
We had fruit in
abundance for white and black – watermelons by wagonloads; those eaten at the
house were cooled in the spring.
Towards the back of the house down a steep hill were two springs that
furnished an abundance of water, clear and cool, for all household
purposes. There were other springs near
“the quarters” where the Negroes did their washing. Indeed there were many springs that fed the ponds and flowed as
living streams through every field of the plantation. The plantation road ran through the park in front of the house
about an eight of a mile away. The
quarters were beyond the road, a long row of hewn log cabins, each with a hen
house and garden behind it. The hen
houses had sod roofs and almost invariably a luriant gourd vine. Each hen house was kept locked night and
day, ours never. There was a second row
of houses behind these, up a grassy slope.
On this slope and in the woods beyond the Negro children played
games. They played, skipped the rope
and made swings in the grape and muscadine vines. They didn’t seem unhappy.
Ma taught Sunday School lessons to the young people Sunday
afternoons. They had preaching Sunday
nights. Uncle Nathan was a preacher,
but visiting ministers from other plantations held services occasionally. I remember attending only one service. It was held in a house that had been built
for an overseer’s family. Uncle Nathan
preached. I remember his long and
fervent prayer. I think I sat in Aunt
Rose’s lap during the sermon, but she put me down when all rose to sing. This is the song as they marched in a
never-ending circle, shaking hands.
“Don’t you hear
the little angels a ringin’o’de bells,”
“Don’t you hear
the little angels a ringin’o’de bells,”
“Soul gone home
“Is there ary a
sinner here tonight? Soul gone home to
glory.” (Then refrain)
“Is there ary a
mourner, father, mother, sister, brother, here tonight - - - - ”
After each question the refrain – going on endlessly,
hundreds of feet tramping round in time to the rhythm of the song, you may
imagine the volume of the song.
Methodist church about four miles northeast of Somerset. The Taliaferros, Browns and Hawkins, and we
went there on Sundays to church, and a good many other people. Cousin Sarah Taliaferro was a widow, had
grand children older than me. She was
very handsome and elegant and always dressed in black. Her brother, Cousin Tom Adams, performed the
ceremony when Ma was married. Ma liked
him very much. Mrs. Hawkins, who was
about Ma’s age, dressed as Ma did, in rich silks, flowing sleeves, with white
under sleeves gathered to a band at the wrist and fastened with gold link
sleeve buttons. Ma had a beautiful
Spanish mantilla, black English thread, an exquisite design, that she wore over
light dresses to church. Most of Ma’s
nice dresses wee made in New York. One
that Bertha remembers well, was a French gray broadcloth made with a long
circular cape and trimmed with bands of black velvet. I remember seeing Cousin Melissa Taliaferro, (She was a daughter
of Edwin R. Brown, married to Cousin Henry Taliaferro at Pleasant Valley church
wearing a pale blue silk ruffled to the waist, very low neck and short sleeves,
showing her plump white shoulders, and such a bid hoop skirt she could hardly
get in the church door. I hardly took
me eyes off her during the while sermon.
I think she always wore those “party dresses” to church for Bertha remembers
her at Rehoboth in a light green silk with bare neck and arms. Cousin Mary Peachy Brown (she was Cousin
Sarah Taliaferro’s daughter) used to wear those light silks to church, with
bateau necks and puff sleeves, but she wore a black lace mantilla and black
lace mitts that came high up on her arms.
Her husband, Capt Brown, was the youngest brother of Governor Albert
Gallatin Brown. Once when Governor and
Mrs. Brown were visiting Cousin Sarah they came over with her to spend the day
at Somerset. Mrs. Brown was a brilliant
woman, witty. She kept everybody
laughing at stories of a recent visit to Washington. A lady whose husband was prominent in
Washington, and the mother of numbers of children asked her
how many children she had. Mrs. Brown
replied, “One, but a lion.” We
appreciated her answer later when we read Aesop’sFables in the old Latin
The creek was
the boundary line between Somerset and Capt. Brown’s plantation, Lucky
Hit. Cousin Sarah’s place was called
Spring Hill, Cousin Henry Taliaferro’s, a few miles further on, was Sandy
Point. Capt. Brown was a cadet at West
Point for six months. He couldn’t stand
it any longer because he was not allowed to put his hands in his pockets when
there was snow on the ground. But he was
a gallant captain in the war. His name
was Hezekiah George David Brown. His
friends called him Pete, we called him Cousin Hezzy. During Pa’s illness Ma relied on him for counsel and help. In the first year after the war Pa was sick
a good deal, we had no overseer, the Negroes got their provisions regularly but
worked when they pleased. One morning
Cousin Hezzy rode over to inquire about Pa and found us without a stick of
wood, the house servants all gone, and me trying to break up pickets with an
axe. He took his gun, went to the
quarters and ordered out Negroes, set them to work cutting and hauling wood and
did not leave until there was a winter’s supply piled up at the house. I need hardly say that that year’s crop was
a failure. Pa gave his note to his
commission merchant, J.J. Person, in New Orleans, the next year, 1866, Bro.
Hardin managed the plantation and lived with Sister Blanche and two children in
“the office.” Sister Mary and Sister
Sue came from Virginia and spent that year at Somerset. They Sister Mary went back to Richmond and
made her home with Sister Loy who was married to Jack Temple, a merchant in
Richmond. We never say her again. Sister Sue stayed on as governess in Cousin
Henry Taliaferro’s house until after Pa’s death, June 23, 1868. She usually spent Saturdays and Sundays with
us. It was a great pleasure to Pa to
hear her talk of friends and relatives in Virginia. She was an entertaining talker to everyone. We never saw her again.
A man who had
been employed as a carpenter on the place, Mr. Schwem, of Pennsylvania Dutch
parentage undertook the management for the year 1867. Pa was sick, unable to attend to business and Schwen stole
everything that was made on the plantation – even the toll cotton – ran it off
and sole it. During that year the levee
had a break in it and overflowed the Jo’s Bayou plantation and Brother William
brought his wife and two children to Somerset.
Brother William went back but Sister Mary stayed with us several
months. She was young, very pretty and
gentle, a graduate of a Woman’s College in
Huntsville, Ala., and a beautiful musician.
The next year,
1868, Col. Dan Thomas Brown, of Tennessee, managed the plantation. He was a horse trader before the war, a
colonel under Lee during the war. One
arm was shattered by a bullet and hung useless by his side. He was a bachelor, an honest, kindly
gentleman, but failed in raising cotton under the new conditions. He was kind and considerate of Pa as if he
had been his son.
I was very fond
of him – took long rides with him over the place. During the next two years , Ma taught little girls about our age,
who boarded with us and went home for weekends. In the fall of 1870 we moved to Brookhaven. Ma had built a house there. She taught in the Preparatory Department of
Whitworth College and we went to school there.
Aunt Maria and
her son Manuel went with us to Brookhaven and in that year with no supervision
she did more than ten house servants when they were slaves. She did our washing and ironing, cleaned
house, did the cooking and even helped with the sewing. Everyday at noon she went Manuel on a run to
the College with our lunch piping put – even hot tea with cream and sugar in it
for Ma. A snowy cloth was spread over a
table in Ma’s recitation room, and almost every day Miss Sue Boswell, the
monitress ate lunch with us. She and Ma
were fond of each other.
years Col. Brown continued to rent what was left of Somerset plantation. (J.J. Person took 1000 acres of the cleared
land for debt.) Later Ma sold to him
for five notes of $750 each, on which he paid the interest, some years. With cotton costing 7 cents a pound to raise
and selling at six, what could one expect?
At his death all the notes but one were found to be out of date and his
heirs, nephews, hot the property. All
of this is uninteresting and irrelevant, but fact.
Just here we may
tell you what we know of the Jo’s Bayou place.
There were 1300 acres across the river from Vicksburg in Madison Parrish,
La., on Jo’s Bayou not far from the little town of Delhi. Bro. William managed the place but Pa went
over several times a year. Bro. William
was the “black sheep” pf the family but Ma liked him better than any of the
other stepchildren. He was always
getting into trouble gambling and drinking and Ma would get money for his
“debts of honor.” She have him her gold
watch. He was as tall as Pa,
well-proportioned, dark complexion, black hair and eyes, perfect teeth, good
natured and jolly, carefree; ready to play with us children at any time. When a boy
at school at some place in Indiana, I think, he ran away
with other boys to the war in Mexico, and lost two fingers there.
Jo’s Bayou was a
valuable plantation, finely equipped, Pa refused $ 100,000 for it just before
the war. Just before the fall of
Vicksburg our own soldiers burned one year’s crop to keep the Yankee’s from
getting it – 300 bales of cotton and unnumbered bushels of corn, I suppose. Bro. William was not more successful in farming
than most planters under the new conditions.
In the fall of
1870, Capt. Brown, then living in Hazlehurst, came down to Brookhaven to bring
this telegram from Bro. William. “Your
interest in Jo’s Bayou is worth $30,000.
Be on your guard. Will see you
next week.” A few weeks later we heard
that Bro. William and Sister Mary had died of pneumonia within a few days of
each other. Brother Hardin went over
and brought the three children to his house at old Gallatin near
Hazlehurst. Brother Hardin kept the
oldest child, William, who grew up with his boys, learned telegraphy, and while
holding a position somewhere in Texas, died of yellow fever. Sister Mary’s sister took the little girl,
Mary Ella; and Sister Mary Park came down and took the baby Hardin back with
her to Richmond. I think Sister Lou and
Brother Jack Temple adopted him, for they had no children of their own.
None of us, or
Sister Blanche, ever knew what became of Jo’s Bayou plantation. It is very probably that it was sold for taxes. During the Reconstruction times you know,
taxes in the south were confiscatory.
When Pa came
home from Jo’s Bayou, he always brought some little presents. Once be brought those two little chairs that
you remember. They were for Sister
Jennie and Bertha, but I wanted one and Sister Jennie gave me hers. He brought presents for the house servants
too – fine Madras “head-handkerchiefs,” plaids in bright colors. One time he brought Ma a beautiful black
velvet cloak, handsomely embroidered and trimmed with fringe. Ma gave the cloak to Denis who cut it up and
made herself a bodice. You may remember
that you made a hat for yourself of some of the embroidered part. Pa bought this cloak from Mr. Freeman who
was a dry goods merchant in Vicksburg.
His wife was Nettie Conklin, a niece pf “Aunt Fannie”. She was going to have a baby and Pa and Ma
Invited her to spend several months as their guest at Somerset since she was so
far from her mother and home. They went
in the carriage and brought her back from Vicksburg. Pa told us that we must
all call her Cousin
Nettie. That was so she might feel at
home and among kin. Her baby, Johnnie
Conklin Freeman, was born July 14, 1859.
At the first rumor of war they went back to New York, and in ’86 Cousin
Nettie set Ma photographs of Johnnie and his little brother, Freddie. They were beautiful children.
Most of Ma’s
purchases of dry goods for herself and us, were made through a Jewish peddler,
Emanuel Phelps, who first came to Somerset with a pack on his back. Pa gave him a horse. He was not ungrateful, for her gave Sister
Jennie a work-box and me a most beautiful set of dell’s furniture, the bookcase
was about 9 inches high, with glass doors and the shelves pale blue. Ma bought from him beautiful Merinos, linen
by the bolt, English thread and Cluny laces.
Bertha and I
were always dressed alike – as if we were twins. During the war we woe homespun dresses, woven by a widow in the
neighborhood – Mrs. Douglas. When the
looms were in the office – they were moved to the overseer’s house when he had
to go to the war and his family moved away.
Bertha and I used to slip in and throw the shuttles back and forth to
each other, standing on the treadles to make the warp-threads cross, whirling
the reels of thread and trying the spinning wheels. They we’d slip out again before the woman got back from dinner,
and they never told on us. We had a
great many sheep and during the war the Negroes had plenty of warm
clothing. The Negroes had mutton during
the season, beeves were killed now and then, and behind each house was a “bank”
of sweet potatoes for winter use.
governess was Miss. Martha Day. When
the war first broke out she cried and went back to New York. She wore a green plaid silk dress. She made a pencil sketch of Jake standing by
a tree and when he knew she was drawing him he covered his fact with his hands
and she made the picture just that way.
plantation was so far from the scenes of war that it was like a place of
refuge. Mrs. Bell was one of these
refugees. I don’t know how long she
stayed or where she came from, but while there she taught us. She was slim and pale and told us about her
little baby that died. When we gathered
handfuls of little blue daisies, as we called them, and took them to her, she
said her baby’s eyes were just that color, and her eyes filled with tears. To this day I never see the little flowers
that cover the ground in spring that I do not think of Mrs. Bell’s little
baby. We were very sorry for her and
tried to be good. Her husband came and
was in one front
corner of the yard, a large nice room with a porch, and on
each side of the porch a little fenced in flower-bed. Its next occupant was Mrs. Cornell, a dark nervous woman, very
impatient. We reflected her humor and
did everything we could think of to annoy her.
We were little demons and ought to have been beaten. By accident we discovered that she disliked
to hear a little chucking noises that we could make without change of facial
expression, and while one of us read aloud a verse from McGuffy’s Second
Reader, the other standing by and looking on the book, with no change of
expression – chuckled.
Once when Pa and
Ma were gone to Hazlehurst, Bertha and I stood up to spell. I don’t remember why – it may have been just
the sunshine out doors – but I threw the book down and ran from the room. When outside I picked up a sweet gum ball
and threw it at the window. Mrs.
Cornell started after me and I ran to the house, through the sitting room and
Ma’s room, up the stairs to the attic, closed the trap door and sat on it. When Mrs. Cornell told Pa the next day, he
gave me a good “talking to” but didn’t switch me. Another thing that gave us great pleasure was imitating her as
she walked in the garden. Of course,
she wore a hoop-skirt and lifted it up on both sides showing her white
stockings, and stepping unusually high.
The recollection of such conduct is very humiliating and is deeply
regretted by us both. Her husband came
for her too and we never saw or heard of her again.
occupant of the schoolroom was Mrs. Wilkinson.
She was from New Orleans. Her
husband was a captain. I think she
didn’t try to teach us, except songs.
It must have been she who taught us the war songs.
The people who
usually attended Antioch Baptist church, were plain and the women all wore
sunbonnets and kept them on during the services. The men and boys sat on one side of the church – the women and girls
on the other. The first time I ever saw
a gentleman and lady sitting together in church was when Brother William took
Sister Mary to Antioch. Ours was the
only carriage there. Others came in
wagons, rode horseback or walked. There
were two old ladies, sisters, who always walked and sat together, Miss.
Matthias and Mrs. Hogan. They always
wore black calico dresses and black sunbonnets – tall and slim, their skirts
hung straight down – no hoops. Their
faces looked very long and thin away back in their sunbonnets. They never spoke and never smiled. At home sometimes we put little blocks of
wood between our jaws, thus elongating
our faces, closed our lips and played that we were Miss
Matthias and Mrs. Hogan.
We knew nothing
of any social events. Ladies came with
children and nurses and spent the day.
Ma had young lady friends who often spent a week or more with her.
When Ma was a
little girl in New Jersey, her Sunday School teacher was Lydia Mann, the sister
of Horace Mann. She could not remember
when she learned to read. Her father
had a history of Scotland – illustrated – as large as a family bible, which was
a source of great pleasure when she was too small to lift the book. Always when she went to school the teacher
called on her to teach the little children.
She had already taught a county school for two terms before she was
fifteen. The winter she was fifteen she
attended Morristown Academy, taught by Mr. Ross, a graduate of the University
of Dublin. The Latin classes, young
men, were reading Historia Sacra. In
three weeks time she learned all the declensions, conjugations, and rules of
syntax in the Latin grammar and was allowed to enter the class, which she led
to the end of school. She read the
Eclogues, and memorized most of Virgil’s Aeneid. Her translation was in blank verse. She thought Mr. Ross a wonderful teacher. Incidentally, she paid her expenses – board
and tuition, by teaching the lower classes.
I believe I got that teacher’s name wrong – I think it was Reagan.
Ma taught in the
villages near her home, spending Saturdays and Sundays at home. In 1849 she taught in Hamburg. That summer she saw an advertisement in the
N.Y. Christian Advocate for a teacher wanted for the Port Gibson Female Academy
in Mississippi. Ma had taught the
children of Ex-Governor Haines and had visited in his family. (His daughter Lucy and she were great
friends.) He wrote to Mr. Harvey, the
president of the School, recommending her very highly, and in the fall ofo that
year she went to Port Gibson. Her like
in New Jersey had become monotonous; the pay was small; her sister Bertha was
married to Schuyler Ingersoll, living in Newton, had several children; her
brother John had married and brought his wife to their father’s home in
Stockholm. Her sister Mary, married
when Ma was about six years old, was living in Newark. Anyway, Ma felt that she was no longer
needed at home and she wanted a change.
brother-in-law, Mr. Wesley Ingersol, was a merchant in Brooklyn. His partner, Mr. Pomeroy, managed their
house in St. Louis, and Ma waited a few days in N.Y. in
order to travel in his care.
While in N.Y.
she stayed at her Brother Williams. His
wife had no children, was an inveterate theatergoer and at that time interested
also in fortune telling. Ma was worried
because in packing she had forgotten her gold sleeve buttons. She had written home for them but they had
not come. Aunt Frances proposed that
they consult a well-known fortune teller.
She said that Ma was going on a journey, would receive a package
containing jewelry, and that her future husband would be introduced to her on
the steps of a public building. She
received the sleeve buttons soon after arriving in Port Gibson. Two years later, she wore for the first and
only time in her life, a sunbonnet to the church at Pleasant Valley. When she was going down the steps, Mr.
Gilmer said, “Miss Baxter, may I introduce Col. Burnley?” Col. Burnley was an ardent and persistent
wooer and finally was successful.
With Mr. Pomeroy
she crossed the Cumberland Mountains by stage, took the boat at Pittsburgh, and
went on to St. Louis, then down the river to Grand Gulf, only ten miles from
Port Gibson. MA thought Port Gibson the
most beautiful place she had ever seen.
County roads were bordered with hedges of Cherokee, and gardens were
full of roses, all the year. She made
many devoted friends among her pupils and their parents.
Her health was
not very good, she thought the water disagreed wit her. She was home sick – it took so long for
letters to come and her home folks didn’t write regularly.
When the Academy
closed in June she did not go home but accepted an urgent call to take charge
of the Pleasant valley neighborhood school in Copiah County.
Mr. Gilmer with
his little daughter Donie, drove down in his carriage to Port Gibson for her,
and she boarded in his family the two years that she taught that school. There were nice people there then, Mr.
Harvey Thompson, Mr. and Mrs. Watson, all the Millsaps were good people and her
devoted, lifelong friends. Major
Millsaps had just finished college, and so had Jack Wheat – a D.D. and for many
years he was professor of Greek of the state university at Oxford. In ’51 Ma’s mother was very ill. When she got the letter she left at once for
New Jersey. Her mother had died when
she got there. She could not stay at
home long because of her school.
crossed the Cumberland Mountains in a stagecoach in a snowstorm. Bishop Cap?ers was one of the
passengers. The snow delayed them and
she shared her lunch with him. He was on his way to hold conference at Natchez. He was a delightful traveling companion, and
they corresponded for a year or two. He
sent her a number of his sermons.
She married Pa
in August 1852, and then her life at Somerset began.
I have no idea
how Ma spent her time before the war.
She read a good deal of books and magazines – Godey’s Ladies Book,
Arthur’ Home Magazine, Hall’s Journal of Health, The Religious Herald,
published at Richmond 0 The first book Pa gave Ma was Lady of the Lake, the
first after their marriage was Uncle Tom’s cabin. She sewed some.
During the war
she was busy; kept the house servants knitting and sewing for the soldiers,
getting off boxes to various places for them.
We played outdoors most of the time and didn’t know much about what went
on in the house. If anyone passed on
the road Pa hailed him and asked the news.
He knew the fighting was in Virginia and he was anxious all the time
about his relatives there. Once he
stopped a company of soldiers about a hundred men, and had them stay to
dinner. The officers ate at the table. The privates sat on the grass on the yard
and were served pones of hot corn bread, beef, and lamb, and buttermilk and
peaches and watermelons, all they could eat.
One time Pa came
back from Hazlehurst with a lady riding behind him on Solomon. It had rained, the creek was almost
swimming, and they were wet to their knees.
It was after dark. Ma hurried
the lady into her room and helped her into dry clothes. She was dark, with straight black hair and
dark circles under her eyes. She had
been through the Yankee lines and was returning with bags of Quinine concealed
about her person, and was hurrying with it to Louisiana for our soldiers. The next day Ma took her in the carriage to
Port Gibson. Bertha went with them.