Browsing "Race and the South"

The South’s Postwar Labor Problem

The antebellum North received the bulk of immigrants from Europe – and these immigrants avoided the South as black men were trained in various trades and dominated the labor force. The Republican Party of Lincoln was not anti-slavery – it wanted to confine blacks to the South and open the West to immigrant labor, and Republican votes. The aftermath of war saw the North’s notorious Union League organization mobilize black voters and turn them against their white neighbors for bare political purposes. Grant’s 1868 election over Horatio Seymour was due to a majority of 300,000 votes – and thanks to 500,000 recently-enfranchised Negroes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

South’s Postwar Labor Problem

“Since the first settlement of this country the great need of the South has been men. We want settlers, honest, industrious, home-seeking immigrants, and I do not believe any country can offer inducements greater than those presented by the South. We expect hundreds of thousands in the next few years from less favored sections of the Union, but we want also high-class foreigners. The Negro in the South has been our chief reliance for hired labor, but they are yearly becoming more uncertain and unreliable and worthless.

Slavery was the greatest manual, moral and intellectual training school for a weak and depraved race that history has ever known. Before the war the Negro was the main agricultural laborer. There were four million slaves, probably half of them laborers. At the same time were engaged in agricultural labor 803,052 white laborers and 215,968 white laborers in the other occupations of the South.

The Negro in slavery was kindly treated. His great pecuniary value, rising from $1000 to $1,800 just before the war, was in itself a bond for the “best moral and material care” and he was devoted to his master. History presents no parallel to his fidelity during the Civil War, as it was necessary for the enemy actually to occupy our territory before the slaves could be persuaded to leave their masters.

Since the war the South has spent hundreds of millions upon asylums, hospitals and schools for them. The average young Negro is indisposed to labor, indolent, thievish and inclined to be insolent, and as the older heads of the race die out it seems that we must be forced to substitute other laborers for them.

The South is the Negro’s best friend. When he remains with us, observes the unwritten law of the land and is willing to labor for a living, we welcome him.”

(Annual Agricultural Resources and Opportunities of the South, J. Bryan Grimes, Farmers’ National Congress speech, 1901, pp. 15-16)

Let the South Withdraw

New York Governor Horatio Seymour noted that “very few [Northern] merchants had been backward about importing [slaves] and selling them South” — and that “Slavery, in fact, was upheld by the great business firm of “Weaver, Wearer and Planter” — only one of the three partners of which resided in the South — but for the looms of New England and Old England [slavery] could not live a day.”  Seymour was also aware that passage of the Crittenden compromise would have forestalled the secession movement in the South, but the Republican party was determined to defeat it. Historian James Ford Rhodes later wrote that ‘it seems to me likewise clear that, of all the influences tending to this result [the compromise defeat], the influence of Lincoln was the most potent.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Let the South Withdraw

“It was [Seymour’s] belief, he declared, that if people asked themselves why the United States had split asunder in civil war, they had only to read Washington’s Farewell Address for their answer and find out how completely they had neglected the warning of their first President.

Men who were loyal to nothing less than the whole Union both North and South would have to fight the spirit of both North and South alike, for people who made their prejudices and passions “higher” laws than the laws of the land were by no means confined to the eleven States which had arrogated to themselves the dangerous right to secede.

A majority of the American people, he reminded his hearers, had not preferred Lincoln for President, and a large part of the voters had deplored his election as a calamity, but Lincoln had been chosen constitutionally and deserved a “just and generous support” – as long as he kept himself within the limits of that very Constitution by which he was entitled to his office.

What would it profit the North to conquer the South if it destroyed the compact of government in the process? Alexander Stephens, though he disapproved of secession, had followed his Georgia out of the Union; Seymour, though he disapproved of abolition and did not vote for Lincoln, stayed in the Union with New York.

Yet the war was a fact, and because the decision of it would depend on might, the men of the North would be most unwise to call the victory they fought for “right.” “We are to triumph,” Seymour warned his hearers, “only by virtue of superior numbers, of greater resources, and a juster cause.” The arrangement of his words is significant.

Slavery, he insisted, was not the cause of the Civil War, for slavery had always existed in the land; it was present when the Union was formed, and the people had prospered before it became a matter of dispute. Causes and subjects were frequently distinct: the main cause of the war was the agitation and arguments over slavery. [Seymour stated] “If it is true that slavery must be abolished to save this Union then the people of the South should be allowed to withdraw themselves from that government which cannot give them the protection guaranteed by its terms.” [It was Seymour’s belief that] To grant immediate freedom to four million uneducated Africans would disorganize, even if it did not destroy, the Southern States.”

(Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, Harvard University Press, 1938, pp. 238-239)

Ridding the South of the Incubus

In 1819, Rev. Moses Waddel “was induced to give up his academy business” and take the reins of the University of Georgia. Born in North Carolina, educated in the ministry in Virginia and a preacher in Georgia, he had taught young John C. Calhoun and became the first native-born Southerner to fill the University presidency. It was not unusual then to hear open and reasoned discussion on ending the New England slave trade and repatriating Africans to their homeland.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ridding the South of the Incubus

“Athens [Georgia] and he Lower South at this time [1810] were in the midst of laying the foundations of that social order and culture, beautiful and polished yet seamy, captivating the elite Englishman and practical Yankee who touched it, the admiration of some, the curse of some . . .

In the excitement of the Federal Constitutional Convention, Georgia had stood for the foreign slave trade, but she no sooner won it than she freely flung it away. In 1819 at a banquet in Athens this toast was drunk: “The [Foreign] Slave Trade – The scourge of Africa; the disgrace of humanity. May it cease forever, and may the voice of peace, of Christianity and of Civilization, be heard on the savage shores.”

At this time the whole subject of slavery was discussed in the Georgia papers with reason and dispassion, and in 1824 the president of the University “heard the Senior Forensic Disputation all day on the policy of Congress abolishing Slavery – much fatigued but amused.” Apparently the students were doing some thinking also.

The trustees, were, likewise not opposed to a possible disposition of slavery, for [Rev. Robert] Finley, whom they had just elected president of the University, had been one of the organizers of the American Colonization Society. He was, indeed, present in Washington at its birth and had been made one of its vice-presidents; and so vital did his work appear to one friend that he later wrote,

“If this colony [Liberia] should ever be formed in Africa, great injustice will be done to Mr. Finley, if in the history of it, his name be not mentioned as the first mover, and if some town or district in the colony be not called Finley.” He, indeed, never lost interest in the project to his dying day – and then it “gave consolation to his last moments.”

The South was genuinely interested in ridding itself of this incubus, realizing, with Henry Clay, that Negroes freed and not removed were a greater menace than if they remained in slavery.”

(College Life in the Old South, E. Merton Coulter, UGA Press, 1983 (original 1928), pp. 27-28)

Southern Christianity and Slavery

That Lincoln and his abolitionist colleagues did not propose a peaceful and practical to the African slavery they seemed to object to, is a national tragedy. Had they followed compensated emancipation as the British had done earlier (the British were primarily responsible for populating their American colonies with Africans), or helped advance a reasonable solution to the need for large numbers of workers to support their agricultural economy, a million lives would have been spared as well as the death, destruction and tortured legacy of the war Lincoln was responsible for.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southern Christianity and Slavery

“ . . . Southern [slavery] reformers cast much blame on the Northern Abolitionist movement. They constantly complained that it was difficult to persuade planters that they should be teaching their slaves to read when the Abolitionists were sparing no effort in smuggling into the Southern States inflammatory literature which urged the slaves to rise up and slit their masters’ throats, among other things.

The palpable hostility and antagonism displayed by the Abolitionists toward the white South, their calls for a bloody slave rebellion, and their unrealistic demands for immediate and unconditional emancipation made slavery reform more difficult by producing resentment, fear, and a siege mentality among the whites.

[Many] Northerners (including Sen. Daniel Webster, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, and Princeton theologian Charles Hodge) condemned the Abolitionists for actually worsening the plight of the slaves and for creating hostility and distrust between the Northern and Southern people.

[It] is at least possible that an independent South might have enacted the reforms urged by her Christian leaders and thus avoided falling into a state of economic backwardness and dependency.  After all, Southerners consistently valued such non-monetary goods as country living, personal independence and liberty, and an harmonious and rich social life at least as much as mere wealth and material accumulation; and independence [from the North] might have created a more favorable environment for Christian reform of their labor system.

Southerners might have introduced a smaller and more humanely scaled industrialization to provide some measure of industrial self-sufficiency, and black Southerners might eventually have achieved legal equality and propertied independence.  In other words, an independent South could well have found an alternate – and perhaps more Christian – path to modernity.  Thanks to Mr. Lincoln, we shall never know.”

(Christianity and Slavery in the Old South, excerpt, H. Arthur Scott Trask, Chronicles Magazine, July 1999, page 33)

 

 

 

The Good Life in the South

Author Donald Davidson wrote of the decline of Northern cities committed to progress and the past resistance of Southern cities like Charleston and Savannah to the relentless march of industrial capitalism. But, he observed the ruins all around us as “the ruins of societies no less than the ruins of cities. Over the ruins stream mobs led by creatures no longer really human – creatures who, whether they make shift to pass as educators, planners, editors, commissars, or presidents . . .” lead the way on the path to destruction.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Good Life in the South

“Continuity of family, of family life, and family position – irrespective of economic status – was in fact a great distinction of Charleston among old American cities; for elsewhere that continuity had been generally broken by one cause or another. With this continuity Charleston had a stability that expressed itself in the pattern of its streets and the conservatism of its architecture. The map of Charleston in 1948 was not substantially different from the map of Charleston two centuries before.

If John Stuart, whom George III in 1763 appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in the South, could have returned in 1948 to seek his home, he would have found it at 106 Tradd Street, just where he built it in 1772 – for a brief occupancy, as it happened, since the Revolution ejected him, as a Tory, rather speedily from his new house.

The secret of Charleston’s stability, if it was any secret, was only the old Southern principle that material considerations, however important, are means not ends, and should always be subdued to the ends they are supposed to serve, should never be allowed to dominate, never be mistaken for ends in themselves.

If they are mistaken for ends, they dominate everything, and then you get instability. You get the average modern city, you get New York and Detroit, you get industrial civilization, world wars, Marxist communism, the New Deal.

Historians, noting that the antebellum South was in a sense materialistic, in that it found ways of prospering from the sale of cotton and tobacco, and relied heavily upon slave labor, have had the problem of explaining why that same South developed a chivalrous, courteous, religious, conservative and stable society quite different from that which obtained in the also materialistic, but more industrialized, rational, idealistic, progressive North.

The planters’ “aristocratic” leadership was the result, not the cause, of a general diffusion of standards of judgment that all the South, even the Negro slaves, accepted a basic principle of life. Mr. Francis Butler Simkins, in his book The South Old and New, has taken securer than the average historian when he notes that the South at the outbreak of the Civil War was almost the only true religious society left in the Western world.

That old, religious South set the good life above any material means to life and consistently preferred the kind of material concerns that would least interfere with and best contribute to the good life. Its preferred occupations were agriculture, law, the church and politics – pursuits which develop the whole man rather than the specialist, the free-willed individual rather than the anonymous unit of the organized mass.

[With] reference to material means of existence, such as money, one could clinch the discourse by pointing out the traditional attitude of the Southern Negro toward work and wages. If you paid the Negro twice the normal wage for a day’s work, you did not get more work from him – that is to say, more devotion to work within a given period, with increased production as the result. Not at all.

The Negro simply and ingeniously worked only half as many days or hours as before – and spent the rest of the time in following his conception of the good life: in hunting, dancing, singing, social conversation, eating, religion, and love. This well-known habit of the Negro’s, disconcerting to employers and statisticians, was absolutely correct according to Southern principles.

The Negro, so far as he had not been corrupted into heresy by modern education, was the most traditional of Southerners, the mirror which faithfully and lovingly reflected the traits that Southerners once all but unanimously professed.

That had been the idea in Charleston too. It was what Mr. Simkins in his book, perhaps being misled by his historical predecessors, had called the “country gentleman” idea. But Charleston, which had always been urban, always a town or a city of counting-houses, warehouses, factors, bankers, financial agents, and the like, was not a city of country gentlemen, exactly.

It had agreed with the country gentleman and with others of every sort, including the Negro, on letting the relationship between work, wages and life be determined by the metaphysical judgment indicated above. That was what made Charleston Charleston and not “The Indigo City” or something of the kind.”

(Still Rebels, Still Yankees, and Other Essays, “Some Day in Old Charleston,” Donald Davidson, LSU Press, 1957, excerpt, pp. 221-224)

 

John Laurens, South Carolina Emancipator

Though John Laurens intention to emancipate and arm African slaves was intended to blunt the actions of Lord Dunmore’s Virginia emancipation proclamation of 1775 which fomented race war, which Lincoln later copied, South Carolina had earlier considered arming slaves for community defense. This shows too that using slaves as armed combatants with freedom as a reward predates the War Between the States, and an inevitable strategy, both offensive and defensive, given the great numbers of Africans brought to North America by British and New England slave ships.

Bernhard Thuersam www.Circa1865.com

 

John Laurens, South Carolina Emancipator

[Laurens] fought in the Battle of Brandywine, was wounded at Germantown, and spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge on Washington’s staff. At Monmouth the following summer he escaped unscathed when his horse was shot from under him . . . during the late summer of 1778 he had served as liaison officer between the French and American commands during the joint attack on Rhode Island. His linguistic ability made him popular with the French officers and useful to Washington who spoke no French at all.

Nevertheless, Laurens was able to prevail upon his commander to send him back to South Carolina where he hoped to raise and lead a regiment of blacks against the British in the South. Early in 1778 John Laurens broached the matter to his father, who was then president of the Continental Congress. “I would solicit you to cede me a number of your able-bodied men slaves, instead of leaving me a fortune,” he wrote.

Formed into a unit and trained, they might render important service during the next campaign, he argued. What is amazing about his plan, though, is not merely that he was willing to surrender a large part of his inheritance in order to augment the Continental Army — practically everything he did during the Revolution testifies to his willingness to sacrifice his own private interest in favor of the general welfare. Nor is it even that he was willing to arm the slaves — South Carolinians had considered that step during earlier emergencies.

Rather, the astonishing aspects of his proposal are its candor, its boldness and its lager purpose. Service in the revolutionary army would be a stepping-stone to freedom — “a proper gradation between abject slavery and perfect liberty,” which would not only prepare a slave to take his place in free society but also establish his claim to it. In short, his was a clever and far-reaching plan for the gradual abolition of slavery.

A year later, after the fall of Savannah, however, the obvious need for additional manpower led Congress to urge the Southern States to enlist three thousand blacks, who would be freed at the end of the war.”

(The Last of American Freemen, Robert M. Weir, Mercer University Press, 1986, excerpts, pp. 90-94)

 

Southern Plan of Gradual Emancipation

Many influential persons in the antebellum South promoted an end to the colonial labor system inherited from the British, and truly sincere New England abolitionists could easily have assisted in devising a compensated emancipation solution as Britain had done in the 1840s. Also, had New England cotton mills and Manhattan banks not accepted slave-produced cotton or ceased planter-expansion loans, slavery might have ended peacefully.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southern Plan of Gradual Emancipation

“Pioneers in the struggle for public schools in Virginia were Henry Ruffner, president of Washington College, and his son William Henry Ruffner, who in 1870 became the first superintendent of public instruction in Virginia.

[The elder] Ruffner was a man of much native ability. Through private study he became distinguished for his scholarship, literary talent and eloquence. He was appointed professor in Washington College in 1819 and was made president in 1836, in which position he served until 1848.

Ruffner was an early advocate of the gradual emancipation of the slaves and published a pamphlet in 1847, entitled “An Address to the People of West Virginia; shewing that slavery is injurious to the public welfare, and that it may be gradually abolished, without detriment to the rights and interests of slaveholders.” This address was delivered before the Franklin Society in Lexington, Virginia, at the request of John Letcher (afterwards “War Governor”) and others.

Ruffner made an analysis of slavery from the standpoint of a slaveholder, showing the evils of the system, not only to the slaves, but to their masters as well, pointing out the wastefulness of the system, the advances that had been made by the free States in population, wealth, and education as compared with the slave States since the Revolution, and the isolation that slavery had brought to the South.

It was a powerful argument against slavery and proposed a method for its abolition. Free from religious, fanatical or sentimental cant, it was a dispassionate, economic analysis of a system to which he himself belonged.”

(Universal Education in the South, Charles W. Dabney, Volume I, UNC Press, 1936, excerpt, pp. 81-82)

A Slow and Gradual Method of Cure for Slavery

Writer Timothy Flint travelled the Mississippi Valley in the early 1800’s and his recollections were published in 1826. After witnessing firsthand the conditions on plantations, Flint cautioned patience and gradualism to erase the stain of slavery in the United States as the fanatic abolitionists would be incautious and rash in their bloody resolution to the question. This underscores the unfortunate fact that abolitionists advanced no practical and peaceful solutions to the matter of slavery in the United States. Only war to the knife.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Slow and Gradual Method of Cure for Slavery

“[Prior to Northern slavery agitation], The Southern people were beginning to esteem and regard the northern character. The term “yankee” began to be a term rather of respect than reproach.

It is easy to see how soon this will all be reversed, if we incautiously and rashly intermeddle in this matter. Let us hear for a moment, the Southern planter speak for himself, for I remark that if you introduce the subject with any delicacy, I have never yet heard one, who does not admit that slavery is an evil and an injustice, and who does not at least affect to deplore the evil.

[The Southern planter] says, that be the evil so great, and the thing ever so unjust, it has always existed among the Jews, in the families of the patriarchs, in the republics of Greece and Rome, and that the right of the master in his slave, is clearly recognized in St. Paul; that it has been transmitted down through successive ages, to the colonization of North America, and that it existed in Massachusetts as well as the other States.

“You,” they add, “had but a few. Your climate admitted the labour of the whites. You freed them because it is less expensive to till your lands with free hands, than with slaves. We have a scorching sun, and an enfeebling climate.  The African constitution can alone support labour under such circumstances.

We of course had many slaves. Our fathers felt the necessity, and yielding to the expediency of the case. They have entailed the enormous and growing evil upon us. Take them from us and you render the Southern country a desert. You destroy the great staples of the country, and what is worse, you find no way in which to dispose of the millions that you emancipate.”

If we [of the North] reply, that we cannot violate a principle, for the sake of expediency, they return upon us with the question, “What is to be done? The deplorable condition of the emancipated slaves in this country is sufficient proof, that we cannot emancipate them here.

Turn them all loose at once, and ignorant and reckless as they are of the use and value of freedom, they would devour and destroy the subsistence of years, in a day, and for want of other objects upon which to prey, would prey upon one another. It is a chronic moral evil, the growth of ages, and such diseases are always aggravated by violent and harsh remedies.  Leave us to ourselves, or point out the way in which we can gently heal this great malady, not at once, but in a regimen of years. The evil must come off as it came on, by slow and gradual method of cure.”

In this method of cure, substitutes would be gradually found for their labor. The best modes of instructing them in the value of freedom, and rendering them comfortable and happy in the enjoyment of it, would be gradually marled out. They should be taught to read, and imbued with the principles, and morals of the gospel.

Every affectionate appeal should be made to the humanity, and the better feelings of the masters. In the region where I live, the masters allow entire liberty to the slaves to attend public worship, and as far as my knowledge extends, it is generally the case in Louisiana. In some plantations they have a jury of Negroes to try offences under the eye of the master, as judge, and it generally happens that he is obliged to mitigate the severity of their sentence.”

(Recollections of the Last Ten Years in the Valley of the Mississippi, Timothy Flint; George Brooks, editor, Southern Illinois University Press, 1968, pp. 246-249)

Emancipation and Repatriation

The American Colonization Society organizers below were well-aware of the origins of the slavery they detested – the avarice of the British who planted their colonial labor system on these shores, though opposed by colonial legislatures – and the perpetuation of the slave-trade by New England merchants.  They knew as well that should a naval force not be positioned off Africa’s coast, those New England merchants would prey upon the newly-emancipated in Liberia.  Note the predominance of Southern men in the Society.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Emancipation and Repatriation

“On December 28, 1816, the colonizers assembled in the hall of the House of Representatives. The constitution drafted by [Francis Scott] Key and his colleagues was adopted; and thus was founded the American Colonization Society. The constitution declared the purpose of the society to be the promotion of “a plan for colonizing (with their consent) the Free People of Colour residing in our country, in Africa, or such other place as Congress shall deem expedient.”

The organization of the Society was perfected on January 1, 1817 with the election of officers. Justice Bushrod Washington (kin of George) was elected president.

The following Vice-Presidents were then selected: Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia; Speaker [Henry] Clay of Kentucky; William Phillips of Massachusetts; former Governor John Eager Howard, Samuel Smith and John C. Herbert of Maryland; Colonel Henry Rutgers of New York; John Taylor of Virginia; General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee; Attorney General Richard Rush and Robert Ralston of Pennsylvania; General John Mason of the District of Columbia; and Reverend Finley . . . the first name on the board of managers was that of Francis S. Key.

The lawyers, clergymen, members of Congress, and other public men, who organized the American Colonization Society were idealists. Their aim was to eradicate slavery without causing political or economic violence. Statesmen from the North and South were able to stand together on the platform of the Society.

According to some historians, the colonizers were “idealists with troubled consciences.”  Patrick Henry cried . . . “I am drawn along by the inconvenience of living without them. I will not, I cannot justify it . . . Slavery is detested; we feel its fatal effects — we deplore it with all the pity of humanity. But is it practicable, by any human means, to liberate them without producing the most dreadful and ruinous consequences?”

The more practical business men of the country sneered at the scheme. The cold and calculating John Quincy Adams criticized the idea as absolutely visionary. The critics doubted whether the free Negroes would be willing to leave the United States for tropical Africa; and even if they did, whether they would be able to govern themselves after they arrived there.

But the colonizers were not discouraged. They believed that as their purpose was humane it had the approval of Providence, and that if they persevered they would meet with success in the end. They also . . . [believed that] the deported blacks would take with them what they had learned in America and would found in Africa a free and happy commonwealth.

Fortunately [Virginian] James Monroe, who succeeded Mr. Madison in the presidential chair on March 4, 1817, gave his endorsement to the plan of colonization. And in a year or two representatives of the American Colonization Society were on their way to Africa with instructions to explore the west coast of the Dark Continent and to select a location for a colony for the free blacks of America.

Before long auxiliary colonization societies were formed in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York . . . Early in 1818 the people of Baltimore contributed several thousand dollars to the cause, and the Legislature of Maryland requested the Governor to urge President Monroe and the members of Congress to negotiate for a colony in Africa by cession or purchase. Similar resolutions were adopted by the Legislatures of Virginia, Tennessee, and other States.

As a result of the pleas of the friends of colonization, the Congress, on March 3, 1818, passed an act directing the United States Navy to capture all African slaves found in the possession of American slave-traders, and empowering the President to appoint agents on the coast of Africa to receive, shelter, feed, clothe, and protect the slaves so captured.

The passage of this law brought cheer to Francis Scott Key and his associates. It meant the cooperation of the United States Government. The coast of Africa was lined with slavers; and without the aid of the Navy the little colony would be at their mercy.”

(Francis Scott Key, Life and Times, Edward S. Delaplaine, Biography Press, 1937, excerpts, pp. 198-201)

 

Dec 25, 2016 - Lost Cultures, Race and the South, Southern Culture Laid Bare    Comments Off on Christmas Must Proceed in 1864

Christmas Must Proceed in 1864

Christmas Must Proceed in 1864

“Varina Howell Davis, Mississippi-born wife of the Southern president declared, “That Christmas season was ushered in under the thickest clouds; every one felt the cataclysm which impended, but the rosy, expectant faces of our little children were a constant reminder that self-sacrifice must be the personal offering of each member of the family.”

Because of the expense involved in keeping them up, Mr.. Davis had recently sold her carriage and horses. A warm-spirited Confederate bought them back and sent them to her. Now she planned to dispose of one of her best satin dresses to obtain funds; with Christmas on the way, the children had high expectations, and she would use all possible makeshifts in an effort to fulfill them.

The Richmond housewives could find no currants, raisins, or other vital ingredients for old Virginia mincemeat pie. But, Mrs. Davis went on, the young considered at least one slice their right, “and the price of indigestion…a debt of honor due from them to the season’s exactions.”

Despite the war, apple trees still bore fruit; with these as a base, she and the other women of the city would utilize any other fruit that came to hand. A little cider and some salt were obtained, as was brandy, though its usual price was a hundred dollars a bottle in inflated Confederate currency.

As for eggnog, the Negro stable attendant, who brought in “the back log, our substitute for the Yule log,” said he did not know how they would “git along without no eggnog. Ef it’s only a little wineglass.” Plans progressed for a quiet home Christmas when unexpected word arrived: The orphans at the Episcopal home had been promised a tree and toys, cake and candy, plus a good prize for the best-behaved girl, and something had to be done about that.

Something was done. With Mrs. Davis’s help, a committee of women was set up and the members repaired to their children’s old toy collections to salvage dolls without eyes, monkeys that had lost their squeak, three-legged and even two-legged horses. They fixed and painted everything, plumping out rag dolls and putting new faces on them, adding fresh tails to feathered chickens and parrots.

The Davis’s invited a group of young friends on Christmas Eve to help make candle molds and string popcorn and apples for the tree; Mr. Pizzini, the confectioner, contributed simple candies. For cornucopias and other ornamentation the Davis’s guests used colored papers, bright pictures from old books, bits of silk out of trunks. All in all, the Christmas Eve of 1864 was far from unsatisfactory. When the small supply of eggnog went around, the eldest Davis boy assured his father: “Now I just know this is Christmas.”

(The Southern Christmas Book, Harnett T. Kane, David McKay Company, 1958, pp. 208-210)

 

Pages:«1234567»