I was born on a farm near Hamburg,
Perry County, Alabama, in 1842. Elias George and mother, Ann
Bass George, were the parents of nine children -- four sons and
five daughters, of whom I was third from the youngest. All lived
to maturity, married and raised families, except one brother,
"Jeffy," two years my senior, who at the age of eight
years was thrown from a runaway horse.
My parents were missionary
Baptists, and we were early taught to reverence the name of Jesus,
respect the Sabbath day, be kind and charitable to the poor,
to servants, and to animals. There was family worship every night
before retiring, and my mother would have the servants come in
and to join us at such times. We were a happy family because
children and servants were taught obedience to those who ruled
them. We loved our servants and they loved us.
My father, being a slaveholder,
had a large plantation on which many supplies for home consumption
were raised, such as corn, cotton, potatoes, barley, and peas.
The home was a large, rambling two-storied building, and each
of the various rooms had a fireplace. But the room that charmed
me most was the nursery -- a large room with windows facing southward,
overlooking the pasture, and in the springtime there was much
interest in the horses and the little lambs as they chased each
other and gamboled in the field.
Our black mammy Chloe, was
installed as guardian and caretaker of the nursery. Its inmates
included three children, from one to five years old and two nurse
girls, Mariah and Harriet, who were ten and eleven years old.
The girls, under the supervision of mammy Chloe, would see to
our bathing, dressing, and feeding. When the weather permitted,
we were kept out doors in the sunshine and although the girls
ran and played with us, our black mammy was ever near and watchful
that no harm befell us.
It is difficult to make it
understood what love we had for Mammy and the girls. This attachment
lasted even to old age. Mammy died just a few years .. (original
sheet cut off).
I would not have one think that our precious mother neglected
her little children under these conditions and surroundings.
She had duties devolving upon her, which could not be done by
others. There were nine children to clothe and feed. While she
had servants who cooked, washed, ironed and sewed, she supervised
each department. There were no sewing machines nor ready-made
clothing. We were strangers to most of the conveniences in common
use today. Even soap and candles were made at the plantation.
My father raised everything possible at home and a yearly trip
to New Orleans resulted in the equivalent of a carload of provisions,
dress goods from England or New England and many other things
needed for the plantation. Oranges, apples, dried fruits, and
candy were bought by the barrel.
How well do I remember the
picturesque surroundings of our home. There was a long sloping
hill to the rear of the house, at the foot of which was a cold,
gushing spring, and directed channels went forth to the house
lot, chicken yard, and other needed places. A milk house was
built over this spring, the floor of which was laid of large,
flat rocks, so arranged that the stream was conducted over a
channel two or three inches lower than the floor and wide enough
to hold several pans of milk and butter. Our home was surrounded
with mockingbirds, swamp sparrows, field larks, whip-poor-wills,
blue jays, and cardinals. They were never disturbed and consequently,
many became quite tame, often feeding with the chickens, geese,
ducks, turkeys, and peafowls. The whip-poor-wills could be heard
at night in the swamp below, sometimes coming into the garden
as though they wanted to serenade us from the branch of an oak
tree near the house. I recall an evening twilight when one ventured
on the lawn near the house-steps and called lustily "Whip-poor-will!
Whip-poor-will!" and after satisfying himself, he flew to
his companions in the swamp and soon the air was filled with
their "Whip-poor-will! and "whip-will, the widow!"
Their concert lasted through the night, interrupted occasionally
by the deep, sonorous voice of an owl loudly calling, "WHO!
WHO! WHO! WHO! WHO! ARE YOU!" The loud laugh of another
owl answered, "WAH! WAH! WAH!"
. . . It is needless to say
that the dear old home where my mother and father had lived since
their marriage and which had been the birthplace of their nine
children, was doomed. Also, a beautiful new home near Marion,
Alabama, was being completed. This was a large, two-story house,
quite modern in all its appointments (for that time). The inside
work was superior to anything of its kind today; the plastering
was very hard and glazed. The parlor and hall were heavily frescoed
around the edges of the ceiling, with a large wreath of flowers
in the center of each for the chandeliers. My older sisters and
brothers were at the age when they needed to be in college, as
they had outgrown the country school. To educate them had been
the incentive for building in Marion, as it was a residential
city of schools and churches.
But to my father, nothing was
too great a sacrifice for [Louisiana] this "Land of Paradise"
-- not even the many friends and relatives with their earnest
protests, or his popularity as a minister of the gospel. Nothing
could outweigh his desire to possess a home in this unexplored
wilderness---a venture of toil, self-denial, hardships, and untried
experiences. Without taking it to the Lord in prayer, and seeking
divine guidance of Him whom he served, he straightway sold his
valuable plantation and lovely new home at a sacrifice, and was
soon in readiness for the journey by caravan. Early in the spring
of 1848, the day for departure arrived. Three or four families
decided to cast their lot with us in going west, which at that
time was as far distant as is California now. The trip had to
be made in private conveyances, drawn by horses and mules, and
it would take weeks to reach our destination. Besides this, my
father was taking with him 400 Durham cattle which were to be
driven by herdsmen.
The caravan included about
50 covered wagons, carriages, carry-alls, and buggies. These
and the horseback riders assembled at our home, and many friends
came to bid us "un bon voyage". How well do I remember
that first day, which to me seemed a gala affair with many more
to follow. I was too young (six years) to realize what it meant
to those on whom the burden fell, nor what awaited us in the
future. The morning was bright and beautiful, and although the
sun gladdened the earth, it was unable to penetrate the gloom
which hung like a pall of dark foreboding in the hearts of some
who reluctantly bade a last farewell to loved ones.
My mother rode in a carriage
with four of her young children; a brother older and a sister
and brother younger than I. The driver's seat was high in front,
and in the style of the period, the nurse's seat was in the rear.
This was supplied with a step or foot rest and arms, as with
an armchair. The first day being cold and crisp, mother had the
driver stop at a store as we passed through Greensborough, and
bought us children beautiful wool hoods and each a tin cup, painted
red and blue, with "Boy" or "Girl" stamped
on it. These were suspended from our necks with ribbons.
The caravan necessarily traveled
slowly and when we children were tired of riding, mother would
let us get out and walk, always attended by the nurse . . . Long
before night, the captain (father) always went ahead to find
and arrange for a suitable camp ground where wood and water could
be obtained, for provisions also to be made for the cattle as
well as the teams of mules and horses. Having found such a place,
he would wait for the crowd.
The camp ground reached, the
overseer of the negroes superintended the location of wagons,
tents, and animals. The negroes' tents were grouped by themselves
and the white families were in a different location. Each family
of negroes had its separate tent; each woman cooking for her
own family, while the men got the wood, attended to the feeding
and caring for the stock and pitched the tents. There were log
fires in front of family tents, and after all were fed and the
little children were in bed, the white families would visit each
other,---sit around and exchange experiences and jokes till nine
or ten o'clock. The negroes would have their social time until
the gong sounded for retiring; after which quiet soon reigned,
except for the occasional lowing or neighing of an animal. At
five o'clock, the gong again sounded and all were up and hustling
with preparations to travel. Then at noon, a stop for a couple
of hours was made, with rest and lunch for man and beast.
We had to cross the Tombigbee
River in Alabama which we found to be a half-mile wide from recent
rains. It took two or three days to make the crossing, for the
cattle had to be ferried across. Upon taking one load, the cattle
became frightened and stampeded, and several leaped from the
flat-boat and were carried by the swift current down stream,
and two or three of these were never recovered.
Having surmounted this obstacle,
we proceeded on our journey with nothing of importance to note
except that one night we camped in a lovely grove of oak trees
enclosed with a rail or worm fence. A railroad track ran along
the outside of this enclosure, and we were warned not to cross
the fence; that a train would pass by very soon. We hadn't waited
long when a shrill whistle heralded its approach. We all stopped
and gazed at the wonderful monster, as it seemed to me, for in
those days, railroads were rare to country people.
At last we reached the Mississippi,
which we crossed at Vicksburg on a ferry . . . We finally reached
our destination which was a beautiful grove of oak trees, in
the midst of which was an eight-roomed cottage. Also, there was
a summer-house covered with coral honeysuckle and woodbine and
in the yard there was an abundance of flowers.
My father had purchased this
farm with 600 acres of improved land and under cultivation, to
serve as a temporary home until there were further developments.
This home was three miles from Marion, a village in north Louisiana,
in Union Parish. It was settled and named for Marion, Alabama
by its earliest settlers who had come from that place. Father
had bought 4,000 acres of timbered land within four miles of
Marion, which was to be cleared and converted into a plantation
-- with cottages for the negroes, a dwelling for the overseer,
and with gardens and outhouses. This kept all hands busy for
the first year, with only time enough to cultivate the 600 acres
of the home place. [There
was a virulent fever epidemic and her mother, Ann Bass George]
. . . had been for the last time to see her sick servants.
She found the maid dead and the cook in a dying condition. Mother
prayed with her and comforted her as best she could. Upon leaving,
Julia put her arms around mother's neck and said, "Miss
Ann, meet me in heaven".
The next day mother was not
feeling well, but did not go to bed. That night, she had a congestive
chill, and at four a.m., she went to meet Julia in heaven. Her
death was so sudden and unexpected, that father was beside himself
with grief and for several months the physicians were afraid
he would lose his mind.
We three children were now
wholly dependant on relatives, friends and servants. Although
mother died in a room across the hall from where we were, we
knew nothing of her death till three weeks later. The first thing
that seemed to call me back to consciousness was brother Elias
crying and begging for mother. Father was holding him on his
lap and when he continued to plead, father burst into tears and
told him mother had gone to be with God in heaven . . .
After the death of my mother,
father seemed so disconsolate and broken I spirit, that his friends
and older children encouraged him to find a companion for himself
and a mother for his children. He finally wrote to Mrs. Ross,
a very excellent lady of character, culture, and refinement,
reared and educated in Richmond, Virginia and who was then living
on a plantation that adjoined our former home in Alabama. This
lady and her sister, Sarah and Mary, were both widows; Mr. Bryant,
husband of Mary, had died soon after moving to Alabama, and Mr.
Ross, Sarah's husband, died not long after we came to Louisiana.
It was satisfactorily arranged
between my father and Mrs. Ross, and the following spring (1852),
father went back to Alabama and they were married. It took two
or three months to arrange her affairs and get all things in
order for the moving to Louisiana. As the sisters would not be
separated, transportation for the two families had to be made
and each had many slaves and several children. It was a big responsibility
but it effectuality diverted father's mind from his own personal
Finally, the second caravan
left the same neighborhood for Louisiana, similar to the first
which had gone four years before, with many vehicles and covered
wagons. All arrangements for homes and land had been made previously
and were awaiting their arrival.
One afternoon, when Sue, Jane,
and I were attending school, a handsome youth, about 18 years
old, came into the classroom and asked for the George sisters,---introducing
himself as Jim Ross, our stepbrother. On looking out of the window,
we were surprised to find the street lined with carriages, buggies,
wagons, and horses. The young people had come in advance of the
wagons, while my father's wife and her sister were in a carriage
to the rear. My father was on horseback and there were several
others . . .
Our teacher excused us and
we went out to meet our new relatives who insisted that we go
home with them, which we were only too delighted to do. We didn't
even ask permission of our aunt, with whom we were boarding,
but sent word where we were.
Father was so busy seeing that
the negroes were settled, that he did not know until that night
that we had come home with the crowd. When he finally came into
the house, three eager girls unexpectedly threw their arms around
him. Imagine our amazement when he did not respond, but seemed
dismayed at our presence. He said that we must return to school
early in the morning, because there was cholera among the negroes,
contracted while passing through the Mississippi swamps. A negro
woman had died of it that night just as the wagon in which she
rode, stopped at the gate. The next morning before breakfast,
a girl 12 years old, came in and said she was sick. Father examined
her and gave her the cholera remedy, but at noon she was dead.
The place was immediately quarantined. In two weeks 16 negroes