Lincoln Discussion Symposium

Full Version: Wealthy in Heart: An Oral History of Life Before Fort A. P. Hill
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The book was started in 2007 and includes wonderful stories of everyday life in Port Royal from the people who lived there. One contributor was Julian W. Garrett whose age was estimated to be 94. I don't know if he is related to the Garretts of Locust Farm.

The introduction says, "The last act of one of the most infamous events in American history took place in Caroline County. After assassinating President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth immediately began his attempted escape. After crossing the Rappahannock from Port Conway to Port Royal, the horse boat carrying Booth and his accomplice Duvall [David!] E. Herold landed in front of the home of John B. Lightfoot. Due to a particularly strong current that day, the boat landed downstream of the docks at Port Royal usually used. After declining the invitation to stay offered by Mr. Lightfoot’s daughters, Booth and Harold moved on to Port Royal."

There is no source cited but the information may have very well come from Rev. Ralph E. Fall who wrote Hidden Village: Port Royal, Virginia 1744-1981.

The stories about the Civil War start on page 338. From 89 year old Estelle Holloway Allen: "And the story goes that my grandfather, who was a surgeon, and he would run out on the battlefield and pull the soldiers in that were wounded and take out the minnié ball. And who has some of the minnié balls? We even had some of the minnié balls.
And they were called “damn Yankees.” They said . . . I was grown before I knew “Damn Yankees” was two words."

In 1977, 84 year old Mrs. Sue Christie gave an interview to the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the Garretts. In 2007 her 83 year old niece, Virginia Hearn Whiting, remembered, "My grandparents had property there, had the farm there named Hickory Grove. And I had a couple aunts that also had farms in that area. Then I had several other family members that lived in Port Royal proper and one from the family that lived in Bowling Green. So we were down there very frequently, go down to visit to the different ones and go to the old home place. I enjoyed that very much as a child because you could run through the house, run through the dogtrot, I think that’s what they call it when you have that long hall that goes right through a house."

After the land was acquired by the government, "The house was torn down and my—the youngest daughter in the family—my aunt Sue Christie said that she went down every day and sat as they tore the house down. She would sit there and just sort of cry a little bit, and finally they gave her a brick and told her to take it on home, I guess, from the foundation. But she watched the whole procedure. She was the one, being the youngest, you know, she was sort of watching out for things."
What a wonderful book! Thanks, Linda -

This is invaluable for social historians as well as assassination historians.....
I encourage everyone to at least skim through this book -- especially those of you too young or too citified to remember rural life. Its main theme is recounting what it was like for families in Caroline County (those who lived on the lands that the Garretts would be familiar with) when the U.S. government bought up most of the county and established Fort A.P. Hill Military Reservation.

But don't focus just on that. I especially enjoyed the pages starting around 330 that are filled with reminiscences about families of the area during the Civil War, Spanish American War, and both World Wars.

One of my favorite passages regarding the confiscation of the land in the late-1930s is this passage: "And the first thing I remember about the government taking our land was a man from the government approached Papa . . . my father’s name was Homer Bruce. There were 17 of us, nine boys and eight girls . . . and said, “We’re going to take your land, and you have 30 days to be out. We’re going to give you $5 a acre for your land.” And Papa just stood there. All he did was just listen, was no remarks or anything. He just looking down at the ground, didn’t know what to say or what to think, you know. We had cleared all the land there by hand, and Papa had purchased about three other small farms in that same area. I think he started to moving them with a wagon and the mules. Papa found a place down at Penola; that’s a railroad town in Caroline. We wasn’t familiar with that part of the state. An old shacky house, and the wind would blow the old shutters up against the house, and the river was down there in the bottom, and we would
hear the old hooting owls. It was in a strange place."

I think that struck home with me because I was seven years old when a man from the State of Maryland knocked on the door of our Huntt home in T.B. and announced to my grandmother that they would be taking our house and front lawn in order to build a ramp onto a new dual-lane highway that would replace the old Route 5 that had run in front of our door since 1850 (then known as the New Cut/T.B. Road). My proper, Victorian grandmother let out a war hoop that would have impressed Geronimo! She asked the man what would happen to the house (that all her siblings and her children had been born in), and he told her it would be bulldozed.

My father was serving in Korea at that time, but my mother went into action and spent weeks traveling to Baltimore to fight the Highway Administration. She proved to them that the amount of money they were offering could not build or buy a comparable dwelling for us (our house had 13 rooms - five of which were bedrooms). The State decided that it would be cheaper to move the house into our sheep meadow.

Another thing that struck me with the book is that, as many times as I have been through Caroline County, I always imagined it as field after field of tobacco. This book brings out the truck farming communities that thrived there because of the sandy soil. Tobacco loves sandy soil, but so do tomatoes and cucumbers evidently because nearly all involved in this oral history project make reference to those two crops - as well as peas, beans, peanuts, and corn. I can honestly say that I never thought about fields and fields of cucumbers; but I guess that's what it takes to make bottles upon bottles of pickles!

The very last page is perhaps my favorite - “And I grew to treasure those memories because she passed it on, something that we’re losing in these generations to come. If we don’t record it now – them youngsters – because so many distractions, so many toys, and so many avenues have diverted us passing on the heritage of where the children come from.
And that’s what makes me . . . I’m proud to be American. I don’t know what, but I’m American, and I’m proud of it. And I look back . . . and this is your wealth. You inherit wealth, that’s where you get wealth from. Anybody can acquire money, but you inherit wealth. And that’s the value. And having her share that with me, and I’m sharing it with you; it’s probably why it came down like that because this is an important chapter in the history.”

October 4, 2007
I like reading about the food they ate.

"My mother, I remember when we had to peel all these apples, and she’d dry them, put them on a newspaper and put them up on top of the shed, let the sun dry them. Then she’d have them to make pies during the winter. That was something, too. And we used to say, “Please, no flies come around.” But the flies didn’t bother it at that time. She let them lay out for three or four days, dry out. Then she’d put them in a bag in the wintertime."

"But there again, we had cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, oranges at Christmastime only, and raisins and hard candies, they were Christmastime things. But we had the regular food, nourishing food and hot bread, hot bread every meal, you know, biscuits or rolls. Oh, I can see my mother’s rolls now, they were up there like that, and she’d put them down, that’d be about the first thing she’d do after she got breakfast was put those rolls down, and they’d be ready. They were so big. When I was a child I could eat two of them. And we had cornbread and fish."

"My aunt, she had eight kids, would come up to our house, and Mama and she would make fruitcake together all day long, and the kids would be out in the yard playing, and that was a ritual every year. They would make it on a wood stove, put about one piece of wood in the stove so the oven would get so hot, you know. And I remember that, and to me, that means a lot to me to remember that today. And as I said, but I could go back to the old time. Life was easy and laid back—people knew each other, people were friendly—today, they weren’t grabbing at everything, and it was easy living even though you didn’t have anything.

"We used to store them [vegetables] down in that dirt basement. Well, if we put them out in the field, we’d dig a hole, you know, and lined it with pine tags, and put the potatoes or cabbage or whatever it was in it, put pine tags over the top of it, and make a mound like with dirt. Then in the wintertime when you needed something, go out there and scratch a hole in there and get out what you wanted."

"Another thing we would use—getting away from the animals—we would make snow cream in the winter. We’d do that a lot. Sugar and—brown sugar and vanilla and—the clabber reminded me about it. They would take the snow—we did that as kids—and put cream in it, and we put vanilla seasoning, and it was really good, but it didn’t last long. It soon melted. We had such deep snows then, we did make a lot of snow cream."
Mentioning the wood-burning cook stoves - when we were able to raise enough funds to rebuild the kitchen wing at Surratt House, we knew Mrs. Surratt had a new-fangled cook stove instead of cooking over an open hearth. A visitor once asked how they knew what temperature to use for cooking in the oven.

Off we went to period housekeeping manuals, and most gave "arm" instructions. If you could put your arm in the oven up to the elbow, it was a "cool" oven; to your lower forearm, it was a "medium" heat; and fingers only meant "hot."

We made snow cream a lot when I was young - until the jets from Andrews AFB began jettisoning extra fuel over our yard! That could make a mess of white laundry hanging on the line to dry, also.
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