George William Bagby.

Selections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) online

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If we had not gone to Blankton to live she might
possibly have been with us to this day. But the-
habits of the servants of Blankton were very different
from the habits of the servants in other parts of Yir-
ginia. The first thing we knew Amanda was bawl-
ing out of our chamber window at the maid in the
chamber of the house on the opposite side of the
street ; and when we rebuked her for such unseemly
conduct, she received the rebuke sullenly. But she-
obeyed our wishes, and continued to be a most ad-
mirable servant. Everybody envied us such a trea-
sure. We praised her, we petted her, did everything
for her gave her the keys and made her mistress of
the house. And a most excellent mistress she made,,
until when ? until she got religion of the " once-
in-grace-always-in-grace " kind. Her whole charac-
ter was changed within a few weeks, and from being:
a friend rather than a servant, she became first &
worthless huzzy, and then an actual enemy.

Particulars of her misconduct need not be given.
When I returned to Blankton, after a long absence,
and heard of her shameful and cruel behavior to Mrs.
Elder, my arm ached up to my shoulder for a cowhide.


" Surely you do not mean the inhuman lash ?"

" My friend, I am the fragments of a slave-driver,-
with a fine Southern temper, an imperfect education
in the c humanities,' and an abiding belief that the
inhuman lash is a good thing for whites as well as-
black s, and will continue to be until the last vestige
of the originial barbarism of mankind has been erad-

" You brute."

" Thank you, ma'am."

So we left Blankton, and we left our treasure,.
Amanda. Strange to say, nobody coveted that
treasure, and she had finally to go into a distant
State to get employment.

After our separation from Amanda servant-gals-
came thick and fast. The list, in brief, ran some-
what as follows : At Greenville, Kate ; pretty good,
well-behaved, and capable, but her eyes got sore and
we had to give her up. Then Mary Ellen, with no
particular faults, but miserably green, gawky and in-
competent ; had her one month. Then Ellen ; no
account. Then, at Drinkly Courthouse, Lizzy, who
stayed with us twenty-four hours, and told Mrs.
Elder that she " seen from her face that she couldn't
please her." Then Laura, an impudent wretch, who
stayed half her time in the kitchen or anywhere away
from the scene of her duties, and who wound up by
telling my wife, early one morning, before breakfast,
that " if she expected her to mind that child all day
Sunday, she was mistaken." Off she went, and we
swapped the devil for a witch, her successor being


still another Ellen, a yaller not yellow square-
built, awkward, slow, hideous, filthy, diseased, and
utterly good-for-nothing stupe, of whom we would
gladly have got rid months before we did if any hu-
man being could have been found to put in her place.
At length, by moving to a distance, we procured
Jane, a slim, thin, fourteen-year-old charcoal chit,
lazy to a degree, and rejoicing in a sore finger the
whole time we had her, from June till October.
Jane's mother kept her to her duty, but about the
time she began to know enough to be of some use,
away she went, her finger still sore. Then nobody
for a long time. Then Roberta for three weeks.
She did very well for one of her age, but went home
one Saturday " to get her clothes," and that was the
last we ever saw of her. A few servant-gal-less
weeks ensued, and then turned up Melinda, a dirty,
lazy, but good-tempered creature, who actually re-
mained an entire year. She began to be good for
something, when one stormy night her stepfather
<jame, in a state of beastly intoxication, and insisted
on taking her home, nine miles away, through the
pouring winter rain. And, what is worse, he wanted
her to walk ! We found her crying bitterly, and it
was a long time before she would tell us what was
the matter, so afraid was she of the drunken wretch.
When at last she did tell us, I went to the back-door,
called that stepfather out of the kitchen, where he
lay in a drunken sleep, and told him, in my mild
Southern way, that if he was not off that plantation
in five minutes I would blow his besotted brains out.


He went, but in a few days sent her mother for her ;
and although she had another bitter cry because she
did not want to go at all, she had to go. This is a
sample of negro stepfatherism in Virginia. I could
give many others if space permitted, but the above
will suffice.

You will have observed that in several cases we
were allowed to keep girls until they became familiar
with the duties of nurse and house-servant, and, this
gained, they were whisked away by their parents.
Agreeable task, to train the youthful African, and
have your training for your pains ! And to pass one's
life in training a series of } r outhful Africans, how re-
munerative and highly improving to the temper !
To sit down servantless after some sudden bereave-
ment of the Melinda-Jane-Roberta kind, with a world
of house-work upon you and nobody to help you, and
to look forward through a long vista of just such be-
reavements following faster and faster ah, this is the
bliss, this the ripe, red watermelony core of servant-
galism in the South ! Oh, who would not live alway,
and who could welcome the tomb, under those pecu-
liar circumstances ? I put it to you of the North to

Pauline succeeded Melinda. A quicker, more
teachable, neater servant we never had. An old
grandmother, who had been the slave of a gentleman,
made Pauline stay with us when she often wanted to
go away, and made us keep her when we longed
often to get rid of her ; for Pauline, besides having
two fathers, who bothered us a good deal, was about


twice a week literally possessed of a devil. Such
-sulks on the slightest provocation or no provocation,
and such intolerable, unheard-of insolence ! The en-
treaties of her grandmother, who had six other
grandchildren to provide for, without help from
either of Pauline's fathers one of whom has since
married again, and threatens to dump six more chil-
dren down upon his old mother-in-law her grand-
mother's entreaties alone saved Pauline, not only from
dismissal, but from punishment " correction," as we
used to call it down this way.

Furious at some particularly unbearable insult to
Mrs. Elder, I sent for Pauline to come to my private
room, intending to ah! "correct" her, as her
grandmother had requested me to do whenever she
deserved it. She came. I showed her the inhuman
lash a small cherry switch, and cherry, you know, is
brittle. She did not tremble, but she looked as if
she felt very badly arid expected to feel a great deal
worse presently. / trembled not, however, with
fright ; but, remembering that if, Othello-like, I did
but lift " this puny arm," the consequences might be
more serious than I contemplated or desired, I re-
strained my fine slave-driving temper, allowed my
puny arm to subside, and in a low voice gave Pauline
just such a lecture as I would have given one of -my
own children. The result was that she ceased to sulk
&nd to be possessed of the devil oftener than once a
week, and in her anxiety to befriend me, jumped out
of bed one frosty morning and went in her bare feet
to gather chips to build my fire with. Poor Pauline !


An attack of inflammatory rheumatism ensued, as if
her aged grandmother had not trials enough already,
.and would you believe it? Mrs. Elder is deter-
mined to have Pauline back as soon as she gets well.

Next in order comes Susan, a middle-aged woman
and a most excellent servant. At the end of three
weeks she left us, to go to another family, who had
hired her previous to her engagement with us. Then
Dilsy, a nappy-headed, frowsy, lagging, ignorant and
unspeakably sluttish caricature of humanity, with
whom the list might well end. But it does not.

About a month ago we moved back to the scene of
my toting and my " teeple "-talk, and for three weeks
we have been housekeeping. During that time we
have had, of cooks, one who can't make bread, but
is a very well-conducted person, although she has a
mulatto son, a line-looking fellow, who is studying
for the ministry; another mulatto son, who "wuks in
de fac'ry," and a mulatto daughter, Mattie, barely
grown and quite pretty, who goes to school in the
morning and sifts cinders out of all the neighbors'
ash-piles in the evening, in order to help out her
mother's fire and save wood. Of nurses we have had
three to-wit : First, Adelaide, who left at the end
-of the week, and wanted to leave in the middle of it,
because Mrs. Elder ventured to speak disrespectfully
to her on account of her being absent without leave
at the very time of day when she was most needed ;
-second, Ellen Randolph, a highly respectable old
woman and a lifelong house-servant, who came for
four days only, to tide us over a servant-gal vacuum ;


third, Penelope, a doleful young woman, who takes
an hour to do anything, and then does not half do it,
because she does not know how.

This foots up a total of eighteen servant-gals in
eight years, which is a better showing than nine-
tenths of our friends can make. As both the cook
and the nurse we now have are to leave us next
Wednesday, and as Penelope does not infuriate me
more than twenty times a day, we are quite happy
and contented ; for to be able to look forward five
whole days with an assurance of having servants of
some sort during all that stretch of time is happiness
here below, in Virginia.

Since our return we have been visited by Amy and
Ann, and the entire retinue of old family servants,
male as well as female, all of whom have been very
kind and respectful. This has put us, in a better
frame. Life does not present itself to us quite so
darkly as before, albeit it still promises to be an ever-
revolving kaleidoscope of colored servant-gals, here
to-day and gone to-morrow. Amy and Ann really talk
as if they want to come back to us, but of course they
can't, because they are bound by other engagements.
I am not so excitable as I was. My temper is im-
proving, my shirts are untorn and the hair is begin-
ning to grow again on my head. Mrs. Elder dare
not for her life allude to the subject ; but, as Lizzy
said at Drinkly Courthouse, I "seen from her eye"
that she indulges the hope that I will ultimately be
restored to that amiability which characterized me in
the halcyon years before the war, when I carried hab-


itually a revolver in one pocket for my male, and a
cowhide in the other pocket for my female slaves.

Here, were I a literary New England woman-
writer for the - Monthly (as I hope to be in
another and better world), I might fitly point this
o'er-true tale and adorn it with a moral. But, sexed
and Southern-sectioned as I am, I cannot do that. All
I can do is to offer a few T closing remarks.

I am no longer a rebel. The situation has accepted
me, and I am devoted to the Union, I think. In
theory, if not in practice, I am as radical as Charles
Sumner himself; no longer believe in slavery or any
other dead thing, and am accustomed to take the
broadest views of all subjects. Keeping fully abreast
of the age, I read all the books of all the ablest
modern thinkers in the school of progress, and can,
as a rule, attribute every event, good or bad, to
"large general causes," as Mr. Buckle would say.

Still, Inrmo su'iu, ; and when I see my mother, my
wife, my sister, my cousins, and the wives, mothers,
sisters and cousins of all my friends, reduced to
menials, and compelled to drudge with no chance of
escape, no prospect of betterment, but every certainty
of the reverse (for the next generation of negroes
will be infinitely more unmanageable than the pres-
ent, and the plaguy Democrats will not let John Chi-
naman come in) when 1 see this, I say, I am utterly
unable to take an impersonal, philosophical view of
the matter. On the contrary, I grit what teeth I
have left, and consign the Yankees to perdition with
all the barbaric vehemence of my vulgar and fero-
cious Virginan nature.



IN the southwestern corner of the Capitol Square
there is a truncated brick tower, modelled appa-
rently after the design of the Tower of Babel, as
conceived by the artists who illustrate Sunday-school
books, except that the sides of the superimposed
layers do not slope, but run vertically up a distance
of ten or fifteen feet, when they are suddenly con-
tracted, and another layer of lesser diameter begins.
Not above forty feet rises this humble and ugly
structure. On the top of it there is a homely
wooden belfry, and in that belfry a large bell hangs.
In peace times this bell struck the hours of the day
and night, gave the alarm of fire, and called the
truant "Alligators " * from their haunts in the bar-

* For many years the members of tbe Virginia House of Dele-
gates were nicknamed "Alligators." The origin of the term is
said to be this : An uncouth, roughly dressed Dutchman one day
attempted to make his way into the hall, but was met by the
doorkeeper with the query, " What do you want ? " "I vants to
go in dere." ".Whom do you want to see ? " "I don't vants to
see nobody: I vants to go in." "You can't go in, sir; the
House is in session, and it is against the rules. If you want to
see any member I will call him out." "I vants to go in," per-
sisted the Dutchman. "I tell you again, you can't go in,'' re-


rooms and faro-banks when there was a close vote in
the General Assembly once the House of Bur-
gesses or important public business to be dis-
patched. On rare occasions, such as the John
Brown excitement, the bell summoned the military
population of the city to arms.

A room in the lower part of the little brick tower
was used as a guard-house, as well for the policemen
of Mayor Mayo (whose business was that precisely
of other policemen) as for a squad of the State
Guard, who acted as sentries about the Capitol and
watched over the Penitentiary convicts employed in
grading the walks, and ornamenting and improving
the grass-plots, shrubbery, and trees that adorn the
Square. The State Guard would cry very small in
comparison with the Coldstreams, or the Guarde 1m-
periale. They numbered less than a hundred men ;
but they were well organized, drilled, and equipped,
and commanded by a very competent officer in the
person of Captain Dimmock, formerly of the United
States army. This single company of infantry con-
tained every regular soldier Virginia had at her
command when, true to her motto, Sic Semper Ty-

torted the doorkeeper angrily. "But I ish a Alligator." "A
what ? " cried the puzzled doorkeeper. ' ' I ish a Alligator mine-
self. " The doorkeeper stared in amazement. "What did you
say a Alligator ? " "Yaw," roared the now excited Dutchman ;
" I ish one o' dem Alligators from the Kounty of Wit ! " A light
dawned on the doorkeeper's mind. "Now I understand you,"
he exclaimed; "you are a delegate from the county of Wythe.
Walk in, sir." Ever since the term "Alligator" has been a
household word in Virginia.


rannis, she raised her spear against the despot lately
enthroned in Washington.

About one o'clock, P. M., on the Sunday succeed-
ing the passage of the ordinance of secession, a sol-
dier ascended the wooden steps under the bell in the
little brick tower, seized the heavy clapper in hi&
hand, made two hard strokes, paused an instant, and
then made a third. Sullen and deep the notes-
floated out in the balmy spring air.

Far and wide the tocsin rang over the city, then
busy in the worship of the Prince of Peace. The
clergymen of the many churches hard by the Capitol
Square, who that morning for the first time had
ceased to pray publicly for the President of the
United States, were uttering the after-sermon peti-
tion, " Grant, O Loud, that the words that we have
this day heard," when " the outward ears " of their
kneeling congregations were smitten by the boding
sounds from the brick tower. Ere the prayer was
ended more than half the congregation had disap-
peared. Scarcely a man remained in the churches.
The dismay of the clergymen at witnessing this-
sudden depletion of their flocks was surpassed only
by the chill that struck to the hearts of the women
when their "affrayed eyes" were opened, and fa-
thers, husbands, sons, brothers, and lovers were

Father of Mercy ! was it possible that the hire-
lings of Lincoln had so soon gained the -vicinity of
the capital of the Old Dominion, and must priceless-
blood be shed immediately, and on the Sabbath day I


What else could this alarm and the sudden disap-
pearance of the men mean? How quickly the
blooming cheeks paled, and the pulses in the slender
wrists went cold and slow !

There was no one in the city, familiar with "big
wars," to command

" Silence that dreadful bell! "

The soldier with the clapper in his hand manfully
anviled the resonant metal, and loud note succeeded
hollow murmur until the whole April air seemed
vibrating. Thousands of lips were pleading for in-
formation, and, for a time, none was found wise
enough to answer. Some terrible thing had hap-
pened, or was about to happen on the instant.
What was it? What could it be ? " Rumor, painted
full of tongues," was never so busy as during the
half hour after the churches were closed and the
congregations dispersed. But presently the true
story was told, and passed from mouth to mouth in
hurried, sometimes trembling accents : The, Governor
of Virginia had received official intelligence that the
Yankee sloop-of-war "Pawnee" had passed City
Point, at the confluence of the A.ppomattox and
James rivers, and was steaming hard for Richmond,
ivith the intention of shelling it and burning it to
to the ground !

Monstrous intelligence ! City Point was sixty
miles away ; the river was narrow and tortuous ; in
many places the channel ran so close to the banks
that the felling of a single tree would have arrested
the progress of any vessel; besides, the Pawnee was


a wooden ship (monitors jet lay dormant in the
brain of Ericsson), and the steep bluffs on the farms-
of Drewry and Chaffin, which afterwards served the
city so well, afforded admirable vantage ground for
field-pieces and perfect shelter for marksmen. "What
gunboat would ever run such a. gauntlet for the mad
chance of shelling a city of forty thousand inhabi-
tants ? The foolhardiest midshipman in Uncle Sam's
service, even when crazed with sweet champagne
extracted from the pippins of the Jerseys and medi-
cated in the cellars of the Five Points, never dreamed
of so insane a project. All this is very plain, now
that three eventful years overlie that memorable Sun-
day in Richmond. It was not so clear to the excited
inhabitants, new to all the strategy and appliances of
war. A few saw the absurdity of the matter; but
the men made ready to meet the enemy, come how
he might, though all felt that this aquatic onset was
a most ungenerous and contemptible mode of attack-
ing a people accustomed only to dry-land engage-
ments with partridges and squirrels. The companies
of the First regiment of Virginia volunteers repaired
promptly to their drill-rooms, and in an incredibly
short space of time were ready for marching orders.
^Randolph's battery of light howitzers was equally
prompt, and so was the only troop of horse the city
could muster the "Governor's Mounted Guard," as-
it was called. All told, there were perhaps be-
tween six and seven hundred organized men, most
of whom were as familiar with military forms as
volunteers in time of peace ever are. These were


prepared for any duty they might be called on to
perform in less than an hour from the time the bell
began tolling.

There were some affecting scenes. Mothers, sis-
ters, and sweethearts came down to the drill-rooms,
to interchange a parting word with the young men,
and to fill their haversacks with something good to
eat. These tender, inexperienced girls beheld in
imagination the manly forms of their loved ones torn
and mangled by pitiless fragments of Yankee shells,
soon to explode over the doomed city, and in the midst
of the serried ranks of infantry. No wonder the fine
young fellows felt a tremor about the heart and a suf-
fusion of the eyes which ill became veteran soldiers who
had taken part in the John Brown war. No wonder
they wished the " women would go home and quit
bothering." But these partings, affecting as they
were, sank into insignificance when compared w T ith
the solemn and energetic earnestness of the male citi-
zens who did not belong to the volunteer companies,
but felt it, nevertheless, to be their bounden duty to
defend their city, their families, and their properties
from the ravages of the ruthless and watery invader.
There was a gathering in hot haste of these, which
might well have vied with that in Belgium's capital,
besung by the Lord George Gordon Noel Byron.
What weapons did they not seize? fowling-pieces
mortally oxydized ; immemorial duck-guns, of pro-
digious bore ; ancient falchions that had flashed in
the eyes of Cornwallis at Yorktown ; pistols of every
conceivable calibre, and of all possible shades of in-


utility ; and, in one instance at least, a veritable
blunderbuss, so encompassed with verdigris that it
passed for a cucumber of precocious growth ! All
these, loaded or unloaded, with or without caps or
flints, to fight a gunboat mounted with ten-inch Co-
lurnbiads ! Everything that could shoot or cut was
called into requisition, and Sutherland the gunsmith,
albeit it was Sunday, was called upon to open his
store, and, complying, did a rousing business, dispos-
ing of nearly all his stock of arms and fixed amuni-
tion in two short hours the result of which was the
enhancement, the very next day, of revolvers, bowie-
knives, dirks, and even long-bladed clasp-knives, to
the extent of full fifty per cent.

Heavier metal than any Sutherland had to sell was
needed in the great trial at hand, and of this the
citizen heroes were well aware. Accordingly, a
party of them rushed to the Virginia armory, and
out of the large store of ancient ordnance there ac-
cumulated selected one of a pair of magnificent
bronze guns, quaintly but beautifully embellished,
which had been presented to the State by the Count
de Kochambeau in the name of the French govern-
ment. This rare and costly piece, weighing probably
two tons, was by some strange art, which the frenzy
of the moment suggested, hoisted upon a dray, or
some other strong vehicle. A mixed multitude of
horses, mules, and men were hurriedly gathered, the
motley motive power applied, and the whole party
dashed up the hill to Main street, and then down the
street at a terrific pace, until they reached the Cus-


torn House, and there the brave old gun, indignant
at the rough, unmilitary usage it had received, in-
continently leaped out of the dray into the street,
where it lay for many weeks, a' stranded Triton
among the schools of martial minnows that floated
by it, much wondering at its great size and the pur-
pose for which it had been placed in that position
the majority being of opinion that it was put there
to defend, not the Custom House, for that contained
no treasure, but the Virginia Banks, just opposite.
How this was to be effected was not clear, seeing that
the gun was on the ground and there was probably
neither a ball nor a cartridge in the city to fit it ; but
the military critics of those days were mostly from
the country, and not familiar, as thousands of them
now are, with the manual of heavy artillery.

It must not be supposed that the infantry, light
artillery and horse waited for the upsetting of the
big gun. By no means. Long before they had
marched off, under what commander-in-chief history
has failed to record, in the direction of Rocketts the
euphonious title of the lower part of the city near
the wharves and the landings of the sea-going steamers
that then plied between Richmond and the principal
maritime cities of the North. Meantime every
""coign of vantage" was occupied by anxious watch-
ers. Wives, whose tearful weight had just relieved the
throttled necks of husbands already heavily freighted

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Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 27)